Examples of Asset-Liability Mismatches
Asset-liability mismatches (ALMs) occur when the financial characteristics of an entity’s assets do not align with those of its liabilities.
These mismatches can lead to substantial financial risks, including liquidity crises, currency risks, and interest rate risks.
It can pose a problem for traders as well. Often, market participants and businesses are not aware of these risks or underestimate the extent of the risk.
This article looks at different examples of asset-liability mismatches, their causes, and potential consequences, focusing on a few main scenarios:
- Foreign exchange debt (FX debt)
- Liquid liabilities and illiquid assets
- Short-term variable rate liabilities and long-term fixed assets, and
- Several additional examples to showcase the diversity of ALM situations
Key Takeaways – Asset-Liability Mismatches
- Asset-liability mismatches can pose substantial financial risks, including liquidity crises, currency risks, and interest rate risks.
- It’s important for entities to align the financial characteristics of their assets with those of their liabilities to mitigate these risks.
- Examples of asset-liability mismatches include foreign exchange debt (FX debt), liquid liabilities and illiquid assets, short-term variable rate liabilities and long-term fixed assets, maturity mismatches, inflation-indexed liabilities and nominal assets, currency mismatches in revenues and expenses, insurance companies with long-term liabilities and short-term assets, and securitization and tranching of financial assets.
- Proper risk management, diversification, and prudent strategies such as hedging can help organizations mitigate the potential negative effects of asset-liability mismatches on their financial stability and performance.
- Regulators also play a role in managing these risks through requirements and limits imposed on financial institutions.
- Traders/investors can assess a company’s exposure to asset-liability mismatches by analyzing its balance sheet, financial statements, and risk management disclosures.
Foreign exchange (FX) debt mismatches arise when an entity borrows in a lower-interest rate currency and invests in a different currency with higher interest rates.
This is called a carry trade.
This mismatch exposes the borrower to exchange rate risks as well as the risk of sudden interest rate changes in either currency.
For example, a company may borrow in Japanese yen due to its low interest rates and invest in Brazilian real assets that offer higher interest rates.
If the exchange rate between the two currencies fluctuates in an adverse way or the interest rate differential contracts, the borrower may see their return fall or suffer outright losses on the trade.
If interest rates in Japan were to rise unexpectedly, the cost of servicing the debt could rise, erode the profit generated from the trade, and cause the yen to appreciated versus the real, exacerbating the ALM.
Liquid Liabilities, Illiquid Assets
Some entities attempt to capture a spread by holding illiquid assets funded by liquid liabilities.
This approach can lead to an ALM when the market for the illiquid assets dries up or the cost of short-term funding increases.
In such cases, the fund may struggle to liquidate its assets to meet its obligations, leading to a liquidity crisis.
Short-term Variable Rate Liabilities, Long-term Fixed Assets
Banks often face ALMs as they hold long-term fixed assets, such as mortgages, and short-term variable rate liabilities, such as deposits.
This mismatch exposes banks to interest rate risk. If interest rates rise, banks may struggle to increase the interest rates on their long-term assets to match the increased cost of their short-term liabilities.
This situation can lead to a decline in the net interest margin, which is the difference between interest earned on assets and interest paid on liabilities.
Over time, a shrinking net interest margin can threaten a bank’s profitability and stability.
Bank runs at institutions like Silicon Valley Bank and First Republic Bank were very public examples of this.
A maturity mismatch occurs when an entity’s assets have longer maturities than its liabilities.
This mismatch can lead to reinvestment risk, as the fund may not be able to find investments with similar returns when the short-term assets mature.
Liability-Driven Investing (LDI)
Liability-driven investing (LDI) is an investment strategy that focuses on matching assets with current and future liabilities. It’s a type of portfolio immunization strategy, discussed in more detail here.
It is an example of an asset-liability mismatch because it aims to ensure that the assets held by an organization are sufficient to meet its future liabilities.
This is particularly important for companies with pension plans, where future liabilities consist of current payments to retirees and future payments promised to employees upon their retirement.
In the context of the UK pension system meltdown in 2022, many pension funds had invested heavily in LDI strategies. When interest rates rose sharply in 2022, the value of these assets fell.
This led to a mismatch between the assets and liabilities of many pension funds, which made it more difficult for them to meet their obligations.
Here are some additional matters to consider when using LDI:
The duration of the liabilities
The longer the duration of the assets or liabilities, the more sensitive the assets will be to changes in interest rates.
The level of interest rates
If nominal interest rates (i.e., cash and government bond yields) are low:
- relative to zero
- relative to the rate of inflation, and
- relative to the level of nominal spending…
…the risk of a rise in interest rates increases.
The credit quality of the assets
It is important to invest in assets that have a high credit rating. This will reduce the risk of default.
The liquidity of the assets
For those prone to ALMs, it’s important to invest in assets that are easy to sell. This will reduce the risk of being forced to sell assets at a loss or being unable to sell at all.
