Regulators Are Bad at Monitoring Unhealthy Banks

(p. A26) Silicon Valley Bank’s failure looks a bit like an S.&L. crisis in miniature. Like its 1980s counterparts, S.V.B. grew extremely rapidly, had many assets parked in fixed, long-term bonds, and was done in when inflation caused the Fed to raise interest rates, raising the cost of keeping deposits.

Like the S.&L.s, Silicon Valley Bank was heavily concentrated. It catered to start-ups for whom an S.V.B. account was a matter of status. One tech savant who had recently changed jobs (aren’t they always switching jobs?) told me that in his experience, roughly two thirds of start-ups banked with S.V.B. (the bank claimed that nearly half the country’s venture capital-backed technology and life science companies were customers).

. . .

The regulators clearly failed to monitor S.V.B.’s unhealthy mismatch of assets and liabilities.

. . .

Once you take risk out of a part of a bank’s operations, it is hard to let market principles govern the rest.

. . .

In past bank failures, uninsured depositors did not lose all — 10 to 15 percent was typical. And in this episode, there wasn’t any systemically bad asset à la mortgages in 2008. Given that the risk was contained, and that the Federal Reserve provides liquidity to banks facing runs (and provided emergency liquidity this week), allowing uninsured depositors of banks that fail to suffer a haircut might have been healthier for the system in the long run.

For the full commentary, see:

Roger Lowenstein. “The Bank Rescues Just Changed Capitalism.” The New York Times (Thursday, March 16, 2023): A26.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 15, 2023, and has the title “The Silicon Valley Bank Rescue Just Changed Capitalism.”)

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