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Archive for the ‘banking and central banking’ Category

At a time when major central banks are reviewing their policy strategies (the US Fed already did so in September 2020, see George Selgin‘s excellent analysis here), there is always the temptation to call for an extension of the remit of central banks, to go ‘bold’ and ‘modern’, which effectively means to go beyond maintaining price stability. As the leading British economist, Charles Goodhart (LSE), has put it before, if you want to know what major central banks will do in the future, check what the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) is doing now. Well, the RBNZ is already giving us a hint about what’s coming. As announced few days ago, the bank has been instructed by the government to consider ‘how it can contribute to the Government’s housing policy objectives, consistent with its financial stability objective of promoting a sound and efficient financial system.‘ In the reply of the RBNZ to the government’s instructions, the monetary authority makes it clear that this ‘requires the Bank to have regard to the impact of its actions on the Government’s policy of supporting more sustainable house prices, including by dampening investor demand for existing housing stock, which would improve affordability for first-home buyers‘.

Since the very launch of ‘inflation targeting’ as a policy strategy by the RBNZ in 1989, followed by many other central banks in the 1990s, the definition of what price stability means and how to measure it have been at the core of the policy and academic debates and discussions. At the time it was decided to measure price stability in terms of a consumer price index (CPI), which excludes asset prices. Of course, monetary policy decisions do affect asset prices (see a recent paper on it here, by Tim Congdon, IIMR); but adding asset prices to the remit of the central bank would mean that we know in advance what the long term equilibrium of asset prices is, that compatible with macroeconomic and financial stability. In real time, under uncertainty, we can identify trends and changes in asset prices which we may believe are not compatible with financial stability, but we can only know for sure ‘ex post’. Even if such a target for asset prices were easy to identify in real time, having both a CPI target and another one in terms of ‘sustainable house prices’ may become am impossible task for the central banks to achieve when both price indices move in opposite directions. For example, the aggressive response to Covid-19 crisis by major central banks since the Spring 2020 has resulted in an extraordinary increase in the amount of money broadly defined in major economies, indeed led by the USA; which has first affected asset prices, very much on the rise since then. However, CPI prices have not increased much yet (here we explain why CPI inflation will very likely increase later in 2021, particularly in the USA). At this juncture, should a central bank have a dual-price mandate, which prices should be prioritised?

The answer is very straightforward if central banks were to adopt a simpler and more effective policy strategy. By maintaining a moderate and stable rate of growth of money (broadly defined), central banks will be contributing to both CPI price stability and financial stability, but over the medium to the long term (approx. 2-3 years). Before the outbreak of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, we observed a higher than 10% annual rate of growth in the amount of money in the Eurozone, while CPI inflation was still quite moderate. My colleague Pedro Schwartz and myself very much raised our concerns about this situation in 2007, in this report for the ECON Committee of the European Parliament. We didn’t know the extent of the crisis that was coming, but we knew that that rate of growth of money from 2004 to 2007 was not compatible with macroeconomic and financial stability. Of course, no one really paid much attention to it. As we estimated it at the time, following a price-stability rule would have meant a much lower rate of growth of money (broadly defined, by M3 in the Eurozone, see the red line below), around 5% – 6% per annum. The actual rate of growth of money in the Eurozone in 2007 (see the blue line below) doubled that benchmark rate compatible with price stability. M3 growth rates in the Eurozone are again in the double-digit territory (see IIMR February 2021 report here) and this can only mean higher inflation once the economy goes back to ‘normal’ (i.e. the demand for money reverts to levels closer to pre-crisis levels) and agents start to get rid of their excess in money holdings. We will see.

Source: Schwartz and Castañeda, 2007. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/178681/20071220ATT16955EN.pdf. You can find more details in the report on the calculations of the benchmark rules we used to assess the rate of growth of M3 in the Eurozone.

