Developments in Financial Supervision and the Use of Macroprudential Measures in Central America

Improvements in financial regulation and supervision in the Central American region (CAPDR) have strengthened financial stability. Prudential instruments with potential macroeconomic effects have been introduced. Nonetheless, compared with the larger Latin American and selected industrial countries, there is still important scope for CAPDR to enhance financial supervision and regulation. Based on two surveys, and the analysis of the Basel Core Principles, the paper determines that some weaknesses exist in risk-based supervision, and that macroprudential measures have scarcely been deployed.

Abstract

Improvements in financial regulation and supervision in the Central American region (CAPDR) have strengthened financial stability. Prudential instruments with potential macroeconomic effects have been introduced. Nonetheless, compared with the larger Latin American and selected industrial countries, there is still important scope for CAPDR to enhance financial supervision and regulation. Based on two surveys, and the analysis of the Basel Core Principles, the paper determines that some weaknesses exist in risk-based supervision, and that macroprudential measures have scarcely been deployed.

I. Introduction

This paper analyzes financial supervision and macroprudential instruments in Central America1, Panama, and the Dominican Republic (CAPDR). It evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each CAPDR country in terms of main supervisory practices; analyzes their use of prudential measures with potential macroprudential impact; and draws country-specific recommendations.

Despite substantial progress, financial regulation and supervision in CAPDR lag behind the larger emerging countries in Latin America (LA5)2 and international best practices. Using two indexes built from the Basel Core Principles (BCP) assessments and a survey conducted among the seven financial superintendencies during the last two months of 2010, the paper finds that risk-based supervision techniques are only partially used and the training of supervisors in this area is limited. In some countries, cross-border consolidated supervision is hampered by an inappropriate legal and regulatory framework. Effective supervision is also limited by the fact that nonbank institutions frequently are outside the supervisory perimeter. As a result of these weaknesses, the accuracy and completeness of financial soundness indicators and compliance ratios could be impaired in some cases, and the financial stability risks faced by the region could be higher than implied by these indicators. It is important to mention, however, that the regional banking system coped well with the global financial crisis of 2008–09, in part due to improved regulatory and supervisory frameworks and the lessons learned in recent banking crisis in the region.

Prudential measures—that have the potential to be used with macroprudential objectives—have been generally introduced for microprudential purposes. The survey conducted among the financial superintendencies and IMF desk economists of CAPDR and LA5 from November 2010 until January 2011, shows that traditional instruments (such as reserve requirements or limits on a borrower’s leverage) are prevalent in CAPDR. The increase in exposure to foreign exchange risk in some countries resulted in a rapid implementation of prudential regulations aimed at limiting this risk mainly at the micro level. However, only liquidity regulations seem to have been used countercyclically as part of a macroprudential policy.

The region would benefit from structural reforms to improve the financial systems’ legal and regulatory frameworks, increase transparency and strengthen supervisory institutions to bring it up to best international regulatory and supervisory practices. Full introduction of risk-based supervision techniques will take several years, and require considerable resources. Although cross-border consolidated supervision is largely being applied, legal reforms to allow for the full exchange of information and better intraregional coordination are needed. Monetary and supervisory authorities could consider calibrating and, in some cases, expanding the macroprudential toolbox ahead of potentially destabilizing increases in capital inflows, rapid credit growth, and asset price bubbles.

The paper has four sections. Section II describes recent developments and current strengths and weaknesses of financial regulation and supervision in CAPDR. Section III examines recent developments and the current usage of prudential measures with a countercyclical potential in CAPDR in comparison with LA5. Section IV concludes with policy recommendations.

