Finance - March 13, 2023

Banking system is ‘safe’, Biden assures Americans after SVB collapse

US President Joe Biden speaks

US President Joe Biden on Monday reassured Americans that their banking system is safe in the wake of the sudden collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and the federal takeover of a second bank.

“Americans can have confidence that the banking system is safe. Your deposits will be there when you need them,” he said in televised remarks from the White House.

The government is ensuring that SVB depositors get their money back, said Biden. “No losses will be borne by the taxpayers,” he said. “The money will come from the fees that banks pay into the deposit insurance.”

Biden’s address came as US and European authorities moved to ease fears over the health of the banking system following the failure of Silicon Valley Bank.

US federal authorities stepped in to ensure depositors still had access to their funds at SVB and promised other institutions help in meeting customers’ needs, but markets remained on edge Monday following the bank’s sudden collapse.

In Britain, banking giant HSBC bought SVB’s UK division for just £1 ($1.2) in a rescue deal overseen by the Bank of England and the government, while French and German authorities said there were no risks to their financial systems.

Amid fears over the wider sector, US President Joe Biden vowed to hold “fully accountable” the people responsible for “this mess” before delivering his remarks on Monday morning.

“The American people and American businesses can have confidence that their bank deposits will be there when they need them,” Biden said.

In a joint statement on Sunday, the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Treasury Department said SVB depositors would have access to “all of their money” starting Monday and that American taxpayers will not have to foot the bill.

They added that depositors in Signature Bank – a New York-based regional-size lender with significant cryptocurrency exposure which was shuttered on Sunday after its stock price tanked – would also be “made whole”.

The Fed also announced it would make extra funding available to banks to help them meet the needs of depositors, which would include withdrawals.

“We are taking decisive actions to protect the US economy by strengthening public confidence in our banking system,” the statement said.

“The US banking system remains resilient and on a solid foundation,” due in large part to reforms and banking industry safeguards undertaken after the financial crisis of 2008, they added.

“Those reforms combined with today’s actions demonstrate our commitment to take the necessary steps to ensure that depositors’ savings remain safe.”

Regulators on Friday took control of SVB – a key lender to startups across the United States since the 1980s – after a huge run on deposits left the medium-sized bank unable to stay afloat on its own.

SVB’s implosion represents the largest bank failure since Washington Mutual in 2008.

Markets fall further

The British government’s SVB UK rescue deal also guarantees deposits of customers, which include major businesses in the technology and life science sectors.

“This (deal) ensures customer deposits are protected and can bank as normal, with no taxpayer support,” said British finance minister Jeremy Hunt, who had warned a day earlier that SVB’s collapse posed a serious risk to the UK’s tech sector.

Germany’s finance watchdog said the “distressed situation” of SVB’s German branch “does not pose a threat to financial stability”.

The regulator, Bafin, added it had ordered “a moratorium” on the bank’s German unit which it said did not offer bank deposit services.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said no “special warning” was needed for local lenders.

“I don’t see any risk of contagion,” he told Franceinfo radio.

Despite the moves, European stock markets fell deeper into the red on Monday and most Asian indices finished lower, with banks taking a hit.

“The contagion risk remains for small banks with highly rate-sensitive clients but the US authorities now step in to avoid contagion,” said Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior analyst at Swissquote Bank.

“The bank crisis will be sitting in the headlines, as solutions and possible contagion beyond the banking sector and beyond US borders will be on the menu of the week,”she said.

Avoiding ‘contagion’

Investors punished the global banking sector on Thursday after SVB disclosed the extent of its troubles the day before.

Little known to the general public, SVB specialised in financing startups and had become the 16th largest US bank by assets: at the end of 2022, it had $209 billion in assets and approximately $175.4 billion in deposits.

Hours before Sunday’s joint statement, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told CBS that the US government wanted “to make sure that the troubles that exist at one bank don’t create contagion to others that are sound”.

Since Friday, there have been calls from the tech and finance sectors for a bailout, which Yellen ruled out.

Yellen said reforms made after the 2008 financial crisis meant the government was not considering this option for SVB.

“During the financial crisis, there were investors and owners of systemic large banks that were bailed out … and the reforms that have been put in place means that we’re not going to do that again,” she said.

In their joint statement, the US federal agencies stressed shareholders and certain unsecured debtholders will not be protected.

Fed officials said “investors in those two banks will lose everything. Senior management of those two banks will bear losses and be removed.”

The officials said the “core goal” of the moves was to reassure bank customers they would have their money to pay their bills or meet payrolls for their businesses.

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