Downturns in bank credit expansion always lead to systemic problems. We are on the edge of such a downturn, which thanks to everyone’s focus on the coronavirus, is unexpected.
We can now identify 23 March as the date when markets stopped worrying about deflation and realised that monetary inflation is the certain outlook. That day, the Fed promised unlimited monetary stimulus for both consumers and businesses, and the dollar began to fall.
The commercial banks everywhere are massively leveraged and their exposure to bad debts and a cyclical banking crisis is now certain to wipe many of them out. In this article we look at the global systemically important banks — the G-SIBs — as proxy for all commercial banks and identify the ones most at risk on a market-based analysis.
In these bizarre markets, the elephant in the room is systemic risk — visible to all but simply ignored. This is partly due to everyone in government and central banks, as well as their epigones in the investment industry and mainstream media, believing our economic problems are only a matter of Covid-19. In other words, when the pandemic is over normality will return. But Covid-19 has acted like a conjurer’s distraction: it has deflected us from the consequences of Trump’s trade wars with China and the liquidity strains that surfaced in New York last September when the repo rate soared to 10%.
The liquidity strains and the severe downturn in the stock markets that followed earlier this year before mid-March have been buried for the moment in a tsunami of central bank money. Liquidity problems following last September’s repo crisis and the S&P 500 index collapsing by one third between 19 February and 23 March were a clear signal that the multiyear cycle of bank credit expansion had already peaked. Ever since the last credit crisis in 2008, the banks had recovered their lending confidence and expanded bank credit, a classic expansionary phase.
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