Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Fed versus the Banks: Who Will Blink First? (Bob Higgs)

Bob Higgs comments on the extraordinary excess reserves the banks are holding:

During recent months, the Fed has flooded the banking system with reserves, which the banks have chosen to accumulate as (legally) excess reserves, rather than using the funds to add to the volume of their outstanding loans and investments. The Fed’s recently adopted policy of paying a small rate of interest on bank reserves accounts for some of this accumulation, but the amount is so gigantic that it seems much more likely that the banks have greatly increased their assessment of the risk involved in lending and investing as usual and therefore have chosen the lower yielding but less risky alternative of accumulating more and more reserves. Since August, the amount of excess reserves has risen from $2 billion to $559 billion. A graph of this astonishing development shows an abrupt transition from a virtually horizontal line (approximately zero excess reserves for decades) to a virtually vertical line (a quick jump of $557 billion in three months).

So far, this explosive increase of reserves has had only a small effect on the growth of the money stock as measured by the conventional monetary aggregates, such as M2, although the rate of growth of the monetary aggregates is beginning to increase substantially, as shown in this graph.

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