The benchmark London interbank offered rate (Libor) is on the rise again, tightening financial conditions for short-term borrowers as U.S. firms withdraw money out of foreign dollar funds following the U.S. tax changes.
Libor, which measures the cost of lending between the world’s largest banks, is used to set interest rates on about $200 trillion in dollar-based contracts around the world, from corporate loans to home mortages.
The three-month Libor climbed to 2.29% in the U.S. on Monday, its highest level since November 2008. The spread between Libor and the overnight index swap (OIS) rate has also more than doubled since the end of January to a level unseen since 2009.
“What this means is that rates on more than $350 trillion of debt and derivatives contracts hitched to the U.S. benchmark are on the rise,” David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff, wrote in a client note.
“Overleveraged entities will be in for a spot of trouble,” he said.
Libor first started rising in 2016 due to U.S. reforms that made commercial paper and other credit-sensitive instruments held in institutional prime money market funds subject to being marked-to-market. “The result was a massive shift in demand away from CP toward government securities” that caused the yield spread between CP and Treasury bills to widen, according to Forbes.
Economists attribute the more recent rise, and widening of the Libor-OIS spread, in part to the U.S. tax legislation, which incentivized U.S. firm to repatriate cash held overseas.
“Smaller overseas cash balances translates to less need for CP and other money market investments,” Forbes noted.
As MarketWatch reports, “The rise [in Libor] is nothing like the panic mode of 2008, when soaring Libor reflected a reluctance by banks to lend to each other, reflecting stress in the system and fueled fears of an existential threat to the global banking system.”
But Forbes said it remains to be seen whether the current situation “is technical in nature, in which case short-term rates will eventually normalize, or … a harbinger of another banking catastrophe.”