New report: No Stress – The flaws in the Bank of England’s stress testing programme

In 2014, the Bank of England commenced a stress testing programme in an effort to test the capital adequacy of major UK-based banks. It concluded that its results demonstrated the resilience of the banking system. No Stress, a report from the Adam Smith Institute, suggests that we should be extremely sceptical of the Bank’s conclusions.

The report is by Kevin Dowd—Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute, professor of finance and economics at Durham University, and author of three books, ten book chapters, and dozens of journal articles on risk modelling—who presents a powerful and rigorous indictment of the Bank’s stress testing programme.

Dowd makes the case that the stress tests are significantly methodologically flawed and worse than useless, giving policymakers unreliable information about the strength of the UK banking system, providing false risk comfort, and creating systemic instability by forcing banks to converge towards the Bank of England’s models.

The Bank of England (BoE) uses just one stress test scenario, which attempts to predict what would happen in the event of a major recession to the UK’s major banks: Barclay’s, the Co-op, HSBC, Lloyds, Nationwide, RBS, Standard Chartered and Santander. Using just one scenario is extremely limited – an economic downturn can take many forms, and a combination of unemployment, inflation and negative economic growth that was substantially different to the Bank’s scenario could hit the banks in a completely different way. The BoE can say that the banks are safe under its scenario, but not that they are safe in general.

The BoE’s use of risk-weightings, as opposed to leverage ratios favoured by many international authorities, to calculate banks’ assets is extremely questionable. These risk-weightings are easy to game by banks, giving a rosier picture of their health than alternative measures would show. This also distorts the bank’s investment strategy.

The BoE’s approach forces a standardisation of banks’ risk models, effectively putting all the British banks’ eggs into one basket. By misleadingly reporting that the financial sector is safe, the BoE’s stress test has provided false risk comfort to politicians and consumers.

For these reasons and more, Dowd concludes that we should end regulatory risk modelling and re-establish strong bank governance systems that make decision-makers personally liable for the risks they take. The report is available to download here. (more…)

Today is Tax Freedom Day

For the full press release, click here.

This year’s Tax Freedom Day, the day when Britons stop working to pay their taxes and start earning for themselves, falls on 31st May, according to Adam Smith Institute calculations.

The Adam Smith Institute estimates that Britons will work 150 days this year solely to pay their taxes. This is one day later than 2014′s Tax Freedom Day, which is not statistically significant. However, the UK’s Tax Freedom Day falls more than a month later than it does in the United States, where citizens started earning for themselves on 24th April.

Tax Freedom Day is designed to reveal to the public how much they really pay out in taxes, which Britain’s lengthy tax code can often obscure. The Institute’s calculations include all taxes raised by HM Revenue and Customs: direct taxes like income tax, national insurance and corporation tax, and indirect taxes like VAT and excise duties.

Cost of Government Day, which represents Total Managed Expenditure as a day of the year, falls on 29th June, three days earlier than it fell in 2014. While this suggests a slight improvement over last year, the money borrowed to cover the month-long gap between Tax Freedom Day must eventually be paid off with future taxes. This means without tax cuts or major growth Tax Freedom Day would eventually have to drift even later.

Director of the Adam Smith Institute, Dr Eamonn Butler, said:

The Treasury hates Tax Freedom Day, because they don’t want us to know how much tax we really pay. They prefer to conceal the tax burden through stealth taxes and indirect taxes that we don’t even realise we’re paying.

Most people are shocked to learn that the government takes over two-fifths of the country’s earnings – and then borrows more. Mediaeval serfs had to work about a third of their time for their feudal lord, but we are in serfdom to the government for even longer!

High taxes are very bad for economic growth, as talent and initiative drain abroad. Ask President Hollande of France.

Alan Mak, Conservative MP for Havant, added:

The ASI’s work on Tax Freedom Day reminds us that we must carry on reducing the tax burden on hardworking individuals and businesses so we have greater economic growth and individual prosperity. That’s a goal I champion as a member of the new Conservative intake; income tax cuts and frozen council tax and fuel duty have so far made millions of Britons better off, but politicians must continue to look for new ways to get money back into taxpayer pockets, not out.

