Last updated: 09:57 / Wednesday, 17 June 2015
Study by Fitch Ratings

What Could Happen on a Fire-Sale of Corporate Bonds Pledged as Collateral in the Tri-Party Repo Market?

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What Could Happen on a Fire-Sale of Corporate Bonds Pledged as Collateral in the Tri-Party Repo Market?
  • Corporate bond collateral characteristics could raise risks of a forced unwinding of repo-funded trades in a scenario where risk aversion increases sharply
  • Cash investors such as MMFs could also be forced to sell collateral in the event of a dealer default
  • New York Fed researchers have estimated that up to $250 million per day in corporate bonds can be liquidated without negatively affecting bond prices
  • Total corporate bond tri-party repo collateral averaged approximately $75 billion in 2014

A new Fitch Ratings study of corporate bond liquidity takes a different approach to the topic by focusing on the characteristics of corporate bonds pledged as collateral in the tri-party repo market. The analysis identifies key features of a sample of bond collateral that could contribute to the risk of fire sales, or forced selling of collateral in a repo funding squeeze.

Corporate bond collateral characteristics such as long-dated maturities, low trading frequency and industry concentration ('wrong way' risk) could raise risks of a forced unwinding of repo-funded trades in a scenario where risk aversion increases sharply. Such risk aversion could limit the ability of dealers to finance securities in the repo market. Cash investors such as MMFs could also be forced to sell collateral in the event of a dealer default.

Maturity mismatches between short-term repos and the long-term corporate bond collateral they finance could exacerbate fire sale risk if repo trades are unwound quickly. Over 90% of the bonds in Fitch Rating's collateral sample have maturities of one year or more. These bonds carry greater interest rate risk, and could be more difficult to sell in a period of market dislocation.

Fed officials have highlighted the risk that fire sales of securities could amplify price dislocation in a period of market turmoil. New York Fed researchers have estimated that up to $250 million per day in corporate bonds can be liquidated without negatively affecting bond prices. Total corporate bond tri-party repo collateral averaged approximately $75 billion in 2014. Forced selling of even a small fraction of that amount could accelerate price pressure during periods of market stress.

The Fitch study is based on a broad survey of corporate bonds pledged as collateral by dealers in the tri-party repo market as of Dec. 31, 2014. Data was reported by prime money market funds in their monthly N-MFP filings made with the SEC.

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