The Weekend Quiz – April 15-16, 2017 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

Question 1:

The payment of a positive return on overnight reserves held by the commercial banks equal to the current policy rate will tend increase the overall level of reserves held by the latter (ignore any reserve requirements in place when answering).

The answer is True.

The logic to answer the first two questions in this week’s Quiz were all available in the blog – Understanding central bank operations – as well as earlier blogs I have written on operational matters as they apply to central banking.

The first question starts with a test of basic understandings of how monetary policy is implemented in a modern monetary economy. Contrary to the account of monetary policy in mainstream macroeconomics textbooks, which tries to tell students that monetary policy describes the processes by which the central bank determines “the total amount of money in existence or to alter that amount”.

In Mankiw’s Principles of Economics (Chapter 27 First Edition) he say that the central bank has “two related jobs”. The first is to “regulate the banks and ensure the health of the financial system” and the second “and more important job”:

… is to control the quantity of money that is made available to the economy, called the money supply. Decisions by policymakers concerning the money supply constitute monetary policy (emphasis in original).

How does the mainstream see the central bank accomplishing this task? Mankiw says:

Fed’s primary tool is open-market operations – the purchase and sale of U.S government bonds … If the FOMC decides to increase the money supply, the Fed creates dollars and uses them buy government bonds from the public in the nation’s bond markets. After the purchase, these dollars are in the hands of the public. Thus an open market purchase of bonds by the Fed increases the money supply. Conversely, if the FOMC decides to decrease the money supply, the Fed sells government bonds from its portfolio to the public in the nation’s bond markets. After the sale, the dollars it receives for the bonds are out of the hands of the public. Thus an open market sale of bonds by the Fed decreases the money supply.

This description of the way the central bank interacts with the banking system and the wider economy is totally false. The reality is that monetary policy is focused on determining the value of a short-term interest rate. Central banks cannot control the money supply. To some extent these ideas were a residual of the commodity money systems where the central bank could clearly control the stock of gold, for example. But in a credit money system, this ability to control the stock of “money” is undermined by the demand for credit.

The theory of endogenous money is central to the horizontal analysis in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). When we talk about endogenous money we are referring to the outcomes that are arrived at after market participants respond to their own market prospects and central bank policy settings and make decisions about the liquid assets they will hold (deposits) and new liquid assets they will seek (loans).

The essential idea is that the “money supply” in an “entrepreneurial economy” is demand-determined – as the demand for credit expands so does the money supply. As credit is repaid the money supply shrinks. These flows are going on all the time and the stock measure we choose to call the money supply, say M3 (Currency plus bank current deposits of the private non-bank sector plus all other bank deposits from the private non-bank sector) is just an arbitrary reflection of the credit circuit.

So the supply of money is determined endogenously by the level of GDP, which means it is a dynamic (rather than a static) concept.

Central banks clearly do not determine the volume of deposits held each day. These arise from decisions by commercial banks to make loans. The central bank can determine the price of “money” by setting the interest rate on bank reserves. Further expanding the monetary base (bank reserves) as we have argued in recent blogs – Building bank reserves will not expand credit and Building bank reserves is not inflationary – does not lead to an expansion of credit.

With this background in mind, the question is specifically about the dynamics of bank reserves which are used to satisfy any imposed reserve requirements and facilitate the payments system. These dynamics have a direct bearing on monetary policy settings. Given that the dynamics of the reserves can undermine the desired monetary policy stance (as summarised by the policy interest rate setting), the central banks have to engage in liquidity management operations.

What are these liquidity management operations?

Well you first need to appreciate what reserve balances are.

The New York Federal Reserve Bank’s paper – Divorcing Money from Monetary Policy said that:

… reserve balances are used to make interbank payments; thus, they serve as the final form of settlement for a vast array of transactions. The quantity of reserves needed for payment purposes typically far exceeds the quantity consistent with the central bank’s desired interest rate. As a result, central banks must perform a balancing act, drastically increasing the supply of reserves during the day for payment purposes through the provision of daylight reserves (also called daylight credit) and then shrinking the supply back at the end of the day to be consistent with the desired market interest rate.

