Syndicate content

financial crisis

CEO Pay at Banks is Not to Blame for the Credit Crisis

René M. Stulz's picture

Conventional wisdom has it that compensation in the financial industry is responsible for much of the credit crisis. For instance, Paul Krugman states that “reforming bankers’ compensation is the single best thing we can do to prevent another financial crisis a few years down the road.” Unfortunately, the facts are stubborn and they do not fit this conventional wisdom.

Rüdiger Fahlenbrach and I study the incentives of bank CEOs before the start of the crisis and how the performance of banks is related to these incentives in a paper published in the Journal of Financial Economics. Our sample includes 95 large banks for which we have detailed information on CEO compensation, option holdings, and equity holdings. The paper shows that the value of the shares held by CEOs in the companies they managed in 2006 was roughly ten times the value of their total annual compensation. Such large holdings dwarfed annual bonuses (see Table 1). Experts in governance would have argued before the crisis that the interests of these CEOs were well aligned with the interests of the shareholders because they had so much skin in the game. The CEOs of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns had equity holdings in their firms worth approximately one billion dollars in 2006. With such holdings, it would have made little sense for CEOs to take actions that knowingly decreased shareholder wealth.

Crisis Recovery and the Role of Credit: Do Phoenix Miracles Exist?

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

One of the most hotly debated policy questions with respect to the 2008 global crisis is how to stimulate business recovery. Because the crisis started in and severely affected the financial sector, the conventional assumption is that the recovery of the financial sector is a precondition to recovery in the corporate sector. While this conjecture appears reasonable, some have challenged it, pointing to numerous crises across the world in recent years in which real sector recovery preceded that of the financial sector. Of particular interest are episodes characterized by Calvo et al. (2006) as Systemic Sudden Stops (3S episodes) where output declines are associated with sharp declines in the liquidity of a country’s financial sector. Subsequent credit-less recoveries—in which external credit collapses with output but fails to recover as output bounces back to full recovery—have been termed “Phoenix Miracles.”

Empirically, 3S episodes offer an unusual natural experiment since they provide an opportunity to observe how firms are affected in economies which have been subjected to a financial shock that precedes or is contemporaneous with a recession. To date there has been little evidence at the firm-level on how corporations respond to crises in general. In a recent paper, my co-authors Meghana Ayyagari, Vojislav Maksimovic and I use a database of listed firms in emerging markets to analyze the recovery process after a financing crisis. We try to see if recovery of the financial sector precedes or occurs at the same time as the recovery in output of the corporate sector. In other words, we ask: Do firms experience Phoenix Miracles where their sales recover without a recovery in external credit? We then compare and contrast the experience of emerging market firms to that of US firms during the 2008 US financial crisis and investigate if the recent US recovery process qualifies as a Phoenix Miracle.

What Explains Comovement in Stock Market Returns during the 2007–08 Crisis?

Maria Soledad Martinez Peria's picture

The 2007–08 financial crisis was one of historic dimensions—few would dispute that it was one of the broadest, deepest, and most complex crises since the Great Depression. Initially, however, the crisis seemed to be of rather limited scope, and many thought countries would be able to “decouple” from events in the United States. But after Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008, the crisis spread rapidly across institutions, markets, and borders. There were massive failures of financial institutions and a staggering collapse in asset values in developed and developing countries alike. Nonetheless, the reactions of stock markets varied widely around the globe, with some countries showing greater comovement with the US market than others (figure 1).

Together with Tatiana Didier, we empirically investigate the factors that determine comovement between stock market returns in the United States and those in 83 other countries in a recent paper. In particular, we evaluate the extent to which comovement with US stock market returns during this recent turbulent period was driven by real linkages, was driven by financial linkages, or was the consequence of “demonstration effects” (see Goldstein 1998 and Masson 1998), in which investors became aware of vulnerabilities present in the US context and reassessed the risks in other countries, reevaluating the value of their stockholdings.

Bank Capital Regulations: Learning the Right Lessons from the Crisis

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

The recent financial crisis demonstrated that existing capital regulations—in design, implementation, or some combination of the two—were completely inadequate to prevent a panic in the financial sector. Needless to say, policymakers and pundits have been making widespread calls to reform bank regulation and supervision. But how best to redesign capital standards? Before joining the calls for reform, it’s important to look at how financial institutions performed through the crisis to see if we’re learning the right lessons from the crisis. Is capital regulation justified? What type of capital should banks hold to ensure that they can better withstand periods of stress? Should a simple leverage ratio be introduced to reduce regulatory arbitrage and improve transparency? These are some of the questions addressed in a recent paper I wrote with Enrica Detragiache and Ouarda Merrouche.


Since the first Basel capital accord in 1988, the prevailing approach to bank regulation has put capital front and center: banks that hold more capital should be better able to absorb losses with their own resources, without becoming insolvent or necessitating a bailout with public funds. In addition, by forcing bank owners to have some “skin in the game,” minimum capital requirements help counterbalance incentives for excessive risk-taking created by limited liability and amplified by deposit insurance and bailout expectations. However, many of the banks that were rescued in the latest turmoil appeared to be in compliance with minimum capital requirements shortly before and even during the crisis. In the ensuing debate over how to strengthen regulation, capital continues to play an important role. A consensus is being forged around a new set of capital standards (Basel III), with the goal of making capital requirements more stringent.  

Islamic Banking: Can it Save Us from Crises?

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

Pundits in the financial press have been asking an intriguing question: if too much debt and insufficient equity was partly responsible for the financial crisis, might Islamic banking be part of the solution? After all, Islamic principles require that financial transactions cannot include interest rate payments on debt, but rather have to rely on profit-loss risk-sharing arrangements (as in equity). For example, demand deposits that do not pay interest are fine, but savings deposits generally participate in the profits of the bank since these cannot accrue interest. Lending also generally follows a partnership model where the bank provides the resources and the client provides effort and expertise, and profits are shared at some agreed ratio. So can the heightened risk-sharing required by Sharia curb excess risk-taking by banks?

