A Record $2 Trillion In Deposits Over Loans - The Fed's Indirect Market Propping Pathway Exposed

Perhaps one of the most startling and telling charts of the New Normal, one which few talk about, is the soaring difference between bank loans - traditionally the source of growth for banks, at least in their Old Normal business model which did not envision all of them becoming glorified, Too Big To Fail hedge funds, ala the Goldman Sachs "Bank Holding Company" model; and deposits - traditionally the source of capital banks use to fund said loans. Historically, and logically, the relationship between the two time series has been virtually one to one. However, ever since the advent of actively managed Central Planning by the Fed, as a result of which Ben Bernanke dumped nearly $2 trillion in excess deposits on banks to facilitate their risk taking even more, the traditional correlation between loans and deposits has broken down. It is time to once again start talking about this chart as for the first time ever the difference between deposits and loans has hit a record $2 trillion! But that's just the beginning - the rabbit hole goes so much deeper...

There are many reasons why the deposit hoard has continued to rise in the past 4 years, and according to the latest H.8 statement just hit a record $9.173 trillion as of December 12. This compares to $7.259 trillion in the week after the Lehman collapse: an increase of $1.9 trillion.

One contributing factor to this surge in deposits is the collapse in the Commercial Paper market (driven in big part due to the ongoing lack of counterparty faith as well as the ongoing Fed intervention in every possible market which has the paradoxical impact of eliminating confidence in the system and the desire by corporations to be able to fund themselves at a moment's notice come hell or high water) coupled with the unlimited insurance of various deposits courtesy of the government's Transaction Account Guarantee (TAG) program, which however will expire in 5 days, and which has made deposits the preferred pathway of preserving liquidity "dry powder" for both corporations and individuals.

But perhaps the biggest driver of the surge in deposits is the Fed's own ongoing liquidity tsunami, which using various traditional and shadow conduits has injected nearly the entire $2 trillion amount into the banking system (as Excess Reserves, Reverse Repos, Deposits with Federal Reserve Banks, and Other Fed Liabilities which combined conveniently amount to just about $1.8 trillion), which then via reflexive shadow pathways, most notably repo, has translated into an actual excess of cash to the bank's balance sheet: perfectly fungible cash which can then be used for any generic purpose: such as prop trading under the guise of "hedging" as JPM so vividly demonstrated a few months back. More on this in a second.

While the source of the cash for record deposits - i.e., the ever so incorrectly classified "cash on the sidelines" is debatable (but not much), one thing is certain: the total issuance of loans since the Lehman collapse in September of 2008 has barely budged and has increased by a whopping... -120.6 billion! That's a negative.

Indeed, in the past 4+ years, bank loan issuance has declined from $7.27 trillion to $7.15 trillion! To keep up with the increase in deposits, at least based on the historical relationship between deposits and loans, this number would have to be $2 trillion higher today, or some $9.2 trillion - money that would be going to individuals, households, and small, medium and large businesses to fund expansion and growth (instead the gross debt issuance frenzy we have seen over the past 3 years is only to refinance existing debt and lower rates: i.e., not only zero, but negative net issuance).

At least we can put to rest any debate whether banks are willing, able or even interested to lend out money in an unprofitable Net Interest Margin environment, such as that the Fed has created currently courtesy of ZIRP and courtesy of constant fronrunning of the Fed's purchases on the long-end.

If that was all, we could end this post here and tell readers to make up their own mind about what is truly happening behind the scenes. But there is much more to discuss about this record excess of deposits over loans. And the "more" is something that was only recently discovered, courtesy of a massive blunder by none other than JPM's Jamie Dimon. It is important to expose the "more" as it is in stark contrast with the conventional thinking adopted by much of the mainstream media (and even us until some time in May of 2012).

The conventional, or wrong way of thinking about the excess funding used by banks is best exemplified by this following headline from a August 20 Bloomberg article titled, "Banks Use $1.77 Trillion to Double Treasury Purchases."

In it the BBG authors note, correctly, that there was an excess $1.77 trillion in deposits over loans: a number which has since risen to $2.019 trillion as this post observes. Where the article is dead wrong is in its explanation of what the banks use said money for. Because while banks may or may not have used the excess cash for Treasury purchases (recall that we first highlighted that Primary Dealers held a record $140 billion in net Treasurys as of the latest week), the reality is that US Treasury paper is most certainly not what the final use of proceeds is.

