Financial statistics for the United States and the crisis: what did they get right, what did they miss, and how should they change?
Although the instruments and transactions most closely associated with the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 were novel, the underlying themes that played out in the crisis were familiar from previous episodes: Competitive dynamics resulted in excessive leverage and risk-taking by large, interconnected firms, in heavy reliance on short-term sources of funding to finance long-term and ultimately terribly illiquid positions, and in common exposures being shared by many major financial institutions. Understandably, in the wake of the crisis, financial supervisors and policymakers want to obtain better and earlier indications regarding these critical, and apparently recurring, core vulnerabilities in the financial system. Indeed, gaps in data and analysis, in a sense, defined the shadows in which the "shadow banking system" associated with the buildup in financial risks grew. We agree that more comprehensive real-time data is necessary, but we also emphasize that collecting more data is only part of the process of developing early warning systems. More fundamental, in our view, is the need to use data in a different way--in a way that integrates the ongoing analysis of macro data to identify areas of interest with the development of highly specialized information to illuminate those areas, including the relevant instruments and transactional forms. In this paper, we describe why we are concerned that specifying this second stage generically and prior to processing the first-stage signals will not be fruitful: We can easily imagine specifying ex ante a program of data collection that would look for vulnerabilities in the wrong place, particularly if the actual act of looking by macro- or microprudential supervisors causes the locus of activity to shift into a new shadow somewhere else--something we argue occurred during the buildup of risks ahead of this crisis.
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