II. Financial Supervision and Regulation in CAPDR

A. Financial Regulation and Supervision3 According to BCP Assessments

The BCP compliance index

The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has defined a methodology to determine the degree of compliance of a country’s bank regulation and supervision with international best practices. This methodology has been tested extensively since the BCP principles were first issued in 1997. The methodology was revised in 2006—changes were introduced to ensure efficient assessment of supervision of both advanced and less advanced banking systems. The methodology was adjusted to better reflect cross-border and cross-sectoral trends, and also to stress the importance of the independence, accountability and transparency of bank supervisory authorities. However, changes were kept to a minimum and comparability with the 1997 principles was preserved by developing a document (Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, 2006a) to facilitate a direct comparison of each part of the criteria between the two versions.4 BCP are ranked according to four categories: non-compliant, materially non-compliant, largely compliant, and compliant (Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, 2006b).

In order to compare BCP compliance across countries and over time, we constructed an index by assigning numeric values to the assessments and grouping the 30 principles into four broad categories. We assigned a value 1 to “compliant” principles; 0.75 to “largely compliant,” 0.25 to “materially non-compliant”; and 0 to “non-compliant”. This produces a value ranging from zero (all principles are non-compliant) to 30 (all principles are compliant). The BCP compliance index is obtained by normalizing this value on a range from zero to 100, representing the weighted percentage of compliance with the BCP. In order to compare compliance between main supervisory practices and other characteristics, the 30 BCP are grouped into four categories: those mainly related to risk-based supervision, cross-border consolidated supervision, institutional factors, and governance.5

The way the BCP compliance index is constructed allows comparing average compliance across categories, despite the fact that the number of principles included in each category varies. While we used the latest available BCP assessment6, it is important to note the year differs across countries. Thus, this index should be seen as a proxy for the current situation that likely penalizes countries with dated BCP assessments to the extent that progress in recent years is not taken into account.

According to the BCP compliance index, supervisory practices are relatively homogeneous within the region, with some significant gaps compared with best international practices. Assessments rank most principles in CAPDR between “materially non compliant” and “largely compliant.” As a result, on average, countries comply with 56 percent of the principles. Compliance ranges from 61 percent for institutional factors (objectives, independence, powers—including corrective and remedial powers, transparency and cooperation of the supervisory body), to 48 percent for risk-based supervision (Table 1).

Table 1:

Compliance with BCP for Effective Banking Supervision

(In percent; 100=fully compliant with all principles)

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Source: IMF staff based on country BCP assessments. The year cited after the country correspond to the latest available BCP assessment.

Unweighted average. Excludes Nicaragua.

Progress in financial regulation and supervision in CAPDR

Financial supervision has strengthened in CAPDR countries over the last decade. The first round of BCP assessments, conducted between 2000 and 2005, showed that, on average, countries were compliant with only about one-third of the principles (12 out of 30). Five years later, between 2006 and 2010, the second round of BCP assessments showed average compliance of more than half of the principles (17 out of 30). All countries have strengthened their financial regulation and supervision, albeit to different degrees (Figure 1).

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Progress in Financial Regulation and Supervision in CAPDR

There has been substantial improvement in compliance with BCP for effective banking supervision during the last decade.

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2011, 299; 10.5089/9781463927851.001.A001

Source: IMF staff estimates.

The strengthening of financial supervision during the last decade has been relatively homogeneous between categories, but unequal by category within each country. In absolute terms progress has been more marked on cross-border consolidated supervision, where the BCP compliance index increased by 21 points to 56, compared with an average increase of 19 points. In particular, supervisory reporting and techniques—on site and off site supervision, were improved in Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Dominican Republic and El Salvador. Also, legal changes allowing the exchange of information with foreign supervisory agencies in Guatemala fostered compliance with key principles for cross-border consolidated banking supervision. In relative terms, risk-based supervision improved by the same proportion as consolidated supervision, with an increase of 60 percent in BCP compliance. In addition to starting from a lower compliance level, most of the improvement (up to 40 percent) in this category was due to approval by congress of anti-money laundering laws in Guatemala, and Honduras which, although connected to a greater control of banks’ risk, is not strictly part of the risk-based supervision practice. Legal reforms in Guatemala and the Dominican Republic increased superintendencies’ responsibilities, focused objectives, and improved legal protection for supervisors. These reforms were the main drivers behind the region’s strengthening of institutional factors, which continue to show the highest level of compliance with an index value of 65. Widespread strengthening of internal controls and audits of banks thorough the region, along with a legal reform ensuring that corporate affiliations or structures do not expose banks to undue risks or hinder effective supervision in Panama, contributed to the regional strengthening in governance.

