Endogenous choice of bank liquidity: the role of fire sales

Working papers set out research in progress by our staff, with the aim of encouraging comments and debate.
Published on 23 November 2009

Working Paper No. 376
By Viral V Acharya, Hyun Song Shin and Tanju Yorulmazer

Banks’ liquidity is a crucial determinant of the adversity of banking crises. In this paper, we consider the effect of fire sales and entry during crises on banks’ ex-ante choice of liquid asset holdings. We consider a setting with limited pledgeability of risky cash flows relative to safe ones and a differential expertise between banks and outsiders in employing banking assets. When a large number of banks fail, market for assets clears only at fire-sale prices and outsiders enter the market if prices fall sufficiently low. In such states, there is a private benefit of liquid holdings to banks from purchasing assets. There is also a social benefit since greater banking system liquidity reduces inefficiency from liquidation of assets to outsiders. When pledgeability of risky cash flows is high, for instance, in countries with well-developed capital markets, banks hold less liquidity than is socially optimal due to risk-shifting incentives; otherwise, banks may hold even more liquidity than is socially optimal to capitalise on fire sales. However, if there is a systemic cost associated with crises, for example, in the form of fiscal costs associated with provision of deposit insurance, then socially optimal liquidity may always be higher than the privately optimal one, and, in turn, regulation in the form of prudent liquidity requirements may be desirable. We provide some international evidence on banks’ liquid holdings that is consistent with model’s predictions.  

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