Let’s task central banks with what we know they can achieve. Central banks are very powerful policy-makers but they cannot do it all, and they shouldn’t either. Adding more tasks to their remits, be it an extra target in terms of asset prices, jobs creation, or contributing to a more green economy, among others, would put central banks in a very difficult technical and institutional position; one where they wouldn’t be able to achieve their mandate and they will be more exposed to political pressures. Let’s leave all the ‘extras’ for parliaments to deal with, if they like. This arrangement will preserve central bank independence and enhance their effectiveness in achieving monetary stability and financial stability, no more no less. Here you can find more details on this all in a 2020 report I wrote for SUERF on the ECB 2020-21 policy review strategy.

Thank you. Comments welcome.

Juan Castañeda

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Central banks are not just interest rate setters: an introduction to modern central bank roles

This is the online presentation I made at the 2020 Freedom Week (by the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs) on August 21st. It is an overview of the major roles undertaken by modern central banks in our economies, which involves much more than setting the policy rate. Actually, since the outbreak of the Global Financial Crisis what leading central banks have been doing is to act as ‘bank of banks’, ‘bank of the government’ and, as regards monetary policy, to engage in asset purchase operations (i.e. Quantitative Easing). Once policy rates were brought down to the effective lower (nominal) bound, central banks have used outright asset purchases to be able to affect macroeconomic outcomes. Contrary to a very popular misperception, in purely fiat monetary systems, central banks cannot run out of ammunition, even when nominal policy rates are zero or close to zero. In this presentation, I briefly discuss (1) what central banks do as providers of services to the banking sector and to the government, as well as (2) the importance of monetary analysis to understand the effects of changes in the amount of money on inflation and output over the medium to the long term. This is at the core of what we do at the Institute of International Monetary Research.

I hope you find it a good introduction to central bank roles in modern economies. As ever, comments welcome.

Juan Castaneda

PS. If only for enjoying James Gillray‘s caricatures as a means to explain money and central banking, it may well be worth watching.

 

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A model of parallel currencies under free exchange rates

Money is one of the most studied and truly complex phenomena in Economics. How money is created? And how is it destroyed? ‘What constitutes money and what doesn’t? Is money only the means of payment sanctioned by law, by the State? In our current monetary systems, can we ‘create’ as much as money as we like? If so, wouldn’t it be inflationary? These are some of the questions Economics students frequently ask at the start their degrees. Today I am only going to focus, if only timidly, on one of them; the absence of competition in the national currencies markets in our days. Of course, the absence of competition in this market is not the result of the application of the conventional laws of Economics; quite the opposite, as masterly explained by Vera Smith in her ‘Rationale of Central Banking and the Free Banking Alternative’ in 1936, the granting of the legal tender clause to a single currency, that issued by the State, has been an explicit decision made by the government (the relation between the State and the central bank has always been problematic to say the least, you can find more details on it here). F. Hayek also explains marvellously the abolishment of the laws of Economics as regards money in his ‘Denationalisation of Money’ in 1976. More recently, my colleague from the Institute of International Monetary Research (IIMR), Tim Congdon, discussed this issue in his ‘Money in a Free Society’ in 2009 and makes the case for a privatised and truly independent central bank, detached from the political agenda or the economic needs of the government.

Following this debate, two colleagues of mine, Pedro Schwartz and Sebastian Damrich, and myself have reflected on these issues in a working paper just published by the Applied Economics Centre of the John Hopkins University (‘A model of parallel currencies under free floating exchange rates’. In Studies in Applied Economics, Num. 160, June 2020). In the paper we assess the feasibility of a parallel currency system under different macroeconomic scenarios. We first offer the rationale for the introduction of more competition in this market and then develop a model to see wether (and under which conditions) a parallel currency system ends up in the running of a single currency economy, or rather in two currencies competing for the market. We draw policy implications and use the the eurozone as a case-study, but the model could well be applied to any other set of countries sharing a currency or willing to access a different currency area. In a nutshell, what we show in the model is the conditions for the issuer of each currency to gain a higher market share and benefit from it. We make a distinction between (1) a macroeconomic stable scenario, defined in the paper ‘as one in which the sensitivity of the market share of the currencies to changes in prices in both currencies is not high (as we presume changes in inflation in both currencies will be rather small)’ (see page 25). In this scenario, it is ultimately the supply of each currency what determines their market share (the less inflationary currency will gain more market share over time); and (2) a highly unstable macroeconomic scenario, ‘where agents’ demand of each currency is very sensitive to changes in relative prices in both currencies. In this high price sensitive scenario, an increase in the switching costs to favour the use of one of the currencies (i.e. the government’s preferred currency) would only lead to inflation in that favoured currency and very quickly to its expulsion from the market’ (see page 25). The model can thus be applied to well-established economies, where both the national currency and the common currency circulate in the economy and to highly inflationary economies, where the government favours the use of its currency and uses the currency as a source of revenues (i.e. seigniorage).

