US regulators protect SVB deposits and shore up banking system

US regulators said Silicon Valley Bank depositors would be fully repaid as they acted to shore up the banking system after the lender’s implosion, unveiling emergency funding measures and closing down a second financial institution.

The Federal Reserve announced a new lending facility on Sunday aimed at providing extra funding to eligible institutions to ensure that “banks have the ability to meet the needs of all their depositors”. The US central bank said it was “prepared to address any liquidity pressures that may arise”.

The Fed facility is part of a broader effort by regulators, including Treasury secretary Janet Yellen, Fed chair Jay Powell and Martin Gruenberg of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, to avoid spillovers across the financial system and reassure customers that their money is safe following the second-largest bank failure in US history.

The measures come after a frenzied weekend marked by a chaotic search for a potential buyer for SVB and regulators’ closure of New York-based Signature Bank.

The so-called Bank Term Funding Program will offer loans of up to one year to lenders that pledge collateral including US Treasuries and other “qualifying assets”, which will be valued at par.

The programme will eliminate an institution’s “need to quickly sell those securities in times of stress” and would be enough to cover all uninsured US deposits, the Fed said. The facility is backstopped by the Treasury, which put up $25bn. The discount window, where banks can access funding at a slight penalty, remained “open and available”, the central bank added.

The regulators said all depositors of SVB would have access to their money on Monday, as would those of Signature, which was closed by the New York Department of Financial Services before being placed under FDIC control and marketed for sale.

Officials on Sunday said no losses stemming from the resolution of either SVB or Signature’s deposits would be borne by the taxpayer. Any shortfall would be funded by a levy on the rest of the banking system. They added that shareholders and certain unsecured debtholders would not be protected.

A number of venture capitalists said Signature was the most exposed lender after SVB because it also had a concentrated customer base, significant exposure to cryptocurrencies and technology companies and a high proportion of uninsured deposits.

Of Signature’s $89bn in deposits, 90 per cent were not insured by the FDIC at the end of last year, according to a regulatory filing. Roughly a fifth of its total deposits were related to digital assets as of December 31.

Gary Gensler, chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, vowed in a statement on Sunday to “investigate and bring enforcement actions” in the event of violations of federal securities law.

A senior US Treasury official told reporters on Sunday that Yellen had consulted with Joe Biden, the US president, before signing off on the plan to invoke a “systemic risk exception”, allowing all depositors of SVB and Signature to gain access to their money on Monday. In terms of SVB, there had not been enough time for a buyer to emerge and complete a successful auction.

Biden said in a statement he was pleased that his economic team “reached a prompt solution that protects American workers and small businesses, and keeps our financial system safe” while “taxpayer dollars are not put at risk”.

The senior Treasury official denied that the move represented a bailout because shareholders and bondholders of the two banks had been “wiped out”. The official said the “economy remains in good shape” and the financial system had a more solid “foundation” than in 2008.

Anat Admati, a finance professor at Stanford University, said regulators over the past few years had allowed the banking system to become fragile again and had no choice but to bail out Silicon Valley Bank.

“When it gets to this point and you are in a hostage situation, there is nothing else you can do,” Admati said. “But there is no other word for this other than to call it a bailout.”

The move underscored US regulators’ concerns about potential spillovers, which motivated the establishment of the Fed facility to help prevent bank runs. The senior Treasury official said they saw “similarities” in the situations at some of SVB and Signature’s peers and wanted to ensure depositors would not suddenly withdraw.

Neither SVB nor Signature — leading lenders for the start-up community and cryptocurrency industry — was likely to be acquired by a rival bank as all the potential buyers had so far walked away, said people with direct knowledge of the negotiations and who have been working with SVB and the government.

PNC, a large US bank, and Canada’s RBC were invited to buy SVB but decided against bidding, said people with direct knowledge of the matter.

America’s five largest banks, including JPMorgan and Bank of America, would also not be buyers, these people said.

For a transaction to make sense for any buyer, the US government would be required to cover part of their losses, said a person working with SVB.

Separately, New York-based investment bank Centerview Partners has been hired to sell SVB’s assets not related to customers’ deposits, including its investment bank and capital business, said people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Additional reporting by Joshua Franklin and Stephen Gandel in New York, Stefania Palma in Washington and George Hammond in San Francisco


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