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Silicon Valley Bank failure has investors calling for government aid

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Big names in Silicon Valley and the finance sector are calling publicly for the federal government to push another bank to assume Silicon Valley Bank’s assets and obligations after the financial institution failed on Friday.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) will cover up to $250,000 per depositor and may be able to begin paying those depositors as early as Monday.

But the vast majority of SVB’s customers were businesses that had more than that on deposit at the bank. As of December, more than 95% of the bank’s deposits were uninsured, according to regulatory filings. Many of these depositors are startups, and many are concerned that they will not be able to make payroll this month, which in turn could spark a wide wave of failures and layoffs in the tech industry.

Investors are concerned that these failures could reduce confidence in the banking sector, particularly mid-sized banks with under $250 billion in deposits. These banks are not deemed “too big to fail” and do not have to undergo regular stress tests or other safety valve measures passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Venture capitalist and former tech CEO David Sacks called for the federal government to push another bank to buy SVB’s assets, writing on Twitter, “Where is Powell? Where is Yellen? Stop this crisis NOW. Announce that all depositors will be safe. Place SVB with a Top 4 bank. Do this before Monday open or there will be contagion and the crisis will spread.”

VC Mark Suster agreed, tweeting, “I suspect this is what they’re working on. I expect statements by Sunday. We’ll see. I sure hope so or Monday will be brutal.”

Investor Bill Ackman made a similar argument in a lengthy tweet, writing, “The gov’t has about 48 hours to fix a-soon-to-be-irreversible mistake. By allowing @SVB_Financial to fail without protecting all depositors, the world has woken up to what an uninsured deposit is — an unsecured illiquid claim on a failed bank. Absent @jpmorgan @citi or @BankofAmerica acquiring SVB before the open on Monday, a prospect I believe to be unlikely, or the gov’t guaranteeing all of SVB’s deposits, the giant sucking sound you will hear will be the withdrawal of substantially all uninsured deposits from all but the ‘systemically important banks’ (SIBs).”

Benchmark partner Eric Vishria wrote, “If SVB depositors aren’t made whole, then corporate boards will have to insist their companies use two or more of the BIG four banks exclusively. Which will crush smaller banks. AND make the too big to fail problem way worse.”

Since its founding almost 40 years ago, SVB had become a centerpiece of finance in the tech industry, particularly for startups and the VCs who invest in them. The firm was known for extending banking services to early-stage startups which would have struggled to get banking services elsewhere before generating stable cash flow. But the firm itself faced cashflow problems this year as startup financing dried up and its own assets were locked down in long-term bonds.

The company surprised investors on Wednesday with news that it needed to raise $2.25 billion to shore up its balance sheet, and that it had sold all its available-for-sale bonds at a $1.8 billion loss. Reassurances from the bank’s executives were not enough to stop a run, and depositors withdrew more than $42 billion by the end of the day Thursday, setting up the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history.

Many in the tech community blamed VCs for spurring the run, as many told their portfolio companies to put their money into safer places after SVB’s Wednesday announcement.

“This was a hysteria-induced bank run caused by VCs,” Ryan Falvey, a fintech investor at Restive Ventures, told CNBC on Friday. “This is going to go down as one of the ultimate cases of an industry cutting its nose off to spite its face.”

Observers are calling out the irony as some VCs with notoriously libertarian free-market attitudes are are now calling for a bailout. For instance, reactions to Sacks’ tweet included statements like “Excuse me, sir. Suddenly the government is the answer?!?” and “We capitalists want socialism!

Some politicians opposed any bailout, with Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., tweeting, “If there is an effort to use taxpayer money to bail out Silicon Valley Bank, the American people can count on the fact that I will be there leading the fight against it.”

But financier and former Trump communications director Anthony Scaramucci argued, “It isn’t a political decision to bailout SVB. Don’t make the Lehman mistake. It isn’t about rich or poor of who benefits, it’s about stopping contagion and protecting the system. Make depositors whole or expect lots of tragic unintended consequences.”

Hugh Son and Ari Levy contributed to this story.





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