Comparison of compliance levels with the LA5, Spain, and Canada

In addition to the ordinal ranking the region’s gap vis-à-vis best international standards could be assessed by comparing compliance levels against some relevant benchmarks. We have chosen a group of large Latin American economies (LA5) because the institutional structure of the financial system is very similar to that of CAPDR countries and their supervisory institutions have strong links, including supervisory associations.7 We also compare the compliance levels of CAPDR countries against two industrial countries considered to be leaders in the field: Canada, whose financial system was remarkably successful in weathering the recent global crisis, and Spain, the first country in introducing countercyclical provisioning and has a tradition of strong banking supervision.

Despite the strengthening of supervisory practices, the region remains at 56 percent compliance with the BCP. Even in the countries registering the strongest improvement, such as the Dominican Republic (between 2001 and 2009) or Guatemala (between 2000 and 2006), the BCP compliance index is still at about 50 percent. The BCP compliance index in the LA5 ranges from 80 to 90, while it is close to 100 in Spain and Canada. The LA5 countries, Spain, and Canada are well above the CAPDR average in all four categories, but the gap is particularly wide in cross-border consolidated supervision and risk-based supervision (Figure 2).8

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Compliance with BCP in CAPDR and Benchmarks

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2011, 299; 10.5089/9781463927851.001.A001

Source: IMF staff based on country BCP assessments.1/ Excludes Nicaragua.

On a country by country basis, Panama leads the region in BCP results, with a level of effective supervision close to the LA5 average. Governance and cross-border consolidated supervision are assessed very favorably, while risk-based supervision and institutional aspects present a gap of about 20 percent vis-à-vis full compliance with BCP principles, mainly because of a lack of legal protection for supervisors, some weaknesses in the institutional supervisory set up for nonbanks, limitations in corporate governance rules, and deficiencies in the measurement of actuarial risk in supervisory activities on fiduciaries.9 All CAPDR countries, with the exception of Costa Rica and Honduras, share a relatively high level of institutional supervisory strength.

The weaknesses in supervisory practices are concentrated mainly in risk-based supervision, where all countries, with the exception of Panama, are at 50 percent compliance or below. Risk-based supervision practices are relatively new in the region and, given the change in focus, supervisory procedures, and additional regulatory framework that are required, it may take a few more years to be fully implemented. Costa Rica’s assessment suffers from the inadequacy of its legal framework for risk-based supervision and cross-border consolidated supervision. Guatemala’s relatively old 2006 BCP assessment does not reflect progress in recent years, particularly in the cross-border consolidated supervision and, to a lesser extent, risk-based supervision practices. In El Salvador, the low compliance with risk-based supervision contrasts with an overall performance that is higher than the regional average.

This is due to the inadequate regulatory framework, including standards for risk management, and credit, market, liquidity, operational and interest rate risk in the banking book, which is being addressed after the last FSAP. Despite the presumed good practices of the large international banks operating in El Salvador, the lack of regulatory standard limits enforcement by the superintendency.10

B. Self-Assessment Index of Supervisory Practices

Gap with best international practices according to the self-assessment index

The region’s seven banking superintendencies surveyed their supervisory practices in three main areas: risk-based supervision, cross-border consolidated supervision and the supervisory perimeter. A self-assessment index (SAI) of compliance with best international practices was prepared based on the survey responses. Each question (30 in total, 10 per category) was ranked from zero (best international practices were not being applied at all) to 10 (full compliance with best international practices).11 The result was weighted according the relative relevance of the question and the final result normalized in a range of zero to 100, where 100 would represent total compliance with best international practices.

