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Banks' search for yield in the low interest rate environment: a tale of regulatory adaptation

Author

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  • Wang, J. Christina

    () (Federal Reserve Bank of Boston)

Abstract

This paper examines whether the low interest rate environment that has prevailed since the Great Recession has compelled banks to reach for yield. It is important to recognize that banks can take on a variety of risks that offer higher yields today but incur different forms of future losses. Some losses, such as mark-to-market losses due to yield increases, can be avoided with accounting treatments whereas others, chiefly credit losses, cannot. A simple model shows that a bank’s incentive to take on risks for which potential future losses can be managed, such as interest rate risk, is countercyclical, especially if a bank is capital constrained. This study thus focuses on a bank’s exposure to interest rate risk through a maturity mismatch between its assets and liabilities. It finds evidence that the banks that faced less enhanced regulation after the financial crisis, especially those institutions used to having a higher net interest margin before the crisis, took on assets with longer maturities or prepayment risk, even while their source of funding shifted toward more transaction and saving deposits as a result of the near zero short-term interest rates. In contrast, those banks designated as systematically important and thus subjected to expanded post-crisis regulations have substantially shortened the average maturity of their assets since the crisis. There is some evidence that greater maturity mismatch is slightly more associated with a higher net interest margin during the post-crisis years. After the taper tantrum in 2013, these two groups of banks also adjusted their securities holdings in different ways, consistent with the differential regulatory accounting treatment.

Suggested Citation

  • Wang, J. Christina, 2017. "Banks' search for yield in the low interest rate environment: a tale of regulatory adaptation," Working Papers 17-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedbwp:17-3
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    banks; reaching for yield; maturity mismatch; regulation; zero lower bound;

    JEL classification:

    • E41 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Demand for Money
    • E52 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Monetary Policy
    • G11 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Portfolio Choice; Investment Decisions
    • G18 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Government Policy and Regulation
    • G21 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Banks; Other Depository Institutions; Micro Finance Institutions; Mortgages

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