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Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

Last month I had the pleasure to contribute to the IIMR/IEA annual monetary conference (8 November 2017) in London, ‘Has Financial Regulation Gone Too Far? And do banks really need all the extra capital?‘. I gave a short talk in session 3, ‘The role of the central bank in financial regulation‘, chaired by Charles Goodhart (LSE), on the essential nature of central banks as banking institutions. It may sound silly to state the obvious but, as my good friend, mentor and excellent colleague – Pedro Schwartz – always reminds me, we should not take for granted the fundamentals in economics, even less in money and central banking. Let me then start by saying that modern central banks were established to cope with two major tasks: (1) to be the bankers of the State (the Bank of England and other continental European central banks are good examples of this, see here) but also (2) to become the bankers of the banks in monetary systems operated under a fractional reserve (again, the Bank of England is the first modern central bank in this regard); the latter is what we call the lender of last resort function of central banks.

In the early years of the establishment of central banks, with the running of the gold standard, strictly speaking, there was no monetary policy nor the pursue of a macroeconomic target as we understand it now; but a bank of issue with a privilege position in the monetary market, and mainly focused on maintaining the convertibility of its currency at the pre-announced rate. It was only quite recently (historically speaking), after the abandonment of the gold standard in the interwar years, that central banks have explicitly adopted or given other tasks, and indeed macroeconomic tasks, such as keeping price stability or achieving economic growth.

But we should not forget that central banks are at the core of the monetary system and the banking sector, providing financial services to a ‘club’ of commercial banks which create money in the currency issued by the central banks. Which money? ‘Bank money’, that is, bank deposits under a fractional reserve system. This money constitutes the bulk of the money supply in modern economies, and it is vital for the central bank to keep a steady growth of the amount of money in circulation to preserve stable and long term economic growth; thus avoiding too much money during the expansion of the economy or too little in a banking crisis. What I state in my talk is that privately-owned central banks are genuinely interested in maintaining financial stability, and thus will be willing to intervene in a liquidity crisis much more promptly and efficiently than a central bank under the shadow – if not the control – of the State. This is something I have supported in other articles (recently in this article), and my colleague at the IIMR, Tim Congdon, has written on (see chapter 7 in ‘Central Banking in a Free Society‘).

This is the video of the talk:

Comments are very welcome as ever!

 

Juan Castañeda

PS. To the best of my knowledge the characterisation of central banks as the bankers of a ‘club’ was first coined by Charles Goodhart in his seminal 1988 book, ‘The Evolution of Central Banks‘, a book anyone interested in the history and functions of central banks must read. However, unlike Goodhart’s position in his book, I do not see a conflict of interest for a self-interested central bank to become a lender of last resort in times of crisis. Actually, central banks did make a profit when lending in times of crisis, such as the Bank of England in several banking crises in the 19th century.

 

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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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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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On the 13th of March (IEA, London) I had the pleasure to participate in the launch of the new MSc in Money, Banking and Central Banking (University of Buckingham, with the collaboration of the Institute of International Monetary Research), starting in September 2017; and I did it with two of the professors who will be teaching in the MSc, indeed two excellent and very well-known experts in the field: Professors Geoffrey Wood and Tim Congdon. I have known them both for long and shared research projects and co-authored works in money and central banking; and it was a privilege for me to have the chance to  introduce the new MSc, as well as to engage in a fascinating dialogue with them on very topical and key questions in monetary economics in our days: amongst others, ‘How is money determined? And how does this affect the economy?’; ‘Is a fractional reserve banking system inherently fragile?’; ‘Does the size of central banks’ balance sheet matter?’; ‘If we opt for inflation targeting as a policy strategy, which should be the variable to measure and target inflation?’; ‘Why the obsession amongst economists and academics with interest rates, and the disregard of money?”; ‘Who is to blame for the Global Financial Crisis, banks or regulators?’; ‘Does tougher bank regulation result in saver banks?’; ‘Is the US Fed conducting Quantitative Tightening in the last few months?’.

