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A Proposal for the Resolution of Systemically Important Assets and Liabilities: The Case of the Repo Market

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One of the several regulatory failures behind the global financial crisis that started in 2007 has been the regulatory focus on individual, rather than systemic, risk of financial institutions. Focusing on systemically important assets and liabilities (SIALs) rather than individual financial institutions, we propose a set of resolution mechanisms, which is not only capable of inducing market discipline and mitigating moral hazard, but also capable of addressing the associated systemic risk, for instance, due to the risk of fire sales of collateral assets. Furthermore, because of our focus on SIALs, our proposed resolution mechanisms would be easier to implement at the global level compared to mechanisms that operate at the level of individual institutional forms. We, then, outline how our approach can be specialized to the repo market and propose a repo resolution authority for reforming this market.


Systemic risk can be defined broadly as the expected losses from the risk that the failure of a significant part of the financial sector leads to a reduction in credit availability with the potential for adversely affecting the real economy.2 There are at least two contesting views on the causes of systemic risk. In the so‐called micro‐prudential view, the systemic risk arises from contagion of the failure of a financial institution to the rest of the financial sector. As short-term creditors of an institution demand immediacy against its long‐term assets (“run”), short-term creditors of inter‐connected or similar institutions may demand such immediacy too. In contrast, in the so‐called macro‐prudential view, the systemic risk arises from the collective failure of many financial institutions because of their common risk factor exposures. In this view, when short‐term creditors of an institution demand immediacy against long‐term assets, there is a disruptive run only if other institutions are unable to acquire the long‐term assets at fair values; in particular, if institutions have correlated exposures, then other institutions are potentially facing runs too and assets must be sold at fire‐sale prices, resulting in disorderly liquidations, potential allocation inefficiencies and a general increase in the rate of return on savings (which can induce hoarding behavior and cut‐back on real‐sector lending).

Although these two views are not mutually exclusive, much of the regulatory reforms take one view or the other. In the micro‐prudential regulations, the focus is on the systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs) whereas in the macro‐prudential regulations, the focus is (also) on the risk of a crisis in the financial sector and its spillover to the economy at large. Taking the micro‐prudential view, both the Dodd‐Frank Wall Street Regulation and Consumer Protection Act (DFA) signed into law by President Obama in July 2010 in the US and, internationally, Basel III focus on single financial institutions.

SIFIs consist of financial intermediaries that are not only commercial banks taking deposits and making loans, but also include investment banks, money market funds, mutual funds, insurance firms and potentially even hedge funds, whose failure poses a systemic risk to the financial system. This systemic risk can come through multiple forms which include counterparty risk on other financial institutions, asset liquidations that can produce a depressing effect on asset prices, liquidity hoarding that raises funding costs in interbank markets even for safe firms, and an information contagion effect resulting in a significant reduction in overall market liquidity. Therefore, any mechanism set up by the regulators to deal with the insolvency of SIFIs must follow at least four basic principles (Acharya, Adler, Richardson and Roubini, 2010):

1) The counterparty risk of the SIFIs must be contained through regulations including the imposition of capital requirements, margin rules, and limitation on risky investments ex ante.

2) There needs to be a procedure for dealing with large amounts of illiquid assets whose forced sales can have a catastrophic effect on the financial system.

3) The resolution mechanism should be able to identify insolvent institutions promptly as they can become pockets where financial resources of the economy can get trapped, potentially creating funding problems even for otherwise solvent firms.

4) There must be well‐defined rules for what happens to the liabilities of the financial institution when it fails, for otherwise a run on most of the institution’s liabilities will occur, potentially leading to a system‐wide run.

Furthermore, since many SIFIs operate across borders (global SIFIs – G‐SIFIs) and, as we have witnessed in the recent financial crisis, their failure can threaten the integrity of the entire global financial system, to the above four principles we must add:

5) The national resolution mechanisms should be amenable to easy international coordination for the effective resolution of G‐SIFIs.

When the collapse or near collapse of such financial institutions as Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG and the like after the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007 made the inability of the existing resolution mechanisms to deal with the failure of SIFIs clear, the US was the first mover with the Dodd Frank Act. To address the concerns about the inability of the existing resolution mechanisms to handle the failure of SIFIs, Title II of the DFA created the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA) as a new mechanism. However, as it is stated fairly clearly in Title II of the DFA, the OLA is not a resolution but liquidation mechanism.3

Putting aside the question of whether such liquidation—rather than a resolution— authority focusing on individual financial institutions is sufficient to achieve the DFA‐stated goals of inducing market discipline and mitigating moral hazard, the question of whether the OLA can address the systemic risk associated with such systemically important markets as the sale and repurchase agreement (“repo”) market or such systemically important sectors of small institutions as the money market mutual funds remains debatable.4 Although we discuss our concerns regarding the OLA in the next section in detail, let us give a simple example from September, 2008, to illustrate how the OLA may fail in containing the systemic risk:

After the Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy filed on September 15, 2008, its outstanding debt collapsed in price almost immediately. Since one of the largest money market mutual funds (MMMFs), the Reserve Primary Fund, was highly exposed to Lehman Brothers' collapsing short‐term debt, the next day its net asset value (NAV) fell below par. Since MMMFs offer stable NAV and investors can redeem anytime at par, an immediate run on the Reserve Primary Fund occurred, causing it to shut down. This failure opened up the possibility that other MMMFs were similarly exposed and a run on the MMMFs started. Since MMMFs are a primary source for the commercial paper market, this run opened up the possibility of capital shortfalls at many financial institutions that needed to roll over commercial paper. Only after the government guaranteed the MMMF deposits 100% the run came to a halt and the slide was stopped.

Under the OLA, if invoked as described in Title II of the DFA, the Reserve Primary Fund would have been placed into a receivership administered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to be liquidated (assuming that the Reserve Primary Fund – or the moneymarket funds sector as a whole – were deemed systemically important by the Financial Stability Oversight Council, set up under the DFA). Although the FDIC could have borrowed from the Treasury to finance the liquidation, if the proceeds from liquidation were insufficient to repay the Treasury, the FDIC would have had to claw back from creditors any amounts received in excess of what they would have received in an ordinary liquidation.5 Given that the investors of MMMFs were offered stable NAV and promised that they could redeem anytime at par, it is evident that a liquidation authority such as the OLA—which with its focus on eliminating the moral hazard associated with the “too‐big‐to‐fail” status recovers from creditors any amounts received in excess of what they would have received in an ordinary liquidation—neither could have nor will have stopped the slide in such an episode.6 An orderly liquidation of the assets of the Reserve Primary Fund was not even an issue then. Furthermore, neither was the Reserve Primary Fund “too‐big‐to‐fail” despite its $64.8 billion worth of assets prior to its shut down, nor was it even an SIFI on its own right. What was systemically important in September, 2008, was the $3.5 trillion financial sector of MMMFs. The intervention had to be done at the sector level to avoid a possible collapse of the entire financial system.

Another problem associated with the OLA is that it does not apply to the foreign subsidiaries of the G‐SIFIs. For example, when Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 protection in September, 2008, this action triggered well over 60 insolvency proceedings worldwide some of which were particularly harmful to global financial stability (Acharya, Adler and Richardson, 2011). Even if the OLA existed at the time of the Lehman Brothers’ insolvency, the assets and liabilities of its U.K. prime brokerage would have been resolved under the U.K. law. Although in response to the G20 call for action, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) issued recently a new international standard for resolution mechanisms “so that any financial institution, whatever its size and complexity, can be resolved without disruption to the financial system and without taxpayer solvency support”7, it is still unclear how this new standard will be implemented in the US and can be reconciled with the OLA.

