Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Regulators' Information Monopoly: Forbearance Contributes to Inability to Assess Bank Risk

There are many ways that the financial regulators' monopoly on all the useful, relevant current asset and liability level data at banks contributes to financial instability.

The Telegraph had an interesting article that discussed how loan forbearance contributes to the inability of market participants to analyze banks.
Lender forbearance – where banks shift homeowners onto interest-only deals, extend their mortgage term, or even permit payment holidays – now accounts for 63pc of all troubled home loans, according to the Financial Services Authority (FSA). 
Although forbearance can help households, the FSA is concerned banks are using it to flatter their numbers by reducing bad debt provisions
In a guidance note on "forbearance and impairment provisions", it said: "We believe that there is scope for considerable improvement in firms' interpretation of the disclosure requirements." A spokesman added that "there are concerns" about banks' use of forbearance. 
The regulator fears that "where [forbearance] is provided without due care or understanding of the impacts, it has potentially adverse implications for the customer". In one instance, the FSA said, "more than 95pc of customers requesting a conversion to permanent interest-only terms were found to be in financial stress". 
"As a result, firms who have implemented sound checks ... may see their volume of permanent conversions drop significantly." 
As many as 300,000 borrowers have switched roughly £60bn of mortgage debt from repayment to interest-only since the financial crisis struck in late 2007, FSA data shows. As forbearance does "not show up in arrears , "[it] may, at least to some extent, be disguising the scale of problems," the watchdog said. 
According to research by Fathom Consulting, write-off rates on lending to UK households – currently a fraction of one percent – are no higher than in 2001 despite the recession and a 20pc fall in house prices. In the US, write-off rates have increased fivefold to 9pc since its housing bubble burst in 2007. 
"Banks should be making much larger provisions because the current status is artificial," Danny Gabay, a Fathom director, said. "We have lower foreclosure rates than during the boom. It's just not plausible." UK banks are currently holding about £1.6bn in provisions against the country's total £1.2 trillion mortgage book. 
...  Earlier this year, analysts at the credit rating agency Moody's said the scale of forbearance was a "credit negative" for the country's banking system as its experience showed that on average roughly half the mortgages in forbearance default again.

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