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Posts Tagged ‘bank money’

Broad money growth (M3, Shadow Government Statistics) in the US keeps on decelerating since the end of 2015. As reported in the latest Monthly Monetary Update (Institute of International Monetary Research, IIMR), ‘In the final quarter of 2016 US M3 grew at an annualised rate of 2.2%. This follows on from a mere 0.9% in the three months to November, the slowest annualised quarterly growth rate in over five years. 2016 ends with US broad money growing at an annual rate of 4.0%, which is respectable, but down on 2015’s figure of 4.3%. In mid- 2016, the figure was 4.5%. The subsequent slowdown in broad money growth has been primarily caused by “quantitative tightening” ‘.

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Source: January Money Update, IIMR

 

What is ‘Quantitative Tightening’? As stated in the IIMR’s January money update cited above ‘ (…) “quantitative tightening” (i.e., the reversal of quantitative easing) when it allows its stock of asset-backed securities to run off at maturity. The Fed can use proceeds from the maturing ABSs to reduce its cash reserve liabilities to the banks rather than to finance new, offsetting purchases of securities.’ (See the January Monetary Update, IIMR). What we do not know yet is whether the Fed has intentionally pursued such a monetary contractive policy, or rather it is just the (indeed surprisingly unnoticed) consequence of the fall securities in its balance sheet when they reach maturity. As far as I know the Fed has not made a public policy announcement in this regard nor committed to such policy.

Why does this matter? Well it does matter when the medium to the long term correlation between money growth and nominal income is acknowledged. Of course it is not a mechanical or a one-to-one correlation,  and indeed time lags should be taken into account; anyhow in an environment where the demand of money is fairly stable, changes in the rate of growth of money do translate into changes in nominal income. Table below shows such empirical relation in the US in the last five decades:

nominal-income-and-money-us

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: January Money Update, IIMR

 

Thus should this weakening in money growth in the US continue in the next quarters it will most likely have an impact on economic growth forecasts. This is subject to several caveats though; the new US administration has already announced a profound change in bank regulation which may well ease the pressure put in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis on small and medium size banks particularly to expand their balance sheets. If this materialises in the near future, the creation of more bank deposits in the economy could offset the monetary contractive policy followed by the Fed in the last few months, intentionally or not.

 

Juan Castañeda

 

 

 

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This was the title of George Selgin (CFMA, Cato) talk at the Institute of International Monetary Research (IIMR) and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) seminar, ‘Quantitative Easing. Triumph or Folly?’ (3rd Nov. 2016). The title of course evokes Ben Bernanke‘s words at the conference held in 2002 to honour Milton Friedman for his 90th birthday; in his speech Bernanke ended with some words that have resonated everywhere in the midst and the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-09: ‘Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.‘ True, banks’ deposits have not contracted (as it did happened in the early 1930’s) around 30% in the recent crisis, but broad monetary growth (M2) plummeted in 2009 and did have a subsequent impact in the extension, amplitude and the severity of the crisis.

The 1930’s crisis is the historical precedent used by George Selgin to judge the Fed’s response to the two major financial crises occurred since the establishment of the US Fed in 1913; the Great Depression and the Global Financial Crisis. Selgin resorts to well-established monetary theory to recommend an early intervention in monetary markets in case of a banking crisis occurs in order to prevent the payment system and financial markets from falling. And he does so by using Walter Bagehot‘s well-known criteria for central banks to act effectively as the lenders of last resort in a monetary system where the reserves are held by a single bank: (1) the central bank must act promptly and provide loans to illiquid but solvent banks with no limit (2) against collateral (assets that would have been used in normal times) and (3) at a penalty rate; that is an interest rate higher than the normal or policy rate.

Did the Fed abide by those criteria?