So the central bank must ensure that all private cheques (that are funded) clear and other interbank transactions occur smoothly as part of its role of maintaining financial stability. But, equally, it must also maintain the bank reserves in aggregate at a level that is consistent with its target policy setting given the relationship between the two.

So operating factors link the level of reserves to the monetary policy setting under certain circumstances. These circumstances require that the return on “excess” reserves held by the banks is below the monetary policy target rate. In addition to setting a lending rate (discount rate), the central bank also sets a support rate which is paid on commercial bank reserves held by the central bank.

Many countries (such as Australia and Canada) maintain a default return on surplus reserve accounts (for example, the Reserve Bank of Australia pays a default return equal to 25 basis points less than the overnight rate on surplus Exchange Settlement accounts). Other countries like the US and Japan have historically offered a zero return on reserves which means persistent excess liquidity would drive the short-term interest rate to zero.

The support rate effectively becomes the interest-rate floor for the economy. If the short-run or operational target interest rate, which represents the current monetary policy stance, is set by the central bank between the discount and support rate. This effectively creates a corridor or a spread within which the short-term interest rates can fluctuate with liquidity variability. It is this spread that the central bank manages in its daily operations.

So the issue then becomes – at what level should the support rate be set? To answer that question, I reproduce a version of the diagram from the FRBNY paper which outlined a simple model of the way in which reserves are manipulated by the central bank as part of its liquidity management operations designed to implement a specific monetary policy target (policy interest rate setting).

I describe the FRBNY model in detail in the blog – Understanding central bank operations so I won’t repeat that explanation.

The penalty rate is the rate the central bank charges for loans to banks to cover shortages of reserves. If the interbank rate is at the penalty rate then the banks will be indifferent as to where they access reserves from so the demand curve is horizontal (shown in red).

Once the price of reserves falls below the penalty rate, banks will then demand reserves according to their requirements (the legal and the perceived). The higher the market rate of interest, the higher is the opportunity cost of holding reserves and hence the lower will be the demand. As rates fall, the opportunity costs fall and the demand for reserves increases. But in all cases, banks will only seek to hold (in aggregate) the levels consistent with their requirements.

At low interest rates (say zero) banks will hold the legally-required reserves plus a buffer that ensures there is no risk of falling short during the operation of the payments system.

Commercial banks choose to hold reserves to ensure they can meet all their obligations with respect to the clearing house (payments) system. Because there is considerable uncertainty (for example, late-day payment flows after the interbank market has closed), a bank may find itself short of reserves. Depending on the circumstances, it may choose to keep a buffer stock of reserves just to meet these contingencies.

So central bank reserves are intrinsic to the payments system where a mass of interbank claims are resolved by manipulating the reserve balances that the banks hold at the central bank. This process has some expectational regularity on a day-to-day basis but stochastic (uncertain) demands for payments also occur which means that banks will hold surplus reserves to avoid paying any penalty arising from having reserve deficiencies at the end of the day (or accounting period).

To understand what is going on, note that the diagram is representing the system-wide demand for bank reserves, where the horizontal axis measures the total quantity of reserve balances held by banks, while the vertical axis, measures the market interest rate for overnight loans of these balances.

In this diagram there are no required reserves (to simplify matters). We also initially, abstract from the deposit rate for the time being to understand what role it plays if we introduce it.

Without the deposit rate, the central bank has to ensure that it supplies enough reserves to meet demand while still maintaining its policy rate (the monetary policy setting.

So the model can demonstrate that the market rate of interest will be determined by the central bank supply of reserves. So the level of reserves supplied by the central bank supply brings the market rate of interest into line with the policy target rate.

At the supply level shown as Point A, the central bank can hit its monetary policy target rate of interest given the banks’ demand for aggregate reserves. So the central bank announces its target rate then undertakes monetary operations (liquidity management operations) to set the supply of reserves to this target level.

So contrary to what Mankiw’s textbook tells students the reality is that monetary policy is about changing the supply of reserves in such a way that the market rate is equal to the policy rate.

The central bank uses open market operations to manipulate the reserve level and so must be buying and selling government debt to add or drain reserves from the banking system in line with its policy target.

