It’s been all over the news over the past couple of weeks that it’s not good news for certain banks in America, particularly Silicon Valley Bank, which announced its bankruptcy last Friday. Well this may not affect us directly, it’s very good to know what happened and of course why.
Silicon Valley Bank catered to many tech investors in the US, hence the name. It was taken over by federal regulators on Friday, leading to the largest bank sale in the US since the global financial crisis of 2008. Following this bank’s collapse, was New York’s Signature Bank on Sunday also collapsing, for different reasons due to its exposure to the crypto market. As you can imagine, the news of these led to a bank run last week, where depositors rushed to withdraw all their deposits from the bank. This inevitably led to the bond market swinging wildly, but why did this happen in the first place?
Like the age old saying, what must go up, must come down, and this is true in this situation. Catering to mainly tech developers and companies, Silicon Valley Bank boomed during Covid, deposits totaling over US$100 billion. Then, in 2021, when interest rates hit a record low, this bank invested billions of dollars into US Treasury bonds. Whilst bonds are generally safer investments, with steady gains, they only pay out in full if held to the maturity date. This poses a risk to bond investors if interest rates rise.
Lo and behold, we all know what happened-interest rates went up. This meant that Silicon Valley Bank had to sell at a loss. Not only was this a problem but it happened to come along with the whole tech sector bubble apparently bursting! We’ve all heard in the news and experienced friends, colleagues and family members possibly losing their jobs in the tech sector. Tech companies have been increasingly withdrawing their money from the bank. In order to comply with these withdrawals, SVB had to sell its bond holdings, at the loss of US$1.8 billion. Not only that, SVB also announced that it would be selling more of its shares, a hint that they require more cash! This shook its customers, causing even more people to withdraw from the bank.
On Thursday, customers at this bank try to withdraw 42 billion USD in deposits and the banks shares dropped more than 60%. By Friday, it was all over the Silicon Valley Bank.
While not all banks are in this niche of only catering to tech companies, this did spark concern about the banking sector, especially when the second bank, New York’s Signature Bank, collapsed on Sunday. This actually has had a knock on effect to more traditional banks; JP Morgan is down more than 7%, with Wells Fargo and Bank of America down more than 15%. Many bank analysts have stressed that there is no liquidity crunch facing the banking industry and that, it is more so a human fear that has gripped the market, and a self-fulfilling prophecy has been played out.
Luckily, those that had ties with the banks that have gone bankrupt, will have full access to their deposits, even those that exceed the limit of FDIC insurance. So at least there is some relief there for their customers.
President Biden remarked that the banking system is safe, but the markets did react strongly on Monday; we saw the US stock exchange go up and down with immense volatility over the course of the day. Not only that, government bonds yielded lower than expected. But the main thing that we must look out for is whether this will have any effect to the Fed’s decision next week…
The Federal reserve will meet next week to discuss whether it will raise its benchmark interest rates yet again. The rising interest rates have helped to slow inflation, but it has also devalued bonds and has somewhat led to the collapse of banks such as SVB. Hopefully, the Fed realises that if it continues to rise interest rates, more banks could fall victim. This might put the Fed under some pressure to ease the increases.
What does this mean for us in Asia? Well, luckily we may not be directly affected. For me personally, I see this as an opportunity to go into bonds when they are at a low. Generally, when equities are down, bonds are up. We have seen equities go down for Long time in the market now, which I hope means that bonds, after this little blip, will continue to go up. Of course, I cannot predict the market but I always see these kinds of situations as a great opportunity!