IMF Working Paper No. 13/172
July 18, 2013
Summary: Depositor preference and collateralization of borrowing may reduce the cost of settling the conflicts among creditors that arises in case of resolution or bankruptcy. This net benefit, which may be capitalized into the value of the bank rather than affect creditors’ expected returns, should result in lower overall funding costs and thus a lower probability of distress despite increasing encumbrance of the bank’s balance sheet. The benefit is maximized when resolution is initiated early enough for preferred depositors to remain fully protected.
Conclusions and next steps (edited)
Bank resolution, like bankruptcy and debt restructuring generally, inherently involves a great deal of negotiation and uncertainty; these are situations in which contracts are far from complete. Experience from many sectors, most notably the financial sector, suggest that the attendant conflicts among claimants can add substantially to costs and delays in resolution.
The prospective costs attached to such conflicts, which should depend on the magnitude of residual assets, can influence the optimal composition and conditions of financing, and, in particular, motivate the introduction of provisions that make some claims “bankruptcy remote.” Bankruptcy remoteness can be achieved through statute and policy, as when depositors enjoy preferred status as a matter of law, or through private agreements, as when banks issue covered bonds backed by a pool of high-quality assets. The asset encumbrance that results from either mechanism can be desirable insofar as it reduces bankruptcy costs, and, through lower overall funding costs, lowers the probability of distress. This substantive effect from the composition of financing is not due to asymmetric information or related mechanisms, but to the gain from containing conflict resolution costs.
In the first instance, the gain should be capitalized into the value of the bank, which enjoys an overall reduction in funding costs. The extension of preferred status to some creditors (including a DGS) need not make them better off. Nor need non-secured borrowers be disadvantaged in expectational terms: they earn more when the bank survives but bear larger net losses in case of resolution (though they spend less contending for their claims). Granting preferred status to (some) depositors need not provoke increased collateralization of other credits: from the point of view of the borrowing bank, collateralization and statutory depositor preference are near substitutes, with the difference that collateralization can be increased at the bank’s initiative, albeit at an increasing marginal cost. However, the achievement of full benefits and their distribution will depend on pricing being risk-sensitive; the probability of distress might not be reduced if those that benefit from collateralization demand an interest rate that ignores the reduction in LGD that collateralization should achieve.
For these measures to be valuable, a high degree of legal certainty of their implementation must be achieved, and it is important that the resolution process starts when the borrowing bank still has enough residual assets that preferred or collateralized claims can be met. If, ex post, these conditions are not met, conflict may be intensified. Hence, bank stability might be enhanced by limiting total asset encumbrance (preferred deposits plus collateralized borrowing) to below the likely minimum level of residual assets. Authorities that are willing and able to take early corrective action, and therefore rarely have to deal with banks left with scant residual assets, can be more sanguine about asset encumbrance.
The analysis presented here lead on to other questions of practical relevance, which may be addressed in further research using an extension of the framework. Some of these questions include the following:
• What systematic evidence might be examined to determine whether and how bankruptcy costs depend on the intensity of conflict over residual assets? Some anecdotal evidence indicates that bankruptcy proceedings and bank resolutions are characterized by intensive lobbying in various forms, which considerably inflate the costs to all concerned. There is also some statistical evidence that bankruptcy costs and delays are related to the complexity of the affected corporation, and complexity is plausibly connected to the number of interest groups and thus expenditure on lobbying. But it would be worthwhile to investigate also who bears costs and receives benefits ex ante, as measured, for example, by the reaction of market prices to relevant regulatory innovations.
• Why is information on bank asset encumbrance not more readily available? Appropriate pricing of both collateralized and non-collateralized borrowing depends on making good estimates of probability of failure and of loss given default facing different creditors, and thus of the degree of outstanding asset encumbrance. Yet it is difficult to obtain current or detailed, bank-by-bank information: one may use published accounts to quantify a bank’s deposit base—if deposits enjoy preferential status—and the volume of covered bonds that it has issued, but typically one cannot know the volume of assets pledged in the interbank market, to the central bank, in liquidity swap and derivative deals, etc. Presumably a bank in a weak position is afraid to reveal that fact and face a “squeeze” on its position. However, there seem to be incentives for strong banks to disclose information, and thus to force others to reveal more. To some extent this occurs: many banks repaid as early as possible financing from the ECB’s Long-Term Refinancing Operation, presumably to demonstrate their strength. If banks do not volunteer much information on encumbrance, there could be grounds for imposing greater transparency through regulation, but national authorities have traditionally reserved the right to provide central bank refinancing on a confidential basis. [The European Systemic Risk Board recently issued recommendations to enhance prudential oversight of asset encumbrance and related market transparency, but explicitly prohibits the revelation of data on assets encumbered to central banks (see "Recommendations of European Systemic Risk Board of 20 December 2012 on funding of credit institutions" (ESRB/2012/2), available at http://www.esrb.europa.eu/pub/pdf/recommendations/2012/ESRB_2011_2.en.pdf?e622821b9c3171124f1d85f3a1b4d40e ).]
• What are the implications for funding behavior and stability of heterogeneity among creditors in their litigating/lobbying ability and incentives? Welch (1997) has initiated a discussion of the question, with a focus on a non-financial corporate facing a dominant bank creditor, but the situation of banks, with many retail and wholesale counterparties, may be rather different. The interests of those most effective in lobbying may not coincide with those of society or the prudential regulator. One advantage of depositor preference is that it protects the interests of a large number of creditors with a substantial portion of claims for whom, however, it is individually relatively expensive to defend those claims in case of resolution; the weak atomistic depositors are molded into one dominant creditor. In this connection, differences in lobbying ability could account for aspects of market segmentation: those with low costs might specialize in the holding of certain instruments, and those with high costs (or funding constraints) might want to concentrate on holding secured, bankruptcy-remote assets.
• In what ways would statutory bail-in of unsecured creditors be symmetric to the granting depositors preferred status, and in what ways would contingent capital (“CoCos”) be symmetric to collateralized credit?
The framework would need to be extended to analyze how different forms of asset encumbrance might affect bank liquidity risk, taking into account the availability of other liquidity buffers and interaction with solvency risk. Indeed, liquidity and solvency risk are deeply connected, especially for banks. Furthermore, illiquidity, like bankruptcy, is “a situation in which existing claims are inconsistent,” and so suited to an analysis based on costly resolution of conflict, rather than the application of predetermined rules and contracts. In all cases, one category of claimant is assigned a special status in case of bankruptcy or resolution—some are assigned an especially weak position, others an especially strong one. The incentives for, and ability of the different claimants to lobby for larger compensation is therefore affected. For example, those clearly subject to a statutory bail-in would not devote resources to contesting claims with those in a clearly superior position, and thus bankruptcy costs could be reduced. Holders of bail-in-able securities or CoCos would presumably demand higher yields to compensate for this risk, which in itself may increase risk of distress, but there could be some net benefit.