As part of its latest quarterly review, the BIS has examined the shortage of US dollars in the international banking system.
Global banking activity had grown remarkably between 2000 and mid- 2007. As banks’ balance sheets expanded, so did their appetite for foreign currency assets, notably US dollar-denominated claims on non-bank entities, reflecting in part the rapid pace of financial innovation during this period.
European banks, in particular, experienced the most pronounced growth in foreign claims relative to underlying measures of economic activity.
We explore the consequences of this expansion for banks’ financing needs. In a first step, we break down banks’ assets and liabilities by currency to examine cross-currency funding, or the extent to which banks fund in one currency and invest in another (via FX swaps). After 2000, some banking systems took on increasingly large net on-balance sheet positions in foreign currencies, particularly in US dollars. While the associated currency exposures were presumably hedged off-balance sheet, the build-up of large net US dollar positions exposed these banks to funding risk, or the risk that their funding positions could not be rolled over.
To gauge the magnitude of this risk, we next analyse banks’ US dollar funding gap. Breaking down banks’ US dollar assets and liabilities further, by counterparty sector, allows us to separate positions vis-à-vis non-bank end users of funds from interbank and other sources of short-term funding. A lowerbound estimate of banks’ funding gap, measured as the net amount of US dollars channelled to non-banks, shows that the major European banks’ funding needs were substantial ($1.1–1.3 trillion by mid-2007). Securing this funding became more difficult after the onset of the crisis, when credit risk concerns led to severe disruptions in the interbank and FX swap markets and in money market funds. We conclude with a discussion of how European banks, supported by central banks, reacted to these disruptions up to end- September 2008. "
On the European Banks' reactions to the crisis:
Banks reacted to this shortage in various ways, supported by actions taken by central banks to alleviate the funding pressures. Since the onset of the crisis, European banks’ net US dollar claims on non-banks have declined by more than 30% . This was primarily driven by greater US dollar liabilities booked by European banks’ US offices, which include their borrowing from the Federal Reserve lending facilities. Their local liabilities grew by $329 billion (13%) between Q2 2007 and Q3 2008, while their local assets remained largely unchanged.
This allowed European banks to channel funds out of the United States via inter-office transfers (right-hand panel), presumably to allow their head offices to replace US dollar funding previously obtained from other sources.
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