When the financial markets crashed two years ago, Americans discovered that all too many banks and financial institutions became distressed because of their high degree of leverage. Since then, regulators, economists, and the banking industry have jousted over the question of how much equity capital banks should hold.
The prevailing argument by the industry and its allies is that raising equity requirements will weaken banks and raise the cost of borrowing for everyone because "equity is expensive." But is that really the case?
In a new, and likely to be controversial, research paper, Anat Admati, of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and her colleagues argue that this is not the case. "Quite simply, bank equity is not expensive from a social perspective, and high leverage is not required in order for banks to perform all their socially valuable functions, including lending, taking deposits, and issuing money-like securities," they wrote.