Fitch: Dilution of Basel Leverage Ratio Assists Trading Banks

The recently-announced
dilution of the rules for calculating the Basel III leverage ratio
are likely to ease capital pressure for global trading banks, says Fitch Ratings.

The credit ratings agency (CRA) comments that the changes, involving reverse repos and derivatives, reduce the assets included in the calculation and make it easier for them to meet leverage ratio requirements, depending on the final rules adopted by national regulators.

Fitch adds that it still expects on- and off-balance sheet exposures to reduce as trading banks make progress in meeting leverage ratio requirements, particularly for European institutions, where this is a new regulatory constraint. If banks took on additional risks to take advantage of the revised rules, the CRA would take this into account in its rating analysis.

Global and universal trading banks should also be able to build capital and be in compliance with the leverage ratio by the 2018 deadline, especially with the relaxed definitions. It is likely many banks will accelerate their compliance with the minimum 3% standard, since public disclosure starts in 2015 and banks will want to keep in line with their peers.

The changes are to the leverage ratio’s denominator – the exposure measure. Several deal with derivatives, where the exposure can now be lowered by deducting cash variation margins, excluding exposures that would be double-counted in some central clearing processes and capping written credit derivatives exposures at the level of the maximum potential loss.

Allowing some bilateral netting for repos and reverse repos could ease pressure on the banks and the market. The US tri-party market fell 14% in 2013, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York published last week, as interest rate rises and regulation influenced volumes. In Europe, despite its recent revival, the repo market is still below its June 2010 peak. Fitch believes that reverse repo books and secured funding at trading banks are likely to reduce further, even with the relaxation of netting rules.

A standardised leverage ratio should help adjust for accounting differences. For example, US generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) has offsetting rules for derivatives that result in exposures being reported net, rather than gross under international financial reporting standards (IFRS). The revisions allowing some netting appear to be a compromise between the two standards. But the extent to which the US will adopt the Basel definitions when it finalises its supplementary leverage ratio remains unknown. The US supplementary leverage ratio requirement will be double the Basel minimum at 6% for systemically important bank subsidiaries (5% at consolidated holding company level). If the Basel III leverage ratio definitions are not applied consistently across banks globally, this could undermine the comparability and usefulness of this ratio.

There was also a relaxation of rules for off-balance sheet items. Instead of weighting loan commitments at 100%, off-balance sheet exposures can be weighted according to the standardised approach with a 10% floor. This introduces some type of risk-weighting in the leverage ratio.

The debate on appropriate capital levels on a risk-weighted and a non-risk based approach is likely to continue, concludes Fitch, which expects global trading banks’ balance sheets to continue to shift, and where and how business is booked to continue to evolve, as final rules emerge and they optimise their capital and liquidity.

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