BANK FAILURES – In March 2008, I was working as an analyst on the trading floor at a commodity firm. The Reuters terminal flashed an alert that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY) had extended a multi-billion dollar credit facility to the troubled investment bank Bear Stearns. As part of my market-monitoring role, I sent a brief one-paragraph email to the treasury and credit teams highlighting the news and warning it probably meant the end for Bear as an independent institution; emergency borrowing from the central bank normally marks effective failure.
Less than five minutes later, the finance director sent an email to all staff instructing no new positions were to be initiated with Bear; only risk-reducing trades that reduced our exposure were permitted. For the next week, our firm would not initiate any new trades unless we could verify Bear was NOT the counterparty. Presumably similar emails and trading prohibitions were being implemented at all the other firms in the market. Bear was isolated, unable to attract cash inflows, and collapsed a week later.
Watching the demise of a major investment bank taught me a valuable lesson: financial institutions live or die by confidence, and once it has been damaged, the end can come extraordinarily fast. Financial institutions die slowly at first, but very quickly towards the end. They do not get the benefit of the doubt. Our firm started to cut our exposure to Bear immediately at the hint of trouble, we couldn’t afford to wait for more information to see if the bank might survive. No one wants to be one of the last counterparties.
Friday is a particularly dangerous day for a bank in trouble. Regulators like to close a bank on Friday so they have the weekend to put in place a resolution and attempt to stabilise confidence in the rest of the financial system by Monday.
U.S. INTEREST RATE traders no longer expect the central bank to lift rates further following the failure of Silicon Valley Bank, with overnight rates expected to start falling from July onwards, as credit conditions tighten and force a slowdown in the economy. The path for interest rates over the rest of 2023/24 is now forecast to be much lower.
But the outcome of a financial failure is notoriously difficult to predict since it depends largely on confidence. Some failures are resolved quickly with little or no impact on the rest of the financial system and the real economy. In other cases, contagion occurs and the economic impact is significant:
EUROPE’s gas storage sites are 56.5% full, the second-highest on record for the time of year, well above the prior ten-year seasonal average of 36.3%. The end of the winter heating and inventory depletion season is now very near (with stocks usually hitting a minimum on March 30 ± 14 days):
FRANKFURT, a proxy for northwest Europe, reached roughly 60% of the way through the winter heating season on February 1. So far the accumulated heating demand has been -17% below the long-term average and is the lowest since 2015/16 and before that 2006/07. But after an exceptionally long period of mild temperatures between December 19 and January 15, temperatures have turned significantly colder, causing the heating deficit to narrow slightly: