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The financial crisis of 2007-09 highlighted the central role that financial intermediaries play in the propagation and amplification of shocks. Intermediaries increase leverage during the boom, which then makes them more vulnerable to adverse economic developments. In this post, we review evidence on the balance-sheet behavior of financial intermediaries and describe a channel that allows intermediaries to increase leverage during booms when asset market volatility tends to be low, which in turn forces them to dramatically reduce leverage once volatility increases. As shown during the financial crisis of 2007-08, the contraction of intermediary leverage is accompanied by increases in borrowing rates for households and a contraction of credit. The formal modeling of this amplification mechanism allows a welfare analysis of the tightness of regulatory capital requirements. We find that while loose capital constraints generate excessive risk-taking by intermediaries, tight funding constraints inhibit intermediaries’ risk-sharing and investment functions, which then lowers welfare.
In yesterday’s post, Nicola Cetorelli argued that while financial intermediation has changed dramatically over the last two decades, banks have adapted and remained key players in the process of channeling funds between lenders and borrowers. In today’s post, we focus on an important change in the way banks provide credit to corporations—the substitution of the so-called originate-to-distribute model for the originate-to-hold model. Historically, banks originated loans and kept them on their balance sheets until maturity. Over time, however, banks began increasingly to distribute the loans they originated. With this change, banks limited the growth of their balance sheets but maintained a key role in the origination of corporate loans, and in the process contributed to the growth of nonbank financial intermediaries.
It used to be simple: Asked how to describe financial intermediation, you would just mention the word “bank.” Then things got complicated. As a result of innovation and legal and regulatory changes, financial intermediation has evolved in a way that invites us to question whether it revolves around banks anymore. The centerpiece of modern intermediation is the advent and growth of asset securitization: loans do not need to reside on the originator’s balance sheet until maturity any longer, but they can instead be packaged into securities and sold to investors. With securitization, banks’ balance sheets get replaced by a longer and more complex credit intermediation chain (Pozsar, Adrian, Ashcraft, and Boesky 2010). This evolution literally changes the picture of intermediation, as the figure below suggests. From a bank-centered system, we go to one where multiple entities interact with one another along the sequential steps of the chain, and concomitantly we hear increasingly of shadow banking, defined recently by the Financial Stability Board as a system of “credit intermediation involving entities and activities outside the regular banking system.”
Liberty Street Economics features insight and analysis from New York Fed economists working at the intersection of research and policy. Launched in 2011, the blog takes its name from the Bank’s headquarters at 33 Liberty Street in Manhattan’s Financial District.
The editors are Michael Fleming, Andrew Haughwout, Thomas Klitgaard, Donald Morgan, and Asani Sarkar, all economists in the Bank’s Research Group.
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