This is the abstract of the paper, which you will be able to access in full here:

‘The production of good money seems to be out of reach for most countries. The aim of this paper is to examine how a country can attain monetary stability by granting legal tender to two freely tradable currencies circulating in parallel. Then we examine how such a system of parallel currencies could be used for any Member State of the Eurozone, with both the euro and a national currency accepted as legal tender, which we argue is a desirable monetary arrangement particularly but not only in times of crisis. The necessary condition for this parallel system to function properly is confidence in the good behaviour of the monetary authorities in charge of each currency. A fully floating exchange rate between the two would keep the issuers of the new local currency in check. This bottom-up solution based on currency choice could also be applied
in countries aspiring to enter the Eurozone, instead of the top-down once and for all imposition of the euro as a single currency that has turned out to be very stringent and has shown institutional flaws during the recent Eurozone crisis of 2009 – 2013. Our scheme would have alleviated the plight of Greece and Cyprus. It could also ease the entry of the eight Member States still missing from the Eurozone.’

All comments welcome. We still have to work more on the paper and suggestions for change and further references will be most appreciated.

 

Juan E. Castañeda

PS. A previous study on parallel currencies by P. Schwartz, F. Cabrillo and myself can be found here; where we put it forward as a solution to ease and expedite the adjustments needed to apply to the Greek economy in the midst of the so-called euro crisis.

 

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‘Money talks’ is a series of mini-videos the Institute of International Monetary Research (IIMR) will start to release every week on the 18th of June, Monday.

The name of the series says it all: experts in money and central banking will be covering key concepts to understand better monetary economics in less than two minutes long videos. Tim Congdon (Chairman of the IIMR) and Geoffrey Wood (IIMR Academic Advisory Council) along with myself and many others to come will be addressing the fundamentals in money and banking to be able to understand how our monetary systems work and which are the roles and functions of modern central banks.

The topics address include the following:

Episode 1: What is Money?

Episode 2: What is the Central Bank?

Episode 3: What is the Monetary Base?

Episode 4: What is the Money Multiplier?

Episode 5: What does Monetary Policy consist of?

Episode 6: What is Central Bank Independence?

Episode 7: The Central Bank as the Lender of Last Resort

Episode 8: Bail outs and Bank Failures

Episode 9: Basel Rules

Episode 10: What os ‘Narrow Banking’?

Episode 11: Fiat Money

Episode 12: What is a monetary policy rule?

Episode 13: What is Monetarism?

Episode 14: Monetary Policy Tasks

But of course, these are just the ones we are starting with. The list will be expanded in the next few weeks and the aim is to produce a library of mini-videos that could be a good reference to search for short definitions on money, banking and central banking.

If you are interested in this project, please subscribe to the IIMR YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLudZPVEs3S82iu2zb-QZfcK7pqnrHfPgO) to stay tuned.

As ever, comments and feedback most welcome!

 

Juan Castañeda

 

 

 

 

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This is the title of an article written with my colleague, Tim Congdon (Institute of International Monetary Research and University of Buckingham), published in CityAM on 27/10/2017.

