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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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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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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” ‘.

money-growth-us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).

IMG_1490

(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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