Here's who made money amid the Silicon Valley Bank turmoil

The crisis has panicked depositors and shareholders. But others have benefited.

March 17, 2023, 11:35 AM

A string of bank collapses in recent days sent panic rippling through the financial sector, prompting an extraordinary U.S. government intervention to save depositors and a sharp drop for bank stocks in the U.S. and Europe.

Some people and institutions, however, made money amid the turmoil.

Silicon Valley Bank CEO Greg Becker sold $3.6 million worth of the company's shares less than two weeks before the bank's collapse, drawing scrutiny from lawmakers like Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who called on the bank to claw back the compensation.

Meanwhile, as panic mounted and bank stocks plummeted over a three-day period before the Silicon Valley Bank failure, $2.3 billion in profit flowed to short sellers, traders who bet that the shares would fall, data firm S3 partners said.

PHOTO: Greg Becker, President and CEO of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), speaks during the Milken Institute Global Conference, May 3, 2022 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Greg Becker, President and CEO of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), speaks during the Milken Institute Global Conference, May 3, 2022 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Finally, in the aftermath of the bank collapse, a wave of new depositors opened up accounts at some of the nation's largest banks, such as JPMorgan Chase.

Here's what you need to know who benefited from the banking crisis and why.

Silicon Valley Bank CEO Greg Becker

Financial filings showed millions worth of shares sold by Becker's trust late last month, raising questions about what he knew about the imminent financial trouble faced by the bank.

Khanna, who represents the district in which Silicon Valley Bank was headquartered, called for the return of the money to depositors.

"I have said that there should be a clawback of that money," Khanna said on Monday. "Whatever his motives, and we should find out, that $3.6 million should go to depositors."

Silicon Valley Bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kevin Murphy, a professor of finance and business economics at the University of Southern California who specializes in executive compensation, said the stock sale has elicited valid concern.

"There's no question that this raises eyebrows," Murphy said. "The optics are bad."

However, the conduct may be "less problematic" than it appears, he added.

After the exercise price and taxes associated with the sale, Becker stood to gain roughly $1 million, Murphy said, noting that the amount makes up a fraction of the $9.9 million in total compensation received by Becker last year.

Becker's stock options were set to expire in May, leaving him just a few months shy of the deadline, Murphy added. The stock sale falls within conduct permitted by law.

"It raises red flags," Murphy said. "But I wouldn't put as much weight on it as the layman."

Still, the company could ultimately claw back some or all of the money from Becker, he added, citing financial documents filed by the company earlier this month.

"They do have a policy in place," he said. "There is scope here for the board to initiate a recoupment but it's somewhat limited."

Short sellers

Another set of individuals who profited amid the distress at Silicon Valley Bank is short sellers, investors who make money when a stock drops.

As shares of banks plummeted before and after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, short sellers have generated massive profits.

On a single day last week, shares of Silicon Valley Bank plummeted 60%. The stock price of First Republic Bank, another regional lender under stress, fell 30% on Thursday to a low last seen 13 years ago. It later rallied after big banks announced $30 billion in combined deposits in the bank.

Over a 9-day period in early March, short sellers raked in $7.1 billion on $50 billion worth of investments, a staggering return of about 14%, Ihor Dusaniwsky, a managing director at S3 partners, told ABC News.

"That's a phenomenal return," Dusaniwsky said. "You're catching lightning in a bottle."

PHOTO: A security guard looks out a door as customers line up at Silicon Valley Bank headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., Mar. 13, 2023.
A security guard looks out a door as customers line up at Silicon Valley Bank headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif., Mar. 13, 2023.
Noah Berger/AFP via Getty Images

The success of short sellers in recent days has stoked concern over the possible role such traders play in depressing the price of Silicon Valley Bank shares, heightening panic on social media and exacerbating the ensuing bank run

The influence of short sellers deserves scrutiny in the case of Silicon Bank, since its depositors were made up of a relatively small group of venture capital firms, tech startups and other large investors, Connel Fullenkamp, an economics professor at Duke University who studies short selling, told ABC News.

"That's something we have to take seriously in the case of Silicon Valley Bank because the community of depositors is so internet savvy and tech savvy," Fullenkamp said. "A big part of the story is how much communication there was among the depositors and certainly this feedback loop of short sellers and depositors can make things worse."

However, fears about the negative consequences of short selling in a banking crisis overlook the useful role played by such traders, he added.

"Without the short sellers, we get this really strong positive bias that prices keep going up and up -- it's too easy to create stock price bubbles," he said. "Short sellers are skeptics who put their money where their mouth is."

Big banks

In the aftermath of the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, as uncertainty spread through the financial system, a flood of depositors opened new accounts at large U.S. banks.

JPMorgan Chase, the largest U.S. bank, received a huge wave of customers and deposits, amounting to hundreds of accounts and billions of dollars, a source familiar with the matter told ABC News.

The bank is telling employees to forego targeting customers amid the financial turmoil but the inflow of customers has arrived regardless, the source said.

JPMorgan Chase declined to respond to a request for comment.

Other top banks, including Bank of America and Citi, have benefited from a similar flood of customers and deposits, the Financial Times reported.

Bank of America declined to comment; and Citi did not respond to a request for comment.

While some big banks gained depositors, the nation's largest financial institutions took action on Monday in an effort to stabilize the financial sector, placing $30 billion in First Republic bank, one of the embattled regional lenders.

Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs were among a slew of big banks that participated in the effort.

"This action by America's largest banks reflects their confidence in First Republic and in banks of all sizes, and it demonstrates their overall commitment to helping banks serve their customers and communities," the banks said in a press statement on Thursday.

"Regional, midsize and small banks are critical to the health and functioning of our financial system," the statement added.

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