There exists a centuries-old and fathoms-deep relationship between finance and the state. The great banking houses, such as the Medicis of Florence, were lenders of last resort to rulers at risk of being overthrown. Financiers had to avoid backing losers, who would be unable to repay debts. Now it is banks that threaten to bring down the state; a switch that has led to more and more oversight from official organs. Things shifted sharply a century ago, with intervention in the Depression. The global financial crisis of 2007-09 reinforced the trend. Recent turmoil has pushed the banking system further along the path to state control.
On May 11th the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, an American regulator, revealed that the country’s big banks face a bill of $16bn for losses associated with the failures of Silicon Valley Bank (svb) and Signature Bank. They will probably have to kick in even more to cover the fall of First Republic, another lender. In America, Britain and Europe, officials are debating if they should offer more generous protection for bank deposits. Such moves are just the latest evidence of the diminution of banks’ power and the increase in that of the state. Over the past few months, in areas from deposit insurance to emergency lending to regulation of asset quality, Leviathan has grown ever more dominant.
Bankers and regulators are well aware that changes introduced in a time of turmoil have a habit of sticking around. Andrew Haldane, formerly of the Bank of England, has compared the safety-net provided to banks to “over-stretched elastic”. Once inflated, it never quite shrinks back to size. Moreover, potential future expansions in the state’s remit—possibly including much tighter rules on collateral or an unintended shift to a so-called narrow-banking system—can now be glimpsed. How much further will the state expand?
To understand the dynamic at play, start with deposit insurance—which President Franklin Roosevelt is often credited with inventing. In fact, he resisted the measure’s introduction in 1934, fearing it would “lead to laxity in bank management”, since an insured depositor need not worry about safety. Although other countries, fearing the same, were slow to introduce such insurance, it nevertheless spread, typically introduced at times of crisis. This spring American regulators went further than ever: retrospectively protecting depositors in svb, Signature Bank and, in effect, First Republic. The president, treasury secretary and chairman of the Federal Reserve have all more or less said that all deposits in banks are safe.
Emergency lending is the next area where the state’s role is growing. Banks need a lender of last resort because they are inherently unstable. Deposits are redeemable on demand; loans are long-term. Thus no institution will have money to hand when depositors clamour for it en masse. Walter Bagehot, a former editor of The Economist, is credited with advising that, to avoid a crisis, central bankers should lend freely to solvent institutions, secured by good collateral and at a penalty rate of interest. The Fed’s recently introduced “bank term funding programme” discards this dictum. It values long-term securities at par even when the market has heavily discounted them, and imposes hardly any penalty above the market rate of interest.
The bigger the backstop, the more reason the government has to dictate what risks banks may take. Therein lies the third source of creeping state control: regulation of asset quality. Banks everywhere are subject to rules that restrict the riskiness of their assets and govern how much capital they must hold. The real risk comes when policy preferences interfere with lending rules. In America this already happens in the mortgage market, which is dominated by two government-backed enterprises: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Together the two institutions now underwrite credit risk for more than half of mortgages. Their guarantees enable the 30-year fixed-rate, prepayable mortgages Americans have come to expect. They also help explain why America’s financial system bears more interest-rate risk than Europe’s, where floating-rate mortgages are common.
On the house
Since Fannie and Freddie take on credit risk themselves, they charge mortgage originators “points” (as in percentage points), which vary with a borrower’s credit score and the loan-to-value ratio on a property. The system is arbitrary for borrowers, with those on the wrong side of dividing lines hammered. And sometimes the arbitrariness is fiddled with for reasons other than perceived risk. On May 1st new rules were put in place by the Federal Housing Finance Agency, raising the cost for high-score borrowers and cutting it for their low-score peers. The ambition was to make it easier for poor people to buy a home. Quite apart from the fact that easier credit does little, in aggregate, to make housing affordable, the government has in effect mandated that these institutions should not be properly compensated for the risk they take on.
More of the banking system is coming to look like housing finance. After the global financial crisis, regulators hugely increased the stringency of rules governing bank balance-sheets. Different assets attract different risk-weights, meaning that what a bank chooses to invest in affects its overall minimum-capital requirements. Like any attempt to categorise complex things, these risk-weights will often be wrong. The loanbook of First Republic, which collapsed on May 1st, carried mortgages for the rich that had little credit risk, yet the rules assigned them a high risk-weight. Probably for this reason, regulators promised to share credit losses with JPMorgan Chase as part of its purchase of the loans, resulting in a lower risk-weight. It is not that anyone expects large losses. The government just had to circumvent its own misfiring rule.