As you can surely tell by the title of his talk, Selgin is very critical with the lack of an effective response of the Fed in 2008, which ended up in a drastic fall in monetary growth in the economy in 2009 (see the rate of growth of US M2 since 2007 here). Normally banks’ deposits at the central bank are a sort of a restriction that constraint the potential expansion of their balance sheets. The Fed’s policy of increasing the remuneration US banks’ deposits (or excess reserves) in the midst of the crisis (at a time where there were not many profitable investments options for banks) turned those deposits at the Fed as an asset. In this new policy scenario US banks comfortably sat on a vast amount of cash at the Fed, and did get a profit for doing so; this indeed discouraged them from channelling the money lent out by the Fed to the economy and resulted in an ineffective threefold expansion in the US monetary base. This recent example helps to explain the lack of a mechanical connection between expansions in the monetary base and those in  broader measures of money (such as M2, which hardly grew, if at all, at the time).

Watch out George Selgin’s video with his talk in full here for further details. In a nutshell, according to Selgin it was a combination of bad policy measures which caused the Great Contraction and not an inevitable policy outcome. Enjoy the talk!

Juan Castañeda

 

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The communication of a banking crisis: it’s all about confidence!

During a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC (‘The Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture’) I visited the Presidents’ gallery and found Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s portrait accompanied by an interactive panel with some of his very popular at the time ‘fireside (radio) chats’ with the nation. One of them caught my attention; it was his address to the nation on the 13th of March of 1933 on the occasion of a major financial panic which led to the suspension of all banking activities for a week (the proclamation of 5 days of bank holiday). Of course the explanation of it would take us to the Great Depression and the massive fall in banks’ deposits in the country (as calculated by M. Friedman and A. Schwartz in their seminal Monetary History of the US, more than a third of the money supply since 1929). But what this brief post is about today is on just the communication of the suspension of the banking activities by the President himself to the nation: as you will hear in this audio recording, it is a very good explanation, and very easy to follow, of how the financial system in a modern economy operates and how fragile it becomes when confidence is lost and people run suddenly on their banks for liquidity. Even at that time, when the US was still on the gold standard and thus paper notes were ultimately backed by gold, the system relied on the confidence of the depositors on the soundness of the banks. Being very well aware of it, all the President tries to do with in this ‘fireside chat’ on the banking crisis was to restore the confidence lost by reassuring the american  people the monetary authorities were willing (and had already) to lend to sound banks to meet the liquidity needs of their customers. It is a good example of how to educate the people on these complex issues and to communicate how the crisis was being tackled.

Do not miss the opportunity to listen to it; in just a two-minute recording you will easily recognise all the elements involved in a banking panic and in the solutions needed: run on liquidity, fractional reserve, fiat versus backed money, lender of last resort, confidence, … . It is an excellent teaching material for a lecture in macroeconomics or money and banking.

However, involved in a massive fiscal expansionary program, only three months later the President suspended the convertibility of the US$ notes in gold, which left more room for the government and the baking sector as a whole to expand the amount of (fiat) money in circulation.

Juan Castañeda

PS. This audio and others of FDR and other Presidents can be found at ‘The American Presidency Project‘ website (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/medialist.php?presid=32).

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(Franklin Delano Roosevelt, picture taken at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC)

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Quantitative Easing or the reinvention of the wheel

Much has been said about the QE operations conducted in the US and elsewhere in the recent financial crisis. Some have claimed they constitute a true revolution in central banking; some have even gone further to suggest that it is the beginning of a new monetary policy. And, also quite many still claim that these extraordinary monetary policy measures should not be applied as they are supposed to be highly inflationary by their own nature.

Just a very quick look at the modern monetary history in Europe and in the US will reveal how wrong those views can be. On the one hand, as tested quite many times in our economic history, yes, too loose monetary policies (via QE operations or other else) will result in inflation, but only if (broad) money grows much faster than real income. So, how inflationary QE will be in the coming years cannot be assessed without making a proper monetarist analysis. Monetary expansion will have other effects, true (in part, already addressed here). On the other hand, even though under a different name, with the current QE operations we are just “inventing the wheel” or, following the Spanish saying, “discovering the Mediterranean sea”.

