We conclude that bank equity is not socially expensive, and that high leverage is not necessary for banks to perform all their socially valuable functions, including lending, deposittaking and issuing money-like securities. To the contrary, better capitalized banks suffer fewer distortions in lending decisions and would perform better. The fact that banks choose high leverage does not imply that this is socially optimal, and, except for government subsidies and viewed from an ex ante perspective, high leverage may not even be privately optimal for banks.
Setting equity requirements significantly higher than the levels currently proposed would entail large social benefits and minimal, if any, social costs. Approaches based on equity dominate alternatives, including contingent capital. To achieve better capitalization quickly and efficiently and prevent disruption to lending, regulators must actively control equity payouts and issuance. If remaining challenges are addressed, capital regulation can be a powerful tool for enhancing the role of banks in the economy.
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta
March 23, 2011