But why did borrowers wish to borrow so much, so riskily? And why did lenders wish to lend so much, at such risk?
In the first place, credit has been too cheap for too long. Low interest rates are bound to encourage people to borrow more and save less. Therefore, people saved less and borrowed more. This was the result of the Bank of England’s decisions.
House prices kept rising because people kept borrowing and pumping money into housing. Housing was excluded from the Bank’s measure of inflation, so rates stayed low.
The appearance of inevitable and uninterrupted house price rises gave the impression that we were in a new era within which the old rules did not apply: borrowing caps could be raised to excessively risky levels and borrowers could rely on price increases to deal with the capital.
Lenders used models which fundamentally understated risk. For example, markets do not behave within the Gaussian or “normal” distribution: extreme events happen more often than a normal distribution predicts. Furthermore, the risk of mortgage default correlates across similar mortgages when the economic environment changes. Still, the models said risks were lower than they were, so more credit could be extended.
Since the lenders were neither, on the whole, mutuals or partnerships with open-ended liabilities and since the employees making the decisions shared only in the upside, there was insufficient motivation to manage to the true level of risk.
Moreover, securitisation of mortgage pools and so forth palmed off the risk onto hapless investors who probably trusted the risk models and the market environment created by excessively cheap credit. And, “Hey, look at the returns!” The personal touch was missing from the relationships between borrowers, ultimate lenders and intermediaries, further corrupting the system.
Of course when the pantomime ended, the taxpayer was forced to pick up the bill. And still bonuses were paid in bailed-out banks!
Now, having created the boom with cheap credit and moral hazard, the Bank plans, not to fix the root problems, but to pile intervention upon intervention…
There is much else to be said, for which I recommend The Alchemists of Loss and Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles. However, on the face of it, the Bank’s present proposals merely extend the infantilisation of the financial services sector.
Later this week, I will indicate ten serious plans for financial reform.