Business / Financial Markets

Japan's regulators boost scrutiny of financial firms' foreign assets

Bloomberg

Regulators are surveying Japan’s financial firms to determine their exposure to foreign assets, including risky credit products, as the global economy slows, according to sources.

The Bank of Japan and Financial Services Agency want to get a more detailed picture of domestic banks’ and insurers’ investments in collateralized loan obligations (CLOs) and leveraged loans to assess how they will fare if the borrowers run into difficulties, the sources said.

The U.S.-China trade war and ensuing slowdown are adding to pressure on Japanese policymakers to examine where risks lurk in the financial system and consider how to respond if stresses emerge. The joint research also underscores how officials are trying to assess the effects of Japan’s more than six years of unprecedented monetary stimulus.

Negative interest rates at home have prompted institutions to seek higher returns abroad, raising concerns about their vulnerability to swings in global financial markets. UBS Group AG has estimated that Japanese banks may have soaked up a third of new top-rated U.S. CLOs issued in recent years.

Still, there’s a dearth of public data on the exact scale of exposure following the recent surge in buying. The survey will allow the BOJ to access information on the holdings of insurers, which the FSA has the authority to request, the sources said.

While banks already disclose their holdings of securitized products in various forms, standardizing the data will give regulators a more coherent picture, they said.

“We see the importance of closer coordination with the Financial Services Agency for macro and micro prudence,” said Makoto Kasai, a senior official at the BOJ’s financial system department.

“As there are various reports on overseas credit investment and lending activities by Japanese financial institutions, it’s vital to share the accurate understanding of the financial system by reporting detailed information based on actual facts,” Kasai said.

Yoshitaka Wada, a spokesman at the FSA, declined to comment.

In the absence of government figures on financial firms’ leveraged loan holdings, analysts have been relying on corporate filings and other sources. Researchers at UBS used evidence from clients and analysis of the cross-currency basis swap market to make their calculations last year.

Analysts have also turned to a Bank of England report from last year that contained a table suggesting Japanese banks held about 10 percent of the $750 billion global CLO market in 2017. That number has probably since risen, given that agricultural lender Norinchukin Bank alone had ¥8 trillion ($75 billion) of the instruments in June.

The BOJ may publish part of the survey results if needed, some of the sources said. Authorities may also use the findings to inform the Financial Stability Board, a Swiss-based body that monitors the global financial system and is also examining banks’ exposure to leveraged loans, one of the sources said.

The FSA has been questioning banks including Norinchukin, Japan Post Bank Co. and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. on how they manage risks tied to their CLO portfolios, officials from the regulator told Bloomberg earlier this year.

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