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Regulatory Arbitrage and International Bank Flows




  • YUE MA

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    • Houston is with University of Florida, Lin is with Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Ma is with Lingnan University Hong Kong. We thank Campbell Harvey (the Editor), an Associate Editor, and the referee for their very constructive and helpful comments. We thank Thorsten Beck, Daniel Berkowitz, David Brown, Charles Calomiris, Murillo Campello, Olivier De Jonghe, Avinash Dixit, Andrew Filardo, Mark Flannery, Borja Larrain, Micah Officer, Frank Packer, Eswar Prasad, Jun Qian, Mike Ryngaert, Frank Song, Yihui Wang, Yuhai Xuan, Bernard Yeung, Haibin Zhu, participants of the 2009 ICCFFI conference in Hong Kong, 2010 Asian Development Bank Institute-China Banking Regulatory Commission-IMF conference on Banking Regulation and Financial Stability in Beijing, 2012 Institutional Structure of Financial Regulation Conference in Hong Kong, 2012 HKIMR Forum on Financial Regulation and Development: Implications for Hong Kong as an International Financial Centre, and seminar participants at Chinese University of Hong Kong, National University of Singapore, Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Tulane University for helpful comments. We also thank Philip Wooldridge from the BIS for clarifying some important conceptual issues of the BIS data and offering useful comments on our research. The earlier version of this paper was written under the sponsorship of the Hong Kong Institute for Monetary Research (HKIMR) when both Lin and Ma were visiting research fellows. The financial and related supports of the HKIMR are gratefully acknowledged. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the Hong Kong Institute for Monetary Research, its Council of Advisors, or the Board of Directors.


We study whether cross-country differences in regulations have affected international bank flows. We find strong evidence that banks have transferred funds to markets with fewer regulations. This form of regulatory arbitrage suggests there may be a destructive “race to the bottom” in global regulations, which restricts domestic regulators’ ability to limit bank risk-taking. However, we also find that the links between regulation differences and bank flows are significantly stronger if the recipient country is a developed country with strong property rights and creditor rights. This suggests that, while differences in regulations have important influences, without a strong institutional environment, lax regulations are not enough to encourage massive capital flows.