Do Banks Have an Edge?

by Juliane Begenau and Erik Stafford

Overview — Reliance on high leverage is one distinctive component of the bank business model. This study suggests that the aggregate United States banking sector was relatively inefficient between 1960 and 2015. The falling costs of new production technologies in capital markets may further advantage capital markets over banks.

Author Abstract

We decompose bank activities into passive and active components and evaluate the performance of the active components of the bank business model by controlling for passive maturity transformation strategies that can be executed in the capital market. Over the period 1960-2016, we find that (1) unlevered bank assets underperform passive portfolios of maturity-matched U.S. Treasury bonds; (2) the cost of bank deposits exceeds the cost of bank debt; (3) bank equities have CAPM betas near one, while passive maturity transformation strategies have CAPM betas near zero; and (4) portfolios of bank equities consistently underperform portfolios designed to passively mimic their economic exposures. The very strong investment performance of passive maturity transformation strategies over this period may mask the underperformance of the specialized bank activities.

Paper Information