One reason that it’s silly to get worked up about banks gambling with your deposits is that they’re mostly not. Your deposits have a tendency to be structurally senior, insured, at regulated subs, etc.; nothing all that bad will happen to them. Banks are gambling with your money market funds, and with the securities-lending proceeds from your mutual funds. Which are not insured, or particularly regulated, but which fund something like $1.9 trillion of securities dealers’ inventory through tri-party repo, as well as providing some $6 trillionish in other collateralized funding for dealer and hedge fund inventories. And this is really much worse, crisis-wise. Since deposits are insured, runs on them are rare. Runs on repo probably caused the financial crisis. Maybe.
NY Fed President William Dudley gave a pretty good speech about this stuff today; you should read it, or read some summaries here or here. The most fun parts for me had to do with the tri-party repo market.
First of all, if you’re following that market you may be aware that the Fed is moving to get rid of “the unwind,” in which
- by day, cash investors deposit their cash at JPMorgan and BoNY and JPM/BoNY lend cash to securities dealers, but
- by night, those cash investors lend the cash directly to the dealers in the freaky unregulated shadow banking market.
Those two activities sort of live on a continuum – traditional(ish) banking by day, shadow banking by night, but still the same provision of credit to the same people based on the same collateral. It’s just that during the day the cash investors’ risk is wrapped in the gentle embrace of the clearing bank; at night the cash investor snuggles up directly with the collateral. Dudley argues that this combined the risks of shadow banking with the complacency of regular banking: Read more »
You may remember that, earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that in June 2008, with the world’s financial system in the balance, then-Treasury Secretary (and Goldman Sachs alum) Hank Paulson (1) rode in an elevator and (2) upon disembarking from said elevator told a bunch of his friends who had WORKED AT GOLDMAN WITH HIM about how he was going to nationalize Fannie and Freddie (which he did about two months later) so his friends should short the hell out of the GSEs, which they then proceeded to do, or not do, since “The managers attending the meeting were thus given a choice opportunity to trade on that information. There’s no evidence that they did so after the meeting; tracking firm-specific short stock sales isn’t possible using public documents.”
So that happened. Fast forward to September 2011, when, with the world’s financial system in the balance, New York Fed president (and COINCIDENTALLY ALSO a Goldman Sachs alum) William Dudley met with some other hedge fund friends to ask them about what to do about Europe. And again about two months later, the Fed did some stuff about Europe. Very suspicious.
The Wall Street Journal reported on this meeting today and, while the article loses some points for not describing whether Dudley stepped off an elevator, jogged up a flight of stairs, or clambered in a window to arrive at the meeting, it’s actually remarkably fair in explaining how much you should freak out about this (not that much), as well as in foreshadowing how much people will freak out about it (quite a bit):
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“The risk of a recession is somewhat higher than it was six months ago. That said, I think the risk of a recession is still quite low,” William Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said today. Dudley said that “only some of the restraints on growth, such as high oil prices and Japan’s earthquake in the first half of the year, can be considered temporary. The risks have risen a little bit, but I think we very much still expect the economy to recover. We expect … growth to be significantly firmer than it was during the first half of the year. But obviously there is some concern.” [Reuters]