Solvency, liquidity and dark magic

The two terms are frequently used interchangeably but I am in the camp that being pedantic is useful in this particular case. In that context hat tip to Matt Levin at Bloomberg for another well worth reading opinion column exploring what is going on with FTX

You can find his column here. There is a Bloomberg paywall but you can also access Matt’s material by signing up to his daily newsletter (highly recommended). The whole piece is worth reading but two short extracts below captures the main points.

First up solvency …

One other point here is that if this is the story, then it is not a liquidity crisis but a solvency one. That is, the problem is not a timing mismatch, in which FTX’s customers asked for their cash back but FTX did not have enough ready cash because it had long-term but money-good loans out. The problem is that FTX took its customers’ money and traded it for a pile of magic beans, and now the beans are worthless and there’s a huge hole in the balance sheet.

And some dark magic …

If you think of the token as “more or less stock,” and you think of a crypto exchange as a securities broker-dealer, this is completely insane. If you go to an investment bank and say “lend me $1 billion, and I will post $2 billion of your stock as collateral,” you are messing with very dark magic and they will say no.[9] The problem with this is that it is wrong-way risk. (It is also, at least sometimes, illegal.) If people start to worry about the investment bank’s financial health, its stock will go down, which means that its collateral will be less valuable, which means that its financial health will get worse, which means that its stock will go down, etc. It is a death spiral. In general it should not be possible to bankrupt an investment bank by shorting its stock. If one of the bank’s main assets is its own stock — is a leveraged bet on its own stock — then it is easy to bankrupt it by shorting its stock.

If you want to dig deeper into the solvency versus liquidity question I had a go at the issue here

Tony – From the Outside

Author: From the Outside

After working in the Australian banking system for close to four decades, I am taking some time out to write and reflect on what I have learned. My primary area of expertise is bank capital management but this blog aims to offer a bank insider's outside perspective on banking, capital, economics, finance and risk.

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