In the first age of financial globalisation, from around 1880 to 1913, many countries tied their currencies to the mast of gold. The Bank of England’s unparalleled influence over this period is depicted by the Lady of the Bank, seated on the globe with a shower of gold coins to one side, which is carved into the Bank’s pediment. There was an old saying in the City that the Bank’s rate could draw gold from the moon. But could it?
Michael Anson, David Bholat, Miao Kang and Ryland Thomas
Imagine if you could peek inside the Bank’s historical ledgers and see the array of interest rates the Bank has charged for emergency loans in the past. If you could get the inside scoop on how many of these loans were never repaid, and how that impacted the Bank’s bottom line? Now you can. We have transcribed the Bank’s daily transactional ledgers and put them into an Excel workbook for you to explore. These ledgers contain a wealth of information on everyone who asked the Bank for a loan during the 1847, 1857 and 1866 crises.
Paul Schmelzing is a visiting scholar at the Bank from Harvard University, where he concentrates on 20th century financial history. In this guest post, he looks at how global real interest rates have evolved over the past 700 years.
With core inflation rates remaining low in many advanced economies, proponents of the “secular stagnation” narrative –that markets are trapped in a period of permanently lower equilibrium real rates- have recently doubled down on their pessimistic outlook. Building on an earlier post on nominal rates this post takes a much longer-term view on real rates using a dataset going back over the past 7 centuries, and finds evidence that the trend decline in real rates since the 1980s fits into a pattern of a much deeper trend stretching back 5 centuries. Looking at cyclical dynamics, however, the evidence from eight previous “real rate depressions” is that turnarounds from such environments, when they occur, have typically been both quick and sizeable.
(Northern Rock image – Lee Jordan – Flickr, reproduced from wikimedia commons under CCA licence)
Ten years ago this month, queues of people started to form early in the morning outside Northern Rock branches across the UK, to withdraw their money out of fear that their bank would soon collapse. As the day wore on panic spread, and the run continued until when the government stepped in to guarantee all Northern Rock deposits. It was the UK’s first retail bank run since the 19th century and one of the first symptoms of the global financial crisis. This anniversary is an appropriate time to reflect on those events, but also to look forward and assess how things have moved on in the last decade, and whether something similar could ever happen again.
Thomas Viegas and Emil Iordanov
Since Donald Trump was elected to the Oval Office last November, consumer confidence in the US has picked up notably. But is this post-election rise unusual?
Michael Anson, Norma Cohen, Alastair Owens and Daniel Todman
Financing World War I required the UK government to borrow the equivalent of a full year’s GDP. But its first effort to raise capital in the bond market was a spectacular failure. The 1914 War Loan raised less than a third of its £350m target and attracted only a very narrow set of investors. This failure and its subsequent cover-up has only recently come to light following research analysing the Bank’s ledgers. It reveals the shortfall was secretly plugged by the Bank, with funds registered individually under the names of the Chief Cashier and his deputy to hide their true origin. Keynes, one of a handful of officials in the know at the time, described the concealment as “a masterly manipulation”.
James Barker, David Bholat and Ryland Thomas.
Central bank balance sheets swelled in size in response to the financial crisis of 2007-09. In this blog we discuss what makes them different from the balance sheets of other institutions, how they’ve been used in the past, and how they might evolve in the future as means to implement novel policies – including the revolutionary possibility that a central bank could issue its own digital currency.
Economists usually talk about money serving three functions – a medium of exchange, a store of value, and a unit of account. But the ability to make payments using commercial bank deposits, which account for the vast majority of money, has already divorced the physicality of notes from the concept of the medium of exchange. Inflation and non-remuneration renders physical money a poor store of value. And the unit of account does not rely on physical cash. So is there a specific role for physical paper money anymore?
Sebastian J A de-Ramon and Michael Straughan.
The landscape for competition between UK deposit takers (retail banks and building societies) was reset in the 1980s with the removal of the bank “corset” (1981), the Big Bang reforms and the Building Societies Act (both in 1986). These reforms facilitated entry and expansion of different business models into markets that had previously been off-limits. What followed was a significant restructuring of the deposit taking sector in the UK. In a new paper, we show that competition between UK deposit takers weakened substantially in the years leading up to the financial crisis.
Paul Schmelzing, Harvard University.
Paul Schmelzing is a visiting scholar at the Bank from Harvard University, where he concentrates on 20th century financial history. In this guest post, he looks at the current bond market through the lens of nearly 800 years of economic history.
The economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk once opined that “the cultural level of a nation is mirrored by its interest rate: the higher a people’s intelligence and moral strength, the lower the rate of interest”. But as rates reached their lowest level ever in 2016, investors rather worried about the “biggest bond market bubble in history” coming to a violent end. The sharp sell-off in global bonds following the US election seems to confirm their fears. Looking back over eight centuries of data, I find that the 2016 bull market was indeed one of the largest ever recorded. History suggests this reversal will be driven by inflation fundamentals, and leave investors worse off than the 1994 “bond massacre”.