Furthermore, even the FSB issued new international standard described in its November, 2011, “Key Attributes” document8 focuses on individual financial institutions that are to be deemed globally systemically important, that is, G‐SIFI. To see why this might be a problem, take, for example, the re‐hypothecation of hedge funds’ assets held at Lehman’s U.K. prime brokerage unit during Lehman’s bankruptcy. Under the U.K. law (which was changed later), these assets became Lehman’s creditors take. This led not only to runs on hedge funds, but also to overall uncertainty about which assets at financial institutions were safe and which were not (Acharya, Adler and Richardson, 2011). No resolution mechanism focusing on G‐SIFIs, even if internationally coordinated as described in “Key Attributes”, could have worked quickly enough to stop these effects.

Finally, while there were indeed runs on SIFIs in this and previous crises, there were also a large number of collective runs on relatively smaller financial institutions, especially in the socalled “shadow banking”, such as on hedge funds, special purpose vehicles (conduits and SIVs), and as discussed earlier, money‐market funds. For instance, the asset‐backed commercial paper (ABCP) run on conduits and SIVs sponsored by commercial banks starting 8th of August 2007 (see Acharya, Schnabl and Suarez, 2009) highlights that collection of small institutions and an entire class of claims or markets can also be systemically important, i.e., their failure can lead to system‐wide loss of financial intermediation.

With these in mind and taking the macro‐prudential view, we propose an alternative set of resolution mechanisms, based on the insights of Acharya, Adler and Richardson (2011), which is not at the level of SIFIs, but at the level of systemically important assets and liabilities (SIALs) of financial institutions, whether these institutions are deemed systemically important or not. Systemically important liabilities (SILs) can be defined broadly as those liabilities of highly‐leveraged entities that are assets of other highly‐leveraged entities and therefore when faced with haircuts in case of default would trigger runs on other entities. Examples of SILs include deposits, repos and over‐the‐counter (OTC) derivatives. Similarly, systemically important assets (SIAs) can be defined broadly as those assets that are either SILs of other highly‐leveraged entities or potentially illiquid, high risk assets financed through SILs. Examples of SIAs include exposures to SIFIs, asset‐backed commercial paper (ABCP) and risky repo collaterals such as mortgage‐backed securities (MBSs). To the extent possible, the set of mechanisms should be expanded to cover as many classes of systemically important assets and liabilities as possible.9 What we propose is that instead of attempting regulation of systemically important financial institutions (a “top down” approach to regulating systemically important assets and liabilities), prudential regulation be built in the form of a “bottom up” approach—one that works at the level of the SIALs rather than at the level of the SIFI that owns them. Under the “bottom‐up” approach there would be an automatic stabilizer built for each SIAL. The automatic stabilizers could be in the form of government‐provided but appropriately‐charged deposit insurance, centrally cleared SIALs with initial and variation margins or haircuts charged by a clearinghouse or dedicated resolution authority for those SIALs, and in extreme cases, lender‐of‐last‐resort from the central bank against eligible assets (but to avoid moral hazard, only to firms that pay a market‐rate fee). This way, when an SIFI fails, it is not the orderly resolution of an individual SIFI that has to be effected, but rather the resolution of its various SIALs; the parts of its capital structure that are not systemically important would be resolved by market‐determined contracts and relevant bankruptcy procedures. A particularly attractive feature of the “bottom up” approach is that it requires no uniform institution‐level insolvency process and therefore might be the simplest way of achieving international agreement on resolving the financial distress of G‐SIFIs (as long as there is global agreement on resolution mechanisms for SIALs).

We present as a leading example of our approach the systemically important assets and liabilities underlying the repo market and propose a potential repo resolution authority for reforming the repo market to illustrate how our approach can be implemented for this particular class of SIALs.10 A repurchase agreement—also known as a “sale and repurchase agreement,” or more popularly as a repo—is a short‐term transaction between two parties in which one party borrows cash from the other by pledging a financial security as collateral. One important feature of the US repo market is that all transactions that fall under the umbrella of repos are exempt from the automatic stay in bankruptcy and therefore all repo transactions can be liquidated following a bankruptcy filing. As is well known, the ongoing global financial crisis was triggered in the summer of 2007 essentially by a “run” on two Bear Stearns hedge funds speculating in the potentially illiquid subprime mortgages by borrowing short‐term in the US repo market and eventually on Bear Stearns in March of 2008. We describe these “repo bank runs” and the role the fire‐sale liquidation of the repo collaterals—that are exempt from the automatic stay—played in the ensuing systemic crisis (in Section III.2 in detail).

Our proposal for resolving repo runs is to create a “Repo Resolution Authority” in each jurisdiction with significant repo transactions. The repo collaterals will in general not be exempt from bankruptcy of borrowing financial firms, except when the collateral is in the form of highest quality government or government‐guaranteed bonds. All other repo collateral on defaulting repo transactions will be resolved by the repo resolution authority, which makes an immediate “liquidity” payment to repo financiers. The immediate payment is based on conservative assumptions (a “haircut”) about the liquidation proceeds from the collateral. The realized proceeds will in general exceed or be smaller than the conservative payment and will be repatriated or clawed‐back from repo financiers. In the process, however, the repo resolution authority takes on credit risk of the repo financiers. To manage this credit risk and to attenuate the moral hazard induced on part of repo financiers, the repo resolution authority would include as eligible only relatively high‐quality collateral; charge repo financiers an ex ante fee for the liquidity enhancement provided in case of default in a manner that is commensurate with the residual credit risk borne by the facility; require that eligible repo financiers meet prespecified solvency criteria; and impose a concentration limit at the level of individual repo financiers, as well as on the financier’s overall portfolio size.

In effect, the repo resolution authority does resemble a clearinghouse for repo contracts, in that it has the right to suspend automatic conversion of repo claims into liquidations of underlying collateral, it takes on the liquidation rights itself but ensures that its provision of liquidity to the market in case of default does not engender insolvency concerns. The repo financiers, which face participation criteria and haircuts in good times, would pass on the relevant costs to borrowers in the repo markets. Collateral that is not eligible for the repo resolution authority would remain outside of bankruptcy exemption as well as outside of the liquidity enhancement provided by the repo resolution authority; these contracts would thus be relatively subordinated in the capital structure of financial firms and they could be subject to prudential capital requirements or minimum haircut/over‐collateralization requirements (as with other parts of the capital structure of financial firms).

An important issue that our proposed resolution approach highlights is that of the desirability of granting unconditional liquidation rights (“safe harbor” provisions) to certain claims of creditors (“qualified financial contracts”) of financial institutions. The advantage of granting such rights is to extend money‐like immediacy properties to such claims and enhance the capacity of financial institutions to generate liquidity. The macro‐prudential view of financial crises highlights, however, that in times of a substantial aggregate shock, the system may be rendered incapable of granting such immediacy to all creditors of financial institutions: not all demandable deposits can be paid off without resorting to bank failures and loss of relationship loans, or not all repo or derivative counterparties can be paid off without engaging in disorderly fire‐sales and generating associated externalities.

