Why America’s financial plumbing has seized up

HOUSEHOLDS ARE frantically stocking up on essentials such as loo roll. But in financial markets, the staple that no one can do without in times of stress is cash—the flushing mechanism of the world economy. In theory, it should never dry up; money can be printed. But when firms are desperate for cash it puts a potentially devastating strain on the plumbing of the global financial system. That is why in the past week America’s Federal Reserve has unleashed a huge amount of liquidity. Foreign central banks have joined in. Many face the additional challenge of a strengthening dollar (see article).

Unlike the 2007-09 financial crisis, when problems in the financial system caused an economic meltdown, the spread of the covid-19 disease has caused a health and economic crisis that has caught banks, financial markets and business in its wake. Big and small firms realise that they are facing— at the least—months of scant revenues, yet still have bills and debts to pay.

Some are better equipped than others (see left-hand chart). The operating expenses (opex), like wages and rent, of all nonbank S&P 500 companies in 2019 amounted to $2.6trn. The same firms held $1.7trn in cash and liquid securities at the end of that year. On average, that was about seven...



via The Economist: Finance and economics Business Feeds

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