On Friday, March 10, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) collapsed and was taken over by federal regulators. SVB was the 16th largest bank in the country and its bankruptcy was the second largest in U.S. history, following Washington Mutual in 2008. Despite its size, SVB was not a “systemically important financial institution” (SIFI) as defined in the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires insolvent SIFIs to “bail in” the money of their creditors to recapitalize themselves.
Technically, the cutoff for SIFIs is $250 billion in assets. However, the reason they are called “systemically important” is not their asset size but the fact that their failure could bring down the whole financial system. That designation comes chiefly from their exposure to derivatives, the global casino that is so highly interconnected that it is a “house of cards.” Pull out one card and the whole house collapses. SVB held $27.7 billion in derivatives, no small sum, but it is only .05% of the $55,387 billion ($55.387 trillion) held by JPMorgan, the largest U.S. derivatives bank.
SVB could be the canary in the coal mine foreshadowing the fate of other over-extended banks, but its collapse is not the sort of “systemic risk” predicted to trigger “contagion.” As reported by CNN: