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Why Did Financial Institutions sell RMBS at Fire Sale Prices during the Finacial Crisis?

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Listed:
  • Merrill, Craig B.

    (Brigham Young University)

  • Nadauld, Taylor D.

    (Brigham Young University)

  • Stulz, Rene M.

    (Ohio State University)

  • Sherlund, Shane M.

    (The Federal Reserve, Washington, D.C.)

Abstract

Much attention has been paid to the large decreases in value of non-agency residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) during the financial crisis. Many observers have argued that the fall in prices was partly caused by fire sales. We use capital requirements and accounting rules to identify circumstances where financial institutions had incentives to engage in fire sales and then examine whether such sales occurred. For financial institutions subject to credit-sensitive capital requirements, capital requirements increase as an asset's credit becomes impaired. When accounting rules require such an asset's value to be marked-to-market and the fair value loss to be recognized in earnings, a capital-constrained firm can improve its capital position by selling the credit-impaired asset even if it has to accept a liquidity discount to do so. In contrast, a financial firm whose fair value losses are not recognized in earnings for the purpose of calculating capital requirements is more likely to satisfy capital requirements by selling liquid assets whose value has not fallen and hence would be unlikely to engage in fire sales. Using a sample of 5,000 repeat transactions of non-agency RMBS by insurance companies from 2006 to 2009, we show that insurance companies that became more capital-constrained because of operating losses (uncorrelated with RMBS credit quality) and also recognized fair value losses sold comparable RMBS at much lower prices than other insurance companies during the crisis.

Suggested Citation

  • Merrill, Craig B. & Nadauld, Taylor D. & Stulz, Rene M. & Sherlund, Shane M., 2012. "Why Did Financial Institutions sell RMBS at Fire Sale Prices during the Finacial Crisis?," Working Papers 13-06, University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, Weiss Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:upafin:13-06
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    File URL: http://fic.wharton.upenn.edu/fic/papers/13/13-06.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Markus K. Brunnermeier & Lasse Heje Pedersen, 2009. "Market Liquidity and Funding Liquidity," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 22(6), pages 2201-2238, June.
    2. Shleifer, Andrei & Vishny, Robert W, 1992. " Liquidation Values and Debt Capacity: A Market Equilibrium Approach," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 47(4), pages 1343-1366, September.
    3. Andrei Shleifer & Robert Vishny, 2011. "Fire Sales in Finance and Macroeconomics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(1), pages 29-48, Winter.
    4. Andrew Ellul & Chotibhak Jotikasthira & Christian T. Lundblad & Yihui Wang, 2012. "Is Historical Cost Accounting a Panacea? Market Stress, Incentive Distortions, and Gains Trading," FMG Discussion Papers dp701, Financial Markets Group.
    5. Christian Laux & Christian Leuz, 2010. "Did Fair-Value Accounting Contribute to the Financial Crisis?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 24(1), pages 93-118, Winter.
    6. Markus K. Brunnermeier, 2009. "Deciphering the Liquidity and Credit Crunch 2007-2008," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 23(1), pages 77-100, Winter.
    7. Gorton, Gary & Metrick, Andrew, 2012. "Securitized banking and the run on repo," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 104(3), pages 425-451.
    8. repec:hrv:faseco:33077925 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Christian Laux, 2012. "Financial instruments, financial reporting, and financial stability," Accounting and Business Research, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 42(3), pages 239-260, August.
    10. Nicole Boyson & Jean Helwege & Jan Jindra, 2014. "Crises, Liquidity Shocks, and Fire Sales at Commercial Banks," Financial Management, Financial Management Association International, vol. 43(4), pages 857-884, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Brian Begalle & Antoine Martin & James McAndrews & Susan McLaughlin, 2016. "The Risk Of Fire Sales In The Tri-Party Repo Market," Contemporary Economic Policy, Western Economic Association International, vol. 34(3), pages 513-530, July.

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