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Money, Banking, and Financial Markets : Econ. 212. Stephen G. Cecchetti: Chapter 11 The Economics of Financial Intermediation. The Role of Financial Intermediaries

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money banking and financial markets econ 212

Money, Banking, and Financial Markets : Econ. 212

Stephen G. Cecchetti: Chapter 11

The Economics of Financial Intermediation

The Role of Financial Intermediaries
  • As a general rule, indirect finance through financial intermediaries is much more important than direct finance through the stock and bond markets.
  • In virtually every country for which we have comprehensive data, credit extended by financial intermediaries is larger as a percentage of GDP than stocks and bonds combined.
  • Around the world, firms and individuals draw their financing primarily from banks and other financial intermediaries.
  • The reason for this is information; financial intermediaries exist so that individual lenders don’t have to worry about getting answers to all of the important questions concerning a loan and a borrower.
Lending and borrowing involve transactions costs and information costs, and financial intermediaries exist to reduce these costs.
  • Financial intermediaries perform five functions: 1. they poolthe resources of small savers; 2. they provide safekeeping and accounting services as well as access to the payments system; 3. they supply liquidity; 4. they provideways to diversify risk; and 5. they collect and process information in ways that reduce information costs.
  • The first four of these functions have to do with the reduction of transactions costs.
  • International banks handle transactions that cross borders, which may mean converting currencies.
Pooling Savings
  • The most straightforward economic function of a financial intermediary is to pool the resources of many small savers.
  • To succeed in this endeavor the intermediary must attract substantial numbers of savers. This is the essence of indirect finance, and it means convincing potential depositors of the soundness of the institution.
  • Banks rely on their reputations and government guarantees like deposit insurance to make sure customers feel that their funds will be safe.
Safekeeping, Payments System Access, and Accounting
  • Goldsmiths were the original bankers; people asked the goldsmiths to store gold in their vaults in return for a receipt (banknote) to prove it was there.
  • People soon realized that trading the receipts (banknotes) was easier than trading the gold itself.
  • Eventually the goldsmiths noticed that there was gold left in the vaults at the end of the day, so it could safely be lent to others.
  • Today, banks are the places where we put things for safekeeping; we deposit our paychecks and entrust our savings to a bank or other financial institution because we believe it will keep our resources safe until we need them.
Banks also provide other services, like ATMs, checkbooks, and monthly statements, giving people access to the payments system.
  • Financial intermediaries also reduce the cost of transactions and so promote specialization and trade, helping the economy to function more efficiently.
  • The bookkeeping and accounting services that financial intermediaries provide help us to manage our finances.
  • Providing safekeeping and accounting services as well as access to the payments system forces financial intermediaries to write legal contracts, which are standardized.
Much of what financial intermediaries do takes advantage of economies of scale, which means that the average cost of producing a good or service falls as the quantity produced increases. Information is also subject to economies of scale.
  • Providing Liquidity
  • One function that is related to access to the payments system is the provision of liquidity.
  • Liquidity is a measure of the ease and cost with which an asset can be turned into a means of payment.
  • Financial intermediaries offer us the ability to transform assets into money at relatively low cost (ATMs are an example).
By collecting funds from a large number of small investors, a bank can reduce the cost of their combined investment, offering the individual investor both liquidity and high rates of return.
  • Financial intermediaries offer depositors something they can’t get from the financial markets on their own.
  • Financial intermediaries offer both individuals and businesses lines of credit, which are pre-approved loans that can be drawn on whenever a customer needs funds.
  • Risk Sharing
  • Financial intermediaries enable us to diversify our investments and reduce risk.
Banks mitigate risk by taking deposits from a large number of individuals and make thousands of loans with them, thus giving each depositor a small stake in each of the loans.
  • Providing a low-cost way for individuals to diversify their investments is a function all financial intermediaries perform.
  • Information Services
  • One of the biggest problems individual savers face is figuring out which potential borrowers are trustworthy and which are not.
There is an information asymmetry because the borrower knows whether or not he or she is trustworthy, but the lender faces substantial costs to obtain the same information.
  • Financial intermediaries reduce the problems created by information asymmetries by collecting and processing standardized information.

