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The Last Days of SVB

A scrum of security guards, reporters, and customers outside of Silicon Valley Bank a few days after it collapsed.
A scrum of security guards, reporters, and customers outside of Silicon Valley Bank a few days after it collapsed. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
March 19, 2023

The beginning of the end of Silicon Valley Bank commenced on Friday, March 3, when the Goldman Sachs bond trading desk got an interesting inbound call: SVB, the venerable central nervous system of the tech industry, was seeking its assistance to negotiate the purchase, as a principal, of a $24 billion chunk of SVB’s portfolio of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities. The bonds were part of the investment portfolio that SVB had decided to sell in order to meet an unexpected rush of withdrawals from its uninsured depositors, such as venture-capital firms and their portfolio companies. 

Goldman is Goldman—the firm handles deals like this all the time, and well. The opportunity this time was fairly straightforward. Goldman would buy the portfolio at a significant discount and then sell the bonds over the course of the following weeks, providing SVB with liquidity while Goldman sought to arbitrage the spread. Working through the weekend, Goldman’s traders would have to value each of the bonds separately, taking into account their duration, their interest rates and their credit profile, among other things, including what Goldman thought each bond would fetch in the increasingly volatile market.