Where next for state intervention? In addition to expanding deposit insurance, the likely response of regulators to the recent turmoil will be to tighten rules on interest-rate risk. Today’s regulations allow banks to count the par value of government bonds of any duration as top-quality liquidity (ie, funds that are accessible in a crisis). As so many banks have learned in recent months, these bonds fall sharply in value when rates rise. The safest assets are both government-issued and short-term. Yet the more super-safe short-term government securities banks are instructed to hold, the more the industry would move away from its basic principle: that the point of banking is to transform short-term deposits into long-term assets.
To some, this would be a good thing. Narrow banking, in which institutions are required to hold sufficient liquid assets to back all their deposits, was first proposed in 1933 as the “Chicago Plan”, after the devastation of the Depression. Already some parts of the system look narrowish. In 2013 money-market funds were given access to the Federal Reserve’s reverse-repo facility, in which they receive securities overnight in exchange for cash—a facility that was expanded during the covid-19 pandemic. In effect, Americans can park cash in money-market funds, which in turn park it directly at the Fed, circumventing the banking system altogether. Money-market funds have been on the receiving end of some $435bn in inflows since svb failed, a cash-flow that is helping destabilise banks. Another way in which the system could become more narrow is if the Fed or other important central banks launch central bank digital currencies, which operate as alternatives to bank accounts.
Such a world would bring its own problems. Deposits are not useful sitting idle. The benefits of linking savers, who prefer safety and liquidity, with borrowers, who like flexibility and security, are big. Joseph Schumpeter, an economist, wrote in the 1930s that it was “one of the most characteristic features of the financial side of the capitalist evolution to ‘mobilise’ all, even the longest maturities”, so that they are financed by short-term borrowing. “This is not mere technique. This is part of the core of the capitalist process.” Banks liberate investment—an engine of Schumpeter’s creative destruction—from the “voluntary abstinence routine of the savers”.
An alternative path might be to conclude that in a world of superfast bank runs, like the scramble that brought down svb, emergency support from central banks needs to become more common. Sir Paul Tucker, formerly of the Bank of England, who helped write rules introduced after the financial crisis, recently told the Financial Times that banks should stand ready to offer the central bank enough collateral to fund emergency loans covering all their deposits, such that they could survive a total run. This would bring into sharp relief another method by which the state controls banks: the list of assets it deems to be eligible as collateral for emergency loans. Banks would be able to use deposit financing only to hold assets that carried a government stamp of approval.
Whichever path is chosen, the world is moving towards a bigger role for the government and a smaller one for private actors—a fact that should alarm anyone who values the role of the private sector in judging risk. In China and Vietnam state sanctioning of credit creation is explicit. The largest banks are majority-owned by the government, and state lenders are bound to prop up sclerotic state enterprises or turbocharge growth when governments deem fit. It is getting harder to spot the differences between the Chinese system of explicit direction of lending and the “social contract” of the Western system, in which there is massive state underwriting of risks and a mass of regulation foisted on banks in return, so that they do not abuse the insurance they have been granted.
What is more, the seeds of many banking crises have been laid by misguided government intervention in banking, particularly by those moves that skew incentives or the pricing of risk, warns Gary Cohn, formerly second-in-command at Goldman Sachs, a bank. It might be easier to sleep at night knowing that, at present, the government has all but promised to protect all deposits, has lent generously to banks clinging on and has infused the system with funds through its wind-up operations. But this is precisely the kind of action that will cause sleepless nights in future. ■
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This article appeared in the Finance & economics section of the print edition under the headline "Leviathan swells"
Finance & economics May 20th 2023
- The financial system is slipping into state control
- What America does after a debt-ceiling disaster
- Is China’s recovery about to stall?
