Monday, March 13, 2023

Who Killed Silicon Valley Bank? - WSJ

Everyone, except SVB management it seems, knew interest rates were heading up. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has been shouting this from the mountain tops. Yet SVB froze and kept business as usual, borrowing short-term from depositors and lending long-term, without any interest-rate hedging.

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The bear market started in January 2022, 14 months ago. Surely it shouldn’t have taken more than a year for management at SVB to figure out that credit would tighten and the IPO market would dry up. Or that companies would need to spend money on salaries and cloud services. Nope, and that was mistake No. 2. SVB misread its customers’ cash needs. Risk management seemed to be an afterthought. The bank didn’t even have a chief risk officer for eight months last year. CEO Greg Becker sat on the risk committee.

As customers asked for their money, SVB had to sell $21 billion in underwater longer-term assets, with an average interest rate around 1.8%. The bank lost $1.8 billion on the sale and tried to raise more than $2 billion to fill the hole.

The loss flagged that something was wrong. Venture capitalists, including Peter Thiel, suggested that companies in their portfolios should withdraw their money and put it somewhere safer. On Thursday the dam broke and there was no way to cover billions in withdrawal requests.


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