Money, Banking, and Financial Markets : Econ. 212

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Money, Banking, and Financial Markets : Econ. 212. Stephen G. Cecchetti: Chapter 15 Central Banks in the World Today. Functions of the Central Bank 1. The Government's Bank
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Money, Banking, and Financial Markets : Econ. 212Stephen G. Cecchetti: Chapter 15Central Banks in the World TodayFunctions of the Central Bank1. The Government's Bank
  • The central bank started out as the government’s bank, originally created by rulers to finance wars. However, the early examples are really the exceptions, as central banking is largely a 20th century phenomenon.
  • The central bank occupies a privileged position: it has a monopoly on the issuance of currency. The central bank creates money and thereby controls the availability of money and credit in a country’s economy.
  • Most central banks go about this by adjusting short-term interest rates, an activity called monetary policy. In today’s world, central banks use monetary policy to stabilize economic growth and inflation.
  • An expansionary or accommodative (easy money) policy (lower interest rates) raises growth and inflation; tighter or restrictive (tight money) policy reduces them.
  • Governments want to control the printing of money because it is a very profitable business; also, losing control of the amount of currency means losing control of inflation.
  • 2. The Bankers' Bank
  • The most important day-to-day jobs of the central bank are to:
  • provide loans during times of financial stress (the lender of last resort).
  • manage the payments system (settles inter-bank payments).
  • oversee commercial banks and the financial system (handles the sensitive information about institutions without conflicts of interest).
  • By ensuring that sound banks and financial intermediaries can continue to operate, the central bank makes the whole financial system more stable.
  • Central banks are the biggest and most powerful players in a country’s financial and economic system and are supposed to use this power to stabilize the economy, making us all better off.
  • However, central banks that are under extreme political pressure, or that are simply incompetent, can cause disorder on the economic and financial systems.
  • A central bank does not:
  • control securities markets.
  • control the government’s budget.
  • The common arrangement today is for the central bank to serve the government in the same way that a commercial bank serves a business or an individual.
  • Stability: The Primary Objective of All Central Banks. When economic and financial systems are left on their own they are prone to episodes of extreme volatility; central bankers work to reduce that volatility.Stability: the primary objective of the Central Bank
  • Central bankers pursue five specific objectives:
  • low and stable inflation
  • high and stable real growth, together with high employment
  • stable financial markets
  • stable interest rates
  • a stable exchange rate
  • Instability in any of those would pose an economy-wide economic risk that diversification could not mitigate. Thus the job of the central bank is to improve general economic welfare by managing and reducing systematic risk.
  • It is probably impossibleto achieve all five of these objectives simultaneously, and so tradeoffs must be made.
  • Low, Stable Inflation
  • Many central banks take as their primary job the maintenance of price stability; they strive to eliminate inflation.
  • The rationale for keeping the economy inflation-free is that money’s usefulness as a unit of account and as a store of value is enhanced when its purchasing power is maintained.
  • Inflation degrades the information content of prices and impedes the market’s function of allocating resources to their best uses.
  • The higher inflation is, the less predictable it is, and the more systematic risk it creates.
  • Also, high inflation is bad for growth.
  • While there is agreement that low inflation should be the primary objective of monetary policy, there is no agreement on how low inflation should be.
  • Zero inflation is too low, because it brings the risk of deflation (a drop in prices) which in turn results in increased defaults on loans and a threat to the health of banks.
  • Furthermore, if inflation were zero, an employer wishing to cut labor costs would need to cut nominal wages, which is difficult to do.
  • A small amount of inflation may actually make labormarkets work better, at least from the employer’s point of view.
  • High, Stable Real Growth
  • Central bankers work to dampen the fluctuations of the business cycle; booms are popular but recessions are not.
  • Central bankers work to moderate these cycles and stabilize growth and employment by adjusting interest rates.
  • Monetary policymakers can moderate recessions by lowering interest rates and can moderate booms by raising them (to keep growth at a sustainable level).
  • Along with growth and employment, stability is also important, because fluctuations in general business conditions are the primary source of systematic risk.
  • Financial System Stability
  • Financial system stability is an integral part of every modern central banker’s job.
  • The possibility of a severe disruption in the financial markets is a type of systematic risk that central banks must control.
  • Interest Rate and Exchange Rate Stability
  • Interest rate stability and exchange rate stability are a means for achieving the ultimate goal of stabilizing the economy; they are not ends unto themselves.
  • Interest rate volatility is a problem because:
  • it makes output unstable as borrowing and expenditure fluctuate with changing rates.
  • it means higher risk and a higher risk premium and makes financial decisions more difficult.
  • Even though the exchange rate affects the prices of imports and exports, stabilizing exchange rates is the last item on the list of central bank objectives.
  • Different countries have different priorities when it comes to the exchange rate; stable exchange rates are more important in developing countries because imports and exports are central to their economies.
  • Meeting the Challenge: Creating a Successful Central Bank
  • The boom of the 1990s with its associated decrease in volatility may have happened because technology sparked a boom just as central banks became better at their jobs.
  • Policymakers realized that sustainable growth had gone up, so interest rates could be kept low without worrying about inflation, and central banks were redesigned.
