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Posts Tagged ‘Lender of last resort’

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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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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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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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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Did you know that central banks have not always been State-owned banks? The vast majority of them were in the hands of the public before the wave of nationalisations that took place right after the end of WWII. And the system did not work bad at all; the record of both price stability and financial stability before 1913 was certainly impressive. True, bank panics also occurred but the different response taken to such crises is the key to understand the pros of a monetary system fully in the hands of the public and market participants. And, a regards price stability, from approx. 1870 to 1913 most developed (and other less developed) economies ran the gold standard as the rule to determine the amount of money in the economy; a standard which very much tied the hands of central banks and governments as regards money creation. The outcome of the running of a system which preserved monetary stability for a 50 year-time period limited was (not surprisingly for any monetary economist!) was true price stability (by true, I mean that the price level in 1870 was roughly similar to that in 1913), and a growing and rather stable financial system on the whole.

Why was such a ‘miracle’ possible? There is no mystery nor secrecy about it at all! It was the establishment of the right institutions and policies to discipline both the Treasury and a highly independent (actually privately-owned!) central bank what explains such a favourable outcome. And, did you know something even more striking? Several central banks are traded in the market in our days in different ways: the Swiss National Bank, Belgium Central Bank, Reserve Bank of South Africa, Greece Central Bank and Bank of Japan. Historically speaking as I said above this is not an anomaly but the norm before the 1940s. Given the poor record of our monetary authorities since then and the miss-management of the recent financial crisis, why not extending private ownership even further and thus mitigate the threats of a politically-exposed (some will say ultimately ‘controlled’) central bank?

In an interview with Standard and Poor’s, ‘New way forward or outdated anomaly? The future of publicly traded central banks’ (S&P Global. Market Intelligence), I advocate for central banks to return to the public and the banking sector, in order to guarantee their independence from governments and thus be able to achieve a more sound and stable monetary system. You will find the arguments in favour of a more independent central banks, owned by market participants in many references. Here I will just mention two of them, one written by Tim Congdon (Chairman of the Institute of International Monetary Research), Central Banking in a Free Society (IEA), and the other by myself with Pedro Schwartz (Visiting Professor, University of Buckingham), Central banks; from politically dependent to market-independent institutions (Journal of Economic Affairs); both pieces written in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis (2008-09) and the observed mismanagement of the lender of last resort function of central banks.

Find below an extract from the interview with my arguments:

‘Those in favor of privately owned central banks say such institutions would be better equipped to preserve market stability and could help prevent future financial crises.

“If publicly traded or owned by the banking sector … the market incumbents will have a genuine interest in setting clear … rules for the central bank to maintain financial stability over the long term,” said Juan Castañeda, director of the Institute of International Monetary Research at the University of Buckingham in England.

In the event of another financial crisis, a central bank would be fully independent to intervene at a bank in need, and any injection of capital would come from the banking or private sector, Castañeda said. Situations like the nationalization of Northern Rock by the Bank of England at the outset of the global financial crisis could be averted were central banks not in public hands, he argued.

“Those are the things that you can avoid if your central bank is publicly traded,” he said, citing the late 19th century example of U.K.-based Barings Bank, which faced bankruptcy but was saved by a consortium of fellow lenders, helping to stave off a larger crisis.

Oversight of a central bank would belong to the bank’s shareholders, although national authorities would also have a say because of the bank’s management of monetary policy and financial stability.’

It is not surprising Tim Congdon and myself advocate for more independent central banks (privately-owned) as a way to protect them from political interference in the development of its functions. I do believe this would contribute to a more sound running of monetary policy and to less financial instability in the future. If publicly-traded or owned by the banking sector (following the US Fed model), market incumbents will have a genuine interest in setting clear mandates/rules for the central bank to maintain financial stability over the long term. Should another financial crisis occur in the future (that it will), the central bank will have free hands to intervene promptly and avoid the contagion of panic in the market (by the application of its lender of last resort function). And if any injections of capital were needed, it would be the banking sector (or the private sector as a whole) which would bail-in the bank in crisis and, most likely, taxpayers’ money will not be needed again.

