Whose Insured Deposits Will Be Plundered Next?

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According to Zero Hedge, it could be Spain:

 Spain, it would appear, has changed constitutional rules to enable a so-called ‘moderate’ levy on deposits.

New legislation in New Zealand suggests that depositor funds could be used to bail out banks there, too.

Far more worrying for American and British depositors though is this paragraph Golem XIV brings up from a joint Bank of England and FDIC paper from 2012 which points to the possibility of using deposit insurance funds to bail out illiquid banks:

The U.K. has also given consideration to the recapitalization process in a scenario in which a G-SIFI’s liabilities do not include much debt issuance at the holding company or parent bank level but instead comprise insured retail deposits held in the operating subsidiaries. Under such a scenario, deposit guarantee schemes may be required to contribute to the recapitalization of the firm, as they may do under the Banking Act in the use of other resolution tools. The proposed RRD also permits such an approach because it allows deposit guarantee scheme funds to be used to support the use of resolution tools, including bail-in, provided that the amount contributed does not exceed what the deposit guarantee scheme would have as a claimant in liquidation if it had made a payout to the insured depositors.

Of course, if deposit insurance money is used as a resolution tool to bail out a bank which then goes on to fail anyway (as we have already seen multiple times since 2008 — a bank receives a large liquidity injection, and goes onto fail anyway) depositors could end up moneyless.

As Golem XIV notes:

The new system makes the Deposit Guarantee fund available for use as bail out money.

The rationale is that if using your deposit guarantee fund for propping up the bank ‘saves’ the bank from collapse then you wouldn’t need that deposit guarantee would you? This overlooks the one lesson we have all learned from the bank bail outs of the last 5 years, that the bail outs are never, ever, ever, a one off. The first one fails to save the bank as does the second and third and and and.

So if I have read the above correctly – the new system raids the Deposit Protection scheme, gives it to the bank instead of you  and when that fails to save the bank…then what? The bank fails again and there is no money left in the Deposit Guarantee scheme.

Now, in the case of this kind of scenario actually happening, it seems probable that governments and central banks would try to replenish the deposit insurance fund. Whether the fund would be replenished to its full extent, or whether insured depositors would suffer an effective haircut remains to be seen.

These kinds of policy suggestions coming from governments and central banks are extremely worrying for depositors, because it implies that what is happening to Cypriot depositors and Cypriot banks could be forced onto British and American depositors. In a worst-case-scenario, criminally minded bankers (of which there seem to be many) could even use this provision to intentionally run off with deposits.

We know that the TBTF banking sector (or G-SIFI’s — global systemically important financial institutions — as they are now known) remains fragile, over-connected and dependent on insider advantages. That means that over the next few years, it remains possible that there could be another severe banking crisis in Britain or America or both.

Just what in the world do financial regulators think they are doing even implying that depositor guarantee funds could be used to bail out banks under such an eventuality? Such a recommendation — and the attendant possibility of insured depositor haircuts — could severely impact confidence in the banking sector, just as it has done in Cyprus. The possibility that insurance money may go down the toilet to bail out illiquid banks will make some uneasy to invest their money in the banks. If a severe banking crisis looms, it could lead to bank runs, just as is happening in Cyprus. The trend, if events in Cyprus and Europe continue to escalate, and if other jurisdictions do not take steps to protect depositors from banker greed, is toward depositors losing faith in the banking system, and seeking other stores of purchasing power — mattress stuffing, bitcoin, tangibles.

Essentially, if there is to be any confidence in the banking system, the possibility of depleting liquidity insurance funds to bail out banks needs to be taken off the table completely. The possibility of insured depositor haircuts needs to be taken off the table completely. If banks need bailing out, the money must not come from insured depositors, or funds designed to compensate insured depositors. If banks fail, the losers should be the uninsured creditors.