It’s important for pensions to hold sufficient assets to meet their future liabilities and to work on capping their interest rate risk (e.g., through certain types of derivatives (e.g., rate caps, collars, and floors), diversification, changing the durations of the assets they hold).
Inflation-Indexed Liabilities, Nominal Assets
Entities with inflation-indexed liabilities but nominal assets can also face ALMs.
If inflation rises, the cost of servicing the inflation-indexed liabilities will increase, while the returns on the nominal assets may not keep pace, leading to an ALM.
Currency Mismatch in Revenues and Expenses
Businesses operating in multiple countries can face ALMs due to currency mismatches in their revenues and expenses.
For instance, a company that generates most of its revenue in US dollars but incurs a significant portion of its expenses in euros (e.g., a company in Portugal that exports its goods or sells its services to the US) might struggle if the euro appreciates against the dollar.
The increased cost of euro-denominated expenses could negatively impact the company’s profitability and cash flow, creating a currency mismatch between assets and liabilities.
Insurance Companies: Long-Term Liabilities, Short-Term Assets
However, they may invest in short-term assets like bonds and other fixed-income securities to meet regulatory requirements and maintain liquidity.
This ALM exposes the insurer to reinvestment risk, as the company may be unable to find investments with similar yields when the short-term assets mature. This makes it more challenging to meet long-term obligations.
Securitization and Tranching of Financial Assets
Financial institutions sometimes create asset-backed securities (ABS) by pooling various financial assets, such as mortgages or loans, and dividing them into tranches with different risk profiles.
These tranches are then sold to investors, creating a potential ALM.
The originator of the ABS may retain the riskiest tranche, known as the equity tranche, while selling the less risky tranches to other investors.
If the underlying assets perform worse than expected, the originator may face losses on the retained equity tranche, leading to an ALM between the sold tranches (liabilities) and the retained equity tranche (asset).
These examples demonstrate that asset-liability mismatches can take many forms and affect a wide range of businesses and industries.
FAQs – Asset-Liability Mismatch (ALM)
What is an asset-liability mismatch (ALM)?
An asset-liability mismatch (ALM) occurs when an entity’s assets and liabilities have differing characteristics, such as maturity, interest rate, or currency, which can expose the entity/market participant to financial risks.
These risks include liquidity crises, FX risks, and interest rate risks.
How can ALMs affect a company’s financial stability?
ALMs can lead to financial instability by causing cash flow issues, reduced profitability, or increased vulnerability to market fluctuations.
Depending on the nature of the mismatch, a company may struggle to meet its obligations, face unexpected losses, or experience declining revenues due to increased expenses.
Can ALMs impact financial institutions differently from other businesses?
Yes, financial institutions, such as banks and insurance companies, can be more susceptible to ALMs due to the nature of their assets and liabilities.
Banks also tend to be more leveraged than other business types, which makes them even more vulnerable.
For example, banks often hold long-term fixed assets, like mortgages, while having short-term variable rate liabilities, such as deposits.
This exposes them to interest rate risks. Similarly, insurance companies with long-term liabilities but short-term assets face reinvestment risk.
How can businesses mitigate the risks associated with asset-liability mismatches?
Businesses can manage ALM risks through strategies like diversification, hedging, and prudent risk management.
Diversification involves spreading investments across a range of assets or liabilities to reduce exposure to any single risk factor.
Hedging can help protect against currency or interest rate risks by using financial instruments like derivatives.
Prudent risk management involves regularly monitoring the company’s assets and liabilities, assessing potential risks, and implementing appropriate measures to mitigate those risks.
What role do regulators play in managing ALMs?
Regulators often impose requirements on financial institutions to ensure they maintain adequate capital and liquidity to manage ALM risks.
These requirements can include capital adequacy ratios, liquidity coverage ratios, and stress testing to assess the institution’s ability to withstand adverse market conditions.
Regulators may also enforce limits on currency or maturity mismatches to minimize the potential impact of ALMs on financial stability.
Are there any benefits to having asset-liability mismatches?
Companies might intentionally engage in ALMs to capture higher returns or take advantage of market opportunities.
Most investing involves taking a certain type of risk to capture a certain type of return.
Like most decisions, there are pros and cons.
These potential benefits come with increased risk, and organizations must weigh the potential rewards against the potential negative consequences of ALMs.
Effective risk management and a deep understanding of market dynamics are important when considering ALM strategies for potential gains.
How can investors assess a company’s exposure to ALMs?
Key metrics to consider include the currency and maturity profiles of the company’s assets and liabilities, its hedging activities, and the effectiveness of its risk management policies.
Additionally, investors can monitor external factors, such as interest rate trends and currency fluctuations, which may influence a company’s ALM exposure.
Asset-liability mismatches can take various forms and lead to significant financial risks if not managed well.
Understanding these mismatches, their causes, and potential consequences is important for risk management – and overall financial stability when such risks exist within key entities and intermediaries.