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The Elusive Scale Economies of the Largest Banks and their Implications for Global Competitiveness

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  • Joseph P. Hughes

    (Rutgers University)

Abstract

In the wake of the financial crisis that began in 2007, policy makers have focused again on the largest financial firms to consider the association of their size with systemic risk. An equally important question examines whether their size benefits the economy. In particular, is the size of our largest financial institutions the result of technological cost advantages that improve the efficiency of their capital allocation and liquidity and enhance their international competitiveness? Or is it the result, not of technological cost advantages, but of safety-net subsidies that confer too-big-to-fail cost advantages and foster moral hazard in investment decisions. This paper reviews the evidence of large scale economies that increase with size and considers the credibility of this evidence by examining details of how scale economies are measured and why evidence of scale economies eludes many investigations. A method of estimating scale economies developed by Hughes, Lang, Mester, and Moon (1996) distinguishes the underlying scale effects on cost from the effects on costs of size-related changes in risk-taking, which can obscure technological cost advantages, such as those due to better diversification. It reviews evidence that technology, not too-big-to-fail subsidies, accounts for the cost advantage of the largest financial institutions. Finally, it considers the implications of scale economies for scaling back the operations of the largest financial institutions and for the global competitiveness of smaller institutions.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph P. Hughes, 2011. "The Elusive Scale Economies of the Largest Banks and their Implications for Global Competitiveness," Departmental Working Papers 201134, Rutgers University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:rut:rutres:201134
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Hughes, Joseph P. & Mester, Loretta J. & Moon, Choon-Geol, 2001. "Are scale economies in banking elusive or illusive?: Evidence obtained by incorporating capital structure and risk-taking into models of bank production," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 25(12), pages 2169-2208, December.
    2. Joseph P. Hughes & Loretta J. Mester, 2008. "Efficiency in banking: theory, practice, and evidence," Working Papers 08-1, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
    3. Elijah Brewer & Julapa Jagtiani, 2013. "How Much Did Banks Pay to Become Too-Big-To-Fail and to Become Systemically Important?," Journal of Financial Services Research, Springer;Western Finance Association, vol. 43(1), pages 1-35, February.
    4. Feng, Guohua & Serletis, Apostolos, 2010. "Efficiency, technical change, and returns to scale in large US banks: Panel data evidence from an output distance function satisfying theoretical regularity," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 34(1), pages 127-138, January.
    5. Joseph P. Hughes & William W. Lang & Loretta J. Mester & Choon-Geol Moon, 1996. "Efficient banking under interstate branching," Proceedings, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.), pages 1045-1075.
    6. Alan Greenspan, 2010. "La crisis," Revista de Economía Institucional, Universidad Externado de Colombia - Facultad de Economía, vol. 12(22), pages 15-60, January-J.
    7. Hughes, Joseph P. & Mester, Loretta J., 2013. "Who said large banks don’t experience scale economies? Evidence from a risk-return-driven cost function," Journal of Financial Intermediation, Elsevier, vol. 22(4), pages 559-585.
    8. Joseph P. Hughes & Loretta J. Mester, 1998. "Bank Capitalization And Cost: Evidence Of Scale Economies In Risk Management And Signaling," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 80(2), pages 314-325, May.
    9. Joseph Hughes & William Lang & Loretta Mester & Choon-Geol Moon, 2000. "Recovering Risky Technologies Using the Almost Ideal Demand System: An Application to U.S. Banking," Journal of Financial Services Research, Springer;Western Finance Association, vol. 18(1), pages 5-27, October.
    10. Keeley, Michael C, 1990. "Deposit Insurance, Risk, and Market Power in Banking," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(5), pages 1183-1200, December.
    11. Berger, Allen N. & Mester, Loretta J., 1997. "Inside the black box: What explains differences in the efficiencies of financial institutions?," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 21(7), pages 895-947, July.
    12. Joseph P. Hughes & William W. Lang & Choon-Geol Moon & Michael S. Pagano, 1998. "Measuring the efficiency of capital allocation in commercial banking," Working Papers 98-2, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
    13. Tufano, Peter, 1996. "Who Manages Risk? An Empirical Examination of Risk Management Practices in the Gold Mining Industry," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 51(4), pages 1097-1137, September.
    14. Joseph Hughes, 1999. "Incorporating risk into the analysis of production," Atlantic Economic Journal, Springer;International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 27(1), pages 1-23, March.
    15. DeYoung, Robert E. & Hughes, Joseph P. & Moon, Choon-Geol, 2001. "Efficient risk-taking and regulatory covenant enforcement in a deregulated banking industry," Journal of Economics and Business, Elsevier, vol. 53(2-3), pages 255-282.
    16. Grossman, Richard S, 1992. "Deposit Insurance, Regulation, and Moral Hazard in the Thrift Industry: Evidence from the 1930's," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(4), pages 800-821, September.
    17. Biagio Bossone & Jong-Kun Lee, 2004. "In Finance, Size Matters," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 51(1), pages 1-2.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    banking; production; risk; scale economies; too big to fail;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D20 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - General
    • D21 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Firm Behavior: Theory
    • G21 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Banks; Other Depository Institutions; Micro Finance Institutions; Mortgages

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