You can find the video with the full event here; with the presentation of the MSc in Money, Banking and Central Banking up to minute 9:20 and the discussion on the topics mentioned above onwards.  Several lessons can be learned from our discussion, and however evident they may sound, academics and policy-makers should be reminded of them again and again:

  • Inflation and deflation are monetary phenomena over the medium and long term.
  • Central banks‘ main missions are to preserve the purchasing power of the currency and maintain financial stability; and thus they should have never disregarded the analysis of money growth and its impact on prices and nominal income in the years running up to the Global Financial Crisis.
  • A central bank acting as the lender of last resort of the banking sector does not mean rescuing every bank in trouble. Broke banks need to fail to preserve the stability of the banking system over the long term.
  • The analysis of both the composition and the changes in central banks’ balance sheets is key to assess monetary conditions in the economy and ultimately make policy prescriptions.
  • The analysis of the central banks’ decisions and operations cannot be done properly without the study of the relevant historical precedents: to learn monetary and central banking history is vital to understand current policies monetary questions.
  • Tighter bank regulation, such as Basel III new liquidity ratios and the much higher capital ratios announced in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis, resulted in a greater contraction in the amount of money, and so it had even greater deflationary effects and worsened the crisis.

These are indeed key lessons and principles to apply should we want to achieve both monetary and financial stability over the medium and long term.

I hope you enjoy the discussion as much as I did. As ever, comments and feedback will be most welcome.

Apply for the MSc here!

Juan Castaneda

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On March 2nd (Fundación Rafael del Pino, Madrid) I had the pleasure to join a panel on the future of the European Banking Union (EBU) (and on Brexit) with very distinguished colleagues and friends: Jose Manuel Gonzalez Paramo (BBVA and former member of the ECB Executive Committee), David Marsh (OMFIF, London) and Pedro Schwartz (UCJC, Madrid) (see the video of the seminar here). During the  event I also had the opportunity to launch in Madrid the book I co-edited last year on the European Banking Union. Prospects and Challenges (Routledge). The book is a collection of essays on the EBU by central banks’ analysts, academics and practitioners from different jurisdictions. Each of them addresses the topic from a different perspective, either legal or economic, and highlights the pros and cons of the EBU as well as its expected challenges over the next few years.

It is obvious to all now, but also to many experts at the time of the launch of the euro, that the institutional architecture of the euro was, at the very least, weak and incomplete (see some of the articles in the 1990s written by W. Buiter, C. Goodhart, P. Schwartz, T. Congdon or G. Wood, amongst others). No currency union has survived for long without a political union or a supranational Treasury, with enough powers and policies to back the currency. And this is particularly true in the case of an area, such as the Euro area, which is far from being a flexible and fully functioning monetary area. You may want to check out the results of the research report just published by the Institute of International Monetary Research on the measurement of the integration of the euro area or its ‘optimality’ as a single currency.

The reference to the classical gold standard (1870s – 1913) as a comparison with the current euro standard deserves some attention. We should be aware of the differences between both standards: the gold standard was indeed a monetary union, where member economies fixed their currencies against gold; whereas the euro standard is a currency union, where countries get rid completely of their national currencies and adopt a single currency for all. The latter is much more rigid and demanding during a crisis, since member states have no room to alter the parity of the currency (there is no national currency!), nor to abandon the parity on a temporary basis. Under a currency union member countries have effectively no central bank of issue, as this function has been fully delegated to a supranational central bank. We have experienced since 2008 how demanding this monetary system becomes under a crisis, much more a severe financial crisis, as countries have no other option but to cut costs and prices in an effort to regain competitiveness (the so-called ‘internal devaluation’). This is an option to sort out the crisis, but it has proven to be a painful one our economies (and even more, our populations) seem not to be ready to implement or even to accept.

