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June 5, 2013

Non-bank SIFIs: question of risk

“Is the term “systemically important” synonymous with safe or risky? AIG, Prudential Financial and GE Capital were labelled systemically important on Monday as part of US government efforts to spot risks to the financial system from outside the banking world. Some 18 banks with $50bn of assets or more already have the distinction as do some financial market “utilities”, namely clearing houses and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. For the three non-bank systemically important financial institutions, or non-bank SIFIs, named this week officials studied asset size, debt load and mix, leverage and derivatives exposure. Others may be named, while regulators are mulling how asset management behemoths, such as BlackRock, should be treated.

On the one hand, being a non-bank SIFI will mean oversight by the Federal Reserve (AIG and GE Capital are already under its purview) and adhering to “enhanced prudential standards.” Those have not been finalised yet, but could include holding more capital, denting shareholder returns. And, the heightened scrutiny, possibly formal stress testing, could be a distraction for management and shareholders.

On the other hand, the companies may take advantage of additional oversight and prudence on things like capital, leverage or risk management to advertise themselves to stock and bond investors as less risky. Singling out some companies as potential threats to the system also signals that it is important to the government that they succeed.”

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Read the full Financial Times article here

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