Credit crunch

Last updated

A credit crunch (also known as a credit squeeze or credit crisis) is a sudden reduction in the general availability of loans (or credit) or a sudden tightening of the conditions required to obtain a loan from banks. [1] A credit crunch generally involves a reduction in the availability of credit independent of a rise in official interest rates. In such situations, the relationship between credit availability and interest rates changes. Credit becomes less available at any given official interest rate, or there ceases to be a clear relationship between interest rates and credit availability (i.e. credit rationing occurs). Many times, a credit crunch is accompanied by a flight to quality by lenders and investors, as they seek less risky investments (often at the expense of small to medium size enterprises). [2]

Loan transfer of money that must be repaid

In finance, a loan is the lending of money by one or more individuals, organizations, or other entities to other individuals, organizations etc. The recipient incurs a debt, and is usually liable to pay interest on that debt until it is repaid, and also to repay the principal amount borrowed.

Bank financial institution

A bank is a financial institution that accepts deposits from the public and creates credit. Lending activities can be performed either directly or indirectly through capital markets. Due to their importance in the financial stability of a country, banks are highly regulated in most countries. Most nations have institutionalized a system known as fractional reserve banking under which banks hold liquid assets equal to only a portion of their current liabilities. In addition to other regulations intended to ensure liquidity, banks are generally subject to minimum capital requirements based on an international set of capital standards, known as the Basel Accords.

Interest rate percentage of a sum of money charged for its use

An interest rate is the amount of interest due per period, as a proportion of the amount lent, deposited or borrowed. The total interest on an amount lent or borrowed depends on the principal sum, the interest rate, the compounding frequency, and the length of time over which it is lent, deposited or borrowed.



U.S. household debt relative to disposable income and GDP. U.S. Household Debt Relative to Disposable Income and GDP.png
U.S. household debt relative to disposable income and GDP.

A credit crunch is often caused by a sustained period of careless and inappropriate lending which results in losses for lending institutions and investors in debt when the loans turn sour and the full extent of bad debts becomes known. [3] [4]

Debt deferred payment, or series of payments, that is owed in the future

Debt is when something, usually money, is owed by one party, the borrower or debtor, to a second party, the lender or creditor. Debt is a deferred payment, or series of payments, that is owed in the future, which is what differentiates it from an immediate purchase. The debt may be owed by sovereign state or country, local government, company, or an individual. Commercial debt is generally subject to contractual terms regarding the amount and timing of repayments of principal and interest. Loans, bonds, notes, and mortgages are all types of debt. The term can also be used metaphorically to cover moral obligations and other interactions not based on economic value. For example, in Western cultures, a person who has been helped by a second person is sometimes said to owe a "debt of gratitude" to the second person.

A bad debt is a monetary amount owed to a creditor that is unlikely to be paid and, or which the creditor is not willing to take action to collect for various reasons, often due to the debtor not having the money to pay, for example due to a company going into liquidation or insolvency. There are various technical definitions of what constitutes a bad debt, depending on accounting conventions, regulatory treatment and the institution provisioning. In the USA, bank loans with more than ninety days' arrears become "problem loans". Accounting sources advise that the full amount of a bad debt be written off to the profit and loss account or a provision for bad debts as soon as it is foreseen.

There are a number of reasons why banks might suddenly stop or slow lending activity. For example, inadequate information about the financial condition of borrowers can lead to a boom in lending when financial institutions overestimate creditworthiness, while the sudden revelation of information suggesting that borrowers are or were less creditworthy can lead to a sudden contraction of credit. Other causes can include an anticipated decline in the value of the collateral used by the banks to secure the loans; an exogenous change in monetary conditions (for example, where the central bank suddenly and unexpectedly raises reserve requirements or imposes new regulatory constraints on lending); the central government imposing direct credit controls on the banking system; or even an increased perception of risk regarding the solvency of other banks within the banking system. [2] [5] [6]

In lending agreements, collateral is a borrower's pledge of specific property to a lender, to secure repayment of a loan. The collateral serves as a lender's protection against a borrower's default and so can be used to offset the loan if the borrower fails to pay the principal and interest satisfactorily under the terms of the lending agreement.

Central bank public institution that manages a states currency, money supply, and interest rates

A central bank, reserve bank, or monetary authority is the institution that manages the currency, money supply, and interest rates of a state or formal monetary union, and oversees their commercial banking system. In contrast to a commercial bank, a central bank possesses a monopoly on increasing the monetary base in the state, and also generally controls the printing/coining of the national currency, which serves as the state's legal tender. A central bank also acts as a lender of last resort to the banking sector during times of financial crisis. Most central banks also have supervisory and regulatory powers to ensure the solvency of member institutions, to prevent bank runs, and to discourage reckless or fraudulent behavior by member banks.

The reserve requirement is a central bank regulation employed by most, but not all, of the world's central banks, that sets the minimum amount of reserves that must be held by a commercial bank. The minimum reserve is generally determined by the central bank to be no less than a specified percentage of the amount of deposit liabilities the commercial bank owes to its customers. The commercial bank's reserves normally consist of cash owned by the bank and stored physically in the bank vault, plus the amount of the commercial bank's balance in that bank's account with the central bank.

Easy credit conditions

Easy credit conditions (sometimes referred to as "easy money" or "loose credit") are characterized by low interest rates for borrowers and relaxed lending practices by bankers, making it easy to get inexpensive loans. A credit crunch is the opposite, in which interest rates rise and lending practices tighten. Easy credit conditions mean that funds are readily available to borrowers, which results in asset prices rising if the loaned funds are used to buy assets in a particular market, such as real estate or stocks.

Bubble formation

U.S. house price trend (1987-2008) as measured by the Case-Shiller index. Between 2000 and 2006 housing prices nearly doubled, rising from 100 to nearly 200 on the index. Case-shiller-index-values.jpg
U.S. house price trend (1987–2008) as measured by the Case-Shiller index. Between 2000 and 2006 housing prices nearly doubled, rising from 100 to nearly 200 on the index.

In a credit bubble, lending standards become less stringent. Easy credit drives up prices within a class of assets, usually real estate or equities. These increased asset values then become the collateral for further borrowing. [7] During the upward phase in the credit cycle, asset prices may experience bouts of frenzied competitive, leveraged bidding, inducing inflation in a particular asset market. This can then cause a speculative price "bubble" to develop. As this upswing in new debt creation also increases the money supply and stimulates economic activity, this also tends to temporarily raise economic growth and employment. [8] [9]

The credit cycle is the expansion and contraction of access to credit over time. Some economists, including Barry Eichengreen, Hyman Minsky, and other Post-Keynesian economists, and some members of the Austrian school, regard credit cycles as the fundamental process driving the business cycle. However, mainstream economists believe that the credit cycle cannot fully explain the phenomenon of business cycles, with long term changes in national savings rates, and fiscal and monetary policy, and related multipliers also being important factors.

Inflation increase in the general price level of goods and services in an economy over a period of time

In economics, inflation is a sustained increase in the general price level of goods and services in an economy over a period of time. When the general price level rises, each unit of currency buys fewer goods and services; consequently, inflation reflects a reduction in the purchasing power per unit of money – a loss of real value in the medium of exchange and unit of account within the economy. A chief measure of price inflation is the inflation rate, the annualized percentage change in a general price index, usually the consumer price index, over time. The opposite of inflation is deflation.

An economic bubble or asset bubble is trade in an asset at a price or price range that strongly exceeds the asset's intrinsic value. It could also be described as a situation in which asset prices appear to be based on implausible or inconsistent views about the future. Asset bubbles date back as far as the 1600s and are now widely regarded as a recurrent feature of modern economic history. Historically, the Dutch Golden Age's tulip mania is often considered the first recorded economic bubble.

Economist Hyman Minsky described the types of borrowing and lending that contribute to a bubble. The "hedge borrower" can make debt payments (covering interest and principal) from current cash flows from investments. This borrower is not taking significant risk. However, the next type, the "speculative borrower", the cash flow from investments can service the debt, i.e., cover the interest due, but the borrower must regularly roll over, or re-borrow, the principal. The "Ponzi borrower" (named for Charles Ponzi, see also Ponzi scheme) borrows based on the belief that the appreciation of the value of the asset will be sufficient to refinance the debt but could not make sufficient payments on interest or principal with the cash flow from investments; only the appreciating asset value can keep the Ponzi borrower afloat. [10]

Hyman Minsky American economist

Hyman Philip Minsky was an American economist, a professor of economics at Washington University in St. Louis, and a distinguished scholar at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. His research attempted to provide an understanding and explanation of the characteristics of financial crises, which he attributed to swings in a potentially fragile financial system. Minsky is sometimes described as a post-Keynesian economist because, in the Keynesian tradition, he supported some government intervention in financial markets, opposed some of the financial deregulation policies popular in the 1980s, stressed the importance of the Federal Reserve as a lender of last resort and argued against the over-accumulation of private debt in the financial markets.

Charles Ponzi Italian businessman and con artist

Charles Ponzi was an Italian swindler and con artist in the U.S. and Canada. His aliases include Charles Ponci, Carlo, and Charles P. Bianchi. Born and raised in Italy, he became known in the early 1920s as a swindler in North America for his money-making scheme. He promised clients a 50% profit within 45 days, or 100% profit within 90 days, by buying discounted postal reply coupons in other countries and redeeming them at face value in the United States as a form of arbitrage. In reality, Ponzi was paying earlier investors using the investments of later investors. While this type of fraudulent investment scheme was not originally invented by Ponzi, it became so identified with him that it now is referred to as a "Ponzi scheme". His scheme ran for over a year before it collapsed, costing his "investors" $20 million.

Ponzi scheme Type of financial fraud

A Ponzi scheme is a form of fraud that lures investors and pays profits to earlier investors with funds from more recent investors. The scheme leads victims to believe that profits are coming from product sales or other means, and they remain unaware that other investors are the source of funds. A Ponzi scheme can maintain the illusion of a sustainable business as long as new investors contribute new funds, and as long as most of the investors do not demand full repayment and still believe in the non-existent assets they are purported to own.

Often it is only in retrospect that participants in an economic bubble realize that the point of collapse was obvious. In this respect, economic bubbles can have dynamic characteristics not unlike Ponzi schemes or Pyramid schemes. [11]

Pyramid scheme type of unsustainable business model

A pyramid scheme is a business model that recruits members via a promise of payments or services for enrolling others into the scheme, rather than supplying investments or sale of products. As recruiting multiplies, recruiting becomes quickly impossible, and most members are unable to profit; as such, pyramid schemes are unsustainable and often illegal.


Several psychological factors contribute to bubbles and related busts.

These and other cognitive biases that impair judgment can contribute to credit bubbles and crunches. [7]

Valuation of securities

The crunch is generally caused by a reduction in the market prices of previously "overinflated" assets and refers to the financial crisis that results from the price collapse. [13] This can result in widespread foreclosure or bankruptcy for those who came in late to the market, as the prices of previously inflated assets generally drop precipitously. In contrast, a liquidity crisis is triggered when an otherwise sound business finds itself temporarily incapable of accessing the bridge finance it needs to expand its business or smooth its cash flow payments. In this case, accessing additional credit lines and "trading through" the crisis can allow the business to navigate its way through the problem and ensure its continued solvency and viability. It is often difficult to know, in the midst of a crisis, whether distressed businesses are experiencing a crisis of solvency or a temporary liquidity crisis.

In the case of a credit crunch, it may be preferable to "mark to market" - and if necessary, sell or go into liquidation if the capital of the business affected is insufficient to survive the post-boom phase of the credit cycle. In the case of a liquidity crisis on the other hand, it may be preferable to attempt to access additional lines of credit, as opportunities for growth may exist once the liquidity crisis is overcome.


Securitization markets were impaired during the crisis. This shows how readily available credit dried-up during the 2007-2008 crisis. Securitization Market Activity.png
Securitization markets were impaired during the crisis. This shows how readily available credit dried-up during the 2007-2008 crisis.

