A gap in current policies for Irish financial stability

In a recent speech, the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, Sharon Donnery, floated the prospect that the CBI might impose Counter Cyclical Capital Buffers (CCyB) on Irish banks, in order to guard against an unstable credit build-up in the currently strong economic environment. She also used the speech to discuss current conditions in the Irish financial system and review the macroprudential regulation policies of the CBI.

In many ways, Irish macroprudential regulation has been exemplary, but there is a glaring defect. Stanga et alia (2017 and 2018) compare 26 countries regarding mortgage arrears, financial stability and macroprudential policies, and Ireland’s profile is remarkably poor. As Stanga et al. note, controlling mortgage arrears is a key objective of macroprudential policies, and Ireland has very poor performance by this metric.

Ireland’s intractable mortgage arrears problem stems in large part from its defective legal system regarding loan security, with extremely limited lenders’ rights to collateral repossession. This defect in turn limits the reliability of Ireland’s quite restrictive macroprudential policies. As Stanga et al. state in their international overview:

“Better institutions – which improve judicial efficiency and make it easier for banks to enforce their rights – reduce the level of mortgage defaults. We consider several proxies for institutional arrangements and compile an index of institutional quality (IQ). We find a significant and negative relationship between IQ and mortgage arrears, both before and after the onset of the financial crisis – the higher the average quality of institutions, the lower the average mortgage default ratio (Figure 3). Moreover, the effects of macroprudential policies and institutional quality on mortgage defaults are mutually reinforcing. As illustrated in Figure 4, the effect of the MPI [Macro Prudential Index] on defaults becomes stronger in countries with better institutions. This result suggests that the effect of tougher macroprudential policies (that reduce household leverage and ultimately deter defaults) is amplified in an institutional environment conducive to an efficient judicial system with better protection for lenders’ rights and better enforcement capabilities.”

In addition to making banks more cautious, the limited-repossession system in Ireland makes the CBI more stringent in its macroprudential squeeze on credit flows. The prospect of a future spike in mortgage defaults is a key concern for the CBI, along with the high average loss-give-default in such a scenario. Because of this, the CBI is correct to stamp down hard on any signs of substantial credit flow into the domestic housing market.

When it comes to tackling the underlying defect in the Irish system (the too-limited repossession rights of lenders) the CBI has taken the line that this is somebody else’s problem. The CBI harangues the government endlessly on tax and spend policies (which are also not strictly the CBI’s problems) but when it comes to addressing the big defect in the Irish system regarding repossession, the CBI is as quiet as a mouse.

Who is paying for this unusual Irish system of extremely-limited repossession rights? Nondelinquent mortgage borrowers pay for the limited-repossession system since their mortgage interest rate includes the expected cost of default, capturing both a high probability of default and a high loss given default. Households looking for mortgages suffer in two ways: one, the Irish limited-repossession system makes mortgages more difficult to obtain; two, the system has a knock-on effect on housing construction: property development is a high-risk business and with no guarantee of mortgage-ready buyers, developers are extra-cautious.

The net effect of the Irish limited-repossession system on housing prices is indeterminate since there are opposite effects on the demand and supply sides. Cash buyers might benefit or lose on a net basis: they lose from the decrease in house construction (hence higher prices) but benefit from reduced bidding competition against mortgage-based buyers. Existing mortgage holders (other than defaulters) lose, and prospective mortgage holders lose twice over.

At the conclusion of her speech Donnery states:

“While there are uncertainties placing a precise value on the short-term benefits and costs, in the longer-term, increasing the margins of safety in an uncertain world is of benefit to all.”

Consider a young Irish household wishing to buy a family home using mortgage finance. In exchange for a mortgage loan, they might be willing to take a chance that they lose the house in some future scenarios if things turned out badly and they could not pay the loan back. They want a house now and are willing to take a chance on the future. Such a mortgage contract is not legally available to them in Ireland nowadays, since repossession can only be enforced in ridiculously limited circumstances and, due to this legal reality, banks are not allowed to issue mortgage loans unless they are virtually default-risk-free. The young household will have to rent or live with parents, for many years into their future.

The Irish financial system, where there is virtually no chance of receiving a default-risky mortgage and even less chance that such a loan could end with repossession, is not of benefit to all. For many people in many circumstances, risk is good.

Sharon Donnery (Deputy Governor, Central Bank of Ireland) speech on macroprudential policy

The Department of Economics, Finance & Accounting at Maynooth University welcomes Sharon Donnery, Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, who will deliver a talk on “Building resilience in the face of uncertainty – what role for policy?”, followed by a panel discussion, chaired by Bridget McNally (Maynooth University) with panelists Robert Kelly (Central Bank, Head of Macro-Finance Division), Dermot O’Leary (Chief Economist at Goodbody Stockbrokers), and Gregory Connor (Maynooth University), on Thursday 31st May 2018,  at 11am – 12:15 pm, Renehan Hall, Maynooth University. R.S.V.P. EconFinAcc@mu.ie. For further information tel: 01-7083728 / 7083681

Four Cheers for Conor Skehan

On Wednesday, Conor Skehan, outgoing head of the Government’s Housing Agency, was grilled by the Oireachtas Housing Committee for the mortal sin of noticing things and speaking honestly about them. Mr. Skehan claimed that some individuals in Ireland were gaming the public housing system, in order to become eligible for public housing ahead of others. Members of the Committee, devout in their observance of the Holy Laws of political correctness,  castigated Mr. Skehan for his public remarks and the evidence he presented to justify them. They noted that it is not possible that a housing-eligible person could game the system – as PC dogma clearly states, lower income individuals are gifted with Immaculate Conception (born without sin) and can do no wrong. So the evidence that Mr. Skehan presented had to be false, and his presentation of it before the committee was proof of his fall from a PC state of grace.

On the plus side, there was at least one honest person in the Oireachtas on Wednesday.

Call for Papers: Fintech and financial risk management: evolution or revolution?

A joint academic-practitioner conference on the theme Fintech and financial risk management: evolution or revolution? will be held in at the Institute of Bankers, Dublin, Ireland on Monday September 10th, 2018. The conference is organized by the Valuation and Risk Cluster (VAR), the Department of Economics, Finance & Accounting at Maynooth University, the Smurfit School of Business at University College Dublin, and the Central Bank of Ireland.

New financial technologies are producing widespread changes to financial markets and financial systems. The effects of the fintech revolution on risk measurement, analysis and control are not yet clear. How does fintech change the risk profile of financial markets? Can existing risk management systems cope with the new environment? What changes are required to existing financial risk management methods and systems? Will innovative applications of fintech improve risk measurement and management

Potential topics include:

• Flash crashes

• Risk measurement and control of black-box trading algorithms

• The impact of high speed trading on dynamic rebalancing and hedging

• Natural Language Processing (NLP)-based artificial intelligence and its trading impact

• High speed trading networks and systemic risk

• Information and noise cascading in networks

• Stability and liquidity of blockchain protocols

• Portfolio risk management with automated advisor systems

• Credit risk in fintech lending systems

• Fintech’s impact on the business models of existing financial institutions

• Applications of machine learning in risk management systems

Please send papers or detailed proposals by May 31st, 2018 at the latest to Na.Li@ucd.ie; all papers must be submitted electronically in adobe pdf format. There will be both main conference sessions and poster sessions. The academic coordinators for the conference are Gregory Connor, John Cotter and Trevor Fitzpatrick, who can be contacted at Gregory.connor@mu.ie,  John.cotter@ucd.ie,  and Trevor.Fitzpatrick@centralbank.ie. The administrative manager for the conference is Na Li who can be contacted at Na.Li@ucd.ie. There are no submission fees or attendance fees for the conference. We are grateful to the Science Foundation of Ireland and the Irish Institute of Bankers for their generous support of this conference. The Valuation and Risk Cluster (VAR) is a collaboration between University College Dublin, Maynooth University, Dublin City University and industry partners, with support from the Science Foundation of Ireland.

Honest thoughts on educational inequality in Ireland

In discussing the sources of variation in academic achievement across students, there is a yawning chasm between the contemporary research literature (particularly in the emerging field of geno-economics) and the mainstream media. The mainstream media sticks religiously to the traditional blank slate theory, claiming that variation in student achievement is caused entirely by differing home and school environments. Tuesday’s Education Supplement of the Irish Times is a classic example. The main headline of the supplement is “Privately-educated elite have greater access to education” and the first paragraph reads as follows:

“Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are denied the same opportunities as their wealthier peers, while parents with money can afford a better education for their children despite Ireland’s so-called free education system, an analysis of the 2017 Irish Times feeder school list shows.”

The article repeatedly relies on the assumption that children of wealthier parents in Ireland perform better in school for only one reason, their parents purchase better educational outcomes through fee-paying schools, tutors, and grind courses. The current scientific literature has an entirely different flavour. A recent paper by Plomin, et al., entitled “The high heritability of educational achievement reflects many genetically influenced traits, not just intelligence,” is typical. Synopsizing their findings, they state:

“Differences among children in educational achievement are highly heritable from the early school years until the end of compulsory education at age 16, when UK students are assessed nationwide with standard achievement tests [General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE)]. Genetic research has shown that intelligence makes a major contribution to the heritability of educational achievement. However, we
show that other broad domains of behavior such as personality and psychopathology also account for genetic influence on GCSE scores beyond that predicted by intelligence. Together with intelligence, these domains account for 75% of the heritability of GCSE scores. These results underline the importance of genetics in educational achievement and its correlates.”

To be fair to the Irish Times, an inside piece by Brian Mooney in the Supplement brings a gentle hint of realism into the blank-slate-inspired tirade of the Supplement’s lead article. Mooney hints that there might possibly be other factors explaining why households with two graduate parents grab the university places rightfully going to other households.

“For schools where both parents of many students were graduates, and where they have been supported throughout their education, getting a college place is no great reflection on the success of their school. Alternatively, we are keenly aware that for schools in disadvantaged communities, securing third-level progression for even a small proportion of students is a reflection of highly motivated teachers, and is a fantastic achievement.”

Brian Mooney does not state it explicitly, but scientists have shown definitively that the most powerful “support” that two-graduate-parent households gift to their children is their two tightly packed strands of DNA, which split and recombine, creating a new human infant in the most complex and beautiful physical process in the known universe. This new human infant is not a blank slate; he/she inherits a block-random collection of genomic traits from the maternal and paternal genomes. That genetic process, not fee-paying schools or tutor expenses, is a major source of inequality in educational outcomes in Ireland.

NB: In response to thoughtful comments from colleagues, I changed “the main source” to “a major source” in the last sentence above. That is perhaps more accurate, although it does mess with the rhythm of the final sentence. This edit was made after comments below.

Ireland’s Negotiation Game Strategy for Brexit

Ireland needs to play its hand deftly and aggressively during the EU-wide Brexit negotiations. Irish interests in the Brexit process, post-vote, differ from those of other EU states. For EU enthusiasts in states with limited UK trade, a tempting strategy for preventing a NEXT-IT (Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, etc.) is to punish the UK via a spiteful exit deal. That would be a disaster for Ireland due to spillovers. Ireland needs to fight hard to let the UK be allowed a smooth and minimally-disruptive exit, not face a mini trade war. Ireland would be hit very badly in the crossfire.