The following is an aggregation of thoughts on the burgeoning banking crisis, as posted in the Daily Contrarian. Subscribe to receive the briefing and accompanying podcast each market day morning.
Last weekend saw the dramatic rescue of Silicon Valley National Bank (SIVB) and Signature Bank of New York (SBNY). The market reaction was drastic, with investors punishing regional bank stocks and today shifting their focus to European banks. Credit Suisse (CS) dropped to an all-time low after its largest investor ruled out further capital infusions.
Unfortunately, the underlying issue facing banks in the US at least remains unresolved. Banks still hold large amounts of held-to-maturity, or HTM, assets. These are US Treasuries and other government bonds that don’t need to be marked-to-market if they are (you guessed it) held to maturity. The problem is if these assets need to be sold, in which case they do need to be marked-to-market. If that happens it leaves banks with a huge hole in their balance sheets from the ensuing write down. See Silicon Valley Bank, which tried to plug their hole with a capital raise. Didn’t work. This issue of HTMs has been known for some time. Here’s a Wall Street Journal piece from November.
By closing Signature Bank, regulators presumably removed the domino that they believed would be the next to fall. The Fed for its part set up an emergency lending program called the Bank Term Funding Program, or BTFP, to shore up liquidity in the financing system. The question now is how effective these measures will be. There is reason to believe they should be at least somewhat effective, according to our guest on this week’s podcast.
That’s great, but then what about the business viability of these regional banks? If depositors are worried about their money it stands to reason that they will move it to a larger financial institution. How can smaller regional banks compete with these juggernauts, especially if they are faced with larger regulatory burdens as can be expected? At best, their margins will be severely pressured. At worst they will have to deal with a run on their deposits.