Repos, Fire Sales, and Bankruptcy Policy
Last Updated: 12/07/12
The events from the 2007–09 financial crisis have raised concerns that the failure of large financial institutions can lead to destabilizing fire sales of assets. The risk of fire sales is related to exemptions from bankruptcy's automatic stay provision enjoyed by a number of financial contracts, such as repo. An automatic stay prohibits collection actions by creditors against a bankrupt debtor or his property. It prevents a creditor from liquidating collateral of a defaulting debtor, since collateral is a lien on the debtor's property. In this paper, we construct a model of repo transactions, and consider the effects of changing the bankruptcy rule regarding the automatic stay on the activity in repo and real investment markets. We find that exempting repos from the automatic stay is beneficial for creditors who hold the borrowers' collateral. Although the exemption may increase the size of the repo market by enhancing the liquidity of collateral, it can also lead to subsequent damaging fire sales that are associated with reductions in real investment activity. Hence, policymakers face a trade-off between the benefits of investment activity and the benefits of liquid markets for collateral.