End of easy money exposes banking sector’s fragility

The recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) has unveiled underlying fragilities within the international banking sector, with repercussions felt as far as Asia's regional banks. Share prices of some regional banks had fallen by 5-10% in the aftermath. Meanwhile, Credit Suisse (CS) shares plummeted, stoking fear about the health of the global financial system. Although its share price experienced a rebound on the day after following the Swiss National Bank's commitment to provide support of up to US$54 billion, investors are nervously weighing the contagion risks.

Implications of SVB and CS's Struggles on the Banking Sector

In retrospect, bank stocks have experienced considerable gains in recent months, with many investors having accumulated larger stock positions. The downfall of SVB has not only spurred a general trend of profit-taking across the banking industry but has also led to short-term deposit outflows from regional banks. Consequently, the regional banking sector may have to grapple with more stringent credit conditions and heightened financial stress.

In the US, the Federal Reserve has taken measures to mitigate the potential ripple effects of SVB's collapse by assuring full compensation for SVB and Signature Bank depositors. Furthermore, it has established the Bank Term Funding Program (BTFP) to ensure the availability of additional liquidity.

In the short term, the Federal Reserve is expected to prioritize financial stability and public confidence over the most recent Consumer Price Index (CPI) data. As a result, it is anticipated that the Fed will modify the pace of rate hikes during its upcoming FOMC meeting, along with the extent of monetary tightening, to alleviate the impact of SVB's collapse on the financial sector.

In the fixed income space, net price fluctuations have not been as volatile as equity share prices, factoring in the drop of U.S. Treasury yields. Given the current fragile market sentiment, cautious is merited in exposure to global and Asian banking sectors, particularly Tier 2 and Additional Tier 1 bonds, is highly advisable.

To stave off systemic risks, it is crucial for global regulators to address and ring fence the stresses in the financial sector swiftly. When the dust settles, there could be calls to strengthen the financial regulatory framework where fault lines have been uncovered.

At present, the Asian banking sector may experience some secondary effects; however, the direct fundamental impact appears to be limited. As the industry navigates this precarious landscape, the importance of prudent risk management and proactive regulatory action cannot be overstated.