The (Other) Deleveraging. By Manmohan Singh
IMF Working Paper No. 12/179
Summary: Deleveraging has two components--shrinking of balance sheets due to increased haircuts/shedding of assets, and the reduction in the interconnectedness of the financial system. We focus on the second aspect and show that post-Lehman there has been a significant decline in the interconnectedness in the pledged collateral market between banks and nonbanks. We find that both the collateral and its associated velocity are not rebounding as of end-2011 and still about $4-5 trillion lower than the peak of $10 trillion as of end-2007. This paper updates Singh (2011) and we use this data to compare with the monetary aggregates (largely due to QE efforts in US, Euro area and UK), and discuss the overall financial lubrication that likely impacts the conduct of global monetary policy.
Deleveraging from shrinking of bank balance sheets is not (yet) taking place; however, we still find the financial system imploding.
The reduction in debt (or deleveraging) has two components. The first (and more familiar) involves the shrinking of balance sheets. The other is a reduction in the interconnectedness of the financial system (Figure 1). Most recent researchers have focused on the impact of smaller balance sheets, overlooking this ‘other’ deleveraging resulting from reduced interconnectedness. Yet, as the current crisis unfolds, key actors in the global financial system seem to be “ring fencing” themselves owing to heightened counterparty risk. While “rational” from an individual perspective, this behavior may have unintended consequences for the financial markets.
The interconnections nexus has become considerably more complex over the past two decades. The interconnectedness of the financial system aspect may be viewed from the lens of collateral chains. Typically, collateral from hedge funds, pension, insurers, central banks etc., is intermediated by the large global banks. For example, a Hong Kong hedge fund may get financing from UBS secured by its collateral. This collateral may include, say, Indonesian bonds which will be pledged to UBS, (U.K.) for re-use. There may be demand for such bonds from, for instance, a pension fund in Chile who may have Santander as its global bank. However, due to heightened counterparty risk, UBS may not want to onward pledge to Santander, despite demand for the collateral with UBS. Fewer trusted counterparties in the market owing to elevated counterparty risk leads to stranded liquidity pools, incomplete markets, idle collateral and shorter collateral chains, missed trades and deleveraging. In volume terms, over the past decade this collateral use has become on par with monetary aggregates like M2.
The balance sheet shrinking due to ‘price decline’ (i.e., increased haircuts) has been studied extensively [...]. But the balance sheet shrinkage is being postponed—Euro area bank balance sheets may have increased up to €500bn since the end of November, 2011 helped by the liquidity injection from ECB’s 3-year Long Term Repo Operations or LTROs (net of reduced Monthly Repurchase Operations, MROs).
However, de-leveraging of the financial system due to the shortening of ‘re-pledging chains’ has not (yet) received attention. This deleveraging is taking place despite the recent official sector support. This second component of deleveraging is contributing towards the higher credit cost to the real economy. In fact, relative to 2006, the primary indices that measure aggregate borrowing cost are well over 2.5 times in the U.S. and 4 times in the Eurozone (see Figure 2). This is after adjusting for the central bank rate cuts which have lowered the total cost of borrowing for similar corporates (e.g., in the U.S., from about 6% in 2006 to about 4% at present). Figure 3 shows that for the past three decades, the cost of borrowing for financials has been below non-financials; however this has changed post-Lehman. Since much of the real economy resorts to banks to borrow (aside from the large industrials), the higher borrowing cost for banks is then passed on the real economy.
As the “other” deleveraging continues, the financial system remains short of high-grade collateral that can be re-pledged. Recent official sector efforts such as ECB’s “flexibility” (and the ELA programs of national central banks in the Eurozone) in accepting “bad” collateral attempts to keep the good/bad collateral ratio in the market higher than otherwise. ECB’s acceptance of good and bad collateral at non market price brings Gresham's law into play. But, if such moves become part of the central banker’s standard toolkit, the fiscal aspects and risks associated with such policies cannot be ignored. By so doing, the central banks have interposed themselves as risk-taking intermediaries with the potential to bring significant unintended consequences.