The global depression is edging closer
There’s a hidden risk to the global financial system embedded in the $65 trillion of dollar debt being held by non-US institutions via currency derivatives, according to the Bank for International Settlements.
In a paper with the title “huge, missing and growing,” the BIS said a lack of information is making it harder for policy makers to anticipate the next financial crisis. In particular, they raised concern with the fact that the debt is going unrecorded on balance sheets because of accounting conventions on how to track derivative positions.
The findings, based on data from a survey of global currency markets earlier this year, offer a rare insight into the scale of hidden leverage. Foreign-exchange swaps were a flashpoint during the global financial crisis of 2008 and pandemic of 2020, when dollar funding stress forced central banks to step in to help struggling borrowers.
To be sure, the debt is backed by an equivalent amount of hard currency. To understand how the system works, consider a Dutch pension fund buying assets in the US. As part of the transaction, it will often use a foreign-currency swap to exchange euros for dollars. Then, when it’s closed out, the fund will repay dollars and receives euros. For the length of the trade, the payment obligation is recorded off-balance sheet, which the BIS calls a “blind spot” in the financial system.