One Step Closer to Nationalization of the Banking Sector

Paul de Grauwe in the FT:

The essence of what banks do in normal times is to borrow short and lend long. In doing so, they transform short-term assets into long ones, thereby creating credit and liquidity. Put differently, by borrowing short and lending long, banks become less liquid, thereby making it possible for the non-banking sector to become more liquid; that is, have assets that are shorter than their liabilities. This is essential for the non-banking sector to run smoothly.

This credit transformation model performed by banks only works if there is confidence in the banks and, more importantly, if banks trust each other. This confidence has now evaporated and, as a result, the model fails. The generalised distrust within the banking system has led to a situation where banks do not want to lend any more. That means that they continue to borrow short but lend equally short; that is, acquire the most liquid assets.

The result is a massive destruction of credit and liquidity in the economy. The non-banking sector cannot borrow long so as to acquire liquid assets that they need to run their business, because banks do not lend long anymore. This risks bringing the economy to a standstill. A depression is looming.

It is important to realise that this liquidity crisis is the result of a co-ordination failure: bank A does not want to lend to bank B, not necessarily because it fears insolvency of bank B but because it fears other banks will not lend to bank B, thereby creating insolvency of bank B out of the blue. Thus bank lending comes to a standstill because banks expect bank lending to come to a standstill.