“The Fed Got Us Into the SVB Mess”

That’s the headline on The Wall Street Journal‘s Sunday Letters section. There’s also this from a letter by Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute:

The real lesson from SVB’s failure is that things break when the Fed is forced to raise interest rates at an unusually rapid rate to regain inflation control.

And this, from another Letter-writer in that section:

…the Fed sowed the seeds of the current crisis as SVB stretched for yield in a zero-interest-rate environment and then failed to manage its duration risk. The Fed’s efforts to micromanage the economy creates unforeseen problems that continue to erupt.

No, and no.

There is much to criticize regarding the Fed’s interest rate moves, but they’re irrelevant to SVB’s and Signature Bank’s failures.

The Fed’s interest rate increases may have been done at an unusually rapid rate, but they still occurred over a period of months—12 of them in fact: the first increase in the current series was way back in March 2022. The Fed’s moves were part of the environment in which these two failed banks operated, nothing more. It was the management teams of two failed banks who failed to deal with the environment in which they operated.

The idea that the Fed’s moves—micromanaging our economy or other moves—created unforeseen problems is risible on its face. Any pupil in a high school economics class knows that bond (and other debt instrument) prices move in the opposite direction from interest rates: as rates rise, existing bond prices fall. SVB’s and Signature’s managers surely are high school graduates; they knew full well that their reserve holdings, held almost entirely in long-term Treasuries and mortgage-backed debt instruments, were falling in value for the entire year that the Fed had been raising interest rates. The failure of these two banks to pay attention to their reserves is entirely and solely the fault of those two banks’ management teams.

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