Information Asymmetries and Information Costs

  • Information plays a central role in the structure of financial markets and financial institutions.
  • Markets require sophisticated information in order to work well, and when the cost of obtaining information is too high, markets cease to function.
Asymmetric information is a serious hindrance to the operation of financial markets, and solving this problem is one key to making our financial system work as well as it does.
  • Asymmetric information poses two obstacles to the smooth flow of funds from savers to investors: adverse selection, which involves being able to distinguish good credit risks from bad before the transaction; and moral hazard, which arises after the transaction and involves finding out whether borrowers will use the proceeds of a loan as they claim they will.
  • Adverse Selection
  • Used Cars and the Market for Lemons: In a market in which there are good cars (“peaches”) and bad cars (“lemons”) for sale, buyers are willing to pay only the average value of all the cars in the market. This is less than the sellers of the “peaches” want, so those cars disappear from the markets and only the “lemons” are left.
To solve this problem caused by asymmetric information, companies like Consumer Reports provide information about the reliability and safety of different models, and car dealers will certify the used cars they sell.
  • Adverse Selection in Financial Markets: Information asymmetries can drive good stocks and bonds out of the financial market.
  • Solving the Adverse Selection Problem
  • Disclosure of Information: Generating more information is one obvious way to solve the problem created by asymmetric information.
This can be done through government required disclosure and the private collection and production of information.
    • However, the accounting scandals of 2001 and 2002 showed that in spite of such requirements companies can distort the profits and debt levels published in their financial statements.
    • Reports from private sources such as Moody’s and Value Line are often expensive.
  • Collateral and Net Worth: Lenders can be compensated even if borrowers default, and if the loan is so insured then the borrower is not a bad credit risk.
    • The importance of net worth in reducing adverse selection is the reason owners of new businesses have so much difficulty borrowing money.
Moral Hazard: Problem and Solutions
  • An insurance policy changes the behavior of the person who is insured. Moral hazard plagues both equity and bond financing.
  • Moral Hazard in Equity Financing: people who invest in a company by buying its stock do not know that the funds will be invested in their best interests.
    • The principal-agent problem, which occurs when owners and managers are separate people with different interests, may result in the funds not being used in the best interests of the owners.
Solving the Moral Hazard Problem in Equity Financing: The problem can be solved by if owners can fire managers and by requiring managers to own a significant stake in their own firm.
  • Moral Hazard in Debt Finance: Debt goes a long way toward eliminating the moral hazard problem, but it doesn’t finish the job; debt contracts allow owners to keep all the profits in excess of the loan payments and so encourage risk taking.
  • Solving the Moral Hazard Problem in Debt Finance: To some degree, a good legalcontract with restrictive covenants covenants can solve the moral hazard problem in debt finance.
Financial Intermediaries and Information Costs

Screening and Certifying to Reduce Adverse Selection

  • Borrowers must fill out a loan application that includes information that can be provided to a company that collects and analyzes credit information and which provides a summary in the form of a credit score.
  • Your personal credit score tells a lender how likely you are to repay a loan; the higher your score the more likely you are to get a loan.
  • Banks collect additional information about borrowers because they can observe the pattern of deposits and withdrawals, as well as the use of credit and debit cards.
Financial intermediaries’ superior ability to screen and certify borrowers extends beyond loan making to the issuance ofbonds and equity.
  • Underwriting represents screening and certifying, because investors feel that if a well-known investment bank is willing to sell a bond or stock then it must be a high-quality investment.
  • Monitoring to Reduce Moral Hazard
  • Intermediaries monitor both the firms that issue bonds and those that issue stocks.
  • Banks will monitor borrowers to make sure that the funds are being used as intended.
Financial intermediaries that hold shares in individual firms monitor their activities, in some cases placing a representative on a company’s board of directors.
  • In the case of new firms, a financial intermediary called a venture capitalfirm does the monitoring.
  • The threat of a takeover helps to persuade managers to act in the interest of the stock and bondholders.
Lessons of Chapter 11
  • Financial intermediaries specialize in reducing costs by:
    • pooling the resources of small savers and lending them to large borrowers.
    • providing customers with safekeeping and accounting services, as well as access to the payments system.
    • providing customers with liquidity services.
    • allowing for risk sharing by offering financial instruments in small denominations.
    • providing information services.
  • For potential lenders, investigating a borrower’s trustworthiness is costly. This problem, known as asymmetric information, occurs both before and after a transaction.
    • Before a transaction, the least creditworthy borrowers are the ones most likely to apply for funds. This problem, known as adverse selection, is similar to the “lemons” problem in the used car market.
    • Adverse selection can be reduced by:
      • collecting and disclosing information on borrowers.
      • requiring borrowers to post collateral and show sufficient net worth.
    • After a transaction, a borrower may not use the borrowed funds as productively as possible. This problem is known as moral hazard.
      • In equity markets, moral hazard exists when the managers’ interests diverge from the owners’ interests.
      • Finding solutions to the moral hazard problem in equity financing is difficult.
In debt markets, moral hazard exists because borrowers have limited liability. They get the benefits when a risky bet pays off, but they don’t suffer a loss when it doesn’t.
    • The fact that debt financing gives managers/borrowers an incentive to take too many risks gives rise to restrictive covenants, which require borrowers to use funds in specific ways.
  • Financial intermediaries can solve the problems of adverse selection and moral hazard.
    • They can reduce adverse selection by collecting information on borrowers and screening them to check their creditworthiness.
    • They can reduce moral hazard by monitoring what borrowers are doing with borrowed funds.

Key Terms

adverse selection asymmetric information

Collateral deflation

economies of scale free rider

moral hazard net worth

unsecured loan venture capital firm