The surveys confirm to a large extent the results obtained through the BCP compliance index (Table 2), despite differences in methodology and timeframe. In particular, the survey results confirm that there is a need to continue strengthening risk-based supervision practices throughout the region. At the aggregated regional level, the quantitative SAI elaborated from the results of the survey reflect an order of magnitude of the gap in the areas of risk-based supervision practices (slightly below 50 percent vis-à-vis a theoretical perfect level of compliance with international best practices) and cross-border consolidated supervision (almost 70 percent compliance with international best practices) in line with BCP compliance index. Finally, the survey finds that the region has a relatively poor performance with regard to the definition of the supervisory perimeter. This is an element that is only marginally covered by the BCP, making it impossible to compare with the SAI.12

Table 2:

SAI - Self-Assessment Index of Compliance with International Best Practices in Main Supervisory Practices

(Scale from 0 to 100, 100 = best international practices)

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Source: IMF staff assessment based on supervisory authorities’ responses to questionnaires.

On a country by country basis (Figure 3), however, there are differences between the BCP compliance index and the SAI. These are largely explained by the different timing (i.e., in the above-mentioned case of Guatemala), the different methodological approaches13 and, in some cases, the fact that BCP are an impartial evaluation while the surveys reflect the facts as seen by the superintendencies. The discrepancy between the values of the SAI and BCP compliance index for Panama is particularly noteworthy. While the supervisory authorities believe that there are still substantial improvements to be made, particularly in the area of risk-based supervision, the 2007 BCP ranked Panama very highly in this and all the other areas of banking supervision and regulation. The high value obtained in the BCR compliance index might reflect in part differences of criteria with the superintendency self-assessment, but also the evolving understanding of the nature and scope of risk-based supervision and other supervisory practices and, possibly, some inconsistencies between the assessment and the final rating.14

Figure 3.
Figure 3.

CAPDR: BCP vs. SAI

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2011, 299; 10.5089/9781463927851.001.A001

Source: Fund staff based on BCP country assessments and supervisory authorities’ responses to questionnaires.1/ Data on BCP compliance for Nicaragua is not available.2/ Excludes Nicaragua from the BCP compliance index.

Self-assessment of compliance by supervisory category

The regulatory and operational aspects of risk-based supervision need to be improved throughout the region. Risk-based supervision objectives are well defined and generally well understood. Nonetheless, the regulatory framework is at different stages of development and implementation is mostly embryonic. All countries in the region need to continue training supervisory staff on how to analyze the broad spectrum of financial risks and on the implementation of risk-based supervision techniques. In some countries, this effort has been delayed by the institutional transformation of the supervisory authorities, such as in El Salvador.15 The use of vulnerability indicators is particularly limited. For instance, in Costa Rica no indicators are used to measure the systemic impact of an institution, and in Nicaragua the only indicator applied is market share.

In general, the region has advanced in the introduction of cross-border consolidated supervision. Adequate reporting systems are in place and the definition of related parties is sound. Areas where further strengthening is necessary are the legal framework, the scope of cross-border consolidated supervision, and intraregional coordination. In particular, the Dominican Republic lacks legislation defining the structure of financial conglomerates, which may encumber identification and enforcement of cross-border consolidated supervision. Work is in progress to pass a financial groups law to address this weakness. The scope of cross-border consolidated supervision is mostly limited to financial activities (i.e., not including the potential industrial or commercial activities of a financial group) with the exception of El Salvador, where financial conglomerates are not allowed industrial participations, and Panama, where the law enables regulators to request any necessary information from any company pertaining to an economic group. Intraregional coordination is being fostered by the work of the Central American Council of Financial Supervisors. However, national legislation still hampers the exchange of critical information between supervisors, and the institutional structure of the Council is not designed to carry on this task at a supranational level.

