European life insurance companies are important bond investors and had traditionally played a stabilizing role in financial markets by pursuing “buy-and-hold” investment strategies. However, since the onset of the ultra-low interest rates era in 2008, observers noted a decline in the credit quality of insurers’ bond portfolios. The commonly-held explanation for this deterioration is that low returns pushed insurers to become more risk-taking. We argue that other factors—such as surging rating downgrades, bond revaluations, and regulatory changes—also played a key role. We estimate that rating changes, revaluations, and search for yield each account for about one-third each of the total deterioration in credit quality. This result has important policy implications as it reestablishes the view that insurers’ investment behavior tends to be passive through the cycle—rather than risk-seeking.
In episodes of significant banking distress or perceived systemic risk to the financial system, policymakers have often opted for issuing blanket guarantees on bank liabilities to stop or avoid widespread bank runs. In theory, blanket guarantees can prevent bank runs if they are credible. However, guarantee could add substantial fiscal costs to bank restructuring programs and may increase moral hazard going forward. Using a sample of 42 episodes of banking crises, this paper finds that blanket guarantees are successful in reducing liquidity pressures on banks arising from deposit withdrawals. However, banks' foreign liabilities appear virtually irresponsive to blanket guarantees. Furthermore, guarantees tend to be fiscally costly, though this positive association arises in large part because guarantees tend to be employed in conjunction with extensive liquidity support and when crises are severe.