As quoted from Geoffrey Wood’s “The lender of last resort reconsidered” (A paper prepared for a conference in honour of Anna J Schwartz. Washington, 14-15 April 2000), in relation to the 1825 panic affecting the british banks:

There had been a substantial external drain of gold, and there was a shortage of currency.  A panic developed, and there were runs on banks.  The type of bills the Bank would normally discount soon ran out and the panic continued.  If a wave of bank failures were to be prevented, the banks would have had to borrow on the security of other types of assets. Of that change of policy Jeremiah Harman, a Director of the Bank, spoke as follows when giving evidence before a Parliamentary Committee in 1832.  The Bank had lent money “… by every possible means and in modes we had never adopted before; we took in stock on security, we purchased Exchequer bills, we made advances in Exchequer bills, we not only discounted outright but we made advances on the deposit of bills of exchange to an immense amount, in short by every means consistent with the safety of the Bank, and we were not on some occasions over nice”. Published in the Journal of Financial Services Research, 2000, vol. 18, issue 2, pages 203-227. See:  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A%3A1026542821454.

So the Bank of England, already in the early 19th c., did conduct a truly active monetary policy to prevent the collapse of the banking system in Britain “by every possible means”; which included the purchase of stocks, public bonds, the discount of paper, … . And even most interesting,  Professor Wood (Cass Business School and University of Buckingham) provided in his work (written in 2000!) an excellent description of several successful application of the lender of last resort role of central banks that did prevent the collapse of the banking system without provoking (the supposed) hyperinflation. His work could have been taken as an excellent guide to make policy decisions from 2008 on.

The study of monetary history will do no harm to all of us at all, either academics or policy-makers. Quite the contrary!!!

Juan Castañeda

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A conversation on money, central banks (and much more)

GoldMoney has just published a very interesting video on money and the current Eurozone crisis. In the video, James Turk interviews Professor Pedro Schwartz (San Pablo University, Madrid) on how central banks create money in our days and on the risks of the current expansionary monetary measures announced and developed by two major central banks, the ECB and the Federal Reserve of the US. As you will see, Professor Schwartz masterly explains how money is created “out of the blue” and why he thinks the ECB is actually disregarding its own Statutes, that clearly establish the prohibition of lending to any national government. How is the ECB doing so? Very easy; by purchasing public bonds of the States in crisis indirectly, in the secondary markets, and by accepting those bonds as valid and unlimited collateral in the conduction of the standard open market operations. Doing so the ECB is actually loosing its independence from political bodies and governments, and it is expanding its own remit; which was just to preserve price stability in the Eurozone, and not injecting money to foster GDP growth in the short run or to finance the State(s). Professor Schwartz also talks about the risks of inflation in the medium to the long term coming from the current (massive) injections of liquidity of central banks in the money markets.

In sum it is a very clear and interesting video that I do strongly recommend not only to any student of Economics, but also to anyone interested in how money is created in our days.

You will find below the summary of the conversation as extracted by GoldMoney.

Juan Castañeda

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GoldMoney’s James Turk interviews Prof. Pedro Schwartz who is the president of the Economic and Social Council of Madrid. They talk about bank regulation, the creation of money out of thin air and the beauty of the free market system.

They discuss how banks have expanded despite of government regulation which Schwartz in large attributes to the granted privilege of fractional reserve lending. Using this procedure a bank can create loans above the actual amount of deposits at hand and therefore create new money. This also leads to fragility in the banking system and to boom and bust cycles. Schwartz argues for a leaner and more effective regulation of financial markets as the current regulation has not worked in regards to the financial crisis.

They talk about the “tennis” between the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank when it comes to the creating money out of thin air. Schwartz states that the ECB is disregarding the rules that were aimed to guard it from being influenced by political pressure. Despite the opposition of the German Bundesbank they are buying government bonds. This is equal to digital money printing and Schwartz scents that it is not being done for monetary policy, but for the stimulation of the economy which goes beyond the original remit of the bank.

However despite the injections of new liquidity by the ECB Europe is still in recession, because interbank lending has dried up. That means that banks are parking much of the liquidity back at the ECB. The big question will be what will happen to inflation once the economy starts to pick up again and those funds find their way into the real economy. Schwartz also questions whether it is a productive business when banks can make a profit by borrowing money from the ECB at 1% interest and then turning around to buy government bond which yield 5% or 6%.