Of course this alternative arrangement is fully compatible with the central bank be given statutory functions (such as an inflation target for example) and be subject to parliamentary oversee; so the Governor will have to answer not just to the Bank’s shareholders but to Parliament as well in relation to the running of monetary policy and financial stability (find further details on these arrangements in Congdon’s 2009 work mentioned above).

Juan Castañeda

PS. An excellent narrative of the flaws of the current system can be found in Milne and Wood (2008)’s  analysis of Northern Rock bank crisis in the UK.

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The recent financial crisis has challenged quite many of the benchmarks and established monetary economic theory used in the 1990s and 2000s to analyse and prescribe monetary policy decisions. To be frank, we all have learned something in the recent crisis. Let me just list some of the lessons of the crisis I believe all and sundry very much agree on:

  • Changes in the monetary base are not good indicators of overall inflation. The three, four or even fivefold expansion of the central banks’ balance sheets has not been accompanied by inflation. It is broad money what explains inflation over the medium and long term.
  • In times of crisis, and even more if severe banking/financial crises occurred, central banks are not (cannot be) independent. In their current form central banks are indeed the bankers of governments and this becomes very evident when public revenues collapse and public spending soars, resulting in a much more expensive access to credit (if at all) and a greater and greater appetite to borrow money from the central bank. Perhaps the best we can do is to run healthy public finances in times of expansion so that the threat of ‘fiscal dominance’ is minimised and contained as much as possible.
  • CPI ‘inflation targeting’, at least as pursued in the years prior to 2007/08, is not enough to preserve monetary and financial stability over the medium and long term. Particularly in the four years running up to the crisis CPI inflation remained fairly stable (with some spikes though to oil price shocks mostly) and central banks achieved their inflation targets, consisting in a rate of Consumer Price Index inflation around 2% over the long term. However many other economy prices, in particular both financial and real assets’ of various types, did increase quite significantly, and now we know that in an unsustainable way.
  • At least in the current institutional setting, the lender of last resort (LOLR) function of central banks is an essential tool to preserve the functioning of monetary markets and thus of financial markets. As I will detail in a later post this does not mean bailing out too risky and insolvent banks (and even less bailing out their managers and shareholders), but preserving the sound operation of the financial and payments systems as a whole. The conditions to do this are very well-known to monetary historians and I am afraid they are many times forgotten.
  • Monetary aggregates (money) played virtually no role in the framing of monetary policy decisions before the crisis. However, it has been more than eight years now with historically low (policy) nominal interest rates, so central banks have had to resort to a different source of policy measures; that is, the expansion in the amount of money by the so-called Quantitative Easing (QE) operations. And what are they but purchases of bonds and even equity that ultimately aimed to increase the amount of money in the economy?
  • Central banks are not running out of weaponry. In our modern monetary systems, where central banks create the ultimate source of liquidity in the economy, there is virtually no limit for central banks to create more money. Central banks can (as they have done in these years) extend the maturity and the amount of the lending provided to the banking sector, increase their purchases of both private and public assets from financial and non-financial institutions, they can also purchase equity in the market, … .
  • Tightening bank regulation in the midst of one of the worst financial crisis in recent history can only aggravate the impact and length of the crisis. The raising of the capital ratios and the establishment of new liquidity ratios by the so-called ‘Basel III Accord’, initially  announced in the Autumn of 2008, forced banks to even contract more their balance sheets (to cut down their liabilities, deposits mainly). This resulted in sharp a fall in money growth and the worsening of the crisis, which had to be (partially) offset by central banks extraordinary policy measures (such as QE) to prevent money supply from falling even further.

There are many other much more disputable issues related to monetary economics and monetary policy indeed. But if we only agreed on the above we would be putting a remedy to some of the biggest gaps if not ‘holes’ in this field and thus creating the conditions to establish a much sounder and sustainable monetary policy framework.

I will devote a single entry to each of the them in the following weeks.

Juan C.

 

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