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”.
The 1866 collapse of Overend Gurney sparked widespread panic as investors flocked to banks and other institutions demanding their money back. Failure to provide substantial liquidity threatened to bring down the entire financial system. The Governors of the Bank of England asked the Chancellor to relax the constraints of the 1844 Bank Charter Act, by granting an indemnity to allow the issue of unbacked currency. The Chancellor’s reply, and the policy response it initiated, would save the day, and go down in central banking history as pivotal in the foundation of the “lender of last resort”, a function which has been fundamental to central banking practice ever since.
A railway boom in America’s Midwest goes spectacularly bust. Sixty-two of New York’s commercial banks close – out of sixty-three. Meanwhile in Britain, a decade gilt-edged by gold discoveries in Australia and fuelled by the Crimean War was beginning to lose its lustre. Thus the scene was set for the first global financial crisis shaking markets in New York, London, Paris and across the world. A crisis so severe it forced the Bank of England to “break the law” to survive.
Huaxiang Huang and Ryland Thomas.
The financial crisis of 1847 has often been dubbed “The trial of the Bank Charter Act of 1844 (Morgan (1952)). The Act sought to remedy the errors of crises past by trying to prevent the overissue of banknotes that many had felt was the major cause of previous crises in 1825 and 1837. The Act gave the Bank of England an effective monopoly in the issue of new bank notes and those additional notes had to be backed one for one with gold. But this had a crucial unintended consequence: it made it difficult for the Bank to act as a lender of last resort. When the crisis struck, the limits imposed by the Act effectively had to be suspended.
For most of the 18th-20th centuries, government bonds usually behaved like a risky asset. When equity prices fell, bond yields rose, i.e. bond and equity returns were positively correlated (bond prices move inversely to yields). But since the mid-2000s, bond and equity returns have been negatively correlated, i.e. bonds became a hedge for risk. Before this, the last time this correlation was near zero for a prolonged period was the long depression in the late 19th century.
Thomas Viegas and Gabija Zemaityte.
Many things have being trending down globally over the recent decades: real interest rates, productivity, world trade, you name it! And it’s generally acknowledged that these falls are problematic for policymakers. However, there is one downward trend which has been welcomed with open arms…