- LIBOR will at last be switched off in June
- How to invest in artificial intelligence
- Robert Lucas was a giant of macroeconomics
From the May 20th 2023 edition
Discover stories from this section and more in the list of contentsExplore the edition
What was the cause of the collapse of the US financial system? ›
It started with a subprime mortgage lending crisis in 2007 and expanded into a global banking crisis with the failure of investment bank Lehman Brothers in September 2008. Huge bailouts and other measures meant to limit the spread of the damage failed and the global economy fell into recession.What was a problem with the system of state banks? ›
State banks issued their own banknotes as currency, a system which at worst invited severe bouts of counterfeiting and at best introduced additional uncertainty in the task of determining the relative value of each banknote.How does the US government keep the financial system stable? ›
The Fed's day-to-day activities of conducting monetary policy, supervising and regulating banks, and providing payment services all help maintain the stability of the financial system.What is an example of a financial contagion? ›
The Great Depression, the financial crisis of 2007-2008, and the COVID-19 pandemic are examples of financial contagion in an economically integrated global economy that depends on shared financial institutions.What happens if the financial system collapses? ›
Banks would close. Demand would outstrip supply of food, gas, and other necessities. If the collapse affected local governments and utilities, then water and electricity might no longer be available. A U.S. economic collapse would create global panic.Is bank of America in financial trouble? ›
Based on the analysis of Bank of America's financial health, risk profile, and regulatory compliance, we can conclude that the bank is relatively safe from any trouble or collapse. The bank's financial performance has been stable, and its balance sheet shows a healthy level of capital and a diversified loan portfolio.What two banks failed that started the financial crisis? ›
The implosion that year of Washington Mutual, as well as the investment banks Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, was followed by failures throughout the banking system. From 2008 to 2015, more than 500 federally insured banks failed.When Bank of the United States failed? ›
Among the 608 banks that closed in November and December 1930, the Bank of United States accounted for a third of the total $550 million deposits lost, and it is thought that with its closure, bank failures reached a critical mass. People flocked to withdraw their money from other banks.Are banks at risk of collapse? ›
Recently, a report posted on the Social Science Research Network found that 186 banks in the United States are at risk of failure or collapse due to rising interest rates and a high proportion of uninsured deposits.Where does the US government keep its money? ›
Treasury's operating cash is maintained in an account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and in Tax and Loan accounts at commercial banks. The Daily Treasury Statement (DTS) is available by 4:00 p.m. the following business day.
How can the US government control the amount of money in the economy? ›
In the United States, the government influences economic activity through two approaches: monetary policy and fiscal policy. Through monetary policy, the government exerts its power to regulate the money supply and level of interest rates. Through fiscal policy, it uses its power to tax and to spend.Is the US economically stable? ›
The United States' economic freedom score is 70.6, making its economy the 25th freest in the 2023 Index. Its score is 1.5 points lower than last year. The U.S. is ranked 3rd out of 32 countries in the Americas region, and its overall score remains above the world and regional averages.What are the consequences of the global financial crisis? ›
Rise in public debt: Public debt increased as a result of numerous government interventions to maintain their financial and economic systems. Political repercussions: The crisis led to a decline in confidence in the government and financial institutions and fueled the emergence of populist and anti-globalization views.How has the pandemic affected financial institutions? ›
Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely damaged banking operations in various nations and has provoked a precautionary response from depositors (Elnahass et al., 2021), which lowers the demand for capital, reduces non-interest income and bank profitability (Beck and Keil, 2021).What is financial spreading? ›
Financial Spreading is defined as the process by which a bank transfers information from a borrower's financial statements into the bank's financial analysis program.Which banks are in trouble in 2023? ›
Silvergate Bank and Signature Bank, both with significant exposure to cryptocurrency, failed in the midst of turbulence in that market. Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) failed when a bank run was triggered after it sold its Treasury bond portfolio at a large loss, causing depositor concerns about the bank's liquidity.Why are banks failing in 2023? ›
What went wrong with the banks? Risky business strategies and weak risk management contributed to the failures of Silicon Valley Bank (the 16th largest U.S. bank by asset value) and Signature Bank (the 29th largest).What banks are collapsing 2023? ›
|Bank Name, City, ST||Press Release (PR)||Closing Date|
|First Republic Bank, San Francisco, CA||PR-034-2023||May 1, 2023|
|Signature Bank, New York, NY||PR-021-2023 PR-018-2023||March 12, 2023|
|Silicon Valley Bank, Santa Clara, CA||PR-023-2023 PR-019-2023||March 10, 2023|
Is Bank of America Partly Owned by China? No, Bank of America is not partly owned by China. It is an American bank.What is the most stable bank in America? ›
|JP Morgan Chase||$3.2 trillion|
|Bank of America||$2.42 trillion|
|Wells Fargo||$1.72 trillion|
What country owns Bank of America? ›
Bank of America is owned by Bank of America Corporation, a U.S.-based financial services holding company headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina.Which US banks are too big to fail? ›
- JPMorgan Chase.
- Bank of America.
- Wells Fargo.
- BNY Mellon.
- Goldman Sachs.
- Morgan Stanley.
- State Street.
