Liquidity risk management
Liquidity and solvency are the heavenly twins of banking, frequently indistinguishable. An illiquid bank can rapidly become insolvent, and an insolvent bank illiquid. As Tim Congdon noted, (FT, September 2007), in the 1950s liquid assets were typically 30 percent of British clearing banks’ total assets, and these largely consisted of Treasury Bills and short dated government debt. Currently, such cash holdings are about ½ percent and traditional liquid assets about 1 percent of total liabilities. Nor have prior standards relating to maturity transformation been maintained. Increasing proportions of long-dated assets have been financed by relatively short-dated borrowing in wholesale markets. Bank conduits financing tranches of securitised mortgages on the basis of three month asset-backed commercial paper is but an extreme example of this. Northern Rock is another. Such time inconsistency issues are hard to resolve, especially in the middle of a (foreseen) crisis; it is worth noting that many, though not all, of the aspects of this present crisis were foreseen by financial regulators. They just did not have the instruments, or perhaps the will, to do anything about it. If, when trouble strikes, the lifeboats are manned immediately, with extra liquidity being provided on easy terms, then there is encouragement to the banks to build even more densely on the flood plain. Why should the banks bother with liquidity management when the Central Bank will do all that for them? The banks have been taking out a liquidity ‘put’ on the Central Bank; they are in effect putting the downside of liquidity risk to the Central Bank. What is surely needed now is a calm and comprehensive review of what the principles of bank liquidity management should be.
Volume (Year): (2008)
Issue (Month): 11 (February)
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