In practice Islamic scholars have also developed products that resemble those offered by conventional banks, replacing interest rate payments and discounting with fees and contingent payment structures. Nevertheless, Islamic banking still retains a strong element of equity participation. How does this affect bank risk-taking? Conceptually, the answer is not immediately clear. On the one hand, the equity-like nature of savings instruments may increase depositors’ incentives to monitor and discipline banks. On the other hand, if deposit instruments are equity-like, banks’ incentives to monitor and discipline borrowers may also be reduced since banks no longer face the threat of immediate withdrawal. Similarly, the equity-like nature of partnership loans can reduce the important discipline imposed on entrepreneurs by debt contracts.

The Challenges of Bankruptcy Reform

Leora Klapper's picture

The 2008 financial crisis precipitated a global economic downturn, credit crunch, and reduction in cross-border lending, trade finance, remittances, and foreign direct investment, which all adversely affected businesses around the world. The increase in the number of distressed firms has made policymakers more concerned about the effectiveness of existing bankruptcy regimes, including both the laws that address reorganization and liquidation, as well as improved enforcement of laws in court.

In a recent paper with Elena Cirmizi and Mahesh Uttamchandani, my co-authors and I summarize the theoretical and empirical literature on designing bankruptcy laws; discuss the challenges of introducing and implementing bankruptcy reforms; and present examples of the most recent reforms in this area from around the world. As policymakers use the current recession as an opportunity to engage in meaningful reform of the bankruptcy process, it is important to assess experiences from previous crises.

Reforming Global Finance: What is the G20 Missing?

Franklin Allen's picture

Editor's Note: Professor Franklin Allen came to the World Bank on October 27 to give an FPD Chief Economist Talk on the topic of Reforming Global Finance: What is the G20 Missing? Please see the FPD Chief Economist Talk page to download a copy of his presentation and watch a video of his Talk.

The recent financial crisis clearly had more than one cause. My view is that the most important one was a bubble in real estate prices, not only in the US but also in a number of other countries such as Spain and Ireland. It was the bursting of this bubble that has led to so many problems in the world economy. A significant part of this is a direct effect on the real economy rather than an effect transmitted through the financial system. For example, Spain had one of the best regulated banking systems and its banks did much better than in other countries. Yet with a doubling of its unemployment rate to 20 percent, its real economy has been devastated. In contrast countries like Germany that did not have a real estate bubble but had much larger drops in GDP have not suffered nearly as much. Germany's unemployment rate is now lower than at the start of the crisis.

The Chrysler Effect: The Impact of the Chrysler Bailout on Borrowing Costs

Deniz Anginer's picture

Did the bailout of Chrysler by the U.S. government overturn bankruptcy law in the United States?

Almost two years ago, the outgoing Bush and incoming Obama administrations announced a series of steps to assist Chrysler, the struggling automaker, in an extraordinary intervention into private industry. The federal government intervened in Chrysler’s reorganization in a manner that, according to many analysts, subordinated the senior secured claims of Chrysler’s lenders to the unsecured claims of the auto union UAW. As one participant interpreted the intervention, the assets of retired Indiana policemen (which were invested in Chrysler’s secured debt) were given to retired Michigan autoworkers.

Critics claim that the bailout turned bankruptcy law upside down, and predicted that businesses would suffer an increase in their cost of debt as a result of the risk that organized labor might leap-frog them in bankruptcy. A long-standing principal of bankruptcy law requires that a debtor’s secured creditors be repaid, in full, before its unsecured creditors receive anything.

The Impact of the Crisis on New Firm Registration

Leora Klapper's picture

With millions around the globe feeling the impact of the financial crisis and slower economic growth and job losses, it is important to understand regulatory and policy constraints on entrepreneurs wanting to start a formal business. Entrepreneurial activity is the basis of sustainable economic growth, and the first step for entrepreneurs joining or transitioning to the formal sector is the registration of their business at the registrar of companies. For evidence of the economic power of entrepreneurship we need look no further than the United States, where young firms have been shown to be an important source of net job creation, relative to incumbent firms (Haltiwanger, et al.).

To measure entrepreneurial activity, we’ve constructed with support from the Kauffman Foundation the World Bank Group Entrepreneurship Snapshots (WBGES) – a cross-country, time-series dataset on new firm registration in 112 countries. The main variable of interest is “Entry Density”, defined as the number of newly registered limited liability firms as a percentage of the working age population (in thousands). We employ annual figures from 2004 to 2009 collected directly from Registrars of Companies and other government statistical offices worldwide. Like the Doing Business report, the units of measurement are private, formal sector companies with limited liability.

Financial Access and the Crisis: Where Do We Stand?

Asli Demirgüç-Kunt's picture

Do you wonder how the recent global crisis affected access to financial services? Well I do, and a report by the World Bank Group and CGAP just provided the answer: Data show that even as countries were suffering because of the financial crisis, access to formal financial services grew in 2009.  Indeed, the number of bank accounts grew world-wide, while at the same time the volume of loans and deposit accounts dropped. The physical outreach of financial systems— consisting of branch networks, automated teller machines (ATMs), and point-of-sale (POS) terminals—all expanded.

That’s a relief. Readers of this blog know by now that I am a strong believer in expanding access. Lack of access to finance is often the critical element underlying persistent income inequality as well as slower growth. But the recent global financial crisis has led us to question many of our beliefs and re-opened old debates. It also exposed an important tension between access and stability. Were we wrong to emphasize access in the light of what happened?