It’s All About the Capital: Evaluating the Effects of the Great Recession’s Regulatory Reforms and their Impact on the COVID-19 Recession
Following the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008, financial institutions faced regulatory changes due to inherent weaknesses that were exposed by the recession. Within the United States, regulation came via the passing of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010, which was heavily influenced by the internationally focused Basel III accord. A key component to both of these sets of regulations focused on raising the capital requirements for financial institutions, as well as creating capital buffers to help protect solvency during economic downturns in the future. The goal of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of these changes to capital requirements, and to hypothesize as to what would happen if the modern banking system experienced the COVID-19 pandemic recession with the capital and leverage levels of the banking institutions circa 2007. To accomplish this, data from the Federal Reserve describing the capital and leverage ratios of the banking industry will be evaluated during both the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008, as well as during the COVID-19 Recession. Specifically, we will look at by how much capital was improved due to Dodd-Frank/Basel III, the resiliency of the capital and leverage ratios during the modern COVID-19 recession, and we will look at the average drop in capital levels caused by the COVID-19 recession and apply these percentage changes to the leverage/capital levels seen in 2007. Given the results, it is clear to see that the change in capital requirements along with the counter-cyclical buffers described in Dodd-Frank and Basel III allowed the banking system to function throughout the COVID recession without approaching insolvency in the slightest, something that ailed many large banks and firms during the Global Financial Crisis. As an answer to our hypothetical, we found that the drop seen affecting the measures of bank capital experienced during the COVID pandemic when applied to values seen at the beginning of the 2007 recession still led to a well-capitalized banking industry as a whole, highlighting the resiliency seen during the COVID recession thanks to the capital buffers put in place, as well as the direct assistance provided by the federal government (via PPP loans and stimulus checks) and the Federal Reserve in keeping the hit on capital to minimal values throughout the pandemic.