As unrealized losses piled up, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) gradually, then suddenly became insolvent, followed by the collapse of Signature Bank and people beginning to wake up to issues pervading our financial system. Modern day bank runs, though digital, can force banks to sell reserve assets at a loss, inevitably leading to insolvency.
As Balaji Srinivasan has pointed out, what was once considered the gold standard for risk-free reserve assets is now on the precipice of a potential new banking crisis. Is this the end of the U.S. treasury as we know it?
If nothing else, the events over the weekend — from SVB’s failure to issues with other financial institutions to alarming intervention by the government — demonstrate just how fragile the system has become, underscoring its dependence upon money printing even as it is being undone by the low-yield, low-interest-rate environment that was caused by the printing in the first place. The dichotomy is stark, but there are lessons to be learned.
You Can’t Taper A Ponzi: Why The Legacy Banking System Is Ripe For Failure
The way the banking system works is, essentially, banks take your deposits and lend them out at higher interest rates than they pay you. They often keep reserves in U.S. treasury bonds, among other things, and everything seems to work until it doesn’t.
With the Federal Reserve’s tightening cycle, raising interest rates meant decreasing the price of bonds, devaluing banks’ staple reserve asset. When depositors come to redeem their deposits, banks are forced to sell their assets at a loss, eventually becoming unable to stem the bleeding.
Regional banks will bear the brunt of this hit, as demonstrated by the recent collapse of SVB. Federal regulators are desperately trying to prop up confidence in the system by backing 100% of depositors’ money, but at what cost?…