Treasury Secretary Yellen to tell Congress ‘our banking system remains sound’

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is set to tell members of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday the U.S. banking system remains “sound” as the impacts of three bank failures in less than a week continue to be felt in financial markets and beyond.

“I can reassure the members of the Committee that our banking system remains sound, and that Americans can feel confident that their deposits will be there when they need them,” Yellen is set to tell the Senate ahead of a scheduled hearing on President Biden’s proposed budget. “This week’s actions demonstrate our resolute commitment to ensure that depositors’ savings remain safe.”

On Sunday, Yellen, in conjunction with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and FDIC Chair Martin Gruenberg, announced the government would backstop all deposits from failed Silicon Valley Bank after its seizure last Friday.

“Importantly, no taxpayer money is being used or put at risk with this action,” Yellen will say. “Deposit protection is provided by the Deposit Insurance Fund, which is funded by fees on banks.”

The Federal Reserve also said Sunday it would offer funding to banks through a new facility to help ensure banks could meet all depositor withdrawals, essentially backstopping all deposits — both those insured and uninsured — across the U.S. financial system.

Yellen’s prepared remarks will also reiterate that shareholders and debtholders of failed banks are being protected by the government.

New York’s Signature Bank, which served clients in the cryptocurrency world, was also seized by regulators Sunday, becoming the third-largest bank ever to fail in the U.S. Silicon Valley Bank is the second-largest failure on record, eclipsed only by Washington Mutual in 2008.

Bond credit rating agency Moody’s on Tuesday downgraded the U.S. banking system and put six banks on notice for a downgrade.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen testifies before a U.S. House Ways and Means Committee hearing on President Joe Biden’s fiscal year 2024 Budget Request on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 10, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

In the wake of these failures and seizures, lawmakers have begun to call for a look into the collapse.

The top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), told Yahoo Finance Tuesday that a rollback in capital requirements is to blame for the collapse and said hearings will be held soon to better understand what went wrong.

Waters called for repealing a 2018 law that loosened capital requirements for smaller banks and said everything is on the table, including clawing back executive compensation.

In the days since regulators took these emergency actions, markets have been exceptionally volatile with liquidity — the ability to move in and out of trades quickly — in U.S. Treasuries drying up.

The yield on 2-year Treasury notes, which are seen as the closest proxy for expected Fed action, has moved more than 0.20% for five straight days, the longest streak in over 40 years, according to data from Bespoke Investment Group.

Yellen’s appearance on Capitol Hill comes as other regulators begin to lay the groundwork for examining this week’s events, with SEC chair Gary Gensler telling reporters Wednesday afternoon the SEC is looking at money markets to examine vulnerabilities across the financial system.

“We’re looking at the entire money market fund and broader fund complex to see what exposures they might have if an entity is in distress or if an entity goes into bankruptcy or receivership,” Gensler said.

“The markets this last week, the market plumbing — and I distinguish that from the companies — the market plumbing has been operating reasonably well, but there’s a lot of volatility.”

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