There are several weaknesses regarding the definition and implementation of the supervisory perimeter in the region. In particular, the legal definition of financial institution/financial activity has weaknesses in all countries except in Costa Rica and Panama, creating opportunities for circumventing effective financial supervision. There are no size limits for financial institutions, and only in Costa Rica is intensified supervision mandated when growth exceeds a predetermined threshold. The types of risks and operations under the purview of the supervisor are limited. Only a few countries have begun to map operational risks, and regulations on market risk and risk management are only now being developed. Finally, micro-finance, credit cooperatives, savings banks and mutual institutions, even of a relatively large size, are not effectively regulated and supervised in many cases. Legal reforms are being prepared in this area in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

III. The Use of Macroprudential Instruments

A. Macroprudential Instruments: A Review of the Literature

Even a perfect compliance with best international practices in financial supervision and regulation could not ensure macrofinancial stability, as highlighted by the recent global financial crisis. The lack of a comprehensive analytical framework and the gaps in policy tools reignited interest in macroprudential policies.16 Macroprudential policy and macroprudential instruments, are broadly defined as the set of measures that aim to monitor, prevent, and address system-wide risks, and minimize the cost of systemic crises. The scope of this paper is limited to the set of macroprudential instruments. To be effective, macroprudential policy needs as well a coherent institutional framework for effective surveillance and policy design and implementation.17

There is no standard taxonomy for macroprudential instruments.18 Some authors emphasize the time-series dimension of financial stability as opposed to its cross-sectional dimension. Thus, macroprudential tools could be divided between those which are primarily intended to mitigate the procyclicality of the financial system and those oriented to reduce the risk of the common exposures that arise owing to balance sheet interlinkages at a given point in time.19 Countercyclical capital and provisioning requirements and maximum loan-to-value ratios are some of the macroprudential tools in the first group which are analyzed in this paper. Other measures of this type which are not included are, for instance, countercyclical variations in margins and haircuts in securities financing and derivative transactions. Some macroprudential tools included in the second group are the net stable funding ratio and limits for maturity mismatches. However, the fact that most macroprudential instruments could be used countercyclically, and that most countercyclical measures have spillover effects that reduce balance sheet interlinked exposures, reduces the value of this classification.

Other authors classify macroprudential tools based on whether they are rule-based (e.g., automatic stabilizers)20 or discretionary;21 or whether they introduce quantity restrictions or price restrictions. The BIS has used a classification linking macroprudential measures with microprudential categories22, to a large extent (Table 3). This is a pragmatic approach, as macroprudential measures reduce risks at the microeconomic level as well and, at the opposite end, some traditional microprudential measures could be considered macroprudential instruments when their aim is to address systemic risks.

Table 3:

Macroprudential Instruments

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Source: Galati and Moessner (2011), adapted from BIS (2008).

B. Developments and Type of Macroprudential Instruments in CAPDR

We will consider as macroprudential instruments any macro or microprudential measure that can be used to address systemic risk,23 regardless of whether it is being used or has been used in the past for such purposes.24 Note that only regulations, and not intensified surveillance tools or capital controls, will be considered macroprudential measures.25

Out of the universe of macroprudential tools, we analyze a sample of 20 which, at the macroprudential or microprudential level, have been used in Central or South America, or are likely to be implemented in the future. Regarding classification, we use a pragmatic approach similar to BIS (2008), dividing the instruments into six categories: traditional measures; sectoral measures; maturity mismatches; credit growth limits; foreign exchange risk and capital inflows; and countercyclical measures (Table 4).

Table 4.

Classification of Macroprudential Tools Sampled

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Traditional measures encompass long-used microprudential tools which have been frequently calibrated to mitigate the procyclicality of the financial sector. Sectoral measures have been used to address rapid credit growth and asset prices bubbles in specific economic sectors. Maturity mismatches are also traditional microprudential measures which, given their macroprudential potential, we have grouped with new macroprudential measures such as core funding ratios. Credit growth limits were used at some point as countercyclical tools. However, they are generally seen as a last resource when market-based instruments are ineffective due to their strong and proven negative effects on the effective allocation of financial resources.26 Most measures to limit foreign exchange risks have a clear double microprudential and macroprudential usage and also address a very specific type of risk. Finally, countercyclical measures include the new type of macro-prudential tools developed in the 2000s and that have gained prominence with the recent global financial crisis. It is important to note that all 20 measures have the potential to be used as countercyclical instruments, and not only the ones included in this last category. Thus, when we analyze the different use of countercyclical measures in the CAPDR and LA5 countries we refer to the specific measures included in this category, and not to any other measure which might have been used for countercyclical purposes.

