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The role of capital in financial institutions

  • Allen N. Berger
  • Richard J. Herring
  • Giorgio P. Szego

This paper examines the role of capital in financial institutions. As the introductory article to a conference on the role of capital management in banking and insurance, it describes the authors' views of why capital is important, how market-generated capital requirements' differ from regulatory requirements and the form that regulatory requirements should take. It also examines the historical trends in bank capital, problems in measuring capital and some possible unintended consequences of capital requirements. According to the authors, the point of departure for all modern research on capital structure is the Modigliani-Miller (M&M, 1958) proposition that in a frictionless world of full information and complete markets, a firm s capital structure cannot affect its value. The authors suggest however, that financial institutions lack any plausible rationale in the frictionless world of M&M. Most of the past research on financial institutions has begun with a set of assumed imperfections, such as taxes, costs of financial distress, transactions costs, asymmetric information and regulation. Miller argues (1995) that these imperfections may not be important enough to overturn the M&M Proposition. Most of the other papers presented at this conference on capital take the view that the deviations from M&M s frictionless world are important, so that financial institutions may be able to enhance their market values by taking on an optimal amount of leverage. The authors highlight these positions in this article. The authors next examine why markets require' financial institutions to hold capital. They define this capital requirement' as the capital ratio that maximizes the value of the bank in the absence of regulatory capital requirements and all the regulatory mechanisms that are used to enforce them, but in the presence of the rest of the regulatory structure that protects the safety and soundness of banks. While the requirement differs for each bank, it is the ratio to

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Paper provided by Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) in its series Finance and Economics Discussion Series with number 95-23.

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Date of creation: 1995
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:95-23
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