Market liquidity is crucial for well-functioning capital markets. There has been a quite lot of talk about diminished market liquidity and the role of machines in it (see, e.g. Q-review 4/2017, this and this). These are worrying developments.
However, while market liquidity is crucial for markets, global financial flows, i.e. liquidity, is also essential to the real economy and for global economic growth. The availability of credit on a global basis fuels investments and growth around the world. Such financial flows fell by a massive 90 % during the 2008 crisis, which quickly translated into a global recession. Investment and consumption collapsed almost everywhere, with the exception of China where a massive credit stimulus was enacted.
Since then, there has been an uneven recovery. Cross-border bank lending has never really recovered (see Q-review 1/2017), but the issuance of vast amounts of government and corporate debt has taken its place. This creates a serious risk for the global real economy if highly over-valued capital markets crash.
The metamorphosis of global liquidity
In its recent quarterly report, the Bank of International Settlements, or BIS, raises three crucial points for global liquidity:
Global outside-US dollar denominated debt has risen to a record.
The role of non-bank institutions on providing funding has increased.
The composition of international credit has shifted from bank loans to debt securities.
Combined with the asset purchase programs of central banks (QE) these developments have far-reaching consequences for the global economy.
Currently, non-banking institutions and households outside the US hold over 11.5 trillion worth of dollar-denominated debt—a record. The “shadow banking” sector could conceivably hold the same amount. This means that all policies affecting global dollar liquidity, will have a large effect on the global economy.
The increased role of non-bank institutions in providing credit means that an increasing proportion of international finance comes from unregulated sources. Effectively, this means that these institutions, including money market funds, investments banks, etc., have unwittingly assumed even bigger risks in their lending practices than commercial banks.