Financial institutions facing losses may then reduce the availability of credit, and increase the cost of accessing credit by raising interest rates. In some cases lenders may be unable to lend further, even if they wish, as a result of earlier losses. If participants themselves are highly leveraged (i.e., carrying a high debt burden) the damage done when the bubble bursts is more severe, causing recession or depression. Financial institutions may fail, economic growth may slow, unemployment may rise, and social unrest may increase. For example, the ratio of household debt to after-tax income rose from 60% in 1984 to 130% by 2007, contributing to (and worsening) the Subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-2008. [7]

Historical perspective

In recent decades credit crunches have not been rare or black swan events. Although few economists have successfully predicted credit crunch events before they have occurred, Professor Richard Rumelt has written the following in relation to their surprising frequency and regularity in advanced economies around the world: "In fact, during the past fifty years there have been 28 severe house-price boom-bust cycles and 28 credit crunches in 21 advanced Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) economies." [7] [14]

See also

Related Research Articles

United States housing bubble economic bubble

The United States housing bubble was a real estate bubble affecting over half of the U.S. states. Housing prices peaked in early 2006, started to decline in 2006 and 2007, and reached new lows in 2012. On December 30, 2008, the Case–Shiller home price index reported its largest price drop in its history. The credit crisis resulting from the bursting of the housing bubble is an important cause of the 2007–2009 recession in the United States.

A financial crisis is any of a broad variety of situations in which some financial assets suddenly lose a large part of their nominal value. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many financial crises were associated with banking panics, and many recessions coincided with these panics. Other situations that are often called financial crises include stock market crashes and the bursting of other financial bubbles, currency crises, and sovereign defaults. Financial crises directly result in a loss of paper wealth but do not necessarily result in significant changes in the real economy.

A structured investment vehicle (SIV) is a non-bank financial institution established to earn a credit spread between the longer-term assets held in its portfolio and the shorter-term liabilities it issues. They are simple credit spread lenders, frequently "lending" by investing in securitizations, but also by investing in corporate bonds and funding by issuing commercial paper and medium term notes, which were usually rated AAA until the onset of the financial crisis. They did not expose themselves to either interest rate or currency risk and typically held asset to maturity. SIVs differ from asset-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) in that they are permanently capitalized and have an active management team.

In finance, subprime lending means making loans to people who may have difficulty maintaining the repayment schedule, sometimes reflecting setbacks, such as unemployment, divorce, medical emergencies, etc. Historically, subprime borrowers were defined as having FICO scores below 600, although "this has varied over time and circumstances."

The United States subprime mortgage crisis was a nationwide financial crisis, occurring between 2007 and 2010, that contributed to the U.S. recession of December 2007 – June 2009. It was triggered by a large decline in home prices after the collapse of a housing bubble, leading to mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures and the devaluation of housing-related securities. Declines in residential investment preceded the recession and were followed by reductions in household spending and then business investment. Spending reductions were more significant in areas with a combination of high household debt and larger housing price declines.

Initially pioneered by financial institutions during the 1970s as interest rates became increasingly volatile, asset and liability management is the practice of managing risks that arise due to mismatches between the assets and liabilities.

United States housing prices experienced a major market correction after the housing bubble that peaked in early 2006. Prices of real estate then adjusted downwards in late 2006, causing a loss of market liquidity and subprime defaults

At the micro-economic level, deleveraging refers to the reduction of the leverage ratio, or the percentage of debt in the balance sheet of a single economic entity, such as a household or a firm. It is the opposite of leveraging, which is the practice of borrowing money to acquire assets and multiply gains and losses.