If there are excess reserves in the system and the central bank didn’t intervene then the market rate would drop towards zero and the central bank would lose control over its target rate (that is, monetary policy would be compromised).

As explained in the blog – Understanding central bank operations – the introduction of a support rate payment (deposit rate) whereby the central bank pays the member banks a return on reserves held overnight changes things considerably.

It clearly can – under certain circumstances – eliminate the need for any open-market operations to manage the volume of bank reserves.

In terms of the diagram, the major impact of the deposit rate is to lift the rate at which the demand curve becomes horizontal (as depicted by the new horizontal red segment moving up via the arrow).

This policy change allows the banks to earn overnight interest on their excess reserve holdings and becomes the minimum market interest rate and defines the lower bound of the corridor within which the market rate can fluctuate without central bank intervention.

So in this diagram, the market interest rate is still set by the supply of reserves (given the demand for reserves) and so the central bank still has to manage reserves appropriately to ensure it can hit its policy target.

If there are excess reserves in the system in this case, and the central bank didn’t intervene, then the market rate will drop to the support rate (at Point B).

So if the central bank wants to maintain control over its target rate it can either set a support rate below the desired policy rate (as in Australia) and then use open market operations to ensure the reserve supply is consistent with Point A or set the support (deposit) rate equal to the target policy rate.

The payment of a positive return on overnight reserves equal to the current policy rate will significantly reduce interbank activity. Why? Because the banks will not have to worry about earning non-competitive returns on excess reserves. When there are excess reserves in the system, which means the level of reserves is beyond that desired by the banks for clearing purposes, the banks which hold excesses seek to lend them out on the interbank (overnight) market.

In the absence of a support rate (positive return on overnight reserves) and any central bank liquidity management operations (open market purchases in this case), the competition in the interbank market will drive the market rate of interest down to zero on overnight funds. It should be noted that these transactions between the banks will not eliminate a system-wide excess reserve situation.

The competition will redistribute the excess between banks but will not eliminate it. A vertical transaction between the government and non-government sectors is the only way such an excess can be eliminated. Please see the suite of blogs – Deficit spending 101 – Part 1Deficit spending 101 – Part 2Deficit spending 101 – Part 3 – for a detailed explanation of the difference between vertical transactions (between the government and non-government sectors) and horizontal transactions (between non-government entities).

Clearly, the central bank loses control of its monetary policy setting in this case (unless the target is a zero short-term interest rate) unless it steps in and eliminates the excess reserves by selling government debt to the banks. This provides the banks with an interest-bearing financial asset in exchange for the zero-interest bearing reserves.

Once the central bank offers a support rate the situation changes If the support rate on overnight reserves is set equal to the current policy rate then the banks have no incentive to engage in interbank lending. Some banks may still seek overnight funds in the interbank market if they are short of reserves but in general activity in that market will be significantly reduced.

Further, the opportunity cost of holding excess reserves is eliminated and so the banks have less need to minimise their holdings of reserve balance each day. Any bank with reserves in excess of their short-term perceived clearing house requirements will still earn the market rate of interest on them.

As a consequence, the incentive to lend these funds is substantially reduced. Banks would only participate in interbank market if the rate they could lend at was above the market rate and below the central bank penalty rate.

So in this case, banks will tend to hold more reserves than otherwise to make absolutely sure they never need to access the discount window offered by the central bank which carries the penalty.

Question 2:

The payment of a positive return on overnight reserves held by the commercial banks equal to the current policy rate will tend to increase the volume of broad money in the system (ignore any reserve requirements in place when answering).

The answer is False.

This question and answer is related to the information provided above for Questions 1 and 2. In Question 2, we argued that the payment of a positive return on overnight reserves held by the commercial banks equal to the current policy rate will tend to increase the volume of reserves held by banks.

This is because the opportunity cost of holding the reserves is eliminated and so banks will seek to avoid the penalties of running short of reserves in the event of an unexpected daily demand for higher reserves.

Question 3 then is exploring the notion that there is a close relationship between the level of bank reserves and the money supply. That relationship is at the heart of the mainstream macroeconomics depiction of the way the monetary system operates.

