Financial Economics




Useful Books

To paraphrase Chairman Mao’s view of the French Revolution, it is too soon to write any definitive books on the 2008-09 Financial crisis. However Charles H Ferguson’s 2010 film ‘Inside Job’ was one of the earliest and most incisive general analyses, and is very watchable

Useful Links


Discussion Threads

Are British banks effectively a cartel?

HH Indices for retail banking in the UK

The chart above, drawn from the 2011 Vickers Report, shows a standard HHI measure of industry concentration for British bank services. Already one of the most concentrated markets in the world, the 2008-09 Financial Crisis concentrated the British banking industry into even fewer players. In the Crisis competitive forces were abandoned as all banks pulled together merely to survive. No-one fought for market share any more (see the chart on bank lending on the short-term macro page).

The chart below shows that the banks collectively took every opportunity to maintain the vast spreads that had opened up when capital markets dried up in the Financial Crisis and have maintained those 3-4% spreads ever since. These spreads are ten times what they were in a competitive market – i.e. given that mortgage default rates are at historic lows,┬áretail banks’ gross profit margins are ten times higher than they should be. A thought then: the Bank of England could simply raise base rates to 2-3% to return capital market conditions to more normal territory, and the actual lending rate on most mortgages need not rise at all – it would just be the banks spreads that absorbed the 2-3% raise. Gross retail margins would return to their historical norms of 0.2-0.3%. But can it happen when we only have 4 1/2 big banks in the UK? Hence the need to break up all the existing banks: for a healthy financial sector we really need ten banks competing aggressively to lend sensible amounts of money to good quality corporate and personal borrowers.

UK bank profit margins

Housing economics expert Kate Barker, a former member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, made the same basic point on Radio 4’s Today programme on 5th March – see