Signs of pain as easy cash era ends are growing
LONDON – The easy-cash era is over and markets are feeling the pinch from the sharpest jump in interest rate in decades.
The collapse of U.S.-lender Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) in early March after heavy losses on its bond portfolio as rates climbed was a wake-up call for markets that monetary tightening will likely bring more pain.
Since late 2021, big developed economies including the United States, euro area and Australia have raised rates by almost 3,300 basis points collectively.
Here’s a look at some potential pressure points.
Banks remain at the top of the worry list after the collapse of SVB, as well as Credit Suisse’s forced merger with UBS, sparked turmoil across the banking sector.
Global bank stock rout deepens as SVB collapse fans crisis fears
Investors are alert to which other banks might be sitting on unrealized losses in government bonds, the prices of which have dropped sharply as rates have risen.
The SVB bond portfolio losses have highlighted similar risks for Japanese lenders’ gigantic foreign bond holdings, which carry over 4 trillion yen ($30 billion) in unrealized losses.
Japanese, European and U.S. banks stocks, while off recent lows, are still well below levels seen just before SVB’s collapse.
Darlings no more
As the SVB collapse showed, stress in the tech sector can quickly ripple out across the economy.
Tech firms are reversing pandemic-era exuberance, with Google owner Alphabet, Amazon and Meta in March conducting their latest rounds of layoffs after years of hiring sprees.
Meta plans to cut thousands of jobs more as soon as this week – Bloomberg News
Housing markets in U.S. tech hubs such as Seattle and San Jose are cooling more rapidly than in other regions, real estate broker Redfin Corp says.
In commercial property, a restructuring by Pinterest will see the social media company exit office leases.
Investors wary of global stress should keep their eyes on Silicon Valley, as ructions in this major U.S. industry cause aftershocks in Europe and beyond.
Rising rates pose a threat to sub-investment grade companies, which have to pay up when refinancing their maturing debt and risk defaulting on it.
S&P expects U.S. and European default rates to reach 3.75 percent and 3.25 percent , respectively by September, more than double the 1.6 percent and 1.4 percent in September 2022. Pessimistic forecasts of 6 percent and 5.5 percent not “out of the question”, it says.
Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid wrote this week that “corporates are more levered now than during the great financial crisis and this cycle could ultimately be more corporate default focused versus financials.”
Having benefited from an influx of cash during the easy-money era, cryptocurrencies have felt pain as rates rose last year, then gained on recent signs that tightening could end soon.
The most popular cryptocurrency, bitcoin, has been an unexpected beneficiary of broader market turmoil, surging around 40% in just 10 days.
Analysts attributed the gains to market expectations that rate hikes were nearing their peak, support risk-sensitive assets such as bitcoin.
But there are reasons for caution towards crypto assets — the collapse of various high-profile crypto firms last year left crypto customers shouldering large losses, while U.S. authorities are increasingly cracking down on the crypto sector’s largest players.
Rising rates operate with a time lag, which means the impact on rate-sensitive housing markets has yet to be fully felt.
A distressed debt index compiled by law firm Weil Gotshal & Manges showed that real estate remains the most distressed sector by some margin in Europe and the UK.
Economists are also worried that commercial property could be the next shoe to drop if global banking woes trigger a broader credit crunch for the multi-trillion-dollar sector that was already under pressure.
Capital Economics said that U.S. commercial real estate (CRE) prices have fallen by 4-5 percent from their peak in mid-2022 and expects a further 18-20 percent drop.
The reliance of the sector on lending from small and mid-tier banks — which provide about 70 percent of outstanding loans to CRE — is worrisome as those banks are facing pressure on their deposit base, the firm noted.
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