Interests on interest

Kevin Lewis

January 30, 2018

Lobbying on Regulatory Enforcement Actions: Evidence from U.S. Commercial and Savings Banks
Thomas Lambert
Management Science, forthcoming


This paper analyzes the relationship between bank lobbying and supervisory decisions of regulators and documents its moral hazard implications. Exploiting bank-level information on the universe of commercial and savings banks in the United States, I find that regulators are 44.7% less likely to initiate enforcement actions against lobbying banks. This result is robust across measures of lobbying and accounts for endogeneity concerns by employing instrumental variables strategies. In addition, I show that lobbying banks are riskier and reliably underperform their nonlobbying peers. Overall, these results appear rather inconsistent with an information-based explanation of bank lobbying, but consistent with the theory of regulatory capture.

The Death of a Regulator: Strict Supervision, Bank Lending and Business Activity
João Granja & Christian Leuz
NBER Working Paper, December 2017


An important question in banking is how strict supervision affects bank lending and in turn local business activity. Forcing banks to recognize losses could choke off lending and amplify local economic woes, especially after financial crises. But stricter supervision could also lead to changes in how banks assess loans and manage their loan portfolios. Estimating such effects is challenging. We exploit the extinction of the thrift regulator (OTS) – a large change in prudential supervision, affecting ten percent of all U.S. depository institutions. Using this event, we analyze economic links between strict supervision, bank lending and business activity. We first show that the OTS replacement indeed resulted in stricter supervision of former OTS banks. We then analyze the lending effects of this regulatory change and show that former OTS banks increase small business lending by approximately 10 percent. This increase stems primarily from well-capitalized banks and those more affected by the new regime. These findings suggest that stricter supervision operates not only through capital but can also overcome frictions in bank management, leading to more lending and a reallocation of loans. Consistent with the latter, we find increases in business entry and exit in counties with greater exposure to OTS banks.

Lobbying with Lawyers: Financial Market Evidence for Banks’ Influence on Rulemaking
Brian Libgober & Daniel Carpenter
Harvard Working Paper, January 2018


How do business firms shape regulation? Can firms use administrative procedures to influence the regulatory environment in which they operate, and how would we know if they were successful? We explore these questions by analyzing the commenting activity of financial entities in Dodd-Frank related rulemaking at the Federal Reserve. Using intra-day event-study methods, we find favorable market reactions around rule announcements associated with participation in rule-making. In response to a rulemaking event, and compared to nonparticipants, commenting banks obtain asset price returns at the 55th to 62nd percentile of ranked returns. Observed Federal Reserve rulemaking participation by publicly-traded banks accounts alone for $7 billion in excess returns in the post-Dodd-Frank era. The aggregated influence of firms in financial regulation may be far larger. Closer examination of two rules – Volcker Rule and the debit card interchange fee rule – suggests that these valuations are driven by changes in rules moved by comments. The results illuminate new dimensions of political inequality, namely the differential ability of interests to mobilize legal expertise. They also establish new measures of industry influence in regulatory politics, especially in rulemaking.

Implications of US Tax Policy for House Prices, Rents, and Homeownership
Kamila Sommer & Paul Sullivan
American Economic Review, February 2018, Pages 241-274


This paper studies the impact of the mortgage interest tax deduction on equilibrium house prices, rents, homeownership, and welfare. We build a dynamic model of the housing market that features a realistic progressive tax system in which owner-occupied housing services are tax-exempt and mortgage interest payments are tax-deductible. We simulate the effect of tax reform on the housing market. Eliminating the mortgage interest deduction causes house prices to decline, increases homeownership, decreases mortgage debt, and improves welfare. Our findings challenge the widely held view that repealing the preferential tax treatment of mortgages would depress homeownership.

Does Size Matter? Bailouts with Large and Small Banks
Eduardo Dávila & Ansgar Walther
NBER Working Paper, December 2017


We explore how large and small banks make funding decisions when the government provides system-wide bailouts to the financial sector. We show that bank size, purely on strategic grounds, is a key determinant of banks' leverage choices, even when bailout policies treat large and small banks symmetrically. Large banks always take on more leverage than small banks because they internalize that their decisions directly affect the government's optimal bailout policy. In equilibrium, small banks also choose strictly higher borrowing when large banks are present, since banks' leverage choices are strategic complements. Overall, the presence of large banks increases aggregate leverage and the magnitude of bailouts. The optimal ex-ante regulation features size-dependent policies that disproportionally restrict the leverage choices of large banks. A quantitative assessment of our model implies that an increase in the share of assets held by the five largest banks from 50% to 70% is associated with a 3.5 percentage point increase in aggregate debt-to-asset ratios (from 90.1% to 93.6%). Under the optimal policy, large banks face a “size tax” of 40 basis points (0.4%) per dollar of debt issued.

The Impact of Federal Housing Policy on Housing Demand and Homeownership: Evidence from a Quasi-Experiment
Morris Davis et al.
Rutgers University Working Paper, January 2018


Federal housing policy promotes homeownership by subsidizing mortgage debt for many households with few assets and low credit scores. In this paper, we exploit the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA’s) surprise 50 basis point cut to its annual mortgage insurance premium in January 2015 to study the impact of federal housing policy and interest rates on housing demand for a population of households likely to be influenced by changes to policy. The premium cut, which reduced monthly payments the same amount as a three-quarter percentage point drop in the mortgage rate, increased the purchasing power of the typical FHA borrower by 6 percent. Our analysis suggests FHA borrowers increased the value of the housing they purchased by 2.5 percentage points relative to a control group of borrowers in areas with minimal FHA presence. The rise in spending reflected an increase in constant-quality home prices, with no significant change in the quality of housing purchased by FHA buyers. We also estimate that the premium cut induced approximately 17,000 households to become first-time homebuyers in the initial year after the cut, an increase that fell far short of the FHA’s projection. Because the rise in constant-quality house prices affected both FHA and other buyers in areas with substantial FHA lending, non-FHA first-time buyers as a group incurred a cost of $180,000 for each of the 17,000 new first-time FHA buyers.

The Regulation of Mortgage Servicing: Lessons from the Financial Crisis
James McNulty, Luis Garcia-Feijoo & Ariel Viale
Contemporary Economic Policy, forthcoming


Pivotal litigation against the largest subprime mortgage servicer in the United States provides lessons about the appropriate regulation of mortgage servicing and adds to research about the causes of the financial crisis. Mortgage servicing is essential to the functioning of the financial system so servicers must be held to a high standard. The litigation revealed egregious practices but was settled quickly for a nominal amount and provided the servicer a very broad release of liability, allowing it to expand without correcting serious problems, and created significant wealth gains for the parent firm. Regulatory authority should not be split between agencies.

Sovereignty, Law, and Finance: Evidence from American Indian Reservations
Rachel Wellhausen
Quarterly Journal of Political Science, Fall 2017, Pages 405-436


In 1953, Congress supplanted the tribal civil law on some American-Indian reservations with the civil law of the US state in which they are located. In the vein of cross-national literature on law and finance, I demonstrate that Congress's action reduced external financial actors' uncertainty over the enforcement of contracts on some reservations. Using novel data on 20,000 home loans to tribal members guaranteed by a US Housing and Urban Development program (1996–2013), I find a causal effect at the individual level: mortgage holders governed by US state civil law pay consistently lower interest rates. Thus, externally imposed law generates long-term benefits for tribal members. Nonetheless, qualitative extensions suggest that neither the presence nor the magnitude of the effect offsets many tribes' prioritization of their sovereignty, rather than the individual-level economic benefits that can result from compromising it.

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