Recall that as we have been describing for the past 3 years, a primary driver of "growth" in the US market, if not economy, has been the ability to transform asset and liability exposure off the books using various shadow conduits. The primary such conduit is and has always been repo funding (and various other forms of limited and/or unlimited rehypothecation made so popular after the collapse of MF Global). What repo does is it allows banks to exchange their holdings of Security X (in this case trasury) in exchange for nearly par cash courtesy of some custodian bank - and when it comes to the US non tri-party repo market there are only two: State Street and Bank of New York.

The biggest benefit of Repo financing is that the bank can still hold the original pledged security on its books for Fed "supervision" purposes, even as it obtains fungible cash equivalents via repo, cash which it can then use for whatever downstream purposes it desires such as purchasing stocks. This is where it gets confusing, and certainly confused our friends at Bloomberg who arrived at the wrong conclusion in their analysis.

A good summary of what really happens under the hood when account for repo comes from Citi's brilliant head of credit, Matt King, and his legendary note from September 5, 2008 "Are The Brokers Broken?" (which should be required reading for everyone), where he described the scheme as follows:

Paragraph 15 of the accounting rule FAS 140 stipulates that the amount referred to on the balance sheet statement need only be “collateral pledged to counterparties which can be repledged to other counterparties”. A further portion of the financial instruments owned – which is in many cases substantial – is reported in the 10-Q footnotes of “collateral pledged to counterparties which cannot be repledged”. An example might be tri-party repo, where until recently some custodians could not cope with the administrative complications of rerepoing received collateral. Although the assets themselves have always featured on the balance sheet, the fact that this non-repledgeable portion too is funded on repo is less widely appreciated. The combined volume – once it is arrived at – comes close to 50% of all financial instruments owned.

And this is where everyone loses the plotline, because the reality is that virtually half the balance sheet of US brokers can be repoed back to custodians, in the process leading to double, triple, and x-ple counting a single asset serving as deliverable collateral, and using and reusing (if need be), the cash proceeds, net of a token haircut (or no haircut in the case of English rehypotecation transactions), every single time purchasing riskier assets to generate a return on a return on a return of the original investment. In short: the magic of off-balance sheet accounting which allows brokers to abuse their already TBTF status and lever any underlying asset to the helt and beyond.

Think of Shadow Banking as your own in house synthetic structured product, allowing virtually unlimited leverage.

"Pure Hogwash!" One may say. "These are ridiculous allegations with no base in reality." One may add. We thought so too until the JPM "whale trade" fiasco happened, and all the dirt of the synthetic deposit-funding repo pathways was exposed for all to see.

Presenting Exhibit A, which comes directly from page 24 of JP Morgan's June 13 Financial Results appendix, in which the firm laid out, for all to see, just how it is that the Firm generated over $5 billion in prop trading losses in its Chief Investment Office unit - a department which had previously been tasked with "hedging" trades but as it turned out, was nothing but a glorified, and blessed from the very top, internal hedge fund, one with $323 billion in Assets Under Management! To wit:

The chart above shows the snapshot - from the horse's mouth -of how a major "legacy" bank, one engaged in both deposits and lending, decided to use the "deposit to loan gap" which had swelled to $423 billion at just JPM (blue box in middle), and led to $323 billion in CIO "Available For Sale securities."

What happened next is well-known to all: JPM's Bruno Iksil, together with Ina Drew and the rest of the CIO group (all of whom have since been dismisses), decided to put on a massive bet amounting to over $100 billion in notional across the credit spectrum (the one place where a position of this size could be established without becoming the entire market, although by the time it imploded Bruno Iksil was the market in IG9 and various other indices and tranches). The loss was just as staggering, and amounts to what is one of the largest prop bets gone horribly wrong in history.

