Journal of Financial Services Research

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 195-208

Market Discipline of Banks: The Asset Test

  • Donald P. Morgan
  • , Kevin J. Stiroh

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As the banking business grows more complex, government supervisors of banks seem increasingly willing to share the role of policing bank risk with private investors, especially bondholders. Using spreads on nearly 500 bank bond issues between 1993 and 1998, this paper investigates the relationship between the spreads on those bonds and the full portfolio of assets held by the issuing bank. Our results show that bond spreads reflect the overall mix of banks' assets at the time of issuance, even after controlling for the standard measures of risk and performance used in earlier studies. Banks contemplating a shift into riskier activities like trading, for example, can expect to pay higher spreads as a result. Credit card and commercial and industrial lending also carry a penalty in terms of higher spreads. Overall, these results suggest that investors do price the ex ante credit and other risks implicit in banks' asset portfolios. Their vigilance should help to deter excessive or inefficient risk taking by banks.