Money, Banking, and Financial Markets

Understand the principles, understand the future

As summer ends, 17 million students head to college. Nearly 40 percent are borrowing to do it. Over the past 15 years, the number of people with student loans nearly doubled and now stands at roughly 45 million―that’s about one in four adult Americans. Furthermore, the amount of debt has virtually tripled to just over $1.5 trillion, so the average loan is something like $35,000. Politicians, reporters, and researchers characterize this as a crisis. Is it?

Our answer is yes. While the majority of those with student loans are able to handle them, a large fraction cannot. Despite the strong labor market, nearly 7 million people, or more than 15 percent, are over 90 days late on payments or in outright default (see here). Since virtually all of this debt comes through federal programs, the government has created the problem. What should policymakers do about it?

Publication of LIBOR―the London Interbank Offered Rate―will likely cease at the end of 2021. This is the message U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) CEO Andrew Bailey sent in 2017 when he announced that, after 2021, the FCA would no longer compel reluctant banks to respond to the LIBOR survey. Given the small number of underlying LIBOR transactions, and the reputational and legal risks banks face when submitting survey responses based largely on their expert judgement, we expect that most banks will then happily retreat. In just over two years, then, the FCA could declare LIBOR rates “unrepresentative” of financial reality and it will vanish (see, for example, here).

Most financial experts know this. Yet, LIBOR remains by far the most important global benchmark interest rate, forming the basis for an estimated $400 trillion of contracts (as of mid-2018; see Schrimpf and Sushko), about one-half of which are denominated in U.S. dollars (as of end-2016; see Table 1 here). While the use of alternative reference rates is increasing rapidly, to beat the LIBOR-countdown clock, the pace will have to quicken substantially. In the United States, the outstanding notional value of derivatives linked to the alternative secured overnight reference rate (SOFR) jumped from less than $100 billion to more than $9 trillion in just the past year (see SIFMA primer). Yet, this amount still represents a small fraction of outstanding dollar-LIBOR-linked instruments.

In this post, we examine the U.S. dollar LIBOR transition process, highlighting both the substantial progress and the major obstacles that still lie ahead. The key goal of the transition is to ensure that the inevitable cessation of LIBOR does not trigger system-wide disruptions. Unfortunately, at this stage, count us among those that remain deeply concerned….

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Further commentary, click here.

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... the site where you can learn about finance and economics. We provide commentary on events in the news and on questions of more lasting interest. Because the financial system is constantly evolving, our analysis is informed by a set of core principles: understand the principles, understand the future. The opening excerpts of our two most recent posts appear above. For prior posts, click on the Commentary link to the left, or on the month-by-month Archives to the right. Alternatively, if you are interested in a specific topic, use the tags.

The site also provides material related to our textbook, Money, Banking and Financial Markets, 5th edition, 2017. The Five Core Principles on which the book is based are highlighted here. In addition, Cecchetti and Schoenholtz 5e systematically integrates the use of economic and financial data from FRED, the online database provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Click on FRED Lessons on the left to access help on how to use this incredible resource.

Steve Cecchetti and Kim Schoenholtz

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