Our main point is that more regulation won’t make banks safer and is counterproductive. It is a sort of an instinctive reaction by politicians, policy-makers and regulators to respond to a crisis with more and tighter regulation, in an effort to tackle the ‘excesses’ in the market economy left of its own will. This is both very naive and irresponsible, as much as empirically and theoretically wrong. The recent announcement and approval of the Basell III tighter bank capital ratios is an example of it: this tougher set of regulations was announced and approved in the midst of a severe financial crisis (2008-2010), and resulted in banks shrinking their balance sheets even more; with the expected dramatic fall in money growth and nominal spending.

It is again a dire example of the running of the law of the unintended consequences of regulation; which would recommend the need to assess in advance the expected consequences of regulation, rather than quickly and desperately calling for more and tougher laws on banks and the rest of the financial system.

As we put it in the article:

Far too many people believe that “better” regulation is the answer to financial crises. But further regulation involves an expansion of the power of the state, and a loss of freedom for the financial system. Remember that Britain had no explicit official rules on bank capital until the 1980s, yet no British bank suffered a run on its deposits over the preceding century. Crucial to the success of British banking in the decades before the Northern Rock fiasco was the Bank of England’s willingness to lend to solvent banks if they were having difficulty funding their assets. Good central banking helped Britain’s commercial banks to run their businesses efficiently and profitably, and to the benefit of their customers.’

There was a time, not that far away, when regulation was not that prominent and financial markets flourished; and when a banking institution failed, that occasionally they did, there were solid policies and institutions willing to intervene in an decisively and orderly manner (the Bank of England had been an example of that, at least until the collapse of Norther rock in the recent crisis).

You will find the article in full here: http://www.cityam.com/274672/tighter-bank-regulation-wont-stop-boom-and-bust-but-damage.

Comments, even more if critical, most welcome!

Juan Castañeda

PS. We will be discussing these issues with the member of the Bank of England’ s Financial Policy Committee, Martin Taylor, in the IIMR Annual Public Lecture on the 7/10 in London: https://www.mv-pt.org/events/public-lecture-the-committee-of-public-safety-the-work-of-the-financial-policy-committee-by-m

 

 

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This is the title of the second research paper published by the Institute of International Monetary Research (IIMR), by Adam Ridley. This is a brief summary extracted from the paper, which is fully available at http://www.mv-pt.org/research-papers:

‘Output growth in the leading Western economies has been weaker since the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 than at any time since the 1930s. According to the International Monetary Fund’s database, advanced economies’ gross domestic product was flat in 2008 and dropped by 3.4 per cent in 2009. Although 2010 enjoyed a rebound with 3.1 per cent growth, the next three years saw output advancing typically by a mere 1 ½ per cent a year. This was well beneath the pre-2008 trend.

In the leading Western nations the official response to the Great Recession has had a number of well-known and familiar common features, although policy has been far from stable or easy to predict. The elements of this response constitute what might be termed the “New Regulatory Wisdom” (NRW). How is to be defined? What has been its impact so far? And what will be its effects if it is maintained into the future?’

 

Video on changes in bank regulation during and after the Global Financial Crisis

You can also find a video below with further insights on this fundamental topic to understand the collapse in broad money growth in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis, and thus the aggravation of the crisis. The effects of tightening bank capital regulation are quite straight forward; in order to comply with higher capital to assets ratios, banks would have to sell their assets and thus reduce the amount of deposits (bank money) in the economy. This means a contraction in banks’ balance sheets and in turn a fall in deposits (broad money). The effects of such contractionary regulation is addressed in detail in Money in the Great Recession (Ed. Tim Congdon. 2017). In view of recent proposals to even increase capital ratios further the IIMR will hold a conference in this topic in november 2017 (more information with the programme and speakers to follow after the summer)

Comments welcome.

Juan Castañeda

 

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Following up my last post on the eurozone crisis and the monetary policy of the ECB (see IIMR esearch Paper 3: Have Central Banks forgotten about money? by my colleague Tim Congdon and myself), please find below a video with further details on the changes made to the monetary strategy of the ECB since its establishment.

