Basel Committee Weighs Extra Capital Requirement

Largest banks may face surcharge of up to 3.5 percentage points.

The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision is considering extra capital requirements of as much as 3.5 percentage points that the largest banks may face if they grow bigger, according to two people familiar with the talks.

The so-called surcharge would take the form of a boost to capital the banks must hold and would apply to financial institutions whose collapse would harm the global economy. A list of such banks hasn’t been disclosed.

Draft plans circulated before a meeting next week would subject banks to a sliding scale depending on their size and links to other lenders, said the people, who declined to be identified because the proposals aren’t public. Banks wouldn’t initially face the highest surcharge, which is intended as a deterrent to expansion, one person said. The largest banks may face a 3 percentage point levy at their current sizes, the person said.

Governments are split over how far to toughen bank capital rules following the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The Federal Reserve has backed a graduated surcharge with a maximum of 3 percentage points, a person familiar with the talks said last week. Financial shares fell when traders interpreted June 3 remarks by Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo as leaving the door open to surcharges of as much as 7 percentage points.

U.S. stocks pared gains yesterday amid concern large banks will need to increase reserves to comply with the proposed regulations. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index increased 0.2 percent to 1,267.64 after rising as much as 0.7 percent earlier in the day.

Weaker Requirements
The figures will be discussed further at meetings next week in Basel, Switzerland, with some countries pushing for weaker requirements than set out in the draft proposals, the people said. The Basel committee’s press office declined to comment.

The members of the Basel group are unlikely to agree next week on whether the surcharge should be made up purely of common equity, which includes mainly ordinary shares and retained earnings, or if part of it could contain so-called contingent capital instruments, one of the people said.

Contingent capital includes securities such as CoCo bonds, which convert to ordinary shares when a bank’s capital falls below a predetermined level.

The Group of 20 countries has decided that banks need to hold more capital to avoid future taxpayer-funded bailouts. The requirements being discussed next week would go beyond capital rules for internationally active lenders that were published by the Basel committee last year. These measures, known as Basel III, require banks to hold core capital equivalent to 7 percent of their risk-weighted assets.

‘Cross-Border Mergers’
The extra surcharge envisaged to limit the growth of systemically important banks wouldn’t deter lenders from merging, Simon Gleeson, a financial services lawyer at Clifford Chance LLP in London, said in a telephone interview.

“Nobody can buy a bank without the consent of the supervisor; for cross-border mergers the consent of both supervisors is necessary,” said Gleeson. “If you’ve got that, then the extra half a point on your capital is neither here nor there.”

The Basel meeting, on June 23-24, will be followed on June 25 by a meeting of the committee’s oversight body, known as the Group of Governors and Heads of Supervision. The group is chaired by Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank.

‘Big Issue’
The “big issue” around identifying banks that are systemically important is that “regulators are saying that there are institutions whose obligations we effectively guarantee,” Gleeson said.

The Financial Stability Board, which brings together finance ministry officials, regulators and central bankers from the Group of 20 countries, tasked the Basel committee last year with drafting the extra requirements for too-big-to-fail banks. Mario Draghi, the FSB’s chairman, said in April that work on the rules would be completed in time for approval by G-20 leaders in November. The FSB is expected to discuss the plans at a meeting on July 18.

The capital surcharge based on some studies may range as high as 7 percentage points above the Basel III requirements, Tarullo said yesterday in testimony to the House Financial Services Committee in Washington.

He said the final figure, now under consideration by regulators, may not be 7 percentage points and that he sees a need to “calibrate” the number based on risks of the assets held by the biggest banks.

Bloomberg News

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