In a nutshell, the EBU implies the following (more details on the presentation here):

  • The establishment of the European Banking Authority (EBA), which overseas the implementation of the new (much higher) Basel III banks’ capital ratio and the new liquidity ratio across the EU.
  • The establishment of a single banking regulator under the ‘Single Supervisory Mechanism‘ (SSM) for big banks or transnational banks in the Eurozone (around 80% of all), in the hands of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. In addition the new Single Resolution Mechanism (SRM) has been stablished to deal with the recovery or resolution of a bank (see more details below).
  • According to the new EU Recovery and Resolution Directive (RRD), every bank must draft a resolution plan to be approved by the regulator, in order to resolve the bank if needed be in an orderly and timely manner. In addition, should a bank under the SSM need to be resolved, the government will not use taxpayers’ money in the first place. Actually the resolution or recovery process is going to be handled by the SRM. And only when the bank’s shareholders and creditors’ money has been (mostly) exhausted (so they have absorbed losses of at least 8% of the total liabilities), the bank can benefit from other sources of funding to pay its debt or conduct other operations (such as the Resolution Fund, see below). This is what the literature calls a bail-in rather than the bail-outs of the banks with taxpayers’  money we have seen in the recent crisis.
  • In addition, all member states have agreed to guarantee the deposits up to 100,000 euros per person per bank (however there is not yet a pan-EU deposit guarantee scheme but national schemes).
  • Finally, the EBU would not be complete should we not pay attention to the role of the ECB and the National Central Banks as the lenders of last resort in the Euro area. Modern central banks (particularly since the 19th century, but also earlier in the case of the Bank of England) were established to support the banks in case of a liquidity crisis. If a bank is solvent but illiquid, and thus cannot pay its deposits temporarily, the bank can always request extraordinary lending to the central bank (as W. Bagehot put it in his famous 1873’s seminal book: unlimited lending but always against collateral and at a penalty rate). However, this competence is still in the hands of the National Central Banks in the Euro zone which, provided there is no objection of the ECB, can lend money to the national bank in crisis at request. This division of competences between the ECB and the National Central Bank should be better coordinated so no banking crisis is artificially ‘hidden’ or postponed under the provision of liquidity by the national central bank.

The ‘Euro 2.0’

As Jose Manuel Gonzalez Paramo put it, the European Banking Union is a sort of ‘Euro 2.0‘ as it comes to remedy (at least some) of the Euro 1.0 institutional problems and weaknesses. In this regard, I agree it is an improvement as it helps to create a more consistent and credible institutional setting (*); however it does not tackle important aspects I will just briefly mention below:

  • First of all, the EBU and the new Resolution Fund (paid for by the banks, its amount will be no less than 1% of banks’  guaranteed deposits) will not be completed until 2024. So, should a banking crisis occurs in the meantime the banking sector will not have enough funds to pay for the banks’ liabilities on its own or to fund and implement the decisions made by the SRM.
  • Secondly, if a bank needs to be assisted and finally resolved, a complicated coordination between many actors of divorced nature and aims (political, national and supranational) is required in a question of days/hours. Of course the test to this procedure will come when we experience the next banking crisis (see more details on chapter 2 by T. Huertas, see book mentioned above).
  • But finally and most importantly, in my opinion, the EBU does not resolve the fundamental problems of the Euro zone; which are the abysmal internal asymmetries amongst member states in terms of competitiveness, public finances or costs (see some measurements here), as well as the actual lack in internal and cross-border flexibility as regards labour and good and services markets. Just a view of the asymmetries in Target-2 member states’ balances is as striking as self-explanatory.

The EBU adds consistency and predictability to the supervision and resolution of banks. In this sense, it is an improvement. It also makes banks pay for the losses before applying any other funding, even less taxpayers money; but we are yet to see the robustness of the new institutions established as well as the political commitment to the bail-in option in reality. The EBU is in my view another ‘patch’ on the euro’s structural weaknesses.

 

Juan Castañeda

Notes:

(*) However more consistent, I do not think this type of euro currency, very much centralised and linked to an increasingly powerful supranational State, is the best we could have established to preserve the purchasing power of the euro; I will elaborate further on the alternatives in next posts.

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