A serious inflationary disaster will only be prevented if governments will succeed in reducing their deficits and stop selling bonds. Schwartz states that cutting government spending is the only viable solution to the problem. To accomplish this there has to be a change in social mentality so that people recognise that nothing is free and that the government sector has to shrink. In the end the market is the most efficient mechanism of allocating resources according to the wants and needs of people.

This video was recorded on 14 September 2012 in Madrid.

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(Summary from: http://www.goldmoney.com/video/pedro-schwartz-on-the-creation-of-money-out-of-thin-air.html)

 

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Article originally published in GoldMoney Research (15th May 2012)

Improving the banking system

Governments grant central banks a monopoly on the creation of hard currency. At the same time, we ordinarily make transactions with other means of payment supplied by commercial banks. This is possible because in our monetary system commercial banks are able to create so-called bank money. These means of payment consist of different banks’ deposits that can be used with cheques, bank transfers, credit or debit cards and direct billings, which make our lives much easier as we do not have to hold or carry bank notes or coins to make ordinary transactions.

However, commercial banks are not free to issue their own currency. Bank money has to be denominated in the currency issued by the national central bank and the banks are legally required to redeem their sight deposits in the currency of the central bank at any time. However, the need to back any single deposit of their clients does not necessarily mean that the bank is keeping all our money in their vaults at all times. According to current regulations, they just have to keep a tiny fraction of it. This is the legal reserve ratio. In the eurozone this is 2% of banks’ total deposits; and for this reason we call it a fractional reserve monetary system. This system allows for easy expansion of the money supply, but it also involves a significant risk: that of bank runs caused when depositors all try to take their money out of banks at once.

Banks started to operate under a fractional reserve system in the early modern era, when it started dawning on them that in ordinary times, few clients actually asked for the money kept on deposit. So they started to lend part of it out. By doing so, new deposits were created and hence new means of payments. Consequently, banks increased their balance sheets as well as their profits quite substantially, as the costs of backing their new deposits were much lower than the earnings coming form the new loans. Since the mid to late 19th century, with the expansion and development of modern banking, banks were able to offer these new means of payment more efficiently – which did not require the use of paper notes or coins. As a result, banks realised that their clients needed less and less physical currency, which resulted again in a reduction in reserve ratios.

But during the 19th century the gold standard regime – championed by the British Empire – was an effective means to limit monetary expansion, both from central banks and commercial banks, as they still had to keep gold in reserve to back their issuance of money and credit. However, with the abandonment of the classical gold standard during the First World War, banks no longer needed to keep valuable assets in their vaults as the new reserve money of the economy was the notes of the central bank; which, in theory, could be expanded overnight with no tangible costs. This new system, in combination with the running of purely discretional monetary rules, resulted in excessive money creation and, finally, in more inflation and output instability in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Consequently, fractional reserve systems based on fiat currency tend to over-issue money unless strictly controlled by the central bank, or by the emergence of free competition in money. With the former, the central bank commits to a sound monetary rule focused on maintaining the purchasing power of money. Under this rule, both the central bank and the commercial banks are able to create means of payments but are subject to restrictions.

As sight deposits are redeemable at very short notice, banks could be required to fully back all their sight deposits with an equivalent amount of notes. Hence, the reserve ratio would amount to 100% of all sight deposits. Under this regulation, banks could only create new means of payment by lending the money kept in their time or savings deposits. It would result in a more stable monetary system but at the cost of having a less developed banking system, and thus a much smaller money supply.

In my view we do not have to go all the way towards a 100% reserve ratio to preserve the stability of the monetary system, while allowing for the development of the banking system. The gold standard seen in Britain and other countries during the 19th century is a good example of a self-correcting monetary system that nonetheless operated on a fractional reserve basis.

However it is achieved though, greater recourse to preserving the purchasing power of money would go a long way to improving our current monetary system.

Juan Castañeda

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