The analysis in this section is based on the results of a survey conducted among financial superintendencies and IMF desk economists from November 2010 until January 2011.27 The survey covered the evolving use of the sample of 20 macroprudential instruments in the CAPDR countries from 2000 to 2010. It also covered the LA5 countries for 2010, in order to have a benchmark for the region.

Most macroprudential measures in the region are traditional microprudential instruments; there are no new countercyclical or leverage-related measures in place (Figure 4). On average, the countries of the region had 1.9 active traditional macroprudential measures in place at end-2010. The most widespread instrument is the reserve requirement, which serves to adjust the money multiplier and to reduce liquidity risk. Other macroprudential measures are present only marginally (about 0.5 instruments on average for sector-specific and maturity mismatches), or not at all, such as with the more macro-oriented mechanisms (credit growth limits and countercyclical measures). The exception to the predominance of traditional microprudential measures is the growing use of limits on net open foreign exchange positions and related measures, which have increased four-fold during the last decade. This reflects mainly the need to protect against increased exchange rate volatility in some countries (Costa Rica and Guatemala), indirect foreign exchange risk in other highly dollarized countries (Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua), and liquidity risk in foreign exchange in El Salvador.28 In addition to the foreign exchange-related measures, some countries (Dominican Republic and Nicaragua) have strengthened their microprudential measures following domestic banking crises. A few measures (mainly liquidity) were relaxed to accommodate pressure on the banking sector during the global financial crisis but, in most cases, these have returned to their pre-crisis levels.

Figure 4.
Figure 4.

Macroprudential Measures per Group

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2011, 299; 10.5089/9781463927851.001.A001

Source: Supervisory authorities, country legislation, and IMF staff.

As a result of the introduction of microprudential measures to address foreign exchange risks, the average number of instruments that could be used as macroprudential measures has more than doubled in the region during the last decade (Figure 5). Countries in the CAPDR region are applying 4.9 measures in 2010, up from 2.1 measures on average in 2000. Costa Rica (foreign exchange-related measures) and Nicaragua (traditional microprudential measures) are the countries with the fastest growth in the number of measures. The large increase in Honduras is also related to the increase in foreign exchange-related measures.

Figure 5.
Figure 5.

Number of Active Macroprudential Measures

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2011, 299; 10.5089/9781463927851.001.A001

Source: Supervisory authorities, country legislation, and IMF staff.

C. Use of Macroprudential Instruments in CAPDR vs. LA5

Despite increases in the introduction of macroprudential measures, the region is still somewhat below the LA5 average (Figure 6).29 However, the large emerging economies of the continent have not applied many macroprudential measures. Total average instruments applied per country in the LA5 group is six, barely over one-fourth of the 20 instruments surveyed and only one instrument more than the CAPDR countries. However, the number of macroprudential measures is not necessarily correlated with the effective protection against systemic risk. In this sense, the most relevant difference between the CAPDR and LA5 countries is that the latter have already started introducing new countercyclical measures. The survey provided partial information on the range of values for the limits and requirements being applied. However, comparisons of such ranges provide only a very broad sense of the level of intensity of macroprudential measures, and the available information does not allow one to obtain a weighted average per country. For more information on the ranges of macroprudential measures (see Appendix 2).

Figure 6.
Figure 6.

Number of Macroprudential Measures Applied: CAPDR vs. LA5

(Out of a 20-measure sample, 2010)

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2011, 299; 10.5089/9781463927851.001.A001

Source: Supervisory authorities and IMF staff.

