The American banking system is hugging tightly to the Fed with billions of borrowing from the backstop barely budging

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Banks reduced their borrowings only slightly from two Federal Reserve backstop facilities in the most recent week, a sign that institutions are taking advantage of the central bank’s liquidity in the wake of turmoil.

US institutions had a combined $163.9 billion in outstanding borrowings in the week through March 22, compared with $164.8 billion the previous week, according to Fed data Thursday.

Data showed $110.2 billion in borrowing from the Fed’s traditional backstop lending program known as the discount window compared with a record $152.9 billion in outstanding credit the previous week. The loans can be extended for up to 90 days and the window accepts a broad range of collateral.

Outstanding borrowings from the Bank Term Funding Program stood at $53.7 billion, compared with $11.9 billion the previous week. The BTFP was opened March 12 after the Fed declared emergency conditions following the collapse of California’s Silicon Valley Bank and New York’s Signature Bank

Credit can be extended one year under the program and collateral guidelines are tighter.

Fed loans to bridge banks established by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to resolve SVB and Signature Bank rose to $179.8 billion from $142.8 billion the previous week.

“There’s nothing here, which suggests things aren’t spreading,” said Blake Gwin, head of US interest rates strategy at RBC Capital Markets.

Funding markets had been showing signs of stress, though pressures have subsided with the take-up of emergency measures.

That included huge shifts in rates of short-dated securities and some other moderate dislocations in the instruments where banks and others ordinarily go for their short-term money. Repurchase agreement rates were elevated for a number of days, cross-currency basis swaps have whipsawed and the gap between direct floating-rate agreements and index-tied ones — often used as a measure of the difficulty banks have in getting access to funds — also swelled.

Still, there’s concerns as to whether deposits will continue fleeing banks for other places in the financial system. Money market funds have been scooping up cash recently, fueled in large part by depositors pulling their money away from US banks.

The amount of money parked at money-market funds climbed to a fresh record in the week through March 22 as banking concerns continued to rock global markets. 

Initially much of that flow was driven by more attractive rates, but concern about the steadiness of some smaller lenders helped boost the trend this month.

Major central banks also tapped swap lines with their US counterpart for just $590.5 million in the past week even after officials moved to make the facilities available daily in light of global banking concerns.

For the first time since November, banks tapped the Fed’s foreign repurchase agreement facility for $60 billion. That’s equivalent to the per counterparty limit for participants.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell and his colleagues raised the benchmark lending rate a quarter point Wednesday to a target range 4.75% to 5%. When asked if this would exacerbate problems in the banking system, Powell said he was indeed trying to tighten borrowing costs for the economy while keeping backstop liquidity abundantly available for banks.

“When we think about the situation with the banks, we’re focused on our financial stability tools in particular our lending facilities,” he said.

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