Liquidity Crunch Led to Silicon Valley Bank Collapse

Rising funding costs put pressure on net interest income.

Sandy Ward 10 March, 2023 | 8:19AM
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Investors sold off bank stocks Thursday, spooked by fears of a possible industry liquidity crisis after SVB Financial SIVB said Wednesday that it sold most of its $21 billion securities portfolio in which it had unrealized losses and moved to shore up capital.

SVB, a major lender to early-stage startup technology and healthcare companies, said it would record an aftertax loss of $1.8 billion in the first quarter of 2023 as a result.

Liquidity Crunch Forces SVB to Raise Capital

SVB’s stock plunged more than 60% to $106.04, a new 52-week low. The bank said it planned to raise $2.25 billion in capital and will issue $1.25 billion of common stock and $500 million of preferred shares. It also agreed to sell $500 million of common stock to General Atlantic, a private equity firm that invests in growth companies in the technology, healthcare, and financial-services sectors, among others.

“Aside from crypto-related meltdowns, this is one of the first banks we’ve seen that has really suffered a liquidity crunch, which has forced it to restructure the balance sheet and realize losses on its securities portfolios,” said Eric Compton, equity strategist at Morningstar.

He added: “SVB scores materially worse than any bank we cover on liquidity and unrealized-loss metrics. This makes us think that SVB could be facing a unique liquidity crunch that does not have to feed through the entire system; however, it does highlight that these risks are now more elevated. It also highlights that it can be very difficult to predict how funding pressure can change in any given quarter and when these risks can materialize.”

A line chart that showed the performance of the KBW Nasdaq Bank Index versus the Morningstar US Market Index.


Which Bank Stocks Were Hit the Hardest by SVP’s Plunge?

SVB’s slide sent other bank stocks tumbling. And the KBW Bank Index BKX lost more than 7% Thursday.

Among the worst performers:

  • First Republic Bank FRC, based in San Francisco, saw its shares plummet 16.5% Thursday to $96.01 a share, a new 52-week low.
  • Phoenix-based Western Alliance Bancorp WAL stock lost nearly 13% to close at $62.36 a share.
  • New York-based Signature Bank SBNY stock fell more than 12.5% to $90.76, a 52-week low.
  • Salt Lake City-based Zions Bancorp ZION stock fell more than 12% to a 52-week low of $41.36 a share.
  • Dallas-based Comerica CMA dropped 8% to $61.91, a 52-week low.
  • Pasadena-based East West Bancorp EWCB shares were down more than 8% to $66.79 a share.
  • Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp USB stock lost 7% to close at $42.30 a share.

A line chart that shows the performance of SBNY, SVIB, FRC, WAL, and ZION stock.

What Happened at SVB?

Compton explains: “Banks bought mortgage-backed securities and Treasuries before interest rates started to rise. As interest rates have risen, the prices of these securities went down. Banks are holding a number of securities which technically have losses on them but as yet are unrealized. 

“The securities pose limited credit risk because Treasuries and government-backed MBS carry the explicit or implicit backing of the government. However, if a bank is forced to sell them at a loss, those losses will then flow through the balance sheet and start to erode equity. This presents a liquidity problem, especially if deposits start to leave the banks, which they are. Deposit outflows put more and more pressure on the banks to sell off existing assets. This risk has been lurking beneath the surface but just materialized in a big way for SVB. This is why bank stocks are selling off in response to this news.”

In November, Martin Gruenberg, the acting chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., flagged mounting unrealized losses in bank securities portfolios as an “overhang” that could soon become “problematic.”

Still, Compton says he doesn’t expect other banks in his coverage area will need to take similar measures to SVB. He explains that while Truist Financial TFC, U.S. Bancorp, and Bank of America BAC have the largest unrealized losses as a percentage of tangible equity, “their liquidity profiles seem much less stressed than SVB.”

SVB’s actions highlight increasing funding pressures in the banking industry that will put pressure on net interest income, Compton says.

“Liquidity issues are an evolving risk worth watching,” he adds.

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Sandy Ward  is a markets columnist for Morningstar.

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