Wall Street’s gambles and risky borrowing directly led to the financial crisis, causing the collapse and near-collapse of megabanks and greatly harming millions of Americans. But thanks to government bailouts, those megabanks recovered quickly and top executives lost little.
In response, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank regulatory law to ensure thatno failing bank ever receive such special treatment again. But legislation that favors very large banks
Professor Bruce Grohsgal
and undermines those reforms is in the works again. The bill is called the Financial Institution Bankruptcy Act, or FIBA. The measure already has been passed by the House, and the Senate may take it up soon.
In theory, the bill attempts to solve a major issue in the Bankruptcy Code that prevents failing megabanks from restructuring through traditional Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In effect, though, FIBA offers banks an escape route, creating a subchapter in the Bankruptcy Code through which the Wall Street players who enter into these risky transactions will get paid in full while ordinary investors are on the hook for billions of losses. Not only is that deeply unfair, but it will encourage Wall Street to gamble on the very same risky financial instruments that caused the recent crisis.
Under Chapter 11, a failing company can get a reorganization plan approved to keep its business operating while paying its creditors over time. It then can emerge from bankruptcy as a viable business. During Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, creditors are prohibited from suing the debtor to collect on their debt, a key provision that ensures all creditors are treated fairly and enables the business to reorganize. This is known as an “automatic stay.”
The crash in the price of oil — from $108 a barrel in June 2014 to below $27 earlier this year — has rattled the stock market, triggered layoffs across the energy sector, and plunged many oil producing countries into crisis.
Oil has since rebounded significantly from its lows, to above $40 a barrel, but the price plunge since 2014 has put much pressure on oil companies. Reports have pointed to an increase in debt among oil producers, raising the specter of default on bankruptcy and default on debt, withfollow-on effects beyond oil producers.
Looking at the numbers, the mortgage-debt crisis dwarfs what is currently happening in oil. According to a report in the Financial Times, the global oil and gas industry’s debts rose to $3 trillion from $1.1 trillion between 2006 and 2014. Compare that to the $10 trillion of housing debt weighing on Americans in 2008.
Whether Greece stays in the Eurozone and accepts its bitter medicine or is one day forced to exit the single currency, the country’s future is usually regarded as bleak. Either course seems to promise years of hardship and privation for the Greek people.
From another perspective, though, one could see opportunity for Greece. “Never let a crisis go to waste,” is a quote attributed to Winston Churchill, who knew something about crises. Greece today has a chance to turn adversity into advantage. With change in the air, it will be easier for the country’s institutions, government leaders, and people to abandon some of the failed approaches of the past and to embark in new directions.
During the financial crisis and its aftermath, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) sold nearly 500 failed banks in the United States.
These hurried sales of institutions seized by the agency reverberated throughout local and regional economies and had serious consequences nationally. The FDIC lost US$90 billion in the deals, and at the height of the crisis in 2009, the agency’s deposit insurance fund was $21 billion underwater.
I have been exploring this extraordinary episode in US banking history with two other researchers, Gregor Matvos and Amit Seru, both of the University of Chicago. We wanted to find out what happened to banks when they were sold, who bought them and why, and what the implications might be for public policy. To do this, we compiled information on all FDIC bank sales from 2007 to 2013 and analyzed the data using probability models and other methods.
More broadly, our study focused on understanding the nature and efficiency of allocation outcomes when failed assets are sold. These findings have direct implications for the design of the bank resolution process – how to deal with the death of a financial firm – an issue that is confronting policymakers and researchers both in the US and the EU.
In this study, we tried to understand the costs associated with failed bank sales in the US. We hope that these facts will help policymakers to weigh the costs of selling banks against the costs of supporting them outright during future financial crises. Understanding these trade-offs should help policymakers reduce the taxpayer costs associated with reorganizing a banking system in distress.
Interdependency between banks, insurers and countries through financial instruments was a factor blamed for the financial crisis. Now, academics are trying to measure it. Bob Merton, professor of finance at MIT Sloan, explains to John Authers that credit seems even more interconnected now.
Robert C. Merton is the School of Management Distinguished Professor of Finance at the MIT Sloan School of Management.