WASHINGTON, DC – It is unusual for a senior government official to produce a short, clear analytical paper. It is even rarer when the official’s argument both cuts to the core of the issue and amounts to a devastating critique of the existing order.
In a speech delivered on February 24, Thomas M. Hoenig, Vice Chairman of America’s Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), did exactly that. These four pages are a must-read not only for economic policymakers around the world, but also for anyone who cares about where the global financial system is heading.
Hoenig, former President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, has spent his career working on issues related to financial regulation. He communicates effectively to a broad audience – and understanding the technicalities of finance is not needed to grasp his main points.
One of those points is that the world’s largest financial firms have equity that is worth only about 4% of their total assets. As shareholders’ equity is the only real buffer against losses in these corporations, this means that a 4% decline in their assets’ value would completely wipe out their shareholders – taking the companies to the brink of insolvency.