What I claim in the video is that the ECB did give a prominent role to the analysis of the changes in broad money up to 2003, when it reviewed its strategy, and not surprisingly it led to a higher rate of growth of money in the Eurozone in the years running up to the Global Financial Crisis. Just to be clear, I do not support that any central bank should adopt a ‘mechanistic’ monetary growth policy rule, by which the bank adheres to an intermediate M3 (or broad money) rate of growth target come what may. The link between money and prices and nominal income is indeed very strong over the medium and long term, but it is of course affected by other variables/phenomena in the short term that need to be properly considered and taken into account by policy makers. So rather than a mechanistic approach to such a monetary target, changes in money growth should be given a primary role in assessing inflation and nominal income forecasts, and thus in the making of monetary policy decisions; and this is precisely what the ECB did from 1999 to 2003 under its two-pillar strategy. So when money growth continuously exceeds the rate deemed to be compatible with monetary stability, this would signal inflationary pressures and even financial instability the central bank would eventually tackle by tightening its monetary policy. This rationale would show the commitment of the central bank to both monetary and financial stability over the long term, and the use of a broad monetary aggregate would serve as a credible indicator to make monetary policy decisions and as a means to transmit the central bank’s expectations on inflation and output growth.

As ever, comments very welcome.

Juan Castañeda

PS. More videos on the IIMR YouTube channel

 

 

 

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This is the title of a research paper I have written with my colleague and leading monetarist, Professor Tim Congdon, and published by the Institute of International Monetary Research (IIMR). This is a brief summary extracted from the paper, which is fully available at http://www.mv-pt.org/research-papers:

The quantity of money matters in the design of a monetary policy regime, if that regime is to be stable or even viable on a long-term basis. The passage of events in the Eurozone since 1999 has shown, yet again, that excessive money growth leads to both immoderate asset price booms and unsustainably above-trend growth in demand and output, and that big falls in the rate of change in the quantity of money damage asset markets, undermine demand and output, and cause job losses and heavy unemployment. This is nothing new. The ECB did not sustain a consistent strategy towards money growth and banking regulation over its first decade and a half. The abandonment of the broad money reference value in 2003 was followed in short order by three years of unduly high monetary expansion and then, from late 2008, by a plunge in money growth to the lowest rates seen in European countries since the 1930s. The resulting macroeconomic turmoil was of the sort that would be expected by quantity theory- of-money analyses, including such analyses of the USA’s Great Depression as in Friedman and Schwartz’s Monetary History of the United States.

This paper argues, from the experience of the Eurozone after the introduction of the single currency in 1999, that maintaining steady growth of a broadly-defined measure of money is crucial to the achievement of stability in demand and output. The ECB did not sustain a consistent strategy towards money growth and banking regulation over its first decade and a half.

The chart below illustrates our point very well:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As ever, comments very welcome.

Juan Castañeda

 

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It is a privilege to work so close to Tim Congdon particularly since I was appointed Director of the Institute of International monetary Research (IIMR) in January 2016. Tim is the Chairman of the Institute and indeed a leading reference for those who want to understand monetary economics and central banks’ policy decisions; and in particular the role played by changes in the amount of money in circulation on changes in prices (all prices, CPI and asset prices) and nominal income along the business cycle. Changes in the amount of money do lead to portfolio decisions made by households, financial institutions and non-financial companies. The rationale is quite straightforward: in normal times agents tend to keep a rather stable cash to total assets ratio in their portfolios, so the greater the amount of money in the hands of (say) banks and insurance companies, the greater their willingness to invest it in other assets such as real estate, bonds (either long term or short term maturity bonds, or public or private bonds) or equity looking for a greater remuneration. And, should the creation of more and more money continues, it will eventually lead to an increase in the demand of consumption goods and services. Consequently asset prices (and CPI prices, though to a lesser extent) will change as a result of the greater demand for assets in the market and thus higher prices. The new equilibrium in the economy will be reached when agents have got rid of the excess in cash balances in their portfolios so now they keep again their desired cash to asset ratio. As a result of it all the amount of money in the economy will be greater and so will be the price level. M. Friedman and A. Schwartz explained it as clear as marvellously in the 1960s and it remains valid today as a theoretical framework to assess inflation and changes in nominal income.

