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Salmon: Give those repo lenders skin in the game

Reuters columnist Felix Salmon likes the Miller-Moore amendment, which would cause repo lenders to lose up to 20 percent of their collateral when the bank they’ve made the loan to fails.

From one of two columns on November 20:

This means that if you’re a secured creditor of a bank which has failed and which the federal government has to pay money to rescue, you are only guaranteed to receive 80% of your money back. Beyond that, you’re treated as an unsecured creditor.

This achieves three important goals.

Firstly, it means that lenders to dodgy banks will actually have to start doing underwriting, rather than simply relying on their security interest. That keeps everybody honest, and will give the system a heads-up when banks start getting into trouble.

Secondly, it means that wholesale lenders no longer have the ability to jump the queue when it comes to seniority. Banks should repay their depositors first, and then their senior unsecured creditors, and then their subordinated creditors, and then their preferred shareholders; whatever’s left over goes to common shareholders. But increasingly the pecking order has been upended by allowing banks to issue secured debt, which in practice ends up being senior even to depositors. In some countries, banks aren’t allowed to issue secured debt at all; this amendment doesn’t go that far, but at least it makes the debt a little bit riskier for the lender.

Thirdly, it means that banks will be forced to look at the big picture when it comes to their assets, rather than simply using them as collateral for cheap and dangerous short-term funding.

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