Yes. Generally speaking, credit unions are safer than banks in a collapse. This is because credit unions use fewer risks, serving individuals and small businesses rather than large investors, like a bank.How many US banks have collapsed? ›
Bank failures happen more often than you might think—there have been 566 in the U.S. since we entered the new millennium. That's an average of almost 25 per year.Can banks seize your money if economy fails? ›
(Kitco News) - A bank can legally confiscate its clients' money in the event it needs to stay afloat, and most retail investors are not aware of this, said Lynette Zang, Chief Marketing Analyst at ITM Trading, who stressed that such legislation is already codified in the Dodd-Frank Act.Which US banks have collapsed? ›
Two regional US banks, California-based Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and New York's Signature Bank, have collapsed under the weight of heavy losses on their bond portfolios and a massive run on deposits.Is my money safe in the bank? ›
The FDIC insures your bank account to protect your money in the unlikely event of a bank failure. Bank accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which is part of the federal government. The insurance covers accounts containing $250,000 or less under the same owner or owners.Where do you put money when banks collapse? ›
Gold is a safe investment during economic turmoil because it holds its value. Another option is to invest in real estate. Real estate can be a more volatile investment, but it has the potential to offer high returns. Another option to invest your money during an economic collapse is to put it into a savings account.What happens to my money in the bank if the dollar collapses? ›
Yes. Your money in the bank is nothing more than a loan to the bank. If the bank fails in some way, the loans it has will probably not be repaid. However, in most western countries there is Federal deposit insurance of some kind, which in theory, will guarantee the repayment of bank deposits.What banks are most at risk? ›
- First Republic Bank (FRC) - Get Free Report. Above average liquidity risk and high capital risk.
- Huntington Bancshares (HBAN) - Get Free Report. ...
- KeyCorp (KEY) - Get Free Report. ...
- Comerica (CMA) - Get Free Report. ...
- Truist Financial (TFC) - Get Free Report.
Who does the US owe money to? ›
Investors in Japan and China hold significant shares of U.S. public debt. Together, as of September 2022, they accounted for nearly $2 trillion, or about 8 percent of DHBP. While China's holdings of U.S. debt have declined over the past decade, Japan has slightly increased their purchases of U.S. Treasury securities.Who controls most of the money in the US? ›
The U.S. Federal Reserve controls the money supply in the United States, and while it doesn't actually print currency bills itself, it does determine how many bills are printed by the Treasury Department each year.Who controls all the money in the US? ›
The Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States, provides the nation with a safe, flexible, and stable monetary and financial system.Which economy has the most government control? ›
A command economy is characterized by the most government control over the economy.What backs the money supply in the United States? ›
Government backs the money supply.
In the United States, the money supply is backed up by the government, which guarantees to keep the value of the money supply relatively stable.
Central banks conduct monetary policy by adjusting the supply of money, usually through buying or selling securities in the open market. Open market operations affect short-term interest rates, which in turn influence longer-term rates and economic activity.What will happen to US economy in 2023? ›
As we have previously noted, we anticipate tightening credit conditions will represent a drag on the US economy worth around 0.5% of GDP over the next 18 months. As a result, we now anticipate real GDP growth will be closer to 0.8% in 2023 and around 1.5% in 2024.Who has the strongest economy in the world? ›
According to the latest available data from the World Bank, the United States of America is currently the world's largest economy, with a GDP of over $23 trillion in 2021.Has the US economy collapsed before? ›
In the United States, the Great Recession was a severe financial crisis combined with a deep recession. While the recession officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, it took many years for the economy to recover to pre-crisis levels of employment and output.How to survive a global financial crisis? ›
Build up your emergency fund, pay off your high interest debt, do what you can to live within your means, diversify your investments, invest for the long term, be honest with yourself about your risk tolerance, and keep an eye on your credit score.
How will you resolve the global financial crisis? ›
- First, continue with essential containment measures and support for health systems. ...
- Second, shield affected people and firms with large, timely, targeted fiscal and financial sector measures. ...
- Third, reduce stress to the financial system and avoid contagion.
Potential measures could include an extension of the maturity of the central bank liquidity provided to banks and purchases of private debt securities in the secondary market in order to improve its liquidity and reduce the cost of funding of the real economy, thus helping its recovery.Which banks are in trouble? ›
|First Republic Bank||San Francisco||CA|
|Signature Bank||New York||NY|
|Silicon Valley Bank||Santa Clara||CA|
One of the most common causes of banking crises is excessive risk-taking by financial institutions. This can occur when banks engage in risky lending practices or investments without adequate risk management measures in place.Did COVID cause financial crisis? ›
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic fallout caused significant hardship. In the early months of the crisis, tens of millions of people lost their jobs. While employment began to rebound within a few months, unemployment remained high throughout 2020.Why is financial spreading done? ›
Objective behind financial statement spreading
Financial statement spreading aims to present highly granular financial information to banks in a bid to aid them in making strategic business decisions and support investment advisory, credit appraisals, and rating analysis.