Indeed, in much the same way that commercial bank clearinghouses in the pre‐Federal Reserve era were forced to suspend conversion of immediacy of demandable deposits in order to stem bank runs, our proposal recommends that safe harbor provisions be conditionally suspended when there has been a sufficiently adverse common shock to the financial institutions. When such systemic exception is invoked on safe‐harbor provisions, our resolution approach grants partial immediacy to the affected claims (through the repo resolution authority or the lender of last resort), but suspends immediacy of the remaining part forcing them to bear long‐run risk of the underlying collateral or assets backing the claims. The longrun risk is managed in an orderly manner by such suspension, making it clear that the clearinghouses, repo resolution authorities and the lender of last resort must also be granted asset‐liquidation rights in times of systemic crises. Equally importantly, since management of such risk exposes these authorities to potential losses, they are also granted the rights to contain a priori the extent of immediacy granted by financial firms to their creditors.

We organize the rest of the paper as follows: In Section II, we describe some specific details of the DFA, and evaluate it with respect to the efficiency of the process and its ability to mitigate moral hazard and systemic risk. In Section III, we describe how the repo market came to play such an important role in securitized banking in the US, discuss its critical role in the form of runs in the crisis, and argue a case for reforming the repo market based on our analysis. We then outline in Section IV our proposed “Repo Resolution Authority” for such reform, and compare and contrast it with an interesting precedent, the Federal Government Liquidation Corporation proposed by Senator Glass in the early 1930s, in Section V. Finally, in Section VI, we discuss how our proposed resolution mechanism for the repo market may be coordinated globally and present our concluding remarks.


A central objective of the DFA is to create a new resolution mechanism for nonbank SIFIs and bring them within the FDIC insurance model. Established in 1933, the FDIC is an independent federal agency of the US that insures deposits at its member banks and savings and loan institutions, currently up to $250,000 per depositor per institution. If a member institution fails, it is taken into receivership by the FDIC, which within a few days either facilitates a merger with another FDIC‐insured institution or pays each depositor for the insured portion of their accounts at the closed institution and then liquidates the closed institution’s assets. Since the Federal Deposit Insurance Reform Act of 2005 signed into law by President Bush in February 2006 and became effective March 31, 2006, the FDIC finances the liquidations from the Deposit Insurance Fund (DFI) to which member institutions pay an ex ante insurance fee based on the balance of insured deposits, as well as on the FDIC assessed risk the institution poses to the DFI.11 And, if further funds are needed, the FDIC can draw on a line of credit with the US Treasury. Furthermore, the FDIC deposit insurance is backed by the full faith and credit of the US government, which means that the resources of the US government stand behind FDIC‐insured depositors.

According to Sheila Bair (FDIC, 2011), the former chair of the FDIC, the DFA resolution mechanism has these basic elements:

1) Title I: The establishment of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury and comprised of members from the other financial regulatory agencies, with the responsibility of designating SIFIs or “covered companies" that will be subject to heightened supervision by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors (FRB);

2) Title I: The requirement for the preparation of detailed resolution plans—often referred to as “living wills"—by covered companies to demonstrate that they are resolvable under the bankruptcy laws if they run into severe financial stress and provide valuable advance information that will assist in implementing their orderly liquidation, if necessary;

3) Title II: The prohibition of bailouts of individual companies by providing an alternative to bankruptcy with the establishment of an OLA, which allows the FDIC to resolve nonbank financial companies by using many of the same trustee powers over systemic nonbank financial companies that it has long used to manage failed bank receiverships.

The DFA characterizes nonbank financial companies that can be covered under the OLA quite broadly. The companies eligible for covered financial company (CFC) designation include bank holding companies, nonbank financial companies supervised by the FRB and any other company predominantly engaged in activities that the FRB determined financial in nature, as well as the US subsidiaries of these eligible companies. However, the DFA resolution mechanism is an iterative process: First comes the attempted resolution as described in the living wills through the bankruptcy code in a manner that “does not pose a systemic risk”. If the attempt fails, then follows the “orderly liquidation” under the OLA, presumably avoiding the systemic risk and therefore the “too‐big‐fail” bailout of the SIFIs with the tax‐payer funds. Or so goes the theory.

The above is one of the main problems associated with the new DFA resolution mechanism. Under the DFA resolution mechanism, a failed nonbank SIFI goes through normal bankruptcy or other applicable insolvency law first.12 Only after the Secretary of the Treasury, upon recommendation by the FRB by a two‐thirds vote and a similar vote by the FDIC (or, in some cases, other involved regulators), in consultation with the President, determines that the failed financial company should be subject to OLA and the board of directors of the CFC approves the Secretary of the Treasury’s determination, the FDIC is appointed as receiver of the CFC. Otherwise, the Secretary of the Treasury files a petition with the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking judicial review of his decision. If the District Court finds the Secretary’s petition “arbitrary and capricious” within 24 hours, then the petition is denied. Otherwise, either through Court approval or, if the District Court does not make a determination within 24 hours of receipt of the petition, through operation of law, the petition is granted and the FDIC is appointed as receiver of the CFC. If the FDIC is appointed as receiver of the CFC either through the first or the second of the above processes, then the board of directors of the CFC—as well as other aggrieved parties—has 30 days to appeal the appointment of the FDIC as receiver.


There are at least two issues with the above: The first issue is that the regulators may wait too long to intervene and have no choice but to put the SIFI through the liquidation process. This is a very risky proposition in terms of systemic risk, as we describe below. The second issue is that, despite the commendable efforts to expedite the liquidation process, the procedure may not be sufficiently fast to contain the ensuing run on liabilities that can be pulled immediately. Because of these uncertainties underlying the OLA process, it is highly likely that (Acharya, Adler, Richardson and Roubini, 2010):

1) Runs on these and other short‐term liabilities of the institution will occur in anticipation of such determination, creating a self‐fulfilling OLA event;

2) Holders of the institution’s longer‐term debt and equity will try to sell their holdings in secondary markets, putting pressure on the financial firm’s position in capital markets;

3) Runs on similar financial firms may occur, essentially leading to the regulators having no choice but an OLA determination for a significant part of the financial sector.

While any insolvency procedure is subject to these problems, it is unclear how the DFA resolution mechanism will address them through the OLA.

Another problem associated with the DFA resolution mechanism is the Orderly Liquidation Fund (OLF) on which the FDIC will be authorized to draw as the receiver. In the originally proposed bill, this fund was to be financed ex ante by risk‐based assessments of the CFCs in such a way that the more systemically important the CFC, the larger the assessment. In the signed law, however, this provision was dropped. Instead, the FDIC will borrow from the Treasury and will repay the borrowings from creditors who receive funds in the OLA process that are greater than what they would have received in normal liquidation under the bankruptcy code. And, if this claw‐back is not sufficient, the FDIC will repay from ex post assessments on bank holding companies with total assets of $50 billion or more and on any nonbank SIFI.

Although the FDIC’s use of the OLF is discretionary, let us suppose that the FDIC used the OLF to finance the failed CFC as intended by the DFA. That is, the failed CFC is supplied with liquidity but a portion of its assets—presumably equal in value to the loans extended—is retained for the OLF. However, if the CFC has failed because the value of its assets is less than that of its obligations, unless it is subsidized in receivership its counterparties will not be paid in full and hence the risk of contagion will remain. Therefore, the OLA might not contain the systemic risk that the failure of a large, interconnected SIFI might undermine the financial system.

