Purpose and Framework
This report presents the Federal Reserve Board's current assessment of the stability of the U.S. financial system. By publishing this report, the Board intends to promote public understanding by increasing transparency around, and creating accountability for, the Federal Reserve's views on this topic. Financial stability supports the objectives assigned to the Federal Reserve, including full employment and stable prices, a safe and sound banking system, and an efficient payments system.
A financial system is considered stable when banks, other lenders, and financial markets are able to provide households, communities, and businesses with the financing they need to invest, grow, and participate in a well-functioning economy—and can do so even when hit by adverse events, or "shocks."
Consistent with this view of financial stability, the Federal Reserve Board's monitoring framework distinguishes between shocks to, and vulnerabilities of, the financial system. Shocks are inherently difficult to predict, while vulnerabilities, which are the aspects of the financial system that would exacerbate stress, can be monitored as they build up or recede over time. As a result, the framework focuses primarily on assessing vulnerabilities, with an emphasis on four broad categories and how those categories might interact to amplify stress in the financial system.1
- Valuation pressures arise when asset prices are high relative to economic fundamentals or historical norms. These developments are often driven by an increased willingness of investors to take on risk. As such, elevated valuation pressures may increase the possibility of outsized drops in asset prices (see Section 1, Asset Valuations).
- Excessive borrowing by businesses and households exposes the borrowers to distress if their incomes decline or the assets they own fall in value. In these cases, businesses and households with high debt burdens may need to cut back spending, affecting economic activity and causing losses for investors (see Section 2, Borrowing by Businesses and Households).
- Excessive leverage within the financial sector increases the risk that financial institutions will not have the ability to absorb losses without disruptions to their normal business operations when hit by adverse shocks. In those situations, institutions will be forced to cut back lending, sell their assets, or even shut down. Such responses can impair credit access for households and businesses, further weakening economic activity (see Section 3, Leverage in the Financial Sector).
- Funding risks expose the financial system to the possibility that investors will rapidly withdraw their funds from a particular institution or sector, creating strains across markets or institutions. Many financial institutions raise funds from the public with a commitment to return their investors' money on short notice, but those institutions then invest much of those funds in assets that are hard to sell quickly or have a long maturity. This liquidity and maturity transformation can create an incentive for investors to withdraw funds quickly in adverse situations. Facing such withdrawals, financial institutions may need to sell assets quickly at "fire sale" prices, thereby incurring losses and potentially becoming insolvent, as well as causing additional price declines that can create stress across markets and at other institutions (see Section 4, Funding Risks).
The Federal Reserve's monitoring framework also tracks domestic and international developments to identify near-term risks—that is, plausible adverse developments or shocks that could stress the U.S. financial system. The analysis of these risks focuses on assessing how such potential shocks may spread through the U.S. financial system, given our current assessment of vulnerabilities.
While this framework provides a systematic way to assess financial stability, some potential risks may be novel or difficult to quantify and therefore are not captured by the current approach. Given these complications, we rely on ongoing research by the Federal Reserve staff, academics, and other experts to improve our measurement of existing vulnerabilities and to keep pace with changes in the financial system that could create new forms of vulnerabilities or add to existing ones.
Federal Reserve actions to promote the resilience of the financial system
The assessment of financial vulnerabilities informs Federal Reserve actions to promote the resilience of the financial system. The Federal Reserve works with other domestic agencies directly and through the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to monitor risks to financial stability and to undertake supervisory and regulatory efforts to mitigate the risks and consequences of financial instability.
Actions taken by the Federal Reserve to promote the resilience of the financial system include its supervision and regulation of financial institutions. In the aftermath of the 2007–09 financial crisis, these actions have included requirements for more and higher-quality capital, an innovative stress-testing regime, and new liquidity regulations applied to the largest banks in the United States. In addition, the Federal Reserve's assessment of financial vulnerabilities informs decisions regarding the countercyclical capital buffer (CCyB). The CCyB is designed to increase the resilience of large banking organizations when there is an elevated risk of above-normal losses and to promote a more sustainable supply of credit over the economic cycle.
More on the Federal Reserve's Monitoring Efforts
See the Financial Stability section of the Federal Reserve Board's website for more information on how the Federal Reserve monitors the stability of the U.S. and world financial systems.
The website includes:
1. For a review of the research literature in this area, see Tobias Adrian, Daniel Covitz, and Nellie Liang (2015), "Financial Stability Monitoring," Annual Review of Financial Economics, vol. 7 (December), pp. 357–95. Return to text