It’s been a rocky home stretch for Michel Prada, who completes his five-year term as chairman of the Autorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF), France’s market regulator, in November. Corporate France, as elsewhere in Europe, has suffered from the global financial downturn triggered by the US’s subprime-mortgage crisis that exploded a year ago. French heavyweights Crédit Agricole, Natixis and Société Générale have all been forced to write down billions of euros because of their exposure to the high-risk loans. For the AMF, the subprime fallout has been the “dominant event” of the past year, “putting an abrupt halt to previously positive market trends,” says Prada. To help find a way out of the current crisis and put in place measures to help prevent one in the future, he’s spent the past few months in global discussions, with the Financial Stability Forum (FSF) and the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO).
He would like these efforts to be viewed as his legacy, but will they be enough to restore the confidence and trust of investors back home? Perhaps not. Longer term, Prada believes the AMF must play its part in national efforts to educate the public — and politicians — about the intricacies of a market economy. Only then will investor confidence be restored fully.
Prada hasn’t decided what lies ahead for him. But as he wraps up his final weeks as the first chairman of the AMF — the regulator was formed five years ago through the merger of three organisations — he tells CFO Europe why he’s feeling bullish.
How deeply has the French financial market been affected by the subprime crisis?
It may have affected the market a little less than in other countries, mainly because French banks were a little less connected to this kind of business and their business model provides a diversification that made the consequences of the crisis a little less severe. We haven’t, up to now, had any casualties.
We will probably suffer from the global consequences of the crisis. It will impact the rate of growth and exports. One of the difficulties is that besides the subprime crisis and the destabilisation of the credit-risk transfer model, we must now contemplate the consequences of the commodities shock.
How has the AMF responded to the crisis?
When you look at this crisis, there were signs well ahead of it. There were lots of analyses in 2004 and 2005 that identified some of the risks. It’s always difficult to know whether regulators can anticipate without the risk of slowing down the rate of growth, hampering innovation or hindering competition but, at the same time, I believe we should try to be more proactive.
Credit ratings agencies have been criticised for their role in the subprime fallout. To what extent do you think they’re to blame?
Although they undoubtedly share part of the burden, they shouldn’t be the scapegoat. They are part of the dysfunction of the originate-to-distribute model and for that reason we have to deal with the difficulties that come from their activities. But they are not the only ones. It is a chain and each of the links of the chain has to be analysed, starting with the way credit was being distributed, packaged and securitised.