How safe was the "safe haven"? Financial market liquidity during the 1998 turbulences
The turbulences in the international financial markets during the summer and autumn of 1998 put the price formation and liquidity provision mechanism in many markets under severe strain. As part of the large-scale portfolio rebalancing that took place, investors shifted a large part of their holdings into cash and into instruments that were perceived as having a low risk and being highly liquid. One of these "safe havens" was the market for German government securities. The paper examines the liquidity of the secondary market for four German benchmark government bonds during this period. The analysis is based on a unique dataset provided by the German securities? regulator, which covers every single transaction of the four bonds in Germany. This feature is particularly attractive for the bond market, where OTC transactions account for most trading. The volatility of yields of the four bonds more than doubled in the wake of the Russian devaluation on August 17th, 1998, and experienced a further peak in early October. It was accompanied by a widening in the yield spread between the individual bonds, which soared to more than twenty basis points from less than five basis points during the first half of the year. The cost of trading, as measured by the effective spread, increased even in a "safe haven" like the market for ten year German government bonds, indicating a reduction in liquidity. Nevertheless, the market was able to handle a statistically significantly higher than usual number of transactions and turnover. In this sense, liquidity provision has been remarkably effective in dealing with the turbulences. Effective bid-ask spreads are positively related to unexpected trading volume, which should reflect the amount of private information in the market. Nevertheless, surprises volume cannot explain the surge in spreads that occurred during the turbulences.
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