Minsky moment

A Minsky moment is a sudden, major collapse of asset values which generates a credit cycle or business cycle. The rapid instability occurs because long periods of steady prosperity and investment gains encourage a diminished perception of overall market risk, which promotes the leveraged risk of investing borrowed money instead of cash. The debt-leveraged financing of speculative investments exposes investors to a potential cash flow crisis, which may begin with a short period of modestly declining asset prices. In the event of a decline, the cash generated by assets is no longer sufficient to pay off the debt used to acquire the assets. Losses on such speculative assets prompt lenders to call in their loans. This rapidly amplifies a small decline into a frank collapse of asset values, related to the degree of leverage in the market. Leveraged investors are also forced to sell less-speculative positions to cover their loans. In severe situations, no buyers bid at prices recently quoted, fearing further declines. This starts a major sell-off, leading to a sudden and precipitous collapse in market-clearing asset prices, a sharp drop in market liquidity, and a severe demand for cash.

In financial economics, a liquidity crisis refers to an acute shortage of liquidity. Liquidity may refer to market liquidity, funding liquidity, or accounting liquidity. Additionally, some economists define a market to be liquid if it can absorb "liquidity trades" without large changes in price. This shortage of liquidity could reflect a fall in asset prices below their long run fundamental price, deterioration in external financing conditions, reduction in the number of market participants, or simply difficulty in trading assets.

The subprime mortgage crisis impact timeline lists dates relevant to the creation of a United States housing bubble and the 2005 housing bubble burst and the subprime mortgage crisis which developed during 2007 and 2008. It includes United States enactment of government laws and regulations, as well as public and private actions which affected the housing industry and related banking and investment activity. It also notes details of important incidents in the United States, such as bankruptcies and takeovers, and information and statistics about relevant trends. For more information on reverberations of this crisis throughout the global financial system see Financial crisis of 2007–2008.

Debt deflation is a theory that recessions and depressions are due to the overall level of debt rising in real value because of deflation, causing people to default on their consumer loans and mortgages. Bank assets fall because of the defaults and because the value of their collateral falls, leading to a surge in bank insolvencies, a reduction in lending and by extension, a reduction in spending: the credit cycle is the cause of the economic cycle.

This article provides background information regarding the subprime mortgage crisis. It discusses subprime lending, foreclosures, risk types, and mechanisms through which various entities involved were affected by the crisis.

The interbank lending market is a market in which banks extend loans to one another for a specified term. Most interbank loans are for maturities of one week or less, the majority being overnight. Such loans are made at the interbank rate. A sharp decline in transaction volume in this market was a major contributing factor to the collapse of several financial institutions during the financial crisis of 2007.

Many factors directly and indirectly caused the Great Recession, with experts and economists placing different weights on particular causes.

Leverage is defined as the ratio of the asset value to the cash needed to purchase it. The leverage cycle can be defined as the procyclical expansion and contraction of leverage over the course of the business cycle. The existence of procyclical leverage amplifies the effect on asset prices over the business cycle.

Financial crisis of 2007–2008 Global financial crisis

The financial crisis of 2007–2008, also known as the global financial crisis and the 2008 financial crisis, is considered by many economists to have been the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.


  1. "Credit Crunch Definition". Investopedia.
  2. 1 2 Is There A Credit Crunch in East Asia? Wei Ding, Ilker Domac & Giovanni Ferri (World Bank)
  3. Has Financial Development Made the World Riskier?, Raghuram G. Rajan
  4. Leverage Cycles Mark Thoma, Economist's View
  5. China lifts reserve requirement for banks
  6. Regulatory Debauchery, Satyajit Das
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Rumelt, Richard P. (2011). Good Strategy / Bad Strategy . Crown Business. ISBN   978-0-307-88623-1.
  8. Rowbotham, Michael (1998). The Grip of Death: A Study of Modern Money, Debt Slavery and Destructive Economics. Jon Carpenter Publishing. ISBN   978-1-897766-40-8.
  9. Cooper, George (2008). The Origin of Financial Crises. Harriman House. ISBN   1-905641-85-0.
  10. McCulley-PIMCO-The Shadow Banking System and Hyman Minsky's Economic Journey
  11. Ponzi Nation, Edward Chancellor, Institutional Investor, 7 February 2007
  12. Securitisation: life after death
  13. How the French invented subprime
  14. "Real Estate Booms and Banking Busts: An International Perspective". University of Pennsylvania. July 1999. Retrieved 1 June 2014.