What the flying heck happened to SVB?

Yesterday morning, we had an inkling that the market was concerned about Silicon Valley Bank when its stock started dipping right after market open in reaction to the financial institution announcing late on Wednesday a share sale, an asset sale and an increase in its term borrowing.

This column, after summarizing SVB’s financial moves and the resulting market response, opined that those items were not “the super juicy bit” of the news, instead focusing on the bank’s note that startup burn rates were still incredibly high compared to historical norms.

Whoops. It was not clear until a few hours later that fears over the bank’s health would lead to customers withdrawing their deposits in the bank at such a scale that venture Twitter could only talk about the possibility of SVB facing a bank run.

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Today, the latest news is that SVB intends to sell itself after failing to right the ship by seeking investments.

So, what happened? How the hell did we get here? To understand, we have to rewind the clock a bit:

  • The COVID-19 venture boom was partially predicated on money being incredibly cheap: Global interest rates were low to negative, so there were quite a few places to put capital to work. This led to larger venture funds, which invested a lot of their money into startups, which in turn deposited that into SVB since that was, until recently, the premier destination for startups’ banking needs.
  • However, as the FT notes, the massive rise in deposits at SVB — never a bad thing at a bank — eclipsed the bank’s ability to loan capital. This meant it had a lot of money lying around.