Monday, March 13, 2023

Bankster Wipeout?

The dominoes keep falling, SBX, Silvergate, SVB, Signature NY and on, with many bank stocks halting trading Monday morning after spectacular Stuka-like nosedives. The issue? 

Banks being heavily invested in US Government bonds, a safe have when interest rates are low, toxic underperformers  on the reverse side of an apparently risky coin. And lo and behold, interest rates have risen from near zero to approaching 5%, net result? 

Underwater balance sheets. You see, when interest rates rise bond prices go down leaving their owners subpar and scrambling for liquidity, cash. And that's hard to get when you're fire-selling assets and depositors are withdrawing funds for greener pastures.

Long story short, select banks were/are out of cash and got shut down. Woe to Oprah, Harry & Meghan and all the rest but that's not all. Has the entire financial sector become infected, is US Government debt effectively a toxic security?

Zerohedge thinks so, it's long but worth the read. Here's an excerpt:

Fifteen years later… after countless investigations, hearings, “stress test” rules, and new banking regulations to prevent another financial meltdown, we have just witnessed two large banks collapse in the United States of America – Signature Bank, and Silicon Valley Bank (SVB).

Now, banks do fail from time to time. But these circumstances are eerily similar to 2008… though the reality is much worse. I’ll explain:

1) US government bonds are the new “toxic security”

Silicon Valley Bank was no Lehman Brothers. Whereas Lehman bet almost ALL of its balance sheet on those risky mortgage bonds, SVB actually had a surprisingly conservative balance sheet.

According to the bank’s annual financial statements from December 31 of last year, SVB had $173 billion in customer deposits, yet “only” $74 billion in loans.

I know this sounds ridiculous, but banks typically loan out MOST of their depositors’ money. Wells Fargo, for example, recently reported $1.38 trillion in deposits. $955 billion of that is loaned out.

That means Wells Fargo has made loans with nearly 70% of its customer’s money, while SVB had a more conservative “loan-to-deposit ratio” of roughly 42%.

Point is, SVB did not fail because they were making a bunch of high-risk NINJA loans. Far from it.

SVB failed because they parked the majority of their depositors’ money ($119.9 billion) in US GOVERNMENT BONDS.

This is the really extraordinary part of this drama.

US government bonds are supposed to be the safest, most ‘risk free’ asset in the world. But that’s totally untrue, because even government bonds can lose value. And that’s exactly what happened.

Most of SVB’s portfolio was in long-term government bonds, like 10-year Treasury notes. And these have been extremely volatile.

In March 2020, for example, interest rates were so low that the Treasury Department sold some 10-year Treasury notes at yields as low as 0.08%.

But interest rates have increased so much since then; last week the 10-year Treasury yield was more than 4%. And this is an enormous difference.

If you’re not terribly familiar with the bond market, one of the most important things to understand is that bonds lose value as interest rates rise. And this is what happened to Silicon Valley Bank.

SVB loaded up on long-term government bonds when interest rates were much lower; the average weighted yield in their bond portfolio, in fact, was just 1.78%.

But interest rates have been rising rapidly. The same bonds that SVB bought 2-3 years ago at 1.78% now yield between 3.5% and 5%… meaning that SVB was sitting on steep losses.

They didn’t hide this fact.

Their 2022 annual report, published on January 19th of this year, showed about $15 billion in ‘unrealized losses’ on their government bonds. (I’ll come back to this.)

By comparison, SVB only had about $16 billion in total capital… so $15 billion in unrealized losses was enough to essentially wipe them out.

Again– these losses didn’t come from some mountain of crazy NINJA loans. SVB failed because they lost billions from US government bonds… which are the new toxic securities.

2) If SVB is insolvent, so is everyone else… including the Fed.

This is where the real fun starts. Because if SVB failed due to losses in its portfolio of government bonds, then pretty much every other institution is at risk too.

Our old favorite Wells Fargo, for example, recently reported $50 billion in unrealized losses on its bond portfolio. That’s a HUGE chunk of the bank’s capital, and it doesn’t include potential derivative losses either.

Anyone who has purchased long-term government bonds– banks, brokerages, large corporations, state and local governments, foreign institutions– are all sitting on enormous losses right now.

The FDIC (the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, i.e. the primary banking regulator in the United States) estimates unrealized losses among US banks at roughly $650 billion.

$650 billion in unrealized losses is similar in size to the total subprime losses in the United States back in 2008; and if interest rates keep rising, the losses will continue to increase.

What’s really ironic (and a bit comical) about this is that the FDIC is supposed to guarantee bank deposits.

In fact they manage a special fund called Deposit Insurance Fund, or DIF, to insure customer deposits at banks across the US– including the deposits at the now defunct Silicon Valley Bank.

But the DIF’s balance right now is only around $128 billion… versus $650 billion (and growing) unrealized losses in the banking system.

Here’s what really crazy, though: where does the DIF invest that $128 billion? In US government bonds! So even the FDIC is suffering unrealized losses in its insurance fund, which is supposed to bail out banks that fail from their unrealized losses.

You can’t make this stuff up, it’s ridiculous!

Now there’s one bank in particular I want to highlight that is incredibly exposed to major losses in its bond portfolio.

In fact last year this bank reported ‘unrealized losses’ of more than $330 billion against just $42 billion in capital… making this bank completely and totally insolvent.

I’m talking, of course, about the Federal Reserve… THE most important central bank in the world. It’s hopelessly insolvent, and FAR more broke than Silicon Valley Bank.

What could possibly go wrong?


In a word, everything. Note well, I’m talking, of course, about the Federal Reserve… THE most important central bank in the world. It’s hopelessly insolvent, and FAR more broke than Silicon Valley Bank.

Got that? Smart people are liquid (does this mean loading up your safe with gold, diamonds, silver topped canes, flawless emeralds, DOGE$, worthless fiat and ammo? -- Ed.) and thinking themselves fortunate on being upside Krugerrands. That said, maybe everything will work out just fine as Biden and the Genius Patrol reassured us this morning.

See you on the other side,



RHT447 said...

"Margin Call". A timely movie. Again.

Well Seasoned Fool said...

Some of us are old enough to remember Iceland Bonds paying 13% and Iceland going bankrupt.

Dad of Six said...

Thank you for the news with the bark on it, LSP. May God's will be done.

Old NFO said...

WSF- I was just thinking about that... I remember 14% interest on my loan on my first mortgage!

LSP said...

Well said, RHT and timely link. Let's see how this plays out and I have to say, I'm a doomer.

LSP said...

Good call, WSF! Far-sighted.

LSP said...

It will be, DOS, most definitely.

That in mind, great will be the fall of it.