NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Low interest rate policies promoted by the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and other central banks around the world are a key issue for the banking sector as firms dial up their risk to boost earnings, according to ratings agency Moody's Investor Service.
Moody's highlights low rates as the second biggest risk for banks in 2013 because they undermine banks' profitability, create asset bubbles and could pressure C-Suites on Wall Street to take on too much risk by way of providing financing to clients and increasing risk tolerances in their securities portfolios.
The prospect that banks will overextend their balance sheets to finance merger and private equity deals -- and hold high yielding assets that may backfire -- is reminiscent of the days prior to the financial crisis. That's when the Fed's low rates propelled firms to finance debt-laden buyout deals of a seemingly ever increasing size. Meanwhile, a chase for yield spawned complex financial products that carried more risk than what firms had anticipated or could tolerate.
In fact, Moody's indicates such a scenario is already causing banks to return to some of their pre-crisis ways, even if products like collateralized debt obligations and subprime real estate securities that got banks in trouble remain in a thaw."The basic point certainly is increased risk taking," says Robard Williams, a Vice President at Moody's. "Risks can be clouded by low rates," adds Williams, who notes an increasing exposure to longer dated assets and ones with increasing credit risk in a rising interest rate environment. In a report published on Thursday, Moody's highlights low interest rates as the second biggest lingering risk for the global banking system in 2013 - only surpassed by macroeconomic issues such as a weak global growth and continued economic stress in Europe. "
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