Consequently, it might be expected that the FDIC as the receiver will not use the OLF to achieve an orderly liquidation of the assets of the failed CFC, but rather will use it to bailout the failed CFC creditors. That is, to prevent contagion, the FDIC might be expected to satisfy counterparty claims that could not be paid from the assets of the failed CFC even if the assets are liquidated in an “orderly” fashion. This very likely to materialize bailout expectation—a perceived insurance that covers the losses of the creditors—creates moral hazard, the very risk the DFA aims to eliminate.

If, on the other hand, the claw‐back provision of the OLA is indeed credible and, as a result, the creditors become the de facto insurers, then the DFA would realign incentives, eliminating the potential moral hazard as intended. The question then remains whether the FDIC as the receiver can claw back the moneys paid to creditors in excess of what they would have received in normal liquidation under the bankruptcy code after the “orderly” liquidation. If the perception is that the receiver can, then the bailout will have no effect. Under this scenario, however, as soon as it is remotely perceived that a CFC will be subject to the OLA, a large scale run on the systemically important liabilities, i.e., SILs of the failed CFC and similar financial institutions will occur.

Furthermore, even after ignoring all of the problems discussed above, there remains the question of who picks up the bill if all else fails to repay the Treasury. The DFA answer to this question is the financial industry itself. But the DFA imposed ex post assessments require that even the prudent financial companies pay for the failure of the others. This would be a problem even from merely an ex post perspective as the costs to the financial system could be substantial and might weigh against the ability of the system to provide credit, creating an illiquid financial system the DFA is intended to avoid. From an ex ante perspective the problem is even worse. The DFA plan for even the healthy financial institutions to pay the creditors of failed CFCs creates a free rider problem. This encourages all financial institutions to take excessive risks, leading to an even more fragile financial system and hence increasing the likelihood of deep financial crises.

Yet another principal difficulty in writing insolvency law for SIFIs is the issue of how to treat their so‐called qualified financial contracts (QFCs). In the US under the current bankruptcy code, QFCs include forwards, swaps, repos and other OTC derivative contracts, and are essential for the functioning of SIFIs. In fact, what differentiates SIFIs from other financial institutions is essentially their substantial presence in the market for QFCs. The QFCs are related to our notion of systemically important assets and liabilities (SIALs), and whether a QFC is an SIL or SIA depends on the position taken in the QFC, as well as on the market conditions. For example, a long position in a call option is an SIA irrespective of the market conditions while a long position in an interest rate swap—that is, a fixed‐payer interest rate swap—may be either an SIL or SIA depending on the market conditions.

The current US bankruptcy code, enacted in 1978, initially provided a safe harbor from automatic stay and other bankruptcy provisions for commodity and forward contracts. In this context, safe harbor means exemption from bankruptcy proceeding whereas automatic stay means an injunction issued automatically by the bankruptcy court upon the filing of a bankruptcy that prohibits collection against the debtor or the debtor’s property. The safe harbor clause allows the counterparty to the failed financial institution to terminate the QFCs and take control of what it is owed from the assets of the failed institution. With the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) enacted in 2005, the safe harbor exception has been broadly expanded to cover such QFCs as cross‐netting provisions, credit default swaps, interest rate swaps and margin loans among other arrangements, including repos. We discuss how the BAPCPA reform of 2005 affected the repos in detail in subsequent sections. An excellent discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the safe harbor clauses for QFCs can be found in Tuckman (2010), and we briefly review these below. See also Edwards and Morrison (2004), Jackson (2009), Miller (2009), Faubus (2010), and Roe (2010), among others.

The original motivation for the safe harbor status of the QFCs in the bankruptcy code was to reduce the systemic risk in the financial system. Because most QFCs are either hedged or used as hedges continually, tying up counterparty QFC positions in bankruptcy would unwind the hedges in place and lead to wide‐scale risk exposures for leveraged institutions. Moreover, if the underlying collaterals are tied up, the loss in potential liquidity for the counterparty might also have serious consequences. Either of these problems, together with uncertainty about when the failed institution QFCs would be cleared, could cause the associated markets to freeze. Hence, the safe harbor status granted to the QFCs has some merit.

However, the reduction in systemic risk arising from QFCs avoiding the automatic stay and related provisions in bankruptcy is replaced by another form of systemic risk involving fire sales of QFCs and funding illiquidity spirals. For example, consider the repo agreements. Many repo financiers are money market mutual funds (MMMFs) subject to restrictions on average maturity of their investments. When they face default on a repo of a long‐term asset such as mortgage‐backed security (MBS), their typically overnight role as a lender in a repo financing gets translated into being the holder of a long‐term asset. As a result, the MMMFs as the repo financier may be forced to liquidate the asset upon failure of their repo counterparty. Similarly, counterparties of a failing firm in a derivative contract might need to terminate and replace the contract right away as it might be serving as a hedge of some financial risk. Then, as counterparties liquidate the repo collateral all at once, or terminate and replace their derivative positions simultaneously, with the large number of trades and multiple participants money markets and derivatives markets can be destabilized. In the recent crisis, there was considerable concern that a bankruptcy of SIFIs like AIG, Merrill Lynch or Citigroup would have forced large amounts of mortgage‐backed derivatives to be sold on the marketplace. Given widespread exposure to these securities by other financial institutions, these losses would have caused a funding liquidity freeze, resulting in even more sales and losses and therefore leading to a death spiral of large parts of the financial system.

An equally strong argument against the safe harbor is the regulatory arbitrage it creates within the system: counterparties can build up large concentrated exposures without much consequence. Specifically, because most QFCs can be engineered to mimic an underlying asset, there exist at least two claims with essentially the same economic behavior. However, these essentially same claims may be subject to different rules and therefore may have different implications for ex ante risks. For example, consider again a repo against an AAA‐rated MBS. If the MBS is held on the banking book of an SIFI, it gets treated as a long‐term holding subject typically to capital requirement against potential credit risk for a year. If the MBS is instead on the trading book as an available‐for‐sale security that is being rolled overnight in repo markets, then it gets treated as being sold and repurchased each day, so that as far as its capital requirement concerned, it is subject to market risk for only one day.

This transformation of a long‐term asset into an overnight asset is primarily because of the repo financier’s right to take over the asset in case of failure of the repo counterparty. However, as explained above, in many cases repo financiers themselves cannot own these assets in the long run and must liquidate them upon failure of their repo counterparty. Therefore, the migration of the MBS from the banking to trading book lowers the capital requirement against it throughout the financial system, since no institution is holding capital for a scenario where there is systemic illiquidity under which some institution — most likely an institution which incurred a huge illiquidity discount in the fire sale of the asset — must hold the asset for the long run.

Such distortions push counterparties toward designing complex products that can help shift assets from the banking to the trading book, which are then financed using short‐term repos in the repo market, away from the monitoring of regulators and at substantially lower capital requirements. The effective outcome is tremendous liquidity in repo markets for these products in good times, with systemic stress and fragility when the products are anticipated to experience losses. The expansion of safe harbor to repo transactions with underlying mortgagebased assets in the Bankruptcy Act of 2005 has thus been cited as one of the reasons for the growth in mortgage‐based derivatives over the period from 2005 to 2007.

The DFA essentially treats QFCs the same way the FDIC treats them in receiverships not covered by the Act. That is, at the end of the first business day after a receivership commences, counterparties would be able to exercise their rights against the CFC such as to terminate, net out, set off and apply collateral with respect to all their QFCs. Therefore, although the provision of a safe harbor under the DFA is not identical to that of the bankruptcy code, QFCs still benefit from special protection. An exception is that until the end of the first business day after commencement, the FDIC would be allowed to transfer all (and only all) of the QFCs between the CFC and a given counterparty. Although such exceptions to the safe harbor clause make some sense to the extent the systemic risk of financial institutions might vary from one situation to the next, a better approach would be (Acharya, Adler and Richardson, 2011) as follows:

1) QFCs that are liquid should keep the exemption. Liquid QFCs will cause less systemic risk in fire sales, yet still allow counterparties to manage their risk without the uncertainty generated by the bankruptcy of a SIFI. Moreover, in order to get the exemption, counterparties will have an incentive to trade in liquid QFCs.

2) QFCs that are illiquid—or potentially illiquid (such as repo contracts on MBSs)— should be subject to the ordinary rules of bankruptcy including the automatic stay. The systemic risk underlying fire sales would be avoided, especially given that complex, illiquid transactions are more difficult to unwind. Of course, this would come at the cost of general liquidity of the counterparties and impact their ability to manage risk. To the extent regulators impose capital and liquidity standards, QFCs subject to the stay should apply higher liquidity standards to the counterparty.

Lastly, as we discussed in the previous section at length, the DFA resolution mechanism is completely domestic. This is an important problem because many US SIFIs operate globally, so that they are G‐SIFIs. Furthermore, many G‐SIFIs incorporated in other countries operate in the US as well. If a G‐SIFI operating in the US needs to be liquidated in an orderly manner, the DFA cannot specify how its systemically important assets and liabilities (SIALs) in other countries will be resolved. The resolution of G‐SIFIs requires an international arrangement. Although the Financial Stability Board—established by G7 in 1999 and re‐established by G20 in 2009 to coordinate at the international level the work of national financial authorities and international standard setting bodies—issued a new international standard for resolution mechanisms in November, 2011, as we mentioned earlier, no international resolution mechanism has yet been proposed by any international body. This leaves the global financial system still wide‐open to significant systemic risk that may result from a disorderly liquidation of SIALs somewhere in the world, thereby requiring “too‐big‐to‐fail” or “too‐many‐to‐fail” or “too‐interconnected‐fail” bailouts of SIFIs everywhere, even if the DFA resolution mechanism manages to avoid a disorderly liquidation of associated US based SIALs in spite of the problems we pointed out above.


Recall that a repurchase agreement is a short‐term transaction between two parties in which one party borrows cash from the other by pledging a financial security as collateral. In a repo transaction, the collateral provider enters into a “sale and repurchase agreement” or, in short, a repo. The cash provider enters into a “purchase and resale agreement”, or, in short, a reverse repo. Hence, every repo is also a reverse repo and vice versa. The perspective depends on who is the seller and who is the purchaser.

The day the repo is initiated is called the sale date, and the day the repo is terminated is called the purchase date. The difference—if any—between the values of the collateral and loan is called the “haircut” or margin. The haircut—if any—is a protection against the counterparty risk in the transaction. In principle either the cash or the collateral provider may be subject to a haircut. When the cash provider is subject to a haircut, then the haircut is the margin required by the collateral provider as protection against the potential value gain of the collateral in case the cash provider fails to deliver the collateral on the purchase date so that the collateral provider has to buy a substitute. When the collateral provider is subject to a haircut, then the haircut is the margin required by the cash provider as protection against the potential value loss of the collateral in case the collateral provider fails to come back, and the cash provider has to take ownership of the collateral, sell it and recover the loss.

In the US repo market, loans are mostly extended overnight—that is, they are one‐day transactions. Overnight repos constitute about half of all repo transactions, and most of them are open, i.e., they roll over automatically until either party chooses to exit. Other repo transactions, called term repos, have terms longer than one day but shorter than one year, although the vast majority have maturities of three months or less. Participants in the repo market include commercial banks, investment banks, hedge funds, mutual funds, pension funds, money market funds, municipalities, corporations, and other owners of large amounts of idle cash, as well as the Fed and primary securities dealers.

The Fed participates in the repo market mainly to implement its monetary policy; primary securities dealers participate mostly to finance their market‐making and risk management activities. On the other hand, owners of large amounts of idle cash engage in the repo market mainly for two reasons: (1) to get better interest rates in the repo market compared with deposits at commercial banks, and (2) for insurance purposes; while large deposits at commercial banks are not insured, deposits at “repo banks” are secured by debt used as collateral.

A. Evolution of the US Repo Market

The repos were introduced to the US financial market by the Federal Reserve in 1917. Repos allowed the Fed to extend credit to its member banks, after a war‐time tax on interest payments on commercial paper had made it difficult for banks to raise funds in the commercial paper market. Later in the 1920s, the New York Fed used repos secured with bankers’ acceptances to extend credit to dealers to encourage the development of a liquid secondary market for acceptances. Repos fell from grace during the Great Depression after massive bank failures and low interest rates, only to make a comeback after the Treasury‐Federal Reserve Accord of 1951 “that renewed emphasis on controlling inflation rather than keeping interest rates low” (Garbade, 2006).

Early repos in the US had two distinguishing features. First, accrued interest was excluded from the price of the repo securities. Second, even though the creditor could sell or deliver the repo securities to settle a prior sale at prices that included the accrued interest during the term of the repo, ownership of the repo securities rested with the debtor. These features had the following implications: (1) the repo securities were underpriced; (2) the creditor had to remit to the debtor any coupon payments on the repo securities during the term of the repo; and (3) in the event of a bankruptcy of the debtor, the repo securities were subject to automatic stay; that is, the creditor could not take ownership of the repo securities and sell them immediately.13 These features remained intact until the early 1980s.

During the period of high inflation in the 1970s and early 1980s, rising short‐term interest rates made repos a highly attractive short‐term investment to holders of large amounts of idle cash. Increasing numbers of corporations, local and state governments, and at the encouragement of securities dealers, even school districts and other small creditors started depositing their idle cash in “repo banks” to earn interest rather than depositing money in commercial banks that did not pay interest on demand deposits. Furthermore, the US Treasury started borrowing heavily after 1974, eventually changing the status of the US from a creditor to a debtor nation and increasing the volume of marketable Treasury debt significantly. This led to a parallel growth in government securities dealers’ positions and financing, and the repo market grew by leaps and bounds. Figure 1 depicts the size of the market from January 1970 to January 1986, as reported by the Federal Reserve Board.

