After SVB failure, US acts to shore up confidence in banking system

The US administration stepped in on Sunday to shore up confidence in the banking system after the failure of Silicon Valley Bank threatened to trigger a broader systemic crisis.

The US administration stepped in on Sunday with a series of emergency measures to shore up confidence in the banking system after the failure of Silicon Valley Bank threatened to trigger a broader systemic crisis.

After a dramatic weekend, US regulators said the failed bank's customers will have access to all their deposits starting Monday and regulators set up a new facility to give banks access to emergency funds. The Federal Reserve also made it easier for banks to borrow from it in emergencies.

Regulators also moved swiftly to close New York's Signature Bank, which had come under pressure in recent days.

President Joe Biden on Sunday evening said the Treasury secretary and the National Economic Council director worked diligently with banking regulators to address the problems at the two banks.

"The American people and American businesses can have confidence that their bank deposits will be there when they need them," Biden said in a statement.

"I am firmly committed to holding those responsible for this mess fully accountable and to continuing our efforts to strengthen oversight and regulation of larger banks so that we are not in this position again."

A sense of relief swept through Silicon Valley and global markets as the regulators' announcement came just after US futures started trading in Asia. Investors sent US S&P 500 stock futures up 1.2%, while Nasdaq futures rose 1.3%.

"We think the steps taken by the Fed, Treasury and FDIC will decisively break the psychological 'doom loop' across the regional banking sector," said Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Corpay in Toronto. "But, fairly or not, the episode will contribute to higher levels of background volatility, with investors watching warily for other cracks to emerge as the Fed's policy tightening continues."

The Biden administration's intervention underscores how a relentless campaign by the Fed and other major central banks to beat back inflation is putting stress in the financial system and global markets.

Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), a mainstay for the startup economy, was a product of the decades-long era of cheap money, with unique risks that made it especially vulnerable. But as a run on the bank ensued last week, worries that other regional banks shared similarities spread quickly.

With the Fed poised to continue raising interest rates, investors said the financial system may not be fully out of the woods just yet. The Fed will hold its next policy meeting on March 21-22.

"What investors have to expect coming into tomorrow and beyond is that we are going to be dealing with a lot of event risk," said Michael Purves, chief executive of Tallbacken Capital Advisors. "There are still going to be lingering questions with other regional banks."

The collapse of SVB - the largest bank failure since 2008 - sparked concerns over whether small-business clients would be able to pay their staffs, with the FDIC only protecting deposits of up to US$250,000.

Some 89% of SVB's US$175 billion in deposits were uninsured as the end of 2022, according to the FDIC.

All depositors, including those whose funds exceed the maximum government-insured level, will be made whole, according to a joint statement by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp Chair Martin Gruenberg on Sunday evening.

A senior US Treasury official said the actions taken Sunday would protect depositors, while providing additional support to the broader banking system, but officials and regulators were continuing to monitor the health and stability of the financial system.

"The firms are not being bailed out. The depositors are being protected," the official said.

The risk would be borne by the Deposit Insurance Fund, which has sufficient funds to do so.

"Anytime a bank fails, especially one with billions of dollars in deposits, it is a matter that we take seriously," the official said, pointing to potentially "large implications" for the US economy if companies with deposits in Silicon Valley Bank had been unable to keep paying their workers.

Providing the systemic risk exceptions was deemed quicker than waiting for a possible buyer, the official said.

"Going forward, we will work with Congress and the financial regulators to consider additional actions we could take in the future to strengthen the financial system," the official said. No further details were provided on possible regulatory or legislative changes.

The officials said depositors of New York's Signature Bank, which was closed Sunday by the New York state financial regulator, would also be made whole at no loss to the taxpayer.

Signature, like SVB, had a clientele concentrated in the tech sector, and the securities on its balance sheet had eroded as interest rates rose. As of September, almost a quarter of Signature's deposits came from the cryptocurrency sector, but the bank announced in December that it would shrink its crypto-related deposits by US$8 billion.

While all customer deposits will be protected, new policies adopted Sunday will "wipe out" equity and bondholders in SVB and Signature Bank, a senior US Treasury official said.

Together with the Federal Reserve's decision to make funds available to eligible financial institutions and ensure they can meet the needs of all their depositors, the steps would "restore market confidence," the official said.

Fed fund futures surged in early trading to imply only a 28% chance of a half-point rate hike by the Federal Reserve when it meets next week, compared to around 70% before the SVB news broke last week.

The Fed said it would make additional funding available through a new Bank Term Funding Program, which would offer loans up to one year to depository institutions, backed by Treasuries and other assets these institutions hold.

In March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns triggered financial panic, the Federal Reserve announced a series of measures to keep credit flowing by lowering borrowing costs and lengthening the terms of its direct loans. By the end of that month, use of the Fed's discount window facility shot up to more than US$50 billion.

Through the middle of last week, before SVB's collapse, there had been no indications of usage picking up, with Fed data showing weekly outstanding balances of US$4 billion to US$5 billion since the start of the year.

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