This is in a nutshell the core of the explanation of monetarism; of course the process by which a greater amount of money in circulation ends up in higher asset and CPI prices can be more complex and, particularly when applied to a policy scenario, it will require a more detailed explanation. Of course there are lags in the transmission of money changes onto prices, as agents take time to assess the market conditions and make their own portfolio adjustments. In addition, institutions matter so a more regulated (less free) economy will require more time to reflect the new monetary conditions on the price level. On top of that the central bank and other financial regulators may interfere further in markets by making new monetary policy decisions, or even changing regulation regarding banks’ capital and/or liquidity ratios. This will make the picture given above more nuanced but by no means invalid; what we know, and there is plenty of evidence about it, is that a sustained increase in the amount of money over the increase in the supply of goods and services in the economy (say the GDP growth) will over time lead to higher prices.

On the 20th of April at the University of Buckingham I had the privilege to discuss with Tim Congdon on (1) what monetarism means nowadays, (2) which are the common criticisms of monetarism and (3) the relevance of monetarism for investment and monetary policy decisions. In fact, in the last few minutes in the video Tim sets up very clearly what it can well be labelled as an operational monetary policy rule for central banks to make policy decisions.

Many will find monetarism a not very fancy or topical term; call it instead rigorous monetary analysis then. As long as we focus on the impact of changes in the amount of money on prices and nominal income I do not think we should pay too much attention to labels. Unfortunately there is virtually a vacuum in this field in our days, as most central banks (not all) and financial regulators have seemed to forget or even disregard the valuable information provided by the analysis of changes in the amount money (and how it is created) for monetary policy purposes.

Enjoy the video with the interview below; comments, as ever, very much welcome.

Juan Castañeda

PS. You can find further videos on money and central banking at the IIMR Youtube channel

 

 

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Should the allegations published by the BBC (on Panorama programme) last week be confirmed, this news brings very serious concerns for the credibility of the Bank of England (BoE) and also the trust of the general public in the banking sector. Ours is a fractional reserve monetary system with no ‘metallic anchor’, but purely based on trust and the record and effectiveness of the BoE and the rest of the banking sector. The alleged pressure of the government and the Bank of England to keep LIBOR (London Interbank Overnight Rate) artificially low back in the Autumn of 2008 (in an effort to send the message that banks and money markets were not that disrupted) erodes the sound functioning or markets and the formation of interest rates, which are key signals for households and companies in planning their decisions.

 

But why messing with LIBOR?! Central banks have plenty of monetary weaponry to tackle a liquidity crisis

Instead of interfering in the functioning of the interbank market (as alleged), should the Bank of England had wanted to prevent the contagion of a panic in the banking sector after the fall of Lehman Brothers in the Autumn of 2008, it could have done it much more promptly and effectively by being a more active (last resort) lender of the banking sector: i. e. by extending the maturity of the loans and increasing the amount of the loans given to the banks. Following Walter Bagehot´s seminal narrative of the way the Bank of England should step in if a liquidity crisis occurs, it should do so by (1) lending promptly as much as money as needed, (2) against collateral and (3) at a penalty rate (usually at a higher rate than the main policy rate). Before 2007, the Bank of England had been acting as the lender of last resort of the British banks very successfully for more than two hundred years, and there had not been major bank collapses in the UK; at least when compared with the record of other central banks. The application of this more active and timely lending of last resort policy at the time would have been a much more efficient, effective and indeed transparent way to prevent the banking crisis from escalating further; and also a more effective way to send the message to the public the Bank of England was actively responding to the crisis.

I was quoted in an article published by S&P Global Market Intelligence (Sohia Furber) about the allegations of the rigging of the LIBOR in 2008 (see more at http://www.mv-pt.org/latest-news).

 

Juan Castañeda

PS. You can read the piece published by S&P on the 12th of April at: http://www.snl.com/web/client?auth=inherit#news/article?id=40298030&cdid=A-40298030-11831

 

 

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