Research / BFI Working PaperJun 15, 2020

Treasury Inconvenience Yields during the COVID-19 Crisis

Zhiguo He, Stefan Nagel, Zhaogang Song

In sharp contrast to most previous crisis episodes, the Treasury market experienced severe stress and illiquidity during the COVID-19 crisis, raising concerns that the safe-haven status of U.S. Treasuries may be eroding. We document large shifts in Treasury ownership during this period and the accumulation of Treasury and reverse repo positions on dealer balance sheets. To understand the pricing consequences, we build a model in which balance sheet constraints of dealers and demand/supply shocks from habitat agents determine the term structure of Treasury yields. A novel element of our model is the inclusion of levered investors’ repo financing as part of dealers’ intermediation activities. Both direct holdings of Treasuries and reverse repo positions of dealers are subject to a regulatory balance sheet constraint. According to the model, Treasury inconvenience yields, measured as the spread between Treasuries and overnight-index swap (OIS) rates, as well as spreads between dealers’ reverse repo and repo rates, should be increasing in dealers’ balance sheet costs. Consistent with model predictions, we find that both spreads are large and positive during the COVID-19 crisis. We further show that the same model, adapted to the institutional setting in 2007-2009, also helps explain the opposite signs of repo spreads and Treasury convenience yields during the financial crisis.

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