Quick update on recent news: John Kay, hedge funds and house prices control

John Kay wrote an interesting piece in the FT yesterday saying that finance should be treated like fast food to secure stability. I can’t agree more. A nice quote:

Still, would it not be better if proper supervision ensured that no financial institution could ever get into a mess like Northern Rock or Lehman – or Royal Bank of Scotland or Citigroup or AIG? No, it would not. Just replace “financial institution” with “fast-food outlet” or “supermarket” or “carmaker” in that sentence to see how peculiar is the suggestion.

I know what you’re going to say: “but banks are different!” To which I would reply: no, they aren’t. It is treating them as different that makes them different.

Another nice one:

We have experience of structures in which committees in Moscow or Washington take the place of the market in determining the criteria by which a well-run organisation should be judged, and that experience is not encouraging. The truth is that in a constantly changing environment nobody really knows how organisations should best be run, and it is through trial and error that we find out.

I am a little surprised though, as I have the impression that John Kay is kind of contradicting himself (see his post from June in which he seems to say that banking reforms are going the right direction).

Another piece highlighted how much regulation is changing the hedge fund industry. What’s going on is that regulation is now limiting new entrants in the market as they can’t cope with booming compliance costs. This results in the largest hedge funds experiencing most of new money inflow from investors. Is this a problem? Yes. First, small hedge funds have traditionally outperformed large and established ones on average. So preventing them from entering the market reduces market and economic efficiency: proper allocation of capital to where it would be the most profitable does not happen as a result (and consequently, returns to investors are lower). Second, and more worrying, is that regulation is now replicating what has happened in the banking industry: it’s creating too big to fail hedge funds (and nobody seems to remember LTCM). Well done guys.

Finally for today, echoing my earlier post, a BoE member thinks that it is not the role of the central bank to control house prices. I certainly agree.

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