At the country level, there is room to broaden the toolkit in most of the categories considered (Figure 7). Some countries could introduce or improve the calibration of existing microprudential measures with a potential macroprudential dimension, including limits on borrowers’ leverage (mortgages and consumption credit) to prevent the accumulation of risks in household balance sheets. Other macroprudential tools should be introduced as precautions in case of macrofinancial distress due to capital inflows. There is no clear way to determine the number and type of macroprudential measures that reduces the risk best suited to preserve systemic stability. The case should be analyzed country by country, based on the existing regulatory framework and the potential sources of systemic risk.30

Figure 7.
Figure 7.

CAPDR: Number of Macroprudential Measures Applied per Country

(Out of a 20-measure sample, 2010)

Citation: IMF Working Papers 2011, 299; 10.5089/9781463927851.001.A001

Source: Supervisory authorities and IMF staff.

D. Strengthening the Macroprudential Toolkit

Measures to reduce foreign exchange risk, particularly limits on net open foreign exchange positions, are now generalized. Costa Rica and Nicaragua introduced specific capital requirements for net open foreign exchange positions; Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua implemented special capital requirements for foreign exchange lending to unhedged borrowers; and El Salvador has a reserve requirement on banks’ external credit lines (Appendix 2, Table A). Still, measures other than limits to net open foreign exchange position are relatively rare in the region and could help mitigate direct and indirect foreign exchange risk. Following Eyzaguirre et al. (2011), “always-desirable macroprudential policies should continue being developed and intensified, with the focus on segments prone to bubbles, to contain financial vulnerabilities and reduce credit procyclicality” (Eyzaguirre et al, 2011, p.4). Thus, should the countries of the region be subjected to foreign exchange and overheating pressures similar to some LA5 countries, the authorities may consider introducing additional measures pertaining to this category, including specific capital requirements for net open foreign exchange positions and for foreign exchange lending to unhedged borrowers, reserve requirements on banks’ external credit lines and eliminate restrictions to capital outflows, such as liberalizing foreign investment by domestic pension funds. In the most extreme cases, legislation to introduce a tax on capital inflows could also be considered as a precautionary tool against large and potentially unstable capital inflows.

Measures to limit maturity mismatches serve several objectives. While mainly used in the region as microprudential measures to ensure that financial institutions have adequate liquidity, they also have an effect on credit growth. The Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Panama do not have regulatory limits on maturity mismatches. Although microprudential control of liquidity risk could be effectively addressed through risk-based supervision oversight, limits on maturity mismatches could prove useful as macroprudential instruments in case the term transformation function of the banking system is fuelling a bubble in real estate or other long-term assets. Currently, no country in the CAPDR region has regulated the core funding. Liquidity macro and microprudential regulation could also be strengthened by establishing limits on the degree to which the bank is financing longer-term assets with noncore funding, ensuring the appropriate stability of the banking system’s core funding base.

Sectoral and other specific measures are rare31 and, except for Costa Rica,32 they are of a precautionary nature, allowing the supervisor to introduce sector-specific mandatory provisions if necessary. Although there is plenty of room to increase the number of precautionary regulations in this area, they should be applied only sparingly due to their potential undesirable effects on the market’s allocation of financial resources. While limits to credit growth are not desirable per se, the absence of regulations that allow their introduction under specific circumstances detracts from an important last-resort tool. This is particularly true in countries where passage of this type of regulation takes a long time.

Developing the new countercyclical measures will further benefit the macroeconomic policy framework. These measures introduce relatively few distortions to the financial markets, and are mainly aimed at systemic risk but also have positive spillover effects at the micro level. The new Basel III standards include a countercyclical capital buffer among the instruments available to superintendents and macroprudential regulators.33

There is very limited empirical analysis of the effectiveness of macroprudential measures. Lack of data and the heterogeneity of tool definitions make it very difficult to compare the results of macroprudential measures controlling for their calibration. It seems clear, however, that having a broader set of macroprudential tools does not necessarily make for a better macroprudential framework. Just one measure, if correctly calibrated, could be sufficient at any given time. Comparing the macroprudential frameworks of different countries becomes very difficult, as the only information readily available pertains to the existing types of macroprudential measures. Information on their regulatory calibration, which is usually available, does not permit a comparison as it would be necessary to gather granular data on the balance sheet items to which they apply. Thus, using the number and type of macroprudential measures as a proxy to analyze comparative intensities on the use of macroprudential instruments could be misleading and conclusions should be drawn carefully.

