Where European Banks Store Their Cash: Foreign Banks Domiciled In US See Cash Hoard Spike Back To Record Highs

Anyone looking at the broad headline data from the weekly commercial bank asset (H.8) release could rush to the superficial conclusion that cash assets at US-based financial institutions is approaching all time highs, which, again superficially, it is, at $1.9 trillion, the highest in 2012, and just shy of the all time highs of $1.936 trillion from July 2011. Further superficial analysis would lead one to believe that there is a notable divergence between total US bank cash (the bulk of its procured via repoing of previously purchased securities) and the weekly excess reserve balance indicated by the Fed. All these would be useful, if completely, wrong observations. The only relevant and accurate observation in this week's H.8 data is that foreign banks domiciled in the US have taken their cash balance back to all time highs, which at $918 billion is in the ballpark of the highest it has ever been, and merely confirms what everyone has known: the only reason the US market has benefited in the last several months is due to flight to safety into what, for whatever reason, is perceived as the safety of the US capital markets. At some point, this record cash balance will once again flow out, even as US bank cash holdings remain as flat as they have been for the past 3 years.

Foreign (read European) commercial banks located in the US have seen their cash holdings soar by $315 billion since April, or roughly since the time Europe start imploding once again after the LTRO 2 myth fizzled. What does this mean? That the tumble in the EUR in the past 4 months was driven primarily by European banks selling their currency and hoarding USD in US-subs. What, however, is notable is that this cash was not used to purchase US securities, but stayed inert to provide a cash buffer, supposedly to keep European banks in compliance with various Basel and other capitalization requirements. It also means that the market which has been looking at this number as potential dry powder for future purchases of stocks and bonds, has been dead wrong, and all it will take is for a sustained rise in the EUR for the cash balance to revert back out of the US, and into the holding level companies of the European banks which currently save dollars in the US.

Finally, what all this means is that, as we suggested two weeks ago, simple promises of future intervention by central banks will be insufficient, as US banks, whose cash balances have not budget in years, are now cash starved and in order to push the market to a new, higher level, they will require actual investable cash, i.e., reserves deposited by the Fed. Because ironically, risk flight out of one market and into another, does nothing for the aggregate level of global equities. Absent freshly printed money, the global stock markets will lurch from Europe to the US to Asia back to Europe indefinitely, until everyone develops terminal vertigo and gives up at which point not even the algos will be able to trade with each other.