Figure 1: Monthly Averages of Daily Outstanding Overnight and Term Repos, 1970‐86

Source: Federal Reserve Board

The first important change to repo contracts came after the spectacular collapse of Drysdale Government Securities Inc. in 1982. Despite its limited equity, Drysdale had been acquiring substantial amounts of debt securities through reverse repos and at prices that excluded the accrued interest. Drysdale then short sold these securities to third parties at prices that included the accrued interest. Drysdale used the surplus thus generated to raise more capital and to make interest payments to its reverse repo counterparties. However, when interest rates moved against Drysdale in May 1982, the cumulative losses on its interest rate bets depleted its capital. On May 17, 1982, Drysdale failed to pay the interest on the securities it had borrowed. When that news hit the repo market, it came to a near halt, forcing the Fed to intervene as a lender of last resort to calm fears and prevent a collapse. This near collapse exposed the systemic risk associated with the exclusion of accrued interest, and therefore, largely at the encouragement of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, inclusion of accrued interest in the invoice price of repo securities became standard market practice (for details, see Garbade, 2006).

The foundation for the second important change in repo contracts was laid when another government securities dealer, Lombard‐Wall, with $2 billion in assets and comparable liabilities, collapsed three months later in August 1982. Prior to Lombard‐Wall’s August 12, 1982, filing with the Federal Bankruptcy Court of New York, there had been no precedent court case in which the question of whether repos were secured loans or independent sale and repurchase agreements was directly addressed. If repos were classified as sale and repurchase agreements, then creditors could take immediate possession of the repo securities; if, on the other hand, they were classified as secured loans, then repo securities would have been subject to automatic stay. On August 17, 1982, the Federal Bankruptcy Court of New York announced that Lombard‐Wall’s repos were secured loans and issued a restraining order prohibiting the sale of these repo securities. Although submissions by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and several others argued that this decision would undermine the liquidity of the repo market, the court reaffirmed its decision a month later (Garbade, 2006). This removed the vagueness associated with whether repos were secured loans or independent sale and repurchase agreements. Despite this ruling, investment banks, mutual funds and other large financial institutions favored the exception of repo securities from the application of automatic stay, although they seemed unwilling to write contracts that clearly stated that a repo was a pair of outright sale and repurchase transactions.14

Debates continued until another securities dealer, Lion Capital Group, collapsed in May 1984, and a bankruptcy court placed an automatic stay on Lion’s repo securities.15 Shortly thereafter, Congress ended the debates about the classification of repos by enacting the Bankruptcy Amendments and Federal Judgeship Act of 1984, exempting repos on Treasury and federal agency securities, as well as those on bank certificates of deposit and bankers’ acceptances, from the application of automatic stay. Since then, repos on these securities have been exempt from automatic stay.

Dealer delivery failures in the 1980s also gave rise to the emergence of “tri‐party repos,” in which the counterparties used a third agent, called the tri‐party agent, to manage the collateral. The tri‐party agent ensured that the collateral pledged was sufficient and met eligibility requirements, and all parties agreed to use the collateral prices supplied by the triparty agent. Today, there are only two tri‐party agents in the US, called the “tri‐party clearing banks”: Bank of New York Mellon and JPMorgan Chase. Tri‐party repos became popular partly because of these efficiency gains associated with the intermediation role of the clearing banks. Indeed, the efficiency gains, and the fact that so many institutions use it, are among the reasons the Federal Reserve uses the tri‐party repo market to implement monetary policy (Copeland, Martin and Walker, 2010). However, because these two clearing banks have a huge amount of exposure on an intraday basis, regulators expressed concerns that fears of the financial health of a major dealer or clearing bank could quickly spread contagion throughout the market. Indeed, the Fed’s decision to extend its lender of last resort support to the systemically important primary dealers during the recent financial crisis through the so‐called “Primary Dealer Credit Facility” (PDCF) was partly a result of these concerns.

The “tri‐party settlement” is one of two settlement methods used in the US16 The other is the “delivery versus payment” (DVP) method. For example, the Federal Reserve’s reverse repos are settled via the DVP method, wherein securities are moved against simultaneous payment. The Federal Reserve sends collateral to the clearing bank of its reverse repo counterparty, triggering a simultaneous movement of money against the collateral on the sale date. On the purchase date, the counterparty sends the collateral back to the Fed, which triggers the simultaneous return of the counterparty’s funds. Such repo transactions are called bilateral repo transactions. Dealers also use DVP repos to obtain funding. However, because DVP repos are not as convenient as tri‐party repos, they are believed to represent a small share of dealer funding (Copeland, Martin and Walker, 2010). There is also the GCF repo®market dealers use to exchange cash and general collateral with each other (Fleming and Garbade, 2003), as well as an interdealer repo market for less liquid collateral (Gorton and Metrick, 2009).

Although the repo market grew rapidly after the Bankruptcy Amendments and Federal Judgeship Act of 1984, until the mid‐1990s it remained confined mostly to US government debt, federal agency debt, corporate debt, and federal agency mortgage‐backed securities. However, since the mid‐1990s, it has grown to include a broad range of debt instruments as collateral: all types of private‐label MBS, such as residential mortgage‐backed securities (RMBS) and commercial mortgage‐backed securities (CMBS); all types of asset‐backed securities (ABS), such as automobile loans, credit cards and student loans; and tranches of structured products such as collateralized mortgage obligations (CMOs), collateralized loan obligations (CLOs), collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), and the like (see Gorton, 2009a).

The last significant change to the repo contracting conventions came in 2005. In April 2005, Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA), which took effect in October 2005. BAPCPA expanded the definition of repurchase agreements to include mortgage loans, mortgage‐related securities, and interest from mortgage loans or mortgage‐related securities. This meant that as of October 2005, repo contracts on even MBS, CMOs, CMBS, and CDOs backed by mortgages and the like as collateral, became exempt from automatic stay. We summarize the milestones in the evolution of the US repo market in Box 1.

Box 1: Time Line of Important Events in the US Repo Market

Furthermore, although repos collateralized by other financial securities such as corporate bonds, municipal loans and equities are excluded from the Bankruptcy Code definition of “repurchase agreements” and hence do not qualify for exemption from automatic stay for “repurchase agreements”, since they qualify as “securities contracts”, they are subject to safe harbor from automatic stay for the QFCs discussed in the previous section. To sum up, all transactions that fall under the umbrella of repos will likely be exempt from the automatic stay in bankruptcy either as "repos" or as "securities contracts" and therefore all repo transactions can be liquidated following a bankruptcy filing.

No official statistics of the actual size of the repo market have been collected since inclusion of almost all types of securitized debt as collateral was allowed in repo agreements. Therefore, there is no official information on the evolution of the size of the repo market over the past quarter of a century. Figure 2 depicts the evolution of financing by primary dealers in the US government securities market from 1996 through 2011 and offers a feel for the exponential growth of the repo market since the mid‐1990s. Meanwhile, Figure 3, reproduced from the FRBNY Task Force on Tri‐Party Infrastructure White Paper (2010), show the growth of the tri‐party repo market from May 2002 through May 2010.

Figure 2: Annual Averages of Daily Financing by US Government Securities Primary Dealers

Source: Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

Figure 3: Growth of Tri‐Party Repo Market

Source: FRBNY Task Force On Tri‐Party Infrastructure White Paper (2010).

B. Repo Market and the Crisis of 2007‐09

The financial crisis of 2007‐2009 was a crisis not only of the traditional banks, but also of the shadow banks.17 Unlike traditional banks, shadow banks did not have access to the safety nets designed to prevent wholesale runs on banks – deposit insurance and the central bank as the lender of last resort – until 2008. Although there was no wholesale run on the traditional banking system in this period, we effectively observed a run on shadow banks that led to the demise of a significant part of the shadow banking system. Since repo financing was the basis of most of the leveraged positions of the shadow banks, a large part of the run occurred in the repo market. Other important runs that occurred in this period were on mortgage lenders, asset‐backed commercial paper (ABCP) programs, structured investment vehicles (SIVs), and money market funds.

