Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen stated on Thursday that the U.S. banking system is still strong and that Americans can have confidence that their deposits are secure, but she refuted the notion that all deposits are now unconditionally guaranteed by the government as a result of emergency measures taken in response to two sizable bank failures.
Yellen was asked whether this meant that all uninsured deposits were now guaranteed during a hearing before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. This was her first public statement following the emergency measures taken over the weekend with other regulators to ensure that no depositors at Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank suffered losses as a result of those lenders’ collapse.
“A bank only gets that treatment,” she told U.S. Republican Senator James Lankford, if supermajorities of the boards of the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and “I, in consultation with the president, determine that the failure to protect uninsured depositors would create systemic risk and significant economic and financial consequences.”
Her comment was the first explicit indication of regulators’ views about the limits of the weekend’s extraordinary guarantee that ensured that tens of billions in uninsured deposits at Silicon Valley and Signature were not lost.
Ahead of that exchange, Yellen had touted the “decisive and forceful” emergency measures taken on Sunday, saying they had helped restore depositors’ confidence and prevented a more wide-ranging run on banks.
“I can reassure the members of the committee that our banking system is sound, and that Americans can feel confident that their deposits will be there when they need them,” Yellen said.
“This week’s actions demonstrate our resolute commitment to ensure that depositors’ savings remain safe.”
But it was clear that the FDIC insurance limit of $250,000 per depositor remained in place and that any future failure would need to pose risks similar to those seen at Silicon Valley and Signature.
In their cases, Yellen said, “the chances of contagion that other banks might be regarded as unsound and suffer runs, seemed extremely high, and the consequences would be very serious.”
More than $9.2 trillion of U.S. bank deposits were uninsured at the end of last year, accounting for more than 40% of all deposits, according to U.S. central bank data. Those uninsured deposits are not distributed evenly across the country, FDIC data shows.