  • Today there is a clear consensus about the best way to design a central bank and what to tell policymakers to do.
  • A central bank must be independent of political pressure, accountable to the public, transparent in its policy actions, and clear in its communications with financial markets and the public.
  • In addition, there is general agreement that policy decisions are better made by committee than by individuals, and that everyone is well served when policymakers operate within an explicit framework that clearly states their goals and the tradeoffs among them.
  • The Need for Independence
  • The idea that central banks should be independent of political pressure is a new one, because central banks originated as the governments’ banks.
  • Independence has two components: monetary policymakers must be free to control their own budgets and the bank’s policies must not be reversible by people outside the central bank.
  • Successful monetary policy requires a long time horizon, which is inconsistent with the need of politicians to focus on short-term goals.
  • Given a choice, most politicians will choose monetary policies that are too accommodative, keeping interest rates low and money growth rates high. While this raises output and employment in the near term it may result in inflation over the longer term.
  • To insulate policymakers from the daily pressures faced by politicians, governments have given central banks control of their own budgets, authority to make irreversible decisions, and appointed them to long terms.
  • Decision-Making by Committee
  • In the course of normal operations, it is better to rely on a committee than on an individual.
  • Pooling the knowledge, experience, and opinions of a group of people reduces the risk that policy will be dictated by an individual’s quirks, not to mention that in a democracy, vesting so much power in one individual poses a legitimacy problem.
  • The Need for Accountability and Transparency
  • Central bank independence is inconsistent with representative democracy.
  • To solve this problem, politicians have established a set of goals and require the policymakers to report their progress in pursuing these goals.
  • Explicit goals foster accountability and disclosure requirements create transparency.
  • The institutional means for assuring accountability and transparency differ from one country to the next; in some cases the government sets an explicit numerical target for inflation, while in others the central bank defines the target.
  • Similar differences exist in the timing and content of information made public by central banks.
  • Today it is understood that secrecy damages both the policymakers and the economies they are trying to manage, and that policymakers need to be as clear as possible about what they are trying to achieve and how they are going to achieve it.
  • The Policy Framework, Policy Trade-offs, and Credibility
  • The monetary policy framework is made up of the objectives of central banks and the requirements that central banks be independent, accountable, and good communicators.
  • The monetary policy framework exists to resolve the ambiguities that arise in the course of the central bank’s work and also clarifies the likely responses when goals are in conflict with one another.
  • Central bankers face the tradeoff between inflation and growth on a daily basis.
  • Since policy goals often conflict, central bankers must make their priorities clear.
  • A well-designed policy framework also helps policymakers establish credibility.
  • IV. Fitting Everything Together: Central Banks and Fiscal Policy
  • The central bank does not control the government’s budget; fiscal policy (the decisions about taxes and spending) is the responsibility of elected officials.
  • While fiscal and monetary policymakers share the same ultimate goal of improving the well-being of the population, conflicts can arise between the two.
  • Funding needs create a natural conflict between monetary and fiscal policymakers.
  • Fiscal policymakers also tend to ignore the long-term inflationary effects of their actions.
  • Politicians often turn to borrowing (instead of taxes) as a way to finance some portion of their spending, but a country can issue only so much debt.
  • Inflation is a real temptation to shortsighted fiscal policymakers because it is a way to get money in their hands and it’s a way for governments to default on a portion of the debt they owe.
  • The founders of the European Monetary Union wanted to ensure that participating governments kept their fiscal houses in order (so that none of them would be tempted to pressure the European Central Bank to create inflation and then bail them out) and so they established criteria countries had to meet for inclusion.
  • Responsible fiscal policy is essential to the success of monetary policy.
  • Lessons of Chapter 151. The functions of a modern central bank are to:
  • adjust interest rates to control the quantity of money and credit in the economy;
  • operate a payments system;
  • lend to sound banks during times of stress; and
  • oversee the financial system.
  • 2. The objective of a central bank is to reduce systematic risk in the economic and financial system. Specific objectives include:
  • low and stable inflation;
  • high and stable growth and employment;
  • stable financial markets and institutions;
  • stable interest rates; and
  • stable exchange rates.
  • Because these objectives often conflict, policymakers must have clear priorities.
  • 3. The best central banks:a. are independent of political pressure;b. make decisions by committee rather than by an individual;c. are accountable to elected representatives and the public;d. communicate their objectives, actions, and policy deliberations clearly to the public;e. articulate clearly how they will act when their goals conflict; andf. are credible in their efforts to meet their objectives.4. Fiscal policy can make the central bank’s job impossible because:a. politicians take a short-term view, ignoring the inflationary impact of their actions over the long term;b. politicians are predisposed toward financing techniques that will create inflation; inflation not only provides immediate revenue; it reduces the value of the government’s outstanding debt;c. responsible fiscal policy is a precondition for successful monetary policy; and
  • central banks remain independent at the pleasure of politicians.
  • Key Terms
  • capital gain capital loss
  • Consol current yield
  • default risk holding period return
  • inflation risk inflation-indexed bonds
  • interest-rate risk investment horizon
  • Perpetuity pure discount bond
  • stripped bond tax incentive
  • U.S. Treasury bill (T-bill) yield to maturity
  • yield on a discount basis zero-coupon bond
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