by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Runs at Silicon Valley Bank and others emerged quickly and drove steep losses in regional bank equity values. Regulators shouldn’t have been caught by surprise, but at least they should take lessons from the shock. The subsequent ad hoc fixes to deposit insurance and assurances that the banking system is sufficiently well-capitalized don’t yet suggest a serious policy focus on those lessons. Calls for much higher levels of bank capital and tighter financial regulation notwithstanding, deeper questions about bank regulation merit greater attention.
Runs are a feature of banking. Banks transform short-term, liquid (even demandable) deposits into longer-term, sometimes much less liquid assets. Bank capital offers a partial buffer against the risk of a run, though a large-scale dash for cash can topple almost any institution, as converting blocks of assets to cash quickly to satisfy deposit withdrawals is almost sure to bring losses. The likelihood of a run goes up with bad news or rumors about the bank and correlation among depositors’ on their demand for funds back. That’s what happened at Silicon Valley Bank. …
… While bank runs and banking crises can be hard to predict, a simple maxim can guide regulation and supervision: Increase scrutiny in areas and institutions in which significant changes are occurring over a short period. On an aggregate level, the sharp, rapid increase in the federal-funds rate since March 2022 should have focused attention on asset values and interest rate risks. So, too, should the fast potential compression in values of office real estate in many locations as a consequence of pandemic-related working shifts and rate hikes. At the bank level, significant inflows of deposits—particularly uninsured deposits—merit closer risk review. This approach isn’t limited to banking. A recent report of the Brookings-Chicago Booth Task Force on Financial Stability, co-chaired by Donald Kohn and me, put forth a similar change-based approach to scrutiny of nonbank financial institutions.