Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Federal Reserve Board and the Money Supply, Part 2

The Fed has this toy, the deposits of 10% of the country’s banks’ checking deposits. By law, the Fed can do two things with that toy. It can change the percentage of deposits required. If there is a limit on the percentage I haven’t found it. If there is a legal limit, it has no practical significance. We are really left with the Fed being able to set the percentage of demand deposits required by law with just the Fed’s “good judgment”!

The Fed also has the right to change the amount of money that is in a bank’s Fed deposit. The Fed can add money or it can take money away. So there are two parties who can change the bank’s deposits: the bank and the Fed. Now the bank is limited in how it can adjust its deposit. It must be close to the correct percentage. The amount of demand deposits the bank has is figured every week and it must reconcile the percentage at that time. It can borrow to cover a shortfall in its deposits. It can borrow from a bank that has a surplus or from the Fed (called the “discount window” and thus the “discount rate” that we hear so much about).

We are now at the key to the expansion of the money supply. Watch this. When the Fed adds money to a bank’s Fed deposit, the bank can consider the larger deposit as “found money”, and regard the new total deposits as the 10% (again, the current percentage requirement) the bank must meet. Since the size of the bank’s Fed deposit is now larger than it was, the bank may turnaround and expand the demand deposits held by the bank to the extent of the new proportion, 10 to 1, 10 parts demand deposits, 1 part Fed deposit. The bank expands its demand deposits by offering loans. Hospokus, we have credit expansion!

Let’s look at an example. Bank XYZ has $100M in demand deposits. From this, it has placed $10M at the Fed, and keeps, let’s say, $30M as actual reserves (I have no idea what banks currently believe is a reasonable, actual reserve, these numbers are made up by me). The Fed, acting upon its good judgment, puts $1M into XYZ’s Fed deposit, raising it to $11M, and whamo, the bank can expand its demand deposits to $110M. ZYX Bank can now loan out $10M more and be completely legal. (What percentage banks actually loan out is not really relevant. The Fed would just keep adding money to the deposits on hand until they reached their target of credit expansion.).

Whamo, we have now witnessed the expansion of the money supply by way of bank credit expansion.

The Fed uses a certain technique to add or subtract money from banks’ Fed deposits. The Fed buys and sells Federal Treasury Bonds on the open market. What it does, when it buys a bond, it buys it through a bank, and places the payment for the bond in the bank’s reserve. So, in the above example, it bought $1M worth of bonds through XYZ bank, and paid XYZ bank via the bank’s Fed deposit. If it wants to contract bank credit, the Fed buys bonds on the open market, and takes the payment from the Fed deposit.
The open market operation of the Fed is carried out by the, wait for it, Open Market Committee, which meets in the New York Branch of the Federal Reserve System. This Committee makes the open market policy and thus determines the rate of credit expansion. The credit expansion in turn causes an increase in the money supply, which may result in higher consumer prices. The credit expansion may also cause booms in stock prices, residential real estate prices, commercial real estate prices, and many other things. It also finances our export of dollars by way of our trade deficit. Credit expansion is handy for all sorts of things.

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