When the housing market changed course in the first quarter of 2006, the subprime mortgage market began to deteriorate. The first casualty of the continued weakness in the housing market was in the form of the collapse of two highly levered Bear Stearns hedge funds that invested in subprime mortgages on June 20, 2007. The collapse of these two hedge funds was indeed a run on a shadow bank in the repo market. The two funds (one of which at its peak was levered ten times its equity) were speculating mostly in CDOs on subprime mortgages, borrowed funds in the repo market and pledged their CDOs as collateral.

With the deterioration of the subprime market in the first half of 2007, creditors began asking the two Bear Stearns funds to post more collateral to back the repos by mid‐June 2007. When the funds failed to meet these margin calls, creditors, led by Merrill Lynch, threatened to declare the funds in default of repo agreements and seize the investments. In fact, on June 19, 2007, Merrill seized $850 million of the CDOs and tried to auction them. When Merrill was able to sell only about $100 million worth of CDOs, the illiquid nature and the declining value of subprime assets became evident. Bloomberg reported that at least seven other lenders, including Lehman Brothers and Deutsche Bank, also circulated lists of CDOs and other bonds that they were planning to sell. This shadow bank run and the systemic crisis that followed illustrate the significance of the exemption of repo securities from the application of automatic stay; had the repo securities been subject to automatic stay (or alternatives proposed below), the Bear Stearns funds could have filed for bankruptcy and the forced fire sale of their assets could have been avoided.

Eventually, the subprime mortgage decline became systemic. In early August 2007, a run ensued on the assets of three SIVs of BNP Paribas. On August 9, BNP Paribas suspended redemptions from these SIVs. BNP Paribas’s SIVs were bankruptcy‐remote entities financing their subprime holdings through the issuance of ABCPs that had essentially lost their liquidity and became non‐tradable. The announcement of the suspension of redemptions by BNP Paribas gave rise to counterparty risk concerns and caused the ABCP market to freeze. This freeze coincided with the first major jump in the LIB‐OIS spread. When fears of counterparty risk spread through markets, all short‐term debt markets ‐‐ including the repo market ‐‐ froze, only to open after central banks injected massive amounts of liquidity into the system (see Acharya and Richardson, 2009).

Based on a dataset obtained from dealer banks, Gorton and Metrick (2009) studied the repo spreads and haircuts for various types of repo securities. The spreads and the haircuts reported in their work are only for dealers; non‐dealer counterparties may have been subject to other spreads and haircuts. The repo spreads are the spreads between the three‐month repo and the three‐month OIS rates. Their results demonstrate clearly how a crisis that started in the subprime market spread like a wildfire to other types of comparable non‐transparent securitized debt, such as automobile, credit card and student loan asset‐backed securities, as well as the high‐credit‐rated structured products, such as AAA‐ and AA‐rated CLOs and CDOs.

As Gorton and Metrick claim, the increasing haircuts in the interdealer repo market may be interpreted as a run on shadow banks. Figure 4, reproduced from Gorton and Metrick (2009b), shows how that run evolved. The data they examine are the interdealer repo haircuts for the following asset classes: (1) A‐AAA Auto/Credit card/Student loan ABS; (2) AA‐AAA RMBS/CMBS; (3) < A RMBS/CMBS; (4) AA‐AAA CLOs; (5) Unpriced ABS/MBS/all subprime; (6) AA‐AAA CDOs; (7) Unpriced CLOs/CDOs (where “unpriced” means that the collateral does not have public pricing on either Reuters or Bloomberg). Of these, the categories (1)–(4) do not contain subprime mortgages and are labeled “Non‐Subprime‐Related” by Gorton and Metrick. In particular, the RMBS referred to in categories (2) and (3) are prime mortgages. The categories (5)–(7) are either directly subprime or contain subprime mortgages. CDOs, in particular, contain some subprime mortgages. Finally, using all seven categories, they also construct an equal‐weighted average repo haircut index for structured bonds.

Figure 4: Repo Haircuts on Different Categories of Structured Products


Source: Reproduced from Gorton and Metrick (2009-b).

As can be seen from Figure 4, the run on the shadow banking system in the interdealer repo market occurred in two phases. Although Bear Stearns’s hedge funds were the first victims, it was BNP Paribas’s suspension of redemptions on its three SIVs that triggered the first phase in August 2007. The failure of Bear Stearns in mid‐March 2008 was the next phase of the run in the repo markets. It was not only the interdealer repo market for less liquid collateral that Gorton and Metrick (2009) studied where repo runs occurred. FRBNY White Paper (2010) states that “(a)t several points during the financial crisis of 2007‐2009, the tri‐party repo market took on particular importance in relation to the failures and near‐failures of Countrywide Securities, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers. The potential for the tri‐party repo market to cease functioning, with impacts to securities firms, money market mutual funds, major banks involved in payment and settlements globally, and even to the liquidity of the US Treasury and Agency securities, has been cited by policy makers as a key concern behind aggressive interventions to contain the financial crisis.”

Consider for instance the “run” on Bear Stearns.18 As an intrinsic part of its business, Bear Stearns relied day‐to‐day on its ability to obtain short‐term finance through secured borrowing. At this time, Bear was reported to be financing $85 billion of assets, primarily mortgage‐backed securities (MBS), on the overnight market (Cohan, 2009). Beginning late Monday, March 10th, rumors spread about liquidity problems at Bear Stearns. Counterparties became unwilling to lend on customary terms. In particular, Federated and Fidelity – two money markets usually rolling over $5 billion each of repo financing to Bear – did not roll over. This unwillingness to fund on a secured basis placed enormous stress on the liquidity of Bear Stearns. On Tuesday, March 11, the holding company liquidity pool declined from $18.1 billion to $11.5 billion (see Figure 5). On Thursday, March 13, Bear Stearns' liquidity pool fell sharply and continued to fall on Friday. In the end, the fear of repo financiers that they would be left with highly illiquid MBS collateral to sell in the market led to a “run” and the near failure of the firm and was eventually sold with assistance of the Federal Reserve to J P Morgan. In contrast to the smoothly rising haircuts in the bilateral repo market shown in Figure 4, financing terms for Bear Stearns in the tri‐party repo system did not rise dramatically, but it experienced a sudden freeze or a “run” from some of its largest repo financiers who feared acquiring the underlying collateral and fire‐selling it in an illiquid market.