They argue that there is a close relationship between what is known as the monetary base and broad money. In mainstream economics, the link is provided by the money multiplier model.

However, that construction of banking dynamics is false. There is in fact no unique relationship of the sort characterised by the erroneous money multiplier model in mainstream economics textbooks between bank reserves and the “stock of money”.

You will note that in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) there is very little spoken about the money supply. In an endogenous money world there is very little meaning in the aggregate concept of the “money supply”.

The mainstream monetarist approach claims that the money supply will reflect the central bank injection of high-powered (base) money and the preferences of private agents to hold that money via the money multiplier. So the central bank is alleged to exploit this multiplier (based on private portfolio preferences for cash and the reserve ratio of banks) and manipulate its control over base money to control the money supply.

It has been demonstrated beyond doubt that there is no unique relationship of the sort characterised by the erroneous money multiplier model in mainstream economics textbooks between bank reserves and the “stock of money”.

To some extent these ideas were a residual of the commodity money systems where the central bank could clearly control the stock of gold, for example. But in a credit money system, this ability to control the stock of “money” is undermined by the demand for credit.

The theory of endogenous money is central to the horizontal analysis in MMT. When we talk about endogenous money we are referring to the outcomes that are arrived at after market participants respond to their own market prospects and central bank policy settings and make decisions about the liquid assets they will hold (deposits) and new liquid assets they will seek (loans).

The essential idea is that the “money supply” in an “entrepreneurial economy” is demand-determined – as the demand for credit expands so does the money supply. As credit is repaid the money supply shrinks. These flows are going on all the time and the stock measure we choose to call the money supply, say M3 is just an arbitrary reflection of the credit circuit.

So the supply of money is determined endogenously by the level of GDP, which means it is a dynamic (rather than a static) concept.

Central banks clearly do not determine the volume of deposits held each day. These arise from decisions by commercial banks to make loans.

The central bank can determine the price of “money” by setting the interest rate on bank reserves. Further expanding the monetary base (bank reserves) as we have argued in recent blogs – Building bank reserves will not expand credit and Building bank reserves is not inflationary – does not lead to an expansion of credit.

So a rising ratio of bank reserves to some measure like M3 is consistent with the view that credit creation is being constrained by some factor – such as a recession.

You might like to read these blogs for further information:

Question 3:

A sovereign national government, that is, one that issues its own floating currency faces no solvency risk with respect to the debt it issues.

The answer is False.

The answer would be true if the sentence had added (to the debt it issues) … in its own currency. The national government can always service its debts so long as these are denominated in domestic currency.

It also makes no significant difference for solvency whether the debt is held domestically or by foreign holders because it is serviced in the same manner in either case – by crediting bank accounts.

The situation changes when the government issues debt in a foreign-currency. Given it does not issue that currency then it is in the same situation as a private holder of foreign-currency denominated debt.

Private sector debt obligations have to be serviced out of income, asset sales, or by further borrowing. This is why long-term servicing is enhanced by productive investments and by keeping the interest rate below the overall growth rate.

Private sector debts are always subject to default risk – and should they be used to fund unwise investments, or if the interest rate is too high, private bankruptcies are the “market solution”.

Only if the domestic government intervenes to take on the private sector debts does this then become a government problem. Again, however, so long as the debts are in domestic currency (and even if they are not, government can impose this condition before it takes over private debts), government can always service all domestic currency debt.

The solvency risk the private sector faces on all debt is inherited by the national government if it takes on foreign-currency denominated debt. In those circumstances it must have foreign exchange reserves to allow it to make the necessary repayments to the creditors. In times when the economy is strong and foreigners are demanding the exports of the nation, then getting access to foreign reserves is not an issue.

But when the external sector weakens the economy may find it hard accumulating foreign currency reserves and once it exhausts its stock, the risk of national government insolvency becomes real.

The following blogs may be of further interest to you:

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2017 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

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    12 Responses to The Weekend Quiz – April 15-16, 2017 – answers and discussion

    1. Rob Rawlings says:

      On q3: I’ve seen that stated by MMT people but I don’t get its significance.

