Sarah Breeden: Risks from leverage - how did a small corner of the pensions industry threaten financial stability?

Speech by Ms Sarah Breeden, Executive Director for Financial Stability Strategy and Risk of the Bank of England, at a conference organised by ISDA & AIMA, London, 7 November 2022.

Central bank speech  | 
07 November 2022

On the afternoon of 28 September, I found myself in a rather unusual position: having to explain to journalists why a part of the pensions industry, unheard of to most of their readers, had posed such a large threat to financial stability that it warranted intervention in the gilt market from the Bank of England.

Financial markets globally had been volatile for months. But in the days leading up to that fateful Wednesday and following the announcement of the Government's growth plan on 23 September, long-dated gilt yields in particular had moved with extraordinary and unprecedented scale and speed.

Now volatility itself does not warrant Bank of England intervention. Indeed, it's essential that market prices are allowed to adjust to changes in their fundamental determinants efficiently and without distortion.

However, some liability-driven investment (LDI) funds were creating an amplification mechanism in the long-end of the gilt market through which price falls had the potential to trigger forced selling and thereby become self-reinforcing. Such a self-reinforcing price spiral would have resulted in even more severely disrupted gilt market functioning. And that would in turn have led to an excessive and sudden tightening of financing conditions for households and businesses.

In response to this threat, the Bank of England intervened on financial stability grounds. But what led to that intervention?

The root cause is simple – and indeed is one we have seen in other contexts too – poorly managed leverage.

So today I'll set out how leverage outside the banking sector can create risks to financial stability, starting with that small corner of the pensions market. And then I'll set out what needs to be done - by participants, by their regulators and by financial stability authorities - if we are to ensure those risks to financial stability are reduced.