Spread risk means the risk of loss on a position that could result from a change in the bid or offer price of such position relative to a risk free or funding benchmark, including when due to a change in perceptions of performance or liquidity of the position.What are the benefits of financial spreading? ›
In short, financial statement spreading is a valuable tool for businesses because it enables them to make more informed and accurate decisions about financial transactions. It can save time and reduce costs, and help identify risks and opportunities that may not be apparent from a superficial analysis.What were the 4 major factors that contributed to the economic collapse of the US economy in 1929? ›
While the October 1929 stock market crash triggered the Great Depression, multiple factors turned it into a decade-long economic catastrophe. Overproduction, executive inaction, ill-timed tariffs, and an inexperienced Federal Reserve all contributed to the Great Depression.What caused the economy to collapse? ›
Persistent trade deficits, wars, revolutions, famines, depletion of important resources, and government-induced hyperinflation have been listed as causes. In some cases blockades and embargoes caused severe hardships that could be considered economic collapse.
What period caused the US economy to collapse the most? ›
The Great Depression was the greatest and longest economic recession in modern world history that ran between 1929 and 1941. Investing in the speculative market in the 1920s led to the stock market crash in 1929, which wiped out a great deal of nominal wealth.What was the major financial crisis in the US? ›
GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2008
The crisis led to the collapse of some storied Wall Street giants including Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, both of whom had large positions in mortgage securities. The debacle also engulfed insurance giant American International Group (AIG. N), which needed a $180 billion bailout.
Almost two-thirds of chief economists believe a global recession is likely in 2023; of which 18% consider it extremely likely – more than twice as many as in the previous survey conducted in September 2022. A third of respondents consider a global recession to be unlikely this year.What were the 3 main weaknesses of the US economy? ›
Three of the most insidious weaknesses are: deteriorating worker skills; burdensome tax and regulatory systems; and flawed and myopic policymaking. The only real remedy for these problems is education.Is there going to be a Great Depression? ›
The next Great Depression will start in 2030 and likely last through 2036. After this six-year period of economic decline, it will take roughly four years to fully climb up from that low point and get to where we were before the Great Depression began.How do you survive an economic collapse? ›
Build up your emergency fund, pay off your high interest debt, do what you can to live within your means, diversify your investments, invest for the long term, be honest with yourself about your risk tolerance, and keep an eye on your credit score.Which is worse inflation or recession? ›
Yes, inflation punishes the poor, but recession punishes them more and makes them even poorer. When inflation gets worse, it is known as hyperinflation, and when a recession worsens, then you have a depression.How long will 2023 recession last? ›
In a best-case scenario, the U.S. will likely see a 'soft landing' with low/slow growth across 2023 before picking up in 2024. However, a downside scenario is a real possibility and could see the U.S. enter a prolonged recession lasting well into 2024, as is currently forecast for the UK and Germany.Is there going to be a recession in 2023? ›
Layoffs in tech and finance will spread to other sectors. After tech and finance, more sectors will have to adapt to a new reality of high interest rates and weak demand.Is a recession coming in 2023? ›
A majority of economists forecast a recession for the U.S. in 2023 – 58 percent, according to a survey from the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) released earlier this week on March 27.
How did people get rich during the Great Depression? ›
Who made money during the great depression? There were a lot of people who made money during the Great Depression. People who had money in investments and stocks did very well, as did those who owned land. There were also many people who became very successful by starting their own businesses.Who was president in the last recession? ›
In 2008, the American people turned to Barack Obama to lead the country through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. His North Star was to make the economy work for the middle class and for those fighting to join it.Who made the most in the financial crisis? ›
1. Warren Buffett. In October 2008, Warren Buffett published an article in the New York TimesOp-Ed section declaring he was buying American stocks during the equity downfall brought on by the credit crisis.What happened to the USA in the financial crisis? ›
In June 2007, two big hedge funds failed, weighed down by investments in subprime loans. In August 2007, losses from subprime loan investments caused a panic that froze the global lending system. In September 2008 Lehman Brothers collapsed in the biggest U.S. bankruptcy ever.