BIS: Fragmentation in global financial markets: good or bad for financial stability?

BIS Working Papers No 81501
October 2019
by  Stijn Claessens

How does financial market fragmentation relate to financial stability? Does more fragmentation always imply less financial stability? Alternatively, might there be a trade-off between the two, with more fragmentation enhancing financial stability in some cases? Taking a cross-jurisdictional perspective, this paper reviews the literature with the aim of shedding light on the issue and making suggestions for further analysis.

The paper sets out various definitions of fragmentation, distinguishing price-based measures – differences in the prices of equivalent assets across countries – and quantity-based measures – deviations from benchmarks in international investment positions. It considers four types of cause: natural barriers; market forces; policy actions and interventions other than financial regulatory actions; and, finally, regulations and their enforcement. Although difficult, empirical methods used in other contexts can help isolate the specific cause and its effects.

The costs and benefits of fragmentation are reviewed from a financial stability perspective, using examples from securities markets, international banking and asset prices. Policy actions at the global level typically mean fewer regulatory and institutional differences between countries. Hence, markets globally tend to converge towards uniformity and less fragmentation. Since financial regulation, even when aimed at greater financial stability, inherently introduces frictions and barriers, it can nevertheless lead to some fragmentation. Thus trade-offs could arise between financial stability and fragmentation.

The review suggests that reducing fragmentation and enhancing financial stability are, in general, highly likely to be complementary. Yet fragmentation is not necessarily harmful for financial stability. In specific cases, some degree of fragmentation can actually serve to enhance financial stability. To assess possible trade-offs requires the various causes of fragmentation to be identified, together with a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. Cooperation – global in nature, and involving both public and private actions – can help.

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