Resolving banks by guaranteeing short-term debt
Robert Pozen has an interesting idea:
In my view, the adverse repercussions of Lehman’ failure could have been substantially reduced if the federal regulators had made clear that they would protect all holders of Lehman’s commercial paper with a maturity of less than 60 days and guaranteed the completion of all trades with Lehman for that period.
James Kwak tries to flesh it out:
Once the government has determined which liabilities and exposures will have systemic ripple effects (he says short-term CP and outstanding trades), it could just announce a guarantee on those liabilities and exposures and let everything else go into bankruptcy. Now maybe they didn’t have time to make such a determination the weekend before Lehman failed (although arguably they had since March to figure it out), but by the time Citi and BAC and the last AIG bailout rolled around arguably they did. I’m not enough of a markets person to be sure this would work, but it seems like a viable proposal.
One has to be careful when using the term “bankruptcy” with respect to banks, because I think what we really want here is a massive debt-for-equity swap which keeps the bank viable in some form, rather than outright liquidation (which is what banks have to do if they file for bankruptcy). Given the fact that recovery rates for unsecured bank creditors in liquidation are very close to zero, few creditors would be likely to object to such a thing. Is such a thing possible under the government’s existing resolution authority? I’m unclear on that, but I’m definitely interested in the details of Pozen’s proposal.
One big problem here is that such a plan can’t really be institutionalized ex ante: the last thing we need is an incentive for too-big-to-fail banks to borrow short rather than long, because there’s a semi-explicit government guarantee on all of their funding less than 60 days. Or maybe the Fed could force all banks to have no more than x% of their unsecured debt in the form of commercial paper.