Figure 5: Bear Stearns' Liquidity Pool Just before Its Near Failure


Source: SEC Chairman Christopher Cox's letter to Basel Committee in support of New Guidances on Liquidity Management, available at: http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2008/2008-48.html

After Bear Stearns collapsed in March 2008, the Fed introduced its most radical change in monetary policy since the Great Depression by extending its lender of last resort support to the systemically important primary dealers through the new Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF). However, even this extension of the lender of last resort facility did not prevent the run on Lehman Brothers, as investors realized that this support was not unconditional and unlimited (see Acharya et al, 2009).19

Indeed, using data collected by the FRBNY to document quantitative features of this market, Copeland, Martin and Walker (2010) studied the tri‐party repo market and demonstrated that haircuts in the tri‐party repo market barely moved during the crisis. They found that both the level of haircuts and the amount of funding were surprisingly stable in this market during the period from July 2008 to early 2010 for which they had data.20 Although the stability of the margins was in contrast to evidence from other repo markets, they provided evidence that “this apparent stability did not prevent the tri‐party repo market from contributing to the problems experienced by Lehman Brothers, … The available evidence suggests that runs in the tri‐party repo market may occur precipitously, more like traditional bank runs, rather than manifest themselves in the form of large increases in margins.” Figure 6, reproduced from Copeland, Martin and Walker (2010), provides a feel for the run on Lehman in the tri‐party repo market they documented (see, Copeland, Martin and Walker, 2010, for details).

Figure 6: Lehman Brother's Tri-Party Repo Book by Collateral Type


Source: Copeland, Martin and Walker (2010)

With the Lehman bankruptcy on September 15, 2008, the repo market on even US government debt, federal agency debt, corporate debt and federal agency mortgage‐backed securities came to a near halt, and settlement fails of primary dealers skyrocketed. Table 1 shows a quarterly summary of the primary dealer settlement fails from the first quarter of 2007 to the last quarter of 2009. Figure 7 provides a quarterly summary of the effects of the run on the repo market on the financing of primary dealers after Lehman’s collapse. As shown, it was the borrowing ability of the primary dealers that went down significantly, not their lending ability. Since this may be interpreted as large withdrawals from the broker‐dealer shadow banks in the repo market, Figure 7 also illustrates the disappearing confidence in the shadow banking system and the severity of the run on shadow banks. When the Fed and the US government let Lehman collapse, the next in line for a run, Merrill Lynch, had to merge with Bank of America. Shortly thereafter, the two remaining independent broker‐dealers, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, were forced to convert to bank holding companies and were formally put under supervision and regulation of the Federal Reserve. In fact, the entire Wall Street system of independent broker‐dealers collapsed in a matter of seven months (see Acharya et al, 2009).

Figure 7: Quarterly Averages of Daily Financing by U.S. Government Securities Primary Dealers, 2006‐2011


Source: Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

Table 1: Settlement Fails of US Government Securities Primary Dealers during the Crisis, 2007‐2009 ($ Billions)

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

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1 This article has been prepared for the Federal Reserve Board’s research conference on “Central Banking: Before, During and After the Crisis”, on March 23‐24, 2012, in honor of Don Kohn. Authors are deeply indebted to Barry Adler, Nouriel Roubini and Matt Richardson, for collaborations and discussions on earlier work on the issue of resolution mechanisms for systemically important financial firms. Authors are also grateful for discussions on the issues of safe harbor for repo contracts and repo‐market related systemic risks with Rocco Huang, Antoine Martin, Enrico Perotti and Mark Roe, and comments from discussants (Andrew Crockett and Ricardo Caballero) and participants at the Federal Reserve Board Conference. Last, but not least, we would like to thank George Kaufman for bringing the Glass proposal to our attention.

2This definition is based on Acharya, Pedersen, Philippon and Richardson (2010). See, for example, Kaufman and Scott (2003) for other definitions.

3HR 4173, Title II, “Orderly Liquidation Authority,” Sec. 204, “Orderly Liquidation of Covered Financial Companies.”

4See, Acharya, Adler, Richardson, and Roubini (2010) and Acharya, Cooley, Richardson, and Walter (2011) for detailed discussions.

5If there is any remaining shortfall, the FDIC can levy an assessment on all financial companies deemed an SIFI by the involved regulators.

6Had the MMMFs offered floating rather than stable NAV, there might not have been a run on the Reserve Primary Fund, entailing the system‐wide run on all MMMFs, of course. However, in such a scenario, all MMMFs would be disintermediated by the bank money market accounts rapidly.

7www.financialstabilityboard. org/press/pr_111104dd.pdf


9A detailed discussion of our approach, originally proposed by Acharya, Adler and Richardson (2011), can be found in their document whereas a detailed analysis of many reasons that warrant macro‐prudential regulations rather than micro‐prudential regulations can be found in Acharya (2011).

10 The proposal and discussion to follow elaborate on the initial case the authors made in Acharya and Öncü (2010).

11For a history prior to 2006, see: http://www.fdic.gov/deposit/insurance/history.html

12We acknowledge at the outset that our discussion of the OLA is based on the Dodd Frank Act’s “letter of the law”, whereas it is clear from its specific implementation that is currently underway that some of the criticisms we raise concerning OLA are being partly addressed. Since the implementation details are still evolving, our presentation of the OLA can be interpreted as a “straw man” representing the micro‐prudential view of resolution authority, rather than simply as a criticism of the Dodd‐Frank Act’s vision of the OLA. We note, however, that most of the fixes under the OLA’s implementation of concerns we raise also operate at the level of individual financial institutions, rather than taking a collective or macro‐prudential view of the resolution authority (as we propose).

13However, there appears to have been some deliberate vagueness about this until a government securities dealer, Lombard‐Wall, collapsed in 1982, and the Federal Bankruptcy Court of New York imposed an automatic stay on the repo securities that Lombard‐Wall had used as collateral. See: http://www.nytimes.com/1982/12/17/business/lombard‐wall.html This point had always been uncertain until the 1982 and 1984 amendments to Code 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. In a “true sale,” the buyer is not subject to the automatic stay. For instance, if an automobile dealer bought a car from GM the day before it filed for bankruptcy, it could resell the car without asking for permission of the court. However, if the deal were financed by GM, the dealer would need a court order to sell the car. The repo transactions are structured formally as a true sale, free of the automatic stay. The question was, and still is, whether courts would reclassify it as a secured transaction. Before 1982/4, this would inflict the stay on the collateral taker. After 1982/4, it would only affect the rights of a secured party, which are more limited than the rights of a buyer.

14Even if they did, a court would be free to reclassify them.

15“Lion Capital’s Collapse Raises Issue of Unresolved Legal Status of ‘Repos’”, Wall Street Journal, May 8, 1984.

16See Copeland, Davis, LeSeur and Martin (2012) for an excellent yet brief overview of the U.S. Repo Market, as of June 25 2012.

17A shadow bank is a nonbank financial institution that behaves like a bank, borrows short‐term in rollover debt markets, leverages itself significantly, and lends and invests in longer‐term in illiquid assets. Unlike banks, however, the shadow banks are much less regulated (Acharya and Öncü, 2010).

18The discussion that follows is based on the Securities and Exchange Commission press release on March 20, 2008 entitled, “Chairman Cox Letter to the Basel Committee in Support of New Guidance on Liquidity Management,” available at: http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2008/2008‐48.htm

19While the largest haircut jump in Figure 4 corresponds to the collapse of Lehman on September 15, 2008, the second largest jump, which came in the summer of 2008, corresponds to traditional bank runs on likely insolvent banking institutions, such as IndyMac, Washington Mutual and Wachovia.

20This finding is also corroborated in Krishnamurthy, Nagel and Orlov (2011), who also attribute the relative stability of the tri‐party repo market to the substitute for repo funding provided by Fed‐initiated liquidity facilities against illiquid collateral, especially following the collapse of Bear Stearns.

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