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The Interconnective Web of Global Debt

It’s very big:

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Andrew Haldane:

Interconnected networks exhibit a knife-edge, or tipping point, property. Within a certain range, connections serve as a shock-absorber. The system acts as a mutual insurance device with disturbances dispersed and dissipated. But beyond a certain range, the system can tip the wrong side of the knife-edge. Interconnections serve as shock-ampli ers, not dampeners, as losses cascade.The system acts not as a mutual insurance device but as a mutual incendiary device.

A mutual incendiary device sounds about right.

The Fed Confronts Itself

From Matt Taibbi:

Wall Street is buzzing about the annual report just put out by the Dallas Federal Reserve. In the paper, Harvey Rosenblum, the head of the Dallas Fed’s research department, bluntly calls for the breakup of Too-Big-To-Fail banks like Bank of America, Chase, and Citigroup.

The government’s bottomless sponsorship of these TBTF institutions, Rosenblum writes, has created a “residue of distrust for government, the banking system, the Fed and capitalism itself.”

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

First, this managerialism is nothing new for the Fed. The (ahem) “libertarian” Alan Greenspan once said: “If they’re too big to fail, they’re too big.”

Second, the Fed already had a number of fantastic opportunities to “break up” so-called TBTF institutions: right at the time when it was signing off on the $29 trillion of bailouts it has administered since 2008. If the political will existed at the Fed to forcibly end the phenomenon of TBTF, it could (and should) have done it when it had the banks over a barrel.

Third, capitalism (i.e. the market) seems to deal pretty well with the problem of TBTF: it destroys unmanageably large and badly run companies. Decisions have consequences; buying a truckload of derivatives from a soon-to-be-bust counter-party will destroy your balance sheet and render you illiquid. Who seems to blame? The Fed; for bailing out a load of shitty companies and a shitty system . Without the Fed’s misguided actions the problem of TBTF would be long gone. After a painful systemic breakdown, we could have created a new system without any of these residual overhanging problems. We wouldn’t be “taxing savers to pay for the recapitalization of banks whose dire problems led to the calamity.” There wouldn’t be “a two-tiered regulatory environment where the misdeeds of TBTF banks are routinely ignored and unpunished and a lower tier where small regional banks are increasingly forced to swim upstream against the law’s sheer length, breadth and complexity, leading to a “massive increase in compliance burdens.”

So the Fed is guilty of crystallising and perpetuating most of these problems with misguided interventionism. And what’s the Fed’s purported answer to these problems?

More interventionism: forcibly breaking up banks into chunks that are deemed not to be TBTF.

And what’s the problem with that?

Well for a start the entire concept of “too big to fail” is completely wrong. The bailout of AIG had nothing to do with AIG’s “size”. It was a result of systemic exposure to AIG’s failure. The problem is to do with interconnectivity. The truth is that AIG — and by extension, the entire system — was deemed too interconnected to fail. Many, many companies had AIG products on their balance sheets. If AIG had failed (and taken with it all of that paper, very generously known as “assets”) then all those companies would have had a hole blown in their balance sheets, and would have sustained losses which in turn may well have caused them to fail, bleeding out the entire system.

The value that seems to matter in determining systemic robustness is the amount of systemic interconnectivity, in other words the amount of assets on balance sheets that are subject to counter-party risk (i.e. which become worthless should their guarantor fail).

Derivatives are not the only such asset, but they make up by far the majority:


Global nominal exposure is growing again. And those derivatives sit on global balance sheets waiting for the next black swan to blow up a hyper-connected counter-party like AIG. And such a cascade of defaults will likely lead to another 2008-style systemic meltdown, probably ending in another goliath-sized bailout, and another few rounds of the QE slop-bucket.

The question the Fed must answer is this: what difference would it make in terms of systemic fragility if exposures are transferred from larger to companies to smaller ones?

Breaking up banks will make absolutely zero difference, because the problem is not the size but systemic interconnectivity. Losses sustained against a small counter-party can hurt just as much as losses sustained against a larger counter-party. In a hyper-connected system, it is possible for failed small players to quickly snowball into systemic catastrophe.

The Fed (as well as the ECB) would do well to remember that it is not size that matters, but how you use it.