Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), the nation’s 16th largest bank, got caught in Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen’s bear trap, the trap set when Bernanke/Yellen kept interest rates 25 basis points for too long (from December 2008 through December 2015) and then raising rates only once during Obama’s Presidency, only to raise rates 8 times after Trump was elected President. Then Covid struck in early 2020 and Powell dropped rates to 25 basis points again until inflation struck and Powell started raising rates at the fast pace in history.
Of course, banks got clobbered with interest rate increases, such as Silicon Valley Bank.
SVB’s collapse into Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. receivership came suddenly on Friday, following a frenetic 44 hours in which its long-established customer base of tech startups yanked deposits. But its fate was sealed years ago — during the height of the financial mania that swept across America when the pandemic hit.
US venture capital-backed companies raised $330 billion in 2021 — almost doubling the previous record a year before. Cathie Wood’s ETFs were surging and retail traders on Reddit were bullying hedge funds.
Crucially, the Federal Reserve pinned interest rates at unprecedented lows. And, in a radical shakeup of its framework, it promised to keep them there until it saw sustained inflation well above 2% — an outcome that no official forecast.
SVB took in tens of billions of dollars from its venture capital clients and then, confident that rates would stay steady, plowed that cash into longer-term bonds.
In doing so, it created — and walked straight into — a trap. Set by Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and now US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. To be sprung by current Fed Chair Jay Powell.
Becker and other leaders of the Santa Clara-based institution, the second-largest US bank failure in history behind Washington Mutual in 2008, will have to reckon with why they didn’t protect it from the risks of gorging on young tech ventures’ unstable deposits and from interest-rate increases on the asset side.
Outstanding questions also remain about how SVB went about navigating its precarious position in recent months, and whether it erred by waiting and failing to lock down a $2.25 billion capital injection before publicly announcing losses that alarmed its customers. Investors and depositors tried to pull $42 billion on Thursday, leaving the firm with a negative cash balance of almost $1 billion, regulators said.
The KBW Bank index shows the slaughter of most banks on Friday.
Of course, the notorious Too Big To Fail (TBTF) banks JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo actually rose in value on Friday while regional banks got clobbered like Signature Bank, First Republic and Western Alliance Banks all losing over 10% in price on Friday.
How did this happen? Well bets placed during Covid with The Fed keeping rates at 25 basis points got clobbered when The Fed finally started raising rates again. Modified duration, a risk measure indication the weighted-average life of a bond and mortgage-backed securities (MBS), has been increasing steadily since the initial Covid shock.
SVB’s management’s solution appears to have been to seek out yield through a lot of long-duration bonds. The bank started to lose deposits as VCs pulled cash/burnt through operating capital. Whoops!
Unrealized losses killed SVB, thanks to their long duration bet as The Fed tightened.
The most terrifying thing was when former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and current Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen went on TV to exclaim “Remain calm! All is well … in the banking sector.” You know when they wheel out Summers and Yellen that all is NOT well.