Standby Letters Of Credit And Other Bank Guaranties: Revisited

The United States has experienced periods of boom and bust since its rich history began.  Such is the basic nature of economic cycles, and of our capitalist system that governs global economic activity.  Like the laws of gravity, certainties exist in economics too.  What goes up, comes down—sometimes with a resounding thud.

When crises arise, as they will, public policymakers in America and other countries must be prepared to deal with them in a responsible and effective manner, and have tools at their disposal to do so.  One area of economic activity that few Americans know about, much less comprehend, involves the staggering amounts and extensive uses of guaranties—issued globally by banks, other financial institutions, businesses, governmental agencies[2], and individuals themselves.

According to the latest figures published by the Fed, the aggregate amount of “Financial standby letters of credit and foreign office guarantees” in the fourth quarter of 2018 stood at more than a half-trillion dollars—$566.8 billion, to be exact—which seems exceptionally low.[3]  My newest law review article deals with standby letters of credit and other bank guaranties, and with their counterparts in other areas of domestic and international commerce.[4]

The article builds on an earlier discussion of such issues, before the U.S. Senate more than 40 years ago.[5]  Since then, crises have come and gone; and the issue today is what public policymakers have learned in the interim about how to anticipate and address them.  As I have written:

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