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Operations Risk - Basel II, Capital Concerns on High Risk Credit (November 9, 2004)

Location: New York
Author: Ellen J. Silverman
Date: Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Basel II has forced banks to re-evaluate the amount of money they lend. The new framework aims to tie bank regulatory capital more closely to the real risks banks face. Yet there is very little information on how the new rules will affect how much credit risk banks hold. Just as uncertain is how the accord will affect the supply and demand of corporate bonds and credit derivatives.

The most important change is that the capital charge of lending to high investment-grade borrowers could decline by as much as 60%, making such lending much more capital-efficient for banks. At the other extreme, retail and mortgage clients will also benefit.

But while Basel II means that higher-risk credits will attract higher regulatory capital requirements, it is not simply the case that banks will offload these riskier exposures. Otto Dichtl, senior credit analyst at BNP Paribas, says the complexities of Basel II mean that "you cannot simply predict that there will or will not be a big sell-off. Even if there is a higher capital charge for low-rated credits, the spread you get for holding that credit may cover your higher regulatory capital costs." The problem is that as yet no one has examined fully how Basel II will affect the cost of borrowing and so whether companies will continue to be able to afford bank funding.

Scott Bugie, managing director of European financial services at Standard & Poor's, agrees Basel II is unlikely to result in widespread asset disposal. He says that, while some asset classes are treated more favorably or less favorably than others under the new regime, "It's hard to see an area where the treatment would be so negative that it would lead to sell-offs once Basel II is implemented."

The introduction of these new rules could have a regressive effect on the capital markets: more reliance by corporates on bank lending and less on borrowing via the capital markets. Under Basel I, all corporate borrowing had a risk weighting of 100%, but the new accord means that banks using the internal ratings-based approach can assign risk weights as low as 10% to the highest-rated borrowers. This will allow banks to charge high-rated companies lower premiums, and this, in turn, could well encourage those borrowers who currently use the capital markets to return to banks for financing. Similarly, weaker borrowers who find themselves having to pay higher premiums could find that their access to the capital markets is made easier by investors who seek high-yielding credit. If weaker borrowers look to the capital markets as a result of Basel II, they could find themselves opening a door with the institutional investors behind it. However some companies, particularly those rated low investment grade, may find it more efficient to improve their rating and return to using banks for funding.

Jackie Ineke, European bank analyst at Morgan Stanley, says one impact of the new rules could be the reintermediation of banks when it comes to extending credit to large corporate borrowers who have turned to the capital markets. "Corporate borrowers are getting rid of their minimum 100% risk weighting, so we'll see tighter pricing to the big, strongly rated corporates on the part of banks," she predicts. Conversely, lower-rated borrowers could increasingly find that their access to the capital markets improves. "The banks will always be there as providers of credit to smaller, unrated corporates - it's their job to manage risk, and so long as it's properly priced they will stay in that market," says Ineke. "But they will be pricing credit to higher-risk borrowers at much higher margins, and this could lead to a shift towards the capital markets on the part of those borrowers."

It is still unclear to what extent the price of funding will rise. Meanwhile, if the supply of stronger corporates issuing in the capital markets dries up, investor demand for credit may mean that lower-rated names are increasingly able to issue. The vast population of European borrowers currently unable to access the capital markets directly could find that Basel II finally opens the door for them and thereby gives credit investors a significant number of high-risk, high-return issuers to choose from.
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