Now the JPM spin is well-known: the CIO was merely there to "hedge" exposure, as a direct prop bet would be illegal as per the Volcker Rule, not to mention the avalanche of lawsuits and the regulatory nightmare that would ensue if it became clear that the firm was risking what amount to deposit capital to fund massive, highly risky prop trading bets. Which, when one cuts out the noise, is precisely what JPM did of course, especially since the "hedge" trade blew up just as the market tumbled in the spring of 2012, a time when it should have otherwise hedged the balance of the firm's otherwise bullish posture. That it did not do this refutes the logic that this was a hedge, and confirms that what JPM was doing was nothing short of using an internal, heavily shielded hedge fund, which had $323 billion in collateral as investible equity, to trade away, knowing very well no regulator would dare touch JPM. This is further compounded by the fact, that as one of only two Tri-Party repo dealers in the market (and by far the greater of the two, the second one being the innocuous Bank of New York Mellon), JPM could run circles around both the entire market, and the Fed, if it so chose, courtesy of its monopoly position in the repo market.

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So where does that leave us?

Well, instead of JPM's "deposit to loan gap" discussion, whose massive loss (but, but, hedging...) was the dominant topic on the airwaves for a large part of the summer of 2012, we have the US financial system's "deposits to loan gap" - amounting to some $2 trillion - to contend with. But the punchline is that whereas JPM's decided to express its prop risk using fixed income instruments, and certainly not to buy simple boring Treasurys as the Bloomberg article speculated earlier, nothing prevented JPM from simply bidding up other risky assets "as a hedge" such as stocks, or crude, or slamming silver, or doing anything else it was perfectly entitled to do using the repledging mechanics of the repo system. And since Jamie Dimon has not yet given a full P&L breakdown listing CUSIP by CUSIP just what instruments JPM depositors were funding - either directly or indirectly - nobody actually knows just what securities the CIO was long or short.

The question then becomes: just how are the remaining hundreds of depositor US banks expressing their own iteration of the JPM CIO "deposits over loans" problem? Are they all trading CDS in the IG or HY space? Are they using repo proceeds from TSY purchases to generate fungible cash? Or are they simply using the cash directly and using it to big up risk assets?

All these questions will remain unanswered as it is in both the banks' and, therefore, regulators' best interests to keep the accounting behind repo, pledging and hypothecation transactions as is - nebulous, complicated and even contradictory (especially when it comes to FAS 140 whose paragraph 15 (d) makes borrowed versus pledged transactions off balance sheet, while paragraph 94 makes them on balance sheet), as overhauling the reporting requirements would expose just how much double-, triple-, quadruple- and more dipping America's major money centers are engaged in when it comes to propping up the market: dirt that would put the result of any "Audit the Fed" outcome to shame.

And after all, why should the Fed dirty its hands when it can simply provide the banks with the cash resources to do what they need without it having to engage in what is certainly illegal based on any of its charters. Because while the Liberty 33 Plunge Protection Team may, on occasion, engage the Citadel trading desk to buy ES at times when nobody else will step up, it certainly will not have to do so all the time if it were to flood banks with $2 trillion (soon to be $3, then $4 trillion as QE4EVA drags on and on and on...) in perfectly fungible capital, which can be metamorphozed from innocuous Excess Reserves to perfectly tradeable cash using two or three simple shadow banking transformations.

In that regard, we have to thank Jamie Dimon and his firm for being the biggest beacon of light in 2012, because without the generous contribution of the JPM CIO desk, and its explanation of how the "deposit to loan gap" we would all still be in the dark, and just like Bloomberg, assume naively that all a bank does with excess trillions in deposits, is to buy boring old treasurys.

Instead, we now know the truth, and for that Jamie - you have our sincerest gratitude.

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Finally, the indirect implication of all this is for all those demanding that the "money on the sidelines" leaves the sidelines and is once again used by companies. The problem is that said money is already used by banks as prop trading capital: likely all $2 trillion of it (and if re-hypothecated, more) - in other words, if instead of being used by banks to prop up corporate stocks and risk in general, companies revert to the old mentality of actually reinvesting in themselves - i.e, CapEx spending, hiring new people, even M&A and generally growth - the fungible cash used by banks as investing capital will be redeemed and result in commensurate sales of stocks. Which means that should said "sideline capital" ever be pulled back by the same companies who are now granting, unbeknownst to them, direct asset management duties of said cash by the US banks, then watch out below, at least in the S&P. Which, as the Fed has made all too clear, is the only thing that matters in the New Normal.