Fed president says US banks have “half the equity they need” by Simon Black
In a scathing editorial published in the Wall Street Journal today, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Neel Kashkari, blasted US banks, saying that they still lacked sufficient capital to withstand a major crisis.
Kashkari makes a great analogy.
When you’re applying for a mortgage or business loan, sensible banks are supposed to demand a 20% down payment from their borrowers.
If you want to buy a $500,000 home, a conservative bank will loan creditworthy borrowers $400,000. The borrower must be able to scratch together a $100,000 down payment.
But when banks make investments and buy assets, they aren’t required to do the same thing.
Remember that when you deposit money at a bank, you’re essentially loaning them your savings.
As a bank depositor, you’re the lender. The bank is the borrower.
Banks pool together their deposits and make various loans and investments.
They buy government bonds, financial commercial trade, and fund real estate purchases.
Some of their investment decisions make sense. Others are completely idiotic, as we saw in the 2008 financial meltdown.
But the larger point is that banks don’t use their own money to make these investments. They use other people’s money. Your money.
A bank’s investment portfolio is almost entirely funded with its customers’ savings. Very little of the bank’s own money is at risk.
You can see the stark contrast here.
If you as an individual want to borrow money to invest in something, you’re obliged to put down 20%, perhaps even much more depending on the asset.
Your down payment provides a substantial cushion for the bank; if you stop paying the loan, the value of the property could decline 20% before the bank loses any money.
But if a bank wants to make an investment, they typically don’t have to put down a single penny.