The ASI calculates Tax Freedom Day by measuring local taxes, direct and indirect national taxes, and national insurance contributions as a proportion of the UK’s net national income (41.2% per cent in 2015), mapping that proportion onto the days of the year.

Tax Freedom Day figures are not available up-to-date for calendar years so they are proxied from government and OBR forecasts and financial year numbers. They are then revised when exact numbers become available.

For further comments or to arrange an interview, contact Head of Communications Kate Andrews: kate@adamsmith.org | 07476 915072

RIP John Nash

In a Think Piece for the Adam Smith Institute, Vuk Vukovic pays tribute to the endlessly influential theorist John Nash:

It is with great sorrow we hear that one of the greatest minds in human history died this weekend in a car crash with his wife while they were returning home from an airport. John Forbes Nash Jr., was widely known as one of the founders of cooperative game theory whose life story was captured by the 2001 film “A Beautiful Mind”, is truly one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. His contributions in the field of game theory revolutionized the way we think about economics today, in addition to a whole number of fields – from evolutionary biology to mathematics, computer science to political science.

You can read the whole piece here

Madsen Pirie writes for the Times on EU subsidy of rapeseed

Madsen has a piece in today’s Times (paywall). He links the yellow fields of rapeseed that are making hay fever sufferers sneeze and wheeze to EU subsidies. After the Canadians bred a low acid version of rapeseed in the 1970s, the EU originally subsidized the seeds and the planting of it, not the actual crop. Then it went on to subsidize it for making bio-diesel, because it wanted a renewable energy source. So our green fields have been overtaken by a lurid yellow that many people dislike, and hay fever sufferers dash to the chemist’s in large numbers.

By careful breeding, Canadian scientists produced a low acid version. Rapeseed was transformed, and spread rapidly across Britain, changing the look of the spring landscape with its lurid yellow flowers. Its UK production soared from about 1,000 tonnes in 1970 to more than two million tonnes in just a few years.

It was not the crop itself that made it a farmers’ favourite but the EU subsidy paid to those who planted it. The EU paid cash not for the crop that resulted but to fund the seeds and planting. It was a bonanza for landowners.

Read the full article here (paywall).

The Ayn Rand Institute Europe

Today in Copenhagen is launched the Ayn Rand Institute Europe. Its mission is to promote awareness and understanding of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism, and to spread awareness of her life and work, including her highly influential novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

Heading up the programmes is Annie Vinther Sanz, originally Danish but now living in France, who has spent two decades in international business and now heads up her own consulting firm. And she is fluent in six languages (don’t you hate people like that?).

Lars Seier Christensen, CEO of Saxo Bank, is chairing the new Institute’s advisory board, and the event takes place at Saxo Bank’s impressive headquarters. Some 300 people are expected at the launch, which includes short talks by Christensen, the head of the Ayn Rand Institute in the US Yaron Brook, and our own Eamonn Butler.

Eamonn admits that he is not an earnest devotee of Ayn Rand, though he shares some of her conclusions – like the importance of free-market capitalism, the rule of law, property rights and a robust system of justice. But that, says Yaron Brook, is exactly why he has been invited to give the main talk. Eamonn is strongly aware of Rand’s importance to the intellectual right and her ability, through her novels in particular, to win people over too it.

Many young people, in fact, have been won over to the ideas of capitalism, and a belief in individuals as ends in themselves rather than mere cogs in some collective, by reading Rand. In the words of Jerome Tuccille, ‘It usually begins with Ayn Rand.

Rand, Eamonn will say, has many supporters in the United States, where she lived for most of her life. The former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, was a member of Rand’s inner circle. And her work influenced many other notable people, such as the former head of BB&T bank and of Cato, John Allison; Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and PayPal creator Peter Thiel. Entrepreneurs, indeed, still name their children after her or her fictional characters.

She has, perhaps, less traction in Europe. That may be because the American right is more concerned with the protection of individual liberty, while the European right is more about conserving existing institutions. But as a result of today’s launch, there is no doubt that Rand is about to become even better known, and much more influential, in Europe too.