Just a few years ago, central bankers dared not breathe the word rehypotehcation - after all it was the secret fabric that held the shadow banking system together, which was a critical hub to perpetuating the central bankers' plan of reflating assets and creating a wealth effect if only for the 1%, while keeping the rest content with free Obamaphones and endless promises of "trickling down" which four years into Bernanke's grand monetary experiment has yet to materialize. Then, little by little, more and more started to realize that the shadow banking system, whose fiath-based (sic) liabilities amount to somewhere between $60 and $100 trillion (of credit money) globally, is precisely the inflation buffer that has allowed central banks to engage in round after round of QE, which has sent global stocks to all time highs, while keeping the world mired in the longest economic depression since the 1930s (explained here).
Of course, the one inadvertent side effect of all this constant meddling which be definition requires the monetization of quality collateral in order to generate new fungible money, was the gradual disappearance of all such quality assets which private investors could buy, then pledge back via repo and other conduits and use proceeds for risky investments. Such as Treasurys. Which is why recently none other than the TBAC warned that the US is suddenly facing a $10+ trillion high quality collateral shortage in the next decade. As we have also explained, this is a major problem for the Fed which at current rates of QEeing, will monetize all Treasury duration exposure in roughly 5 years - at that point there will be virtually no collateral left and the Fed will be finally out of both tools and ammo. Which in turn is why the Fed is desperate to restore the "moneyness" of assorted private sector assets in the time it still has with QE, and convert them to "high quality collateral" status, or eligible for repo and money creation via conventional bank conduits.
Indeed, the TBAC admitted as much in the confidential appendix to its Q2 slide presentation to the US Treasury when it said:
Private sector generation of moneylike collateral helps policymakers over long periods by:
- Slowly reducing the demand for money
- Increasing financial deepening
- Supporting financial globalization
The more restricted the private sector’s ability to create safe, liquid, and moneylike collateral, the harder the public sector must work to supply it through deficits and easy monetary policy.
We will have more to say on this in a future post when we discuss just what the real catalysts for the Fed's unwind are (hint: nothing to do with the market, and nothing to do with inflation or unemployment) and what Ben Bernanke is seeking to accomplish. It is a fascinating topic, and one which we are confident means Bernanke's replacement will be none other than... Bernanke.
But before we go there, a key thing to ponder is that in all activities involving shadow banking, and now that quality collateral, in its definition of being "accepted by all", is scarcer than ever, involve the rehypothecation of certain assets using collateral chains of assorted lengths, which in turn dilute the links of title and ownership between owner and owned, in some cases (like MF Global and Lehman) to infinity, in effect confiscating an asset and plunging it into the bottomless abyss of the shadow banking system.
Furthermore, as we reported recently, none other than Europe has started a crack down on rehypothecation. We are confident that once Deutsche Bank et al realize that this may in fact be serious - a development which would, if completed, collapse their ability to operate on shadow margin and extend their asset base, they will promptly put an end to the silliness.
However, the good news is that with every incremental public instance of the rehypothecation discussion, more are focusing their attention on just how it is that true credit money creation works in the modern world (hint: nothing at all like how the textbook monetarists, Magic Money Tree growers, and all those others who still rely on economic concepts developed in the 1980s and before think).
The most recent, and perhaps most notable, observation on the topics of asset encumbrance, collateral and rehypothecation was none other than the BIS with its just released report titled appropriately enough, "Asset encumbrance, financial reform and the demand for collateral assets." In this report, variants of the word "rehypothecate" appear no less than 24 times. More importantly, the whole point of the paper is to serve as a warning, which means that slowly but surely the world's bankers are finally willing to expose in broad daylight (ironically), the true risks permeating the real financial system located deep in the shadows, where maturity, risk and collateral transformation all take place, however without the nuisance of deposits. Whether this is so they can abuse it all over again (most likely) or out of actual altruistic (unlikely) motivates, is unclear.
However, for those still confused by what remains a very nebulous topic for most, here is what the BIS has to say on the key topic of rehypothecation and its assorted instances in modern finance.
Rehypothecation and reuse of collateral assets
Rehypothecation refers to the right of financial intermediaries to sell, pledge, invest or perform transactions with client assets they hold; and it allows prime brokers and other financial intermediaries to obtain funding using their client collateral. Collateral reuse, in turn, usually covers a broader context where securities delivered in one transaction are used to collateralise another transaction, including the ability to reuse collateral through change in (temporary) ownership. Yet the terms rehypothecation and reuse of securities are often used interchangeably; they do not have distinct legal interpretations.
Certain types of collateral rehypothecation (and reuse) can play an important role in financial market functioning, increasing collateral velocity and potentially reducing transaction and liquidity costs. Rehypothecation decreases the (net) demand for collateral and the funding liquidity requirements of traders, since a given pool of collateral assets can be reused to support more than one transaction. This lowers the cost of trading, which is beneficial for market liquidity.
Securities lending-type transactions (including collateral swaps), which have been structured as collateralised loans, would not exist without rehypothecation. In the repo market, participants would not be able to cover short positions without the ability to reuse collateral. However, repos do not directly rehypothecate collateral because they are structured as a sale and repurchase transaction.
While certain types of rehypothecation can be beneficial to market functioning, if collateral collected to protect against the risk of counterparty default has been rehypothecated, then it may not be readily available in the event of a default. This, in turn, may increase system interconnectedness and procyclicality, and could amplify market stresses. Therefore, when collateral is rehypothecated, it is important to understand under what circumstances and the extent to which the rehypothecation has occurred; or in other words, how long the collateral chain is.
And some of the more vocal warnings:
A particular aspect that has received considerable scrutiny in the policy debate on securities financing markets is the extent to which rehypothecation activities should be permitted. The recent crisis experience suggests that greater reliance on rehypothecation in financial intermediaries’ balance sheets will increase interconnectedness and make them more vulnerable to financial shocks. Rehypothecation of client assets can also delay the recovery of assets or even impose losses on beneficial owners. In addition, it can prompt intermediaries to build up leverage in good times, contributing to increased procyclicality of the financial system.
But most importantly:
Financial intermediaries should provide sufficient disclosure to clients when collateral assets posted by them are rehypothecated; rehypothecation should be allowed only for the purpose of financing the long position of clients and not for financing the own-account activities of the intermediary; and only entities subject to adequate regulation of liquidity risk should be allowed to engage in the rehypothecation of client assets.
Ironically, using rehypothecation for the purposes of financing the own-account activities of the intermediary, is precisely what happens every single day in every single, and certainly TBTF large (see JPM) bank.
Could it be that some of the forces behind the bank of central banks are starting to realize just how close to the precipice the world truly is and are now actively cautioning their private sector peers to step back from the ledge or everyone gets it?
If so, and here is a chance this is true, we expect to see one of the most epic public-private sector conflicts in financial history, because in a world rapidly devoid of collateral and quality assets against which to margin and build leveraged operations, without rehypothecation the ability to generate mindnumbing bonuses for the banker superclass becomes null and void.
And after all, preserving the cash flow associated with levering every possible asset as many times as inhumanly possible and wagering it, preferably with zero risk, in a coopted and manipulated market, is what it is all about...