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Pricing Risk in Latin America

November 28, 2005

LatinFinanceIn an essay in November's LatinFinance magazine (subscription required), CGD Senior Fellow Liliana Rojas-Suarez questions how appropriate prudential financial regulation can be designed in Latin America to contain the risks from high external capital volatility. Her answer is that it can be done, but not with the current regulatory approach, which largely consists of efforts to directly control financial aggregates such as liquidity expansion and credit growth. Rojas-Suarez recommends an alternative "pricing-risks-right" approach that, she argues, can go a long way in limiting the adverse impact of high capital flow volatility on local financial markets.

According to Rojas-Suarez, traditional prudential regulatory policies cannot effectively contain the problems associated with capital flow volatility because they do not take adequate consideration of the particular risk features of financial sectors in Latin America. The reliance on capital adequacy rations, therefore, has not been effective. A better approach would be to create incentives for financial institutions in Latin America to "price right" the risks inherent to their assets. Such an approach might go a long way to mitigate the adverse effects from capital account volatility.

There are particular features that distinguish Latin America's financial markets, such as shallow financial intermediation with very small capital markets, the predominance of assets and liabilities with short maturity, and high volatility in key financial variables, including the deposit base. Rojas-Suarez argues these features reflect depositors' lack of confidence in domestic financial systems, which, in turn, makes these systems highly vulnerable to capital flow volatility.


A Two-Tiered Approach

For the least financially developed group of countries, where no capital standard works because basic conditions are not in place, the challenge is to identify and develop indicators of banking problems that reveal the true riskiness of banks. Countries such as Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Nicaragua could benefit from an approach that encouraged the public offering of uninsured certificates of deposit, and that published inter-bank bid-and-offer rates to improve the flow of information of bank quality. Additionally, these countries should encourage the process of financial internationalization; market depth can only be achieved if a diverse group of investors and users of capital allow the market to become less concentrated.

For the second group of relatively more financially developed countries (such as Chile, and to a lesser extent, Brazil, Uruguay, Jamaica, Peru, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago) the main recommendation is to design a capital standard that appropriately reflects the risk of banks' assets. There are two important policy recommendations for this group of countries. First, governments should adequately assess the risk features of their own liabilities when calculating capital requirements. Second, countries should develop risk-based regulations in loan-loss provisioning.