IV. Conclusions

This paper has shown that despite important progress in recent years, there is ample scope for strengthening further supervisory practices in countries of the CAPDR region. In particular, there is a need to make solid improvements in the area of risk-based supervision, and to expand the region’s supervisory perimeter. At the country level, Guatemala and Panama lead the region in the implementation of consolidated supervision, while there is a need to strengthen this area in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. Risk-based supervision is still lagging behind in the region, with little difference among countries. Costa Rica has a wider supervisory perimeter, while El Salvador appears to have a particularly weak supervisory perimeter, in terms of financial entities and risks outside the purview of supervisory institutions. Prompt and sound implementation of the law recently approved that merges all financial superintendencies would help to resolve these issues. In the Dominican Republic, approving a legal reform to regulate the structure of financial conglomerates is critical to strengthen consolidated supervision and broaden the supervisory perimeter. Despite noteworthy progress in reducing the off-shore banking sector to two relatively small institutions, a legal reform is key in the case of Costa Rica in order to fully apply cross-border consolidated supervision and risk-based supervision. Further progress in intraregional coordination, including by strengthening the Executive Secretariat of the Central American Council of Financial Supervisors and eliminating the legal barriers for information exchange, would also positively impact cross-border consolidated supervision in the region. Country-by-country recommendations to strengthen financial regulation and supervisory capacity can be found in their detailed BCP assessments.

The relatively large gap with best international practices and the strongly interrelated regional banking sector makes it a priority to improve the supervisory practices in the areas of risk-based supervision and cross-border consolidated supervision. The focus should be on strengthening the regulatory and supervisory framework and improving the quality and reliability of financial sector indicators. The latter would also benefit from the implementation of the International Accounting Standards. Furthermore, strong competition from the private sector and the superintendencies’ limited independence and resources makes it difficult to retain supervisors with experience, resulting in the need to offer frequent training programs. The superintendencies of the region will continue requiring technical assistance and training programs that could be leveraged through coordination among technical assistance providers. In this sense, the recent decision by the Central American Council of Financial Supervisors to create a permanent executive secretariat in charge of, among other things, raising technical assistance funds, prioritizing technical assistance needs, and coordinating the regional technical assistance strategy is a positive development.

The region should continue expanding its macroprudential toolbox on a precautionary basis to increase its capacity to deal with increased foreign exchange instability, destabilizing capital inflows, credit booms, and asset price bubbles. Preferably, macroprudential instruments should be market-friendly and have reinforcing microprudential effects.

Depending on the speed of credit recovery, CAPDR countries could consider strengthening traditional leverage ratios, sectoral credit and provisioning limits, and maturity mismatches. Countries currently facing large capital inflows (e.g., Costa Rica) should consider further strengthening certain macroprudential measures to mitigate risks from a sudden rise in short-term capital inflows including by limiting domestic credit growth through indirect, market-based macroprudential tools. Careful consideration should also be given to the introduction of countercyclical measures, in conjunction with the new Basel III capital requirements, to continue reinforcing banking soundness with a minimal impact on the credit cycle.

Developments in Financial Supervision and the Use of Macroprudential Measures in Central America
Author: Mr. Mynor Meza and Mr. Fernando L Delgado
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    Progress in Financial Regulation and Supervision in CAPDR

    There has been substantial improvement in compliance with BCP for effective banking supervision during the last decade.

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    Compliance with BCP in CAPDR and Benchmarks

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    CAPDR: BCP vs. SAI

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    Macroprudential Measures per Group

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    Number of Active Macroprudential Measures

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    Number of Macroprudential Measures Applied: CAPDR vs. LA5

    (Out of a 20-measure sample, 2010)

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    CAPDR: Number of Macroprudential Measures Applied per Country

    (Out of a 20-measure sample, 2010)