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Q+A-Basel Committee close to agreeing new bank capital rules

LONDON Dec 4 The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision meets on Dec. 8-9 to decide on a far-reaching package of reforms that will force banks across the world to hold more capital and even change how some do business.

The committee is made up of central banking and regulatory officials from nearly 30 countries, including the G20 group of leading nations spearheading global efforts to overhaul financial regulation in light of the credit crunch.

WHAT ARE THEY DECIDING ON?

Policymakers say the existing Basel II accord on bank capital requirements failed to make sure banks held enough capital to withstand a major shock like the credit crunch.

In order to lessen the likelihood of repeat public bailouts of banks in the next crisis, a Basel III is in effect being put together that toughens up and broadens the scope of the accord.

In September the committee's oversight body, chaired by European Central Bank President, Jean-Claude Trichet, endorsed work on a package of measures the committee decides on next week:

-- raise the quality, consistency and transparency of a bank's core Tier 1 capital base. The predominant form must be common shares and retained earnings. All components of capital base to be fully disclosed;

-- introduce a leverage ratio for banks, fully adjusting for differences in accounting between countries;

-- minimum liquidity or cash-like buffer requirements for banks;

-- agree on additional capital buffers above the minimum requirements. They will be built up in good times and used for covering losses when markets turn sour;

-- issue recommendations to reduce the systemic risk associated with winding down cross-border banks;

-- assess need for a capital surcharge to mitigate risk of systemic banks whose collapse could destabilise broader markets.

WHAT ARE THE STICKING POINTS?

Leverage Ratio: The committee looks set to agree on a leverage ratio, no small achievement. France has spoken out against a ratio. A compromise is likely to say that a leverage ratio will be introduced initially in a way that gives national supervisors some wiggle room and only be "hard wired" into the reformed Basel accord in an evolutionary manner.

Minimum liquidity requirements: A last minute tussle has emerged between Britain and other countries. The UK is introducing a new liquidity regime for banks ahead of other countries which will require them to hold large amounts of government bonds, seen as highly liquid for absorbing short-term losses without the need to raise fresh capital quickly.

Other countries want all assets a central bank accepts as collateral in lending operations to be eligible for inclusion in new liquidity buffers.

Quality of capital: Reaching an agreed definition of what core bank capital should be is one of Basel's toughest nuts to crack. The United States wants to keep hybrid or debt-like capital as part of core capital. The EU believes it should only be common equity.

Germany wants cooperative bank equity to be acceptable in core capital even though some countries have their doubts about its ability to be readily at hand to absorb sudden shocks. Bundesbank Vice-President Franz-Christoph Zeitler told Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Friday it would not be fair to penalise a sector which was contributing to credit supply.

There is also debate over whether Cocos or contingent capital, a new hybrid debt instrument gaining ground in Britain, can be accepted as core capital.

Timing: There may be pressure to alter an agreed timetable for phasing in the new rules (see below).

WHAT NEXT?

The Basel Committee is expected to publish its package of draft reforms by the end of January for consultation.

In early 2010 it will conduct an impact assessment on the cumulative impact of the package before "calibrating" the new leverage ratio and setting higher levels of capital and liquidity requirements, all by the end of 2010.

The G20 says the new Basel rules should take effect by the end of 2012.

The Basel Committee has already agreed new rules that will require banks to hold two to three times more capital against their trading books from the start of 2011.

(Reporting by Huw Jones and Krista Hughes, editing by Toby Chopra)

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