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Understanding the role of debt in the financial system

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  • Bengt Holmstrom

Abstract

Money markets are fundamentally different from stock markets. Stock markets are about price discovery for the purpose of allocating risk efficiently. Money markets are about obviating the need for price discovery using over-collateralised debt to reduce the cost of lending. Yet, attempts to reform credit markets in the wake of the recent financial crisis often draw on insights grounded in our understanding of stock markets. This can be very misleading. The paper presents a perspective on the logic of credit markets and the structure of debt contracts that highlights the information insensitivity of debt. This perspective explains among other things why opacity often enhances liquidity in credit markets and therefore why all financial panics involve debt. These basic insights into the nature of debt and credit markets are simple but important for thinking about policies on transparency, on capital buffers and other regulatory issues concerning banking and money markets.

Suggested Citation

  • Bengt Holmstrom, 2015. "Understanding the role of debt in the financial system," BIS Working Papers 479, Bank for International Settlements.
  • Handle: RePEc:bis:biswps:479
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Nicola Gennaioli & Andrei Shleifer & Robert W. Vishny, 2013. "A Model of Shadow Banking," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 68(4), pages 1331-1363, August.
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    3. Zhiguo He & Wei Xiong, 2012. "Dynamic Debt Runs," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 25(6), pages 1799-1843.
    4. Oliver Hart & John Moore, 1998. "Default and Renegotiation: A Dynamic Model of Debt," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(1), pages 1-41.
    5. Holmstrom, Bengt & Milgrom, Paul, 1994. "The Firm as an Incentive System," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(4), pages 972-991, September.
    6. Innes, Robert D., 1990. "Limited liability and incentive contracting with ex-ante action choices," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 52(1), pages 45-67, October.
    7. Roman Inderst & Holger M. Mueller, 2006. "Informed Lending and Security Design," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 61(5), pages 2137-2162, October.
    8. Nachman, David C & Noe, Thomas H, 1994. "Optimal Design of Securities under Asymmetric Information," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 7(1), pages 1-44.
    9. Townsend, Robert M., 1979. "Optimal contracts and competitive markets with costly state verification," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 265-293, October.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Donald Trump, Treasury Debt and the Dollar
      by Steve Cecchetti and Kim Schoenholtz in Money, Banking and Financial Markets on 2016-05-16 16:56:15
    2. Donald Trump, Treasury Debt and the Dollar
      by Stephen G. Cecchetti in Huffington Post Business on 2016-05-24 09:01:07
    3. How to Ensure the Crisis Provision of Safe Assets
      by Steve Cecchetti and Kim Schoenholtz in Money, Banking and Financial Markets on 2017-06-26 13:52:56

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Ranaldo, Angelo & Rupprecht, Matthias, 2016. "Explaining the Failure of the Expectations Hypothesis with Short-Term Rates," Working Papers on Finance 1619, University of St. Gallen, School of Finance, revised Jan 2017.
    2. Efraim Benmelech & Nittai K. Bergman, 2017. "Credit Market Freezes," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 2017, volume 32, pages 493-523 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Gallagher, Emily & Schmidt, Lawrence & Timmermann, Allan G & Wermers, Russ, 2017. "Transparency, Investor Information Acquisition, and Money Market Fund Risk Rebalancing during the 2011-12 Eurozone Crisis," CEPR Discussion Papers 11895, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    4. Ranaldo, Angelo & Wrampelmeyer, Jan, 2016. "Unsecured and Secured Funding," Working Papers on Finance 1616, University of St. Gallen, School of Finance.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    financial crisis; liquidity; money markets; shadow banking; debt; information sensitivity; pawn shops; bailouts; banking regulation;

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