Category Archives: regulation

28/1/20: What Doesn’t Work in NYC Probably Won’t Work in Dublin

As Irish politicians talk rent controls, here is some interesting evidence from NYC's recently passed rent control rules (since June 2019):

  • Sales of apartment buildings in NYC fell by 36 percent in 2019, and that the total spend on purchases fell by 40 percent. Not all of this is down to rent controls changes - NYC is grossly over-supplied in the premium segment of the market and traditionally large-ticket buyers are staying out of the market (Russian and Middle Eastern money) or selling (Russian and Chinese) due to geopolitical and legal ownership threats.
  • "The prices investors were paying for rent-stabilized units—where allowable rent increases are set by the government and usually capped at around 1 or 2 percent per year—fell by 7 percent." More direct evidence for less than 6 months of new rules being in force.
  • "... landlords are reportedly cutting back on the money that they're putting into the buildings that they do own... [as] 69 percent of building owners have cut their spending on apartment upgrades by more than 75 percent since the passage of the state's rent regulations. Another 11 percent of the landlords in the survey decreased investments in their properties by more than 50 percent." More direct evidence things are not going in the desired direction.
  • "The new law's limits on recouping the costs of renovating apartments mean it is often more  financially feasible to leave old apartments vacant."
  • The lower end of the market is probably most hit: "The Commercial Observer reports that the new rent laws are encouraging small- and mid-sized landlords to exit the market entirely, writing that "many property owners have woken up to a world where their buildings are worth 30 to 50 percent less than they were a year ago."" 
  • And another quote: "Middle-class and working-class neighborhoods, ... would be at particular risk."
Thoughts on why this should work any differently for Ireland are welcomed in the Irish mainstream-populist media.

Running on empty

DW looks at the institutional impediments to change in the all-powerful automobile industry. And OMG are the car folks all powerful—for some very good reasons. Germans invented the internal combustion engine—both gasoline and diesel. The nation's driver associations have even managed to keep parts of the autobahn speed-limit free. And should a driver do something seriously stupid and crash, the authorities have access to rescue crews on hair-trigger alert. This is not to say the rest of the country always approves of these James-Dean wannabees setting transportation policies. Environmental activists recently managed to ban automobile traffic in central Stuttgart—the home of Porsche and Mercedes Benz.

But the serious power is still held by the manufacturers and their conventional wisdom which says—the automakers are the most important element of the German economy and you tamper with them at great risk. In that nearly rules-free environment, they twiddled their thumbs and made fat profits from ICE cars. Now their biggest market, China, is demanding that they get serious about selling electric cars. This is proving much harder than it looks—and WAY more expensive. Here DW has captured a fascinating look at smug auto executives spouting the conventional wisdom / Institutional Inertia.

30/11/17: Efficiency of Enforcement vs Volume of Regulation

Yesterday, in our class on Economics, we talked about the distinction between regulation (volume of rules) and efficient enforcement (monitoring, investigatory, enforcement and pre-emptive functions of regulatory authorities). As an example, we referenced the repeated chain of customer-level scandals at the Wells Fargo Bank.

Here is the latest scandal, unveiled earlier this week that I mentioned:

From our stand point, this case is really pushing the gap between regulation and enforcement out into new widths. Previous scandals, e.g. false accounts being created by bank employees, were harder to detect, pre-emptively, from regulatory point of view. The latest one was out in plain view for any supervisor/regulator to spot.

The bank signed a contract with its customers (standard terms of contract applying to all specified groups of customers) for ca 0.15% commission on foreign currency exchanges. The bank charged its customers (in 88% of all cases analyzed) higher fees, ranging to as much as 4%.

As ZeroHedge notes, this is absurd level of charges. And this charge comes on already absurd banks' spreads on buying and selling currency (so it is not the only charge customers pay). And yes, as ZeroHedge also notes, there are multiple service providers who do the same for much much lower fees. I use a service that charges me a flat rate fee of $1 for transaction, including transfers of money from one bank to another, plus exchange from one currency into another and trades currency at quoted market rates (average over 2 hours prior to transaction timing). So, in effect, I pay zero spread margin and my total cost of exchanging anything between $10 and $1 million is $1.00.  Were I to have used Wells Fargo services to do my last transaction, I would have paid somewhere around $29 more for the honor of wiring money into my Wells Fargo account than I did, judging by rates quoted to me for the date by Wells Fargo, as opposed to the rate I obtained from my service provider.

The only way the banks sustain the business model that provides them with such an opportunity to earn a huge profit off simple transactions is the model of monopolistic competition with price discrimination: the banks price their services at the high end of transaction cost in full knowledge that those of us who need the service often enough (like myself) will use other service providers, while those who use this service only infrequently will opt to pay higher price to avoid the cost of searching for better alternative.

But that absurd inefficiency of the services provided by the banks is a secondary point from our point of view. The primary one is the regulation in relation to consumer protection.

Let's face the music: the financial regulators receive data from the banks regarding their volumes of transactions carried out for customers in foreign exchange on a regular basis. They also receive the breakdown of costs and margins these transactions generated. It is a matter of excel-level algorithm to detect the discrepancy between the contractual 0.15% charge and the effective charge that - on the aggregate for Wells Fargo - would have been well in excess of 0.15%.

A red flag would have gone up at that stage. The timing to that would have been within one month (per reporting lags).

A sample of actual transactions could have been requested as soon as the flag was up and the actual fees charged could have been identified against the contractual fees. Assume that would have taken a lag of, say, another month.

Within two months from the start of the scam, Wells Fargo would have been under investigation. Damages to customers would have been limited, costs to the bank of complying with the regulations and consumer protection laws would have been limited, the enforcement system would have worked.

Is any of this feasible in the current regulatory and monitoring environment? You bet. Why was it not done? Because there is no pro-active analytics of reported data when it comes to smaller scale transactions. And because the culture of regulation is based on the assumption that too-big-to-fail banks are too-big-to-mistrust.

Either way, Wells Fargo governance and strategy misfires continue to deliver new lessons for us all. The lesson this week is that when the regulators talk the fine talk about protecting the small folks, it is actually whistleblowers or the media or competitors who most often do the heavy lifting on this front - they do the enforcement bit of job that the regulators are de facto walking away from. Efficiency of enforcement, when neglected, undermines the promise of regulation, even when the latter is backed by volumes of rules.

7/9/17: What the Hack: Systematic Risk Contagion from Cyber Events

We just posted three new research papers on SSRN covering a range of research topics.

The second paper is "What the Hack: Systematic Risk Contagion from Cyber Events", available here:


This paper examines the impact of cybercrime and hacking events on equity market volatility across publicly traded corporations. The volatility influence of these cybercrime events is shown to be dependent on the number of clients exposed across all sectors and the type of the cyber security breach event, with significantly large volatility effects presented for companies who find themselves exposed to cybercrime in the form of hacking. Evidence is presented to suggest that corporations with large data breaches are punished substantially in the form of stock market volatility and significantly reduced abnormal stock returns. Companies with lower levels of market capitalisation are found to be most susceptible. In an environment where corporate data protection should be paramount, minor breaches appear to be relatively unpunished by the stock market. We also show that there is a growing importance in the contagion channel from cyber security breaches to markets volatility. Overall, our results support the proposition that acting in a controlled capacity from within a ring-fenced incentives system, hackers may in fact provide the appropriate mechanism for discovery and deterrence of weak corporate cyber security practices. This mechanism can help alleviate the systemic weaknesses in the existent mechanisms for cyber security oversight and enforcement.