      Suppose you are at full employment and want to fund an infrastructure project. You could just print up the money but that would be inflationary. So if you want to avoid additional inflation you either fund it from taxes or (if you want to spread the cost over a number of years) issue bonds.

      Then (assume you stay at full employment) when the bonds become due you have the choice of rolling them over, defaulting on them or using tax revenue to pay them off. If the bonds happen to be in your own currency you have an additional option of printing up money to pay them off. Just as in the initial case this will be inflationary.

      So while I see there is an additional option with bonds in your own currency – it seems like an option that no sensible government would want to use.

      Is there more too it than that ?

    2. Eddie Baker says:

      Rob,

      issuing bonds doesn’t remove the inflation risk, that’s one of the key aspects of MMT. The links in Bill’s answer to Q3 ought to cover that.

    3. Rob Rawlings says:

      Eddie,

      Thanks for your reply.

      I checked the links and see that MMT thinks that bond sales in effect just convert one form of financial wealth to another and this will have little effect on AD (and unemployment/inflation). Its the size of the deficit that will more directly influence these variables.

      This leads me to a question.

      In the MMT model if the govt wants to undertake an expensive infrastructure project whose benefits will extend many years into the future. In the “conventional” model it could spread the costs of such a project across these years via bond sales. Is it the case that MMT believe that this is not possible – the full cost of the project (assuming full employment) must be funded by taxation at the time it is undertaken otherwise it will be inflationary ?

    4. Mel says:

      I think that the fact is that money for a project has to be spent when it’s spent. Workers won’t collect this year’s pay over 20 years. Suppliers don’t wait too be paid. So the effect on the market is not put off by borrowing the money.

    5. Eddie Baker says:

      Rob,

      The ‘cost’ isn’t the money that’s spent, it’s the resources that are available. If the economy is operating at full capacity, or close to it, then in order to build the infrastructure desired the government will have to remove the private sector’s ability to deploy those same resources. It can do so either though taxation or by direct legislation. If it does neither it will drive inflation.

      For sovereign governments it’s always about the real resources that are available. An ‘expensive’ infrastructure project is expensive in terms of the real resources it makes use of; the material and labour. If some of the resources are idle then the cost is lower; the government won’t need to prevent their use by the private sector.

      So if the ‘cost’ is material, so is the ‘funding’. Taxation ‘funds’ the big infrastructure project by freeing up real resources. If those resources are idle to begin with there’s no need for the taxation.

      Despite the second M in its name, the thing that MMT made me realise – eventually – is that it’s all about the real resources that are – or are not – available, how they are deployed, and the consequences of deploying them.

    6. Rob Rawlings says:

      Thanks for those answers Eddie and Mel. That helped clarify things.

    7. larry says:

      Eddie, saying that taxation funds, even with scare quotes, is a slightly misleading way of putting the issue. I understand what you are saying, but stating the point in this way can make someone think that taxation underwrites government expenditure, which it doesn’t. In the example you are using would it not be better to say that taxation controls spending and saving in the private sector?

    8. Chris Herbert says:

      If the central bank of a monetary sovereign pumps new liquidity into the private economy does this not increase the money supply?

    9. Tom says:

      Thanks for question 3. I just learned something entirely new today.

      Now I have an idea about why Randall Wray uses the phrase “…denominated in its own currency” in the lectures I can find online

    10. David Kelley says:

      Taxation’s only result is a reduction in the total money which exists at one time. It doesn’t result in any agent getting a sack of money to spend. There is no railway shed on the Isle of Wight which holds the result of taxation. Negative taxation would increase a person’s spending power. Am I wrong? This is the possibly a very silly argument, I’m only a learner!

    11. Eddie Baker says:

      larry,

      perhaps it could be misleading. The point is it’s all about the real resources, not an imagined need for finance.

      David Kelley:

      “Am I wrong?”

      Not wrong; Bill points out that There Is No Tin Shed.

    12. Hog says:

      “I checked the links and see that MMT thinks that bond sales in effect just convert one form of financial wealth to another and this will have little effect on AD (and unemployment/inflation).”

      careful here. although bond sales have no direct effects, they do eventually lead to interest payments as part of future deficits. this differs from interest paid on reserves which simply can not enter circulation (as relates to q2).

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