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Fire Sales in a Model of Complexity

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  • Ricardo J. Caballero
  • Alp Simsek

Abstract

Financial assets provide return and liquidity services to their holders. However, during severe financial crises many asset prices plummet, destroying their liquidity provision function at the worst possible time. In this paper we present a model of fire sales and market breakdowns, and of the financial amplification mechanism that follows from them. The distinctive feature of our model is the central role played by endogenous complexity: As asset prices implode, more "banks" within the financial network become distressed, which increases each (non-distressed) bank's likelihood of being hit by an indirect shock. As this happens, banks face an increasingly complex environment since they need to understand more and more interlinkages in making their financial decisions. This complexity brings about confusion and uncertainty, which makes relatively healthy banks, and hence potential asset buyers, reluctant to buy since they now fear becoming embroiled in a cascade they do not control or understand. The liquidity of the market quickly vanishes and a financial crisis ensues. The model exhibits a powerful "complexity-externality." As a potential asset buyer chooses to pull back, the size of the cascade grows, which increases the degree of complexity of the environment. This rise in perceived complexity induces other healthy banks to pull back, which exacerbates the fire sale and the cascade.

Suggested Citation

  • Ricardo J. Caballero & Alp Simsek, 2009. "Fire Sales in a Model of Complexity," NBER Working Papers 15479, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15479
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ricardo J. Caballero & Arvind Krishnamurthy, 2008. "Collective Risk Management in a Flight to Quality Episode," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 63(5), pages 2195-2230, October.
    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. Freixas, Xavier & Parigi, Bruno M & Rochet, Jean-Charles, 2000. "Systemic Risk, Interbank Relations, and Liquidity Provision by the Central Bank," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 32(3), pages 611-638, August.
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    8. Rodrigo Cifuentes & Hyun Song Shin & Gianluigi Ferrucci, 2005. "Liquidity Risk and Contagion," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(2-3), pages 556-566, 04/05.
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    10. Rochet, Jean-Charles & Tirole, Jean, 1996. "Interbank Lending and Systemic Risk," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 28(4), pages 733-762, November.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D8 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty
    • E0 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General
    • E5 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit
    • G1 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets

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