I personally am not a big fan of what is happening with banks and the recent Silicon Valley Bank headlines.
First of all, I don’t believe anyone should “manipulate” markets, especially governments. When they do….there are always unintended consequences. Let’s take a brief stroll down memory lane.
When COVID-19 hit, the government rushed in “shut down the economy.” Remember, “Only two weeks to flatten the curve”? Then two weeks became three, then four, and so on. Well, you can’t keep a country going when no one is working. So, the government decided to “stabilize” the economy and give big PPP loans to businesses and large tax credits to taxpayers.
All of this “free money” was given at a time when most of us were not able to travel and didn’t know what to do with it. Therefore, there was a building up of demand, with no supply.
This led to people staying home and play “day trader” at home by investing their excess cash into “high quality stocks” (tongue in cheek) meme stocks like Robinhood and driving up GameStop stock to hurt institutional investors.
This also led to people depositing excess cash back into the banking system…what else were they going to do with it?
As money flowed into banks during the pandemic, the bank’s deposits rose. The banks then have options on what to do with the fresh deposits? One of their options is to buy short-term Treasurys or other “safe” assets or keep the money in cash. Instead, this bank opted to buy riskier assets likely due to greed or an unprofessional lack of knowledge on how interest rates and risk management work.
But first, let’s review how bonds work…
Bond Education 101:
When interest rates rise, bond prices fall (and vice-versa), with long-maturity bonds most sensitive to rate changes. This is because longer-term bonds have a greater duration than short-term bonds that are closer to maturity and have fewer coupon payments remaining.
So, instead of buying shorter duration bonds and money market types of investments, which would have partially insulated Silicon Valley Bank and others from the risk of rising interest rates. They instead opted to buy longer-term U.S. Treasurys and government-backed mortgage securities.
The Federal Reserve
Now, let’s turn our attention briefly to the Fed.
The Fed has two primary mandates: maximum employment and stable prices.
Because of inflation getting out of control, the Fed has stepped in and has raised interest rates, which is one major tool to lower inflation. The idea is that by raising the cost of borrowing money it deters people from investing or buying things and curbs the demand for goods and services.
So, back to SVB…they took the deposits (many of which were from COVID government handouts) and invested the deposits into risky assets that get hurt more when interest rates rise. As a result, their portfolio of risky assets has gotten hammered by all the interest rate hikes.
So, when the people come back to the bank for their deposits because times are tough and inflation continues to skyrocket, the bank has to sell their portfolio at a loss. If more and more people come to the bank looking to take back their deposits…..as a bank, you have a real problem, and could have a bank run, as we saw.
A couple of key takeaways:
The governments have been stepping back in to calm down investors. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has stepped in to provide the insurance coverage for depositors. I think this is a good thing and the whole point of having the insurance in the first place.
However, what I don’t like seeing is the governments stepping in to bail out the banks themselves who were practicing foolishly. Remember earlier, I am not a big fan of government intervention. There are always unintended consequences. In my opinion, if an investment is bad, it needs to fail, and those who invested in it should experience the volatility. perhaps then more due diligence will be done before investing.
Investing can be risky, and sometimes businesses will fail. Others will succeed. By governments bailing out the investors of these banks, it sends a wrong signal to those who are trying to do right. Now the government is calling for more regulation for regional banks…banks who may be getting punished because of some “bad apples.”
You can’t have your cake (upside return) and eat it too (no downside—the government will bail you out).
What should an intelligent investor do?
In times of uncertainty, it is essential to stay focused on your long-term investment goals. It is important to remember that volatility is often the price we must pay for long-term results. We believe that the current situation is no exception, and history has shown that markets have always recovered from unexpected events. Bank collapses, unexpected events, and market downturns have all happened before, and they will likely happen again. While these short-term fluctuations can be unsettling, it is essential to remember that investing is a long-term game, and the stock market has consistently delivered positive returns for patient investors who remained invested through the ups and downs.