In a joint statement, the U.S. Treasury, the FDIC and the Federal Reserve Board announced that all depositors, both insured and uninsured, of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, would be made whole for their deposits. Each bank had been closed this past Friday, SVB by the FDIC and Signature Bank by the New York State banking authorities.
The regulators described the protection of the depositors as not requiring funding from taxpayers as the funding would come from a special assessment on banks that will be paid into the Deposit Insurance Fund.
The regulators had previously said that shareholders and other unsecured creditors of the bank would not be protected (and thus could be wiped out) and that management of the two banks had been removed.
President Joseph R. Biden issued a statement to assure depositors and call on Congress and the banking regulators to “strengthen the rules for banks to make it less likely that this kind of bank failure will happen again.” Numerous other statements have been issued (see primary sources below).
First, the statement that none of the bailout will be borne by taxpayers is somewhat misleading. The bailout is not being financed by other banks buying a business that had positive going forward value. Rather, it is being financed by government-imposed regulatory fees that must be passed through and eaten by shareholders or paid by customers in higher fees or lower interest rates on deposits.
Second, the statement raises many questions. Are all bank deposits from now on implicitly insured? Where will the no-bailout line be drawn in the future? What is the justification? That is not to say that the bailout was not reasonable under the circumstances. Had there not been one, we almost certainly would have seen additional runs on other banks and financial institutions. Depositors were very much poised to move their money from small banks to larger ones. But it will be interesting to see whether depositors begin assessing bank risk more closely going forward, just as institutional investors began to assess broker-dealer risk more carefully after 2008.
Third, the best explanation of the 2008 financial crisis was a 1986 book by Hyman Minsky called “Stabilizing an Unstable Economy.” (See The Future of Financial Regulation.) Minsky argued that periods of financial calm create a lack of focus on real risks, which in turn leads to speculation and thus to instability. The book came briefly into vogue during the 2008 financial crisis, in a period referred to as the “Minsky Moment.”
One could reasonably argue that that the last few years have seen rampant speculation, but by the regulators, not market participants. Rather than focus on the ordinary risks inherent to our economy – money supply, inflation, price volatility – the financial regulators have become distracted by speculative risks that are of high political import, such as climate change, an issue as to which they have neither sufficient knowledge nor actionable data, nor any meaningful ability to influence events.
The FSOC’s 2022 Annual Report (see related coverage) makes 16 references to inflation (many of them about global inflation and very little about the impact of inflation and the attempts to control it on bank risk). By contrast, there are 112 references to climate (not historically regarded as a threat to financial stability). The FSOC 2021 Annual Report managed 41 references to inflation versus 86 references to climate, a lack of attention to actual risk in 2021 that only became more pronounced in 2022. (It also is notable that SVB was particularly focused on ESG lending, not limited to climate.) So while the regulators may have been right that climate risk is a material risk to the financial system, they were likely wrong about the reasons. The risk was that climate change distracted the financial regulators from the relative boring work of financial regulation.
Financial regulators need to devote their attention to the ordinary and mundane matters of financial risk. Attending to mundane matters does not mean adopting a slew of new and burdensome regulations, imposing new weights on the markets to compensate for past regulatory distractions. When the next FSOC Annual Report is published, there should be more references to ordinary risks such as inflation, interest rates, maturity mismatches and failures to diversify risk, than there are to references to climate.
- White House: Remarks by President Biden on Maintaining a Resilient Banking System and Protecting our Historic Economic Recovery
- Joint Statement by the Department of the Treasury, Federal Reserve, and FDIC
- House Financial Services Committee Press Release: McHenry Statement on Regulator Actions Regarding Silicon Valley Bank
- Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee Press Release: Scott Statement on Government Response to Failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank
- NYS Department of Financial Services: Superintendent Adrienne A. Harris Announces New York Department of Financial Services Takes Possession of Signature Bank
- FRB Press Release: Federal Reserve Board announces it will make available additional funding to eligible depository institutions to help assure banks have the ability to meet the needs of all their depositors
- Press Release: Joint Statement by Treasury, Federal Reserve, and FDIC
- SEC Statement: Chair Gary Gensler on Current Market Events
- FDIC Establishes Signature Bridge Bank, N.A., as Successor to Signature Bank, New York, NY
- FDIC Acts to Protect All Depositors of the former Silicon Valley Bank, Santa Clara, California
- FDIC Creates a Deposit Insurance National Bank of Santa Clara to Protect Insured Depositors of Silicon Valley Bank, Santa Clara, California
- Financial Stability Oversight Council Meeting on March 12, 2023
- House Financial Services Committee: Ranking Member Waters’ Statement Following the Closure of Silicon Valley Bank