Sunday, April 17, 2011
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.