Senior banker warns UK reforms may fall short

Standard Chartered urges new committee to intervene to keep markets in check
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The Independent Online

Standard Chartered has warned that the Chancellor's array of banking reforms will not do their job unless the new Financial Policy Committee is prepared to intervene directly to stop markets overheating.

Richard Meddings, the bank's highly respected finance director, said Asian regulators had protected their economies as Britain and the US had let markets boom before the crisis.

Mr Meddings said: "Western regulators should learn lessons from Asia. Where are the [mortgage] loan-to-value restrictions and liquidity reserves?"

Mr Meddings said Britain was instead relying too much on strict regulation of capital and liquidity, which could cause credit to dry up just as the economy needs the banks to lend.

He said: "We would question whether regulators have sufficiently worked out the aggregate consequences of the breadth and depth of regulatory change in such a short period of time on banks' capacity to provide credit to the economy.

"To use an aeroplane analogy, if a bank is a plane you can make the plane safer but if the air traffic control is haywire then all the banks in the world come crashing down."

Standard Chartered racked up record profits during the financial crisis and kept lending to businesses in Asia, Africa and the Middle East as credit dried up in the UK. Mr Meddings said the bank benefited from regulation in its markets.

The FPC will be able to use macro-prudential "tools" such as imposing loan-to-value limits for house purchases to protect financial stability.

Mr Meddings said: "We would encourage them to do so because it is a powerful mechanism to protect the resilience of growing economies and to limit the impact of bubbles." He added: "It's politically difficult to say you can only have 70 per cent loan to value but that has made Asia's performance much more resilient.

"People talk about asset bubbles in Asia and say prices are going up, but when you have got 60 or 70 per cent LTV then you have 30 or 40 per cent of equity in the property.

"In the UK they allowed loans to value of 125 per cent and it was worse in the US. When house prices are soft and falling you don't want to be lending at 100 per cent."

He also said the FPC should increase the liquidity reserves banks have to hold with the Bank of England when credit is too lax because that would reduce money for lending and make the central bank more liquid.

Such actions are also strong signals to the banks and consumers that things are getting out of hand, he said.

"The central bank says, 'We are taking away the punch bowl.' The only thing we have here is raising interest rates and we can't do that now because so many people are worried about interest rates because they have over-borrowed."

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