The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) announced today that it had decided to keep the countercyclical capital buffer (CCyB) for authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADIs) on hold at zero per cent. What was really interesting however is that the information paper also flagged the likelihood of a non-zero default level in the future.
Here is the relevant extract from the APRA media release:
…. the information paper notes that APRA is also giving consideration to introducing a non-zero default level for the CCyB as part of its broader reforms to the ADI capital framework.“APRA flags setting the countercyclical capital buffer at non-zero level”, APRA media announcement, 11 December 2019
APRA Chair Wayne Byres said: “Given current conditions, and the financial strength built up within the banking sector, a zero counter-cyclical buffer remains appropriate.
“However, setting the countercyclical capital buffer’s default position at a non-zero level as part of the ‘unquestionably strong’ framework would not only preserve the resilience of the banking sector, but also provide more flexibility to adjust the buffer in response to material changes in financial stability risks. This is something APRA will consult on as part of the next stage of the capital reforms currently underway.
“Importantly, this would be considered within the capital targets previously announced – it does not reflect any intention to further raise minimum capital requirements.”
I have argued the case for a non-zero default setting on this buffer in a long form note I published on my blog here, and published some shorter posts on the countercyclical capital buffer here, here and here). One important caveat is is that incorporating a non-zero default for the CCyB does not necessarily means that a bank needs to hold more capital. It is likely to be sufficient to simply partition a set amount of the existing capital surplus. In this regard, it is interesting that APRA has explicitly linked this potential change to the review it it initiated in the August 2018 Discussion Paper on “Improving the transparency, comparability and flexibility of the ADI capital framework”.
I covered that discussion paper in some depth here but one of the options discussed in this paper (“Capital ratio adjustments”) involves APRA modifying the calculation of regulatory capital ratios to utilise more internationally harmonised definitions of capital and Risk Weighted Assets.
Summing up, I would rate this as a positive development but we need to watch how the policy development process plays out.