If there’s a crisis will you be able to get any cash out of the bank? Will the banks even have any cash? Because, as of last March, it is no longer a requirement – the banks aren’t required to have a single dollar bill in their vaults and drawers.
Yesterday the Chair of the FDIC released an astonishing video asking Americans to keep their money in the bank.
Accompanied by soft piano music playing in the background, the official said:
“Your money is safe at the banks. The last thing you should be doing is pulling your money out of the banks thinking it’s going to be safer somewhere else.”
(Simon black) Amazing. I was half expecting her to waive her hand and say, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for…”
As I’ve written before, there’s $250 TRILLION worth of debt in the world right now: student debt, housing debt, credit card debt, government debt, corporate debt, etc.
And let’s be honest, some of that debt is simply not going to be paid.
Millions of people have already lost their jobs. Millions more (like the 10 million waiters and bartenders across America) are barely earning anything right now because their businesses are closed.
The government has already suspended evictions and foreclosures, which is a green light for people to stop paying the rent or mortgage.
And that means banks will take it in the teeth.
This is what happened back in 2008– millions of people across the country stopped paying their mortgages, and the banking system nearly collapsed as a result.
Today it’s a similar situation; a lot of people are going to stop paying their mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, etc. And that directly impacts the banks.
Businesses are in deep financial trouble too.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the median small business in the United States has a cash balance that will last them just 27 days.
And many are operating with an even smaller safety net; the median restaurant, for example, has a cash balance of just 16 days.
These businesses have been told to close down due to the Corona Virus. And it’s likely that many of them will never re-open.
A lot of these companies also have debt. And if they close, those debts will never be repaid.
Even big businesses are susceptible to failure.
Every airline, cruise ship operator, hotel, retail chain, etc. is on the ropes, and each of these companies has borrowed billions of dollars.
This pandemic could easily push several big companies into bankruptcy.
You probably know that old saying– if you owe the bank a million dollars and can’t pay, you have a problem. If you owe the bank a billion dollars and can’t pay, the bank has a problem.
That’s what we’re seeing now.
Countless unemployed individuals, millions of shuttered small businesses, and bankrupt big companies collectively owe the banks trillions of dollars. And many of them can’t pay… which means the entire banking system has a problem.
How much money will the banks lose because of this pandemic?
It could easily end up being hundreds of billions of dollars, even several trillion dollars.
No one knows. But it’s not going to be zero. It’s silly to think that banks are immune to the Corona virus, or to assume that not a single bank is going to run into problems.
Don’t get me wrong– I’m not saying that the banking system is about to collapse. There are stronger banks and weaker banks. Many of them will survive, others will fail.
What I am saying is that there are enormous and obvious risks that threaten the banking system.
As I’ve written several times over the past few weeks: Anyone who says, “No, that’s impossible,” clearly doesn’t have a grasp of what’s happening right now. EVERY scenario is on the table, including severe problems in the banking system.
But the FDIC insists that there’s nothing to worry about.
That’s ridiculous. The FDIC only has $109 billion to insure the entire $13 trillion US banking system. That’s less than 1%!
The FDIC also insists that they’ve always been able to prevent depositors from losing money. “Not a single depositor has lost money since 1933.” And that’s true.
But they’ve never had to deal with this before. Neither the FDIC, nor any bank, has ever had to deal with a complete shutdown of the economy… or potential losses of this magnitude.
The Covid-19 impact on the banking system could be 10x bigger than the housing meltdown in 2008.
If the pandemic ends up causing trillions of dollars of loan losses, the FDIC won’t have enough ammunition to fix it… and that doesn’t even consider trillions of dollars more in potentially toxic derivatives exposure.
So to casually brush off these risks and claim that everything is 100% safe seems incomprehensible.
It also raises an interesting point: why is the FDIC asking us to NOT withdraw our savings?
If the financial system is so safe, it shouldn’t matter to them whether or not people keep their money in the banks.
Yet they still felt the need to specifically ask people to NOT withdraw their money… and tell us that we shouldn’t keep cash at home.
I’ll reiterate a point that we’ve made again and again at Sovereign Man over the years: it makes sense to have some physical cash in an at-home safe.
I’m not suggesting you keep your life’s savings in physical cash. But a month or two worth of expenses won’t hurt.
There’s very little downside– your bank probably only pays you 0.01% anyhow, so it’s not like you will be giving up a ton of interest income.
And given that the FDIC is specifically saying that you shouldn’t do this, a prudent person might wonder what’s really going on.
The U.S. dollar is approaching its highest level on record against other leading global currencies, according to the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index. The index was up 1.1% in early trading Wednesday, and has climbed 6.5% in the past nine days. And derivatives markets indicate that even investors and banks in countries with their own major reserve currencies want to secure dollars.
Banks, companies, and investors have many good reasons to rush to secure dollar liquidity. Many businesses are facing the prospect of a steep decline in revenue as federal and local governments ask their constituents to stay home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
That means businesses could struggle to keep paying leases, wages, and other costs. Workers (especially hourly workers) could struggle to pay their own living expenses. And banks could be met with withdrawal requests and surging demand for credit denominated in dollars.
“[The economic] front line in the crisis is the damage the pandemic is wreaking on companies in exposed sectors and on the economy more widely as the crisis spreads,” wrote Kit Juckes, a strategist at Société Générale. “So while market participants scramble [to] deleverage, the banks need money to lend to companies whose cash flow situation has changed almost overnight.”
The cash grab is echoing through markets in some striking ways. Even the lowest-risk markets—Treasuries and municipal bonds for example—have seen steep losses as investors move into cash. Benchmark 10-year and 30-year bond yields posted their steepest single-session jump since 1982 on Tuesday.
“This matters on a day-to-day basis for the [currency] market because liquidity stress, and a rush to get hold of dollar liquidity in particular, sends the dollar higher against everything,” Juckes wrote.
The widespread bid for liquidity has shown up in fund-flows data as well. Mutual funds in nearly every sector of markets lost billions of dollars in investor funds over the week ended March 11, the latest data reported by Refinitiv Lipper.
Taxable bond funds saw outflows of $11 billion that week, while equity funds lost $3.2 billion of cash and municipal (tax-exempt) bond funds lost $1.7 billion.
Money-market funds, on the other hand, brought in piles of cash. Investors put a net $87 billion into the sector as a whole over the week ended March 11, according to Refinitiv, the biggest inflow on record.
Within that category, even prime funds, or the money-market funds that buy short-term corporate debt, lost money over the week ended March 11, according to data from ICI.
Government money-market funds pulled in $97 billion, their second-biggest inflow on record, Refinitiv data show. The biggest week was in Sept. 2008, at the height of the financial crisis.
The results for the week ended March 18 won’t be out until Thursday. But if the steep declines in stocks, longer-term Treasuries, and corporate bonds are any indication, investors are still racing for the exits.
“That need for funds to flow into the economy isn’t going away any time soon,” Juckes wrote. “The result is that while direct financial effects of this crisis might be less acute than in ‘08, they will continue being felt for a long time.”