WASHINGTON The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. on Tuesday could leave the door open to making further changes to a batch of capital rules for U.S. institutions.
It's a minor technicality, but likely to be a critical one for U.S. banks, coming only a week after the Federal Reserve Board signed off on the Basel III package.
The FDIC's board of directors is scheduled to vote on an "interim final rule," as opposed to the Fed's approval of a "final rulemaking." The difference is crucial, because it signals that while the FDIC is prepared to approve the Basel III package, it reserves the right to later revise certain aspects of it. The agency is liable to propose, for example, changes to the leverage ratio, a source of considerable controversy over the past few months.
In contrast, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry is also set to approve the Basel III rules on Tuesday, but will keep in line with the Fed by signing off on it as a final rule.
FDIC Vice Chairman Thomas Hoenig and Jeremiah Norton, a director on the FDIC's board, have both urged policymakers to strengthen a leverage ratio for banks of all sizes. They were hoping that the regulators would make changes before the U.S. finalized Basel III.
That didn't happen last week when the Fed agreed to leave the minimum leverage ratio for all banks at 4%. Regulators had good reasons for leaving it untouched, as raising the leverage ratio had not been discussed in the initial Basel III proposal. If regulators had raised the ratio without first opening the issue for comment, it could have been challenged in court under the Administrative Procedures Act.
Hoenig and Norton have both argued that the originally proposed 4% threshold was insufficient to protect the banking system. The FDIC appears likely to approve the final Basel III package, but could simultaneously issue a proposal to raise the minimum leverage ratio leaving that piece of the final rule in flux until it is finalized by all three agencies.
Regulators could have also delayed a final Basel III package, but any further delay would have cost the U.S. credibility with international counterparts after already postponing finalizing its package ahead of a Jan. 1 deadline.
The three agencies have spent months debating whether to boost the leverage ratio. Top officials at both the Fed and OCC have agreed it's worthy of a second look.
Such a move on Tuesday will also follow a separate proposal that the FDIC plans to vote on at its meeting that would raise the supplemental leverage ratio for the eight U.S. globally systemically important banks higher than the agreed upon 3%. The second ratio captures certain off-balance sheet exposures like derivatives.
Tuesday's meeting could offer much needed clarity on a host of issues, but also leave further uncertainty for U.S. institutions.
It could finally put to rest the question of how high regulators would like to raise the leverage ratio and how it would be calculated. But will it be sufficient to address concerns from regulators worried about the overreliance on risk-weightings?