Thorvald Grung Moe
Working Paper No. 802 | May 2014
Policy Challenges for Central Banks
Central banks responded with exceptional liquidity support during the financial crisis to prevent a systemic meltdown. They broadened their tool kit and extended liquidity support to nonbanks and key financial markets. Many want central banks to embrace this expanded role as “market maker of last resort” going forward. This would provide a liquidity backstop for systemically important markets and the shadow banking system that is deeply integrated with these markets. But how much liquidity support can central banks provide to the shadow banking system without risking their balance sheets? I discuss the expanding role of the shadow banking sector and the key drivers behind its growing importance. There are close parallels between the growth of shadow banking before the recent financial crisis and earlier financial crises, with rapid growth in near monies as a common feature. This ebb and flow of shadow-banking-type liabilities are indeed an ingrained part of our advanced financial system. We need to reflect and consider whether official sector liquidity should be mobilized to stem a future breakdown in private shadow banking markets. Central banks should be especially concerned about providing liquidity support to financial markets without any form of structural reform. It would indeed be ironic if central banks were to declare victory in the fight against too-big-to-fail institutions, just to end up bankrolling too-big-to-fail financial markets.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
One-Pager No. 37 | January 2013
The global financial crisis has generated renewed interest in the 1951 Treasury – Federal Reserve Accord and its lessons for central bank independence. A broader interpretation of the Accord and of Marriner S. Eccles’s role at the Federal Reserve should teach central bankers that independence can be crucial for fighting inflation, but also encourage them to be more supportive of government efforts to fight deflation and mass unemployment.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 747 | January 2013
Lessons for Central Bank Independence
The 1951 Treasury – Federal Reserve Accord is an important milestone in central bank history. It led to a lasting separation between monetary policy and the Treasury’s debt-management powers, and established an independent central bank focused on price stability and macroeconomic stability. This paper revisits the history of the Accord and elaborates on the role played by Marriner Eccles in the events that led up to its signing. As chairman of the Fed Board of Governors since 1934, Eccles was also instrumental in drafting key banking legislation that enabled the Federal Reserve System to take on a more independent role after the Accord. The global financial crisis has generated renewed interest in the Accord and its lessons for central bank independence. The paper shows that Eccles’s support for the Accord—and central bank independence—was clearly linked to the strong inflationary pressures in the US economy at the time, but that he was as supportive of deficit financing in the 1930s. This broader interpretation of the Accord holds the key to a more balanced view of Eccles’s role at the Federal Reserve, where his contributions from the mid-1930s up to the Accord are seen as equally important. For this reason, the Accord should not be seen as the eternal beacon for central bank independence but rather as an enlightened vision for a more symmetric policy role for central banks, with equal weight on fighting inflation and preventing depressions.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 713 | April 2012
A Reinterpretation of Henry Simons’s “Rules versus Authorities in Monetary Policy"
Henry Simons’s 1936 article “Rules versus Authorities in Monetary Policy” is a classical reference in the literature on central bank independence and rule-based policy. A closer reading of the article reveals a more nuanced policy prescription, with significant emphasis on the need to control short-term borrowing; bank credit is seen as highly unstable, and price level controls, in Simons’s view, are not be possible without limiting banks’ ability to create money by extending loans. These elements of Simons’s theory of money form the basis for Hyman P. Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis. This should not come as a surprise, as Simons was Minsky’s teacher at the University of Chicago in the late 1930s. I review the similarities between their theories of financial instability and the relevance of their work for the current discussion of macroprudential tools and the conduct of monetary policy. According to Minsky and Simons, control of finance is a prerequisite for successful monetary policy and economic stabilization.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Working Paper No. 712 | April 2012
How to Achieve a Better Balance between Global and Official Liquidity
Global liquidity provision is highly procyclical. The recent financial crisis has resulted in a flight to safety, with severe strains in key funding markets leading central banks to employ highly unconventional policies to avoid a systemic meltdown. Bagehot’s advice to “lend freely at high rates against good collateral” has been stretched to the limit in order to meet the liquidity needs of dysfunctional financial markets. As the eligibility criteria for central bank borrowing have been tweaked, it is legitimate to ask, How elastic should the supply of central bank currency be?
Even when the central bank has the ability to create abundant official liquidity, there should be some limits to its support for the financial sector. Traditionally, the misuse of the fiat money privilege has been limited by self-imposed rules that central bank loans must be fully backed by gold or collateralized in some other way. But since the onset of the crisis, we have seen how this constraint has been relaxed to accommodate the demand for market support. My suggestion is that there has to be some upper limit, and that we should work hard to find guidelines and policies that can limit the need for central bank liquidity support in future crises.
In this paper, I review the recent expansion of central bank liquidity support during the crisis, before discussing the collateral polices related to central banks’ lender-of-last-resort and market-maker-of-last-resort policies and their rationale. I then examine the relationship between the central bank and the treasury, and the potential threat to central bank independence if they venture into too much risky balance sheet expansion. A discussion about the exceptional growth of the shadow banking system follows. I introduce the concept of “liquidity illusion” to describe the fragility upon which much of the sector is based, and note that market growth has been based largely on a “fair-weather” view that central banks will support the market on rainy days. I argue that we need a better theoretical framework to understand the growth in the shadow banking system and the role of central banks in providing liquidity in a crisis.
Recently, the concept of “endogenous finance” has been used to explain the strong procyclical tendencies of the global financial system. I show that this concept was central to Hyman P. Minsky’s theory of financial instability, and suggest that his insights should be integrated into the ongoing search for a better theoretical framework for understanding the growth of the shadow banking system and how we can limit official liquidity support for this system. I end the paper with a summary and a discussion of some of the policy issues. I note that the Basel III “package” will hopefully reduce the need for central bank liquidity support in the future, but suggest that further structural reforms of the financial sector are needed to ease the tension between freewheeling private credit expansion and the limited ability or willingness of central banks to provide unlimited official liquidity support in a future crisis.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):