A UK Banking Crisis Looms?

My columns have turned rather apocalyptic of late, but for a valid reason. Just this week, we got confirmation that our financial system is, again, on the brink of collapse, when the Bank of England (BOE) was forced to enact, de facto, a bailout of the pension funds of the United Kingdom.

On Sept. 28, around noon, the Bank of England stepped (back) into the gilt markets and started buying government bonds with longer maturities to stop the collapse in their value, which could have caused the financial system to become unhinged. Pension funds were faced with major margin calls, which threatened to cause a rapidly cascading run on their liabilities, as trust in their liquidity and solvency would have become questioned by a widening circle of investors and customers.

Effectively, the BOE stepped in to limit the vicious circle of margin calls faced by pension funds because of the crashing values of the gilts.

Without the BOE intervention, mass insolvencies of pension funds, with about $3 trillion worth of assets—and thus most likely other financial institutions—could have commenced on that afternoon. It’s obvious that if one of the major financial hubs of the world, the City of London, would face a financial panic, it would spread to the rest of the world in an instant.

It looks as though the global financial system was pulled from the brink of collapse, once again, by central bankers. However, this was only a temporary fix.

It’s now clear that an outright financial collapse threatens all Western economies, because if pension funds, often considered very dull investors because of their risk-averse investing profile, face a threat to their insolvency, it can happen to any other financial institution. I consider that the banking sector will be the next in line.

Banking is a business of trust. If the trust in a bank or in the unlimited support of authorities for the bank, disappears, a bank run commences.

One of the most prominent scholars of financial crises, Gary B. Gorton, defines a financial crisis in his book “Misunderstanding Financial Crises: Why We Don’t See Them Coming” as “an event where holders of short-term debt issued by financial intermediaries withdraw en masse or refuse to renew their loans.”

In common language, Gorton says that during financial crises, a large number of holders of banks’ financial liabilities, such as deposits, want to cash out. Hence the name: a bank run.

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