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Lengthening Financial Contracts in Africa

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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of posts that preview the findings of the forthcoming Financing Africa: Through the Crisis and Beyond regional flagship report, a comprehensive review documenting current and new trends in Africa’s financial sectors and taking into account Africa’s many different experiences. The report was prepared by the African Development Bank, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Bank. In this post, the authors focus on the challenges and opportunities in providing long-term finance for enterprises, households and governments. Long-term finance is a critical element for financial systems to fulfill their growth-enhancing role.

Despite recent encouraging innovations in banks, contractual savings institutions, and the capital market, we find that lengthening financial contracts remains a challenge for financial systems across Africa. Figure 1 illustrates the short-term nature of African banking; more than 80% of deposits are sight deposits or with a maturity of less than one year and less than 50% percent of loans have a maturity of more than one year. Providers of long-term finance that are well developed in the industrialized world, such as insurance companies, pension and equity funds and venture capitalists are small in most African countries and inefficient in their operation. This goes hand in hand with a limited supply of long-term equity and debt instruments across the continent.

Expanding Financial Services in Africa: Exploiting new opportunities with a sense of realism

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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of posts that preview the findings of the forthcoming Financing Africa: Through the Crisis and Beyond regional flagship report, a comprehensive review documenting current and new trends in Africa’s financial sectors and taking into account Africa’s many different experiences. The report was prepared by the African Development Bank, the German International Cooperation (GIZ) and the World Bank. In this post, the authors focus on the challenges and opportunities for expanding access to finance in Africa, a central issue for Africa’s financial sector development.

Traditionally, we have observed low access levels by households and enterprises across the African continent. Sadly, these low access levels persist. Less than one in five households have a formal bank account (Table 1) and, on average, only 23 percent of enterprises have loans or lines of credit, while the corresponding share among enterprises in non-African developing countries is 46 percent (Figure 1).

Financing Africa: Through the Crisis and Beyond

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In mid-September, the African Development Bank, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Bank will launch Financing Africa: Through the Crisis and Beyond , a comprehensive review documenting current and new trends in Africa’s financial sector and taking into account Africa’s many different experiences. During the coming weeks and leading up to the formal launch of the book in Ethiopia on September 15, we will give a sneak peek of the book’s main findings and recommendations. In this first post, we’ll summarize our main messages.

Bank Competition and Stability: Cross-Country Heterogeneity

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In a recent Economist debate, Franklin Allen and I discussed the relationship between competition and stability. In the debate I argued that it is not so much the degree of competition in the banking market but rather bank regulation and supervision that drives bank fragility. In a recent paper with Olivier de Jonghe and Glenn Schepens, we now combine these two areas and test whether the regulatory and supervisory framework influences the competition-stability relationship. And we indeed find several dimensions of the market, regulatory and institutional framework that influences the degree to which competition harms or helps bank fragility.

But let us first review what theory tells us about the competition-stability link, and then examine how this relationship might vary with certain country features.

Which Households Use Banks? And Does Bank Privatization Make a Difference?

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Access to banking services is viewed as a key determinant of economic well-being for households, especially in low-income countries. Savings and credit products make it easier for households to align income and expenditure patterns across time, to insure themselves against income and expenditure shocks, as well as to undertake investments in human or physical capital. Up to now, however, there is little cross-country evidence which documents how the use of financial services differs across households and, in particular, how cross-country variation in the structure of the financial sector affects the types of households which are banked. In a recent paper with Martin Brown, we use survey data from 28 transition economies and Turkey to:

  1. document the use of formal banking services (bank accounts, bank cards and mortgages) across these 29 countries in 2006 and 2010,
  2. relate this use to an array of household characteristics,
  3. gauge the relationship between changes in bank ownership and the financial infrastructure (deposit insurance and creditor protection) over time within a country and changes in the use of banking services, and
  4. assess how cross-country variation in bank ownership structures, deposit insurance and creditor protection affect the composition of the banked population.
     

Cross-border Banking in Europe: Implications for Financial Stability and Macroeconomic Policies

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Understanding the role of banks in cross-border finance has become an urgent priority. The recent Global Financial Crisis and ongoing European crisis have shown the importance of creating the necessary regulatory and macroeconomic conditions for a Single European Banking Market to function properly in good and in tough times. Together with five other economists (Franklin Allen, Elena Carletti, Philip Lane, Dirk Schoenmaker and Wolf Wagner) I have  published a CEPR policy report that analyzes key aspects of cross-border banking and derives policy recommendations from a European perspective. We argue that for Europe to reap the important diversification and efficiency benefits from cross-border banking, while reducing the risks stemming from large cross-border banks, reforms in micro- and macro-prudential regulation and macroeconomic policies are needed.

The benefits and risks of cross-border banking have been extensively analyzed and discussed by researchers and policy makers alike. The main stability benefits stem from diversification gains; in spite of the Spanish housing crisis, Spain’s  large banks remain relatively solid, given the profitability of their Latin American subsidiaries. Similarly, foreign banks can help reduce funding risks for domestic firms if domestic banks run into problems. However, the costs might outweigh the diversification benefits if outward or inward bank investment is too concentrated. Based on several new metrics, we find that the structure of the large banking centers in the EU tends to be well balanced. However, problems are identified for the Central and Eastern European countries which are highly dependent on a few West European banks, and the Nordic and Baltic region which are relatively interwoven without much diversification. At the system-level, we find that the EU,  in contrast to other regions, is poorly diversified and is overexposed to the United States.

Does Competition Make Banking More Dangerous?

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Post-Debate Update:

The debate is over, opening statements, rebuttals and closing remarks have attracted lots of comments and the votes been cast and counted. The results show that a (probably not very representative) majority do not think that competition is dangerous for stability, though the reasons for this might vary quite a lot. Some might have been swayed by my argument that it is regulation that makes banking more dangerous – if of the wrong kind. This is also consistent with Ross Levine’s view that the recent crisis "represents the unwillingness of the policy apparatus to adapt to a dynamic, innovating financial system." Understanding the links between competition, regulatory policies and stability is certainly a topic that deserves to be to be explored more – stay tuned for an update over the summer.

Original Post:

Bailing Out the Banks: Reconciling Stability and Competition in Europe

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The relationship between market structure, competition and stability in banking has been a policy-relevant but controversial one (see Beck, 2008 for a pre-crisis survey).  The current crisis has put the topic back on the front-burner, and particularly so in Europe, where competition concerns about the effect of national bail-out packages on competition across Europe rank high.  Together with four other European economists, I have tackled this question in a recent CEPR report: Bailing out the Banks: Reconciling Stability and Competition.

The crisis has provoked two common but quite different reactions concerning the role of competition policy in the banking sector.  One reaction has been to jump to the conclusion that financial stability should take priority over all other concerns and that therefore the "business as usual" preoccupations of competition regulators should be put on hold.  Another reaction has been to fear that intervention to restore financial stability will lead to massive distortions of competition in the banking sector, and therefore to conclude that competition rules should be applied even more vigorously than usual, with the receipt of State aid being considered presumptive grounds for suspecting the bank in question of anti-competitive behavior.  We endorse neither of these points of view. 

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