Fabio Caccioli, J Farmer, Cristopher Moore, Munik Shrestha
Paper #: 12-10-018
Common asset holdings are widely believed to have been the primary vector of contagion in the recent financial crisis. We develop a network approach to the amplification of financial contagion due to the combination of overlapping portfolios and leverage, and we show how it can be understood in terms of a generalized branching process. By studying a stylized model we estimate the circumstances under which systemic instabilities are likely to occur as a function of parameters such as leverage, market crowding, diversification, and market impact. Although diversification may be good for individual institutions, it can create dangerous systemic effects, and as a result financial contagion gets worse with too much diversification. Under our model there is a critical threshold for leverage; below it financial networks are always stable, and above it the unstable region grows as leverage increases. The financial system exhibits "robust yet fragile" behavior, with regions of the parameter space where contagion is rare but catastrophic whenever it occurs. Our model and methods of analysis can be calibrated to real data and provide simple yet powerful tools for macroprudential stress testing.