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Banks Just Got a Reprieve from Tighter Capital Rules

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Global banking regulators Tuesday postponed the approval of new capital rules designed to avert a repeat of the financial crisis, saying they needed more time to finalize a long-awaited and contentious reform.

Central bank governors and heads of supervision from nearly 30 countries were due to meet on Jan. 8 to approve new rules that will determine how much capital lenders in the world’s major financial centers must hold against loans and other assets.

But the proposed changes have proven divisive, with European regulators worrying they would curb bank lending – the prime source of funding for companies in the region.

After failing to strike an agreement in Chile late last year, the Basel Committee said Tuesday more work was needed before the new rules could be submitted for approval by its oversight body, the Group of Central Bank Governors and Heads of Supervision (GHOS).

“More time is needed to finalize some work, including ensuring the framework’s final calibration,” the Basel Committee said.

“A meeting of the GHOS, originally planned for early January, has therefore been postponed. The Committee is expected to complete this work in the near future.”

Sources told Reuters last month regulators had softened the new rules, including a “floor” on how much capital a bank needs to hold irrespective of what its own model says. Many regulators, including some at the U.S. Federal Reserve, have pushed for a high floor, suspicious that European banks in particular would otherwise use their own models to understate the degree of risk on their balance sheets.

This rule is bound to have a major impact on large banks, such as Germany’s Deutsche Bank and the biggest French banks, that use their own computer models rather than standardised ones to determine their required capital buffers.

Mario Draghi, Chairman of the GHOS and President of the European Central Bank, said that “completing Basel III is an important step towards restoring confidence in banks’ risk-weighted capital ratios, and we remain committed to that goal.”