Securities Law Prof Blog

Editor: Eric C. Chaffee
Univ. of Toledo College of Law

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Utset on Systemic Risk

Complex Financial Institutions and Systemic Risk, by Manuel A. Utset, Florida State University College of Law, was recently posted on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This Article takes a novel approach to the “too-big-to-fail” problem. It begins by asking a foundational question: given the extraordinary volume of transactions between complex financial institutions, what mechanisms do these institutions use to deal with the transactional risks created by their mutual complexity? I explore two general approaches available to them. A party can acquire information to pierce through the complexity - an information-intensive strategy. But since information costs increase with complexity, at some point the costs will be so great that a party will enter into the transaction only if it can transact “blindly”. A blind strategy is one in which one party treats the other as a “black box” and protects itself by using other types of contractual mechanisms. I develop a theory of “blind-debt” contracting and show that a debtholder can transact blindly by taking sufficient collateral and making maturities infinitesimally small. In the period leading to the recent crisis, financial institutions increasingly turned to overnight repos - which are essentially, collateralized overnight debt - to finance their operations. As the maturity of repos became increasingly short they began to resemble a second type of blind debt - demand deposits. As institutions became increasingly dependent of blind debt they open themselves to the same type or “runs” to which demand deposit accounts are susceptible. I then develop various legal implications, particularly with regard to the Dodd-Frank Act.

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