The Information View of Financial Crises
Short-term debt that can serve as a medium of exchange is designed to be information insensitive. No one should be tempted to acquire private information to gain an informational advantage in trading that could destabilize the value of the debt. Short-term debt minimizes the incentive to acquire information among all securities of equal value backed by the same underlying asset. These features align with observed practice in money markets (markets for short-term debt). They are also consistent with financial crises occurring periodically. In the information view adopted here, financial crisis can occur when the collateral backing the short-term debt is thought to have lost enough value to raise doubts among the traders that some may acquire private information. The purpose of this paper is to review some of the burgeoning empirical literature that bears on the information view sketched above. We focus on evidence related to three key implications of information insensitive debt: (i) adjustments to external shocks will occur along non-price dimensions (less debt issued, higher haircuts, added collateral, etc); (ii) in a crisis some of the short-term debt turns information sensitive; (iii) money markets feature low transparency as well as purposeful opacity.
Thanks to Mariassunta Giannetti, Marco Macchiavelli and Guillaume Vuillemey for comments. We thank Lawrence Schmidt for comments and help with and permission to use Figure 4. Also, thanks to Tobias Adrian and Rohit Goel for Figure 9. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.