Following the financial crisis, all sectors of the economy continue to repair their balance sheets. As well as households, non-financial corporations and government, this is true of the banking sector. In part, the repairing and rebalancing of their balance sheets is being brought about by regulatory pressures. The objective is to make banks more resilient to shocks and less susceptible to financial distress.
The need for banks to repair and rebalance their balance sheets is significant because of their systemic importance to the modern-day economy. Financial institutions that are systemically important to national economies are know as SIFIs (systemically important financial institutions) while those of systemic importance to the global economy are know as G-SIFIs or G-SIBs (global systemically important banks). The increasing importance of financial institutions to economic activity is known as financialisation.
One way of measuring the degree of financialisation here in the UK is to consider the aggregate size of the balance sheet of resident UK banks and building societies (including foreign subsidiaries operating here). The chart shows that the balance sheet grew from £2.6 trillion in 1998 Q1 to £8.5 trillion in 2010 Q1. Another way of looking at this is to consider this growth relative to GDP. This reveals that the aggregate balance sheet of banks and building societies grew over this period from 3 times annual GDP to a staggering 5.6 times GDP. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)
But, now consider the aggregate banking balance sheet in the 2010s. This reveals a shrinking balance sheet. At the end of the second quarter of this year (2014 Q2) it had fallen back to £7.1 trillion or 4 times GDP. As a share of GDP, this was the smallest the aggregate balance sheet had been since 2005 Q1.
Does a shrinking balance sheet matter? This is where the analysis becomes tricky and open to debate. If the smaller size is consistent with a more stable financial system then undoubtedly that is a good thing. But, size is not that all matters. The composition of the balance sheet matters too. This requires an analysis of, among other things, the liquidity of assets (i.e. assets that can be readily turned in a given amount of cash), the reliability of the income flow from assets and the resources available to withstand periods of slow economic growth, including recessions, or periods of financial difficulty.
As we have identified before (see Financialisation: Banks and the economy after the crisis), the financial crisis could herald new norms for the banking system with important implications for the economy. If so, we may need to become accustomed to consistently lower flows of credit and not to the levels that we saw prior to the financial crisis of the late 2000s. However, an alternative view is that we are merely experiencing a pause before the next expansionary phase of the credit cycle. This is consistent with the financial instability hypothesis (see Keeping a Minsky-eye on credit) which argues that credit cycles are an integral part of modern financialised economies. Only time will tell which view will turn out to be right.
‘Cleaning up bank balance sheets is key’ Irish Examiner, John Walsh (10/10/14)
More action needed at European banks: Fitch Courier Mail, (17/10/14)
Bank lending to small businesses falls by £400m The Telegraph, Rebecca Burn-Callander (20/10/14)
Bank lending to SMEs falls by £400m SME insider, Lindsey Kennedy (21/10/14)
Record world debt could trigger new financial crisis, Geneva report warns The Guardian, Phillip Inman (29/10/14)
RBS shares jump as bank’s bad debts improve The Guardian, Jill Treanor (30/10/14)
Statistical Interactive Database Bank of England
- Using examples, demonstrate your understanding of financialisation.
- Draw up a list of the alternative ways in which we might measure financialisation.
- What factors are likely to explain the recent reduction in the aggregate balance sheet of resident banks and building societies in the UK?
- How might we go about assessing whether the aggregate level of lending by financial institutions is sustainable?
- How might we go about assessing whether the level of lending by individual financial institutions is sustainable?
- How would reduced flows of credit be expected to impact on the economy both in the short term and in the longer term?
- Are credit cycles inevitable?
- Of what significance are credit cycles in explaining the business cycle?
In the blogs The capital adequacy of UK banks and A co-operative or a plc? we focus on how British banks continue to look to repair their balance sheets. To do so, banks need to ‘re-balance’ their balance sheets. This may involve them holding more reserves and equity capital and/or a less risky and more liquid profile of assets. The objective is to make banks more resilient to shocks and less susceptible to financial distress.
This will take time and even then the behaviour of banks ought to look like quite different from that before the financial crisis. All of this means that we will need to learn to live with new banking norms which could have fundamental consequences for economic behaviour and activity.
The increasing importance of financial institutions to economic activity is known as financialisation. It is not perhaps the nicest word, but, in one way or another, we all experience it. I am writing this blog in a coffee shop in Leicester having paid for my coffee and croissant by a debit card. I take it for granted that I can use electronic money in this way. Later I am going shopping and I will perhaps use my credit card. I take this short term credit for granted too. On walking down from Leicester railway station to the coffee shop I walked past several estate agents advertising properties for sale. The potential buyers are likely to need a mortgage. In town, there are several construction sites as Leicester’s regeneration continues. These projects need financing and such projects often depend on loans secured from financial institutions.
We should not perhaps expect economic relationships to look as they did before the financial crisis. The chart shows how levels of net lending by financial institutions to households have dramatically fallen since the financial crisis. (Click here for PowerPoint of chart.)
Net lending measures the amount of lending by financial institutions after deducting repayments. These dramatically smaller flows of credit do matter for the economy and they do affect important macroeconomic relationships.
Consider the consumption function. The consumption function is a model of the determinants of consumer spending. It is conventional wisdom that if we measure the growth of consumer spending over any reasonably long period of time it will basically reflect the growth in disposable income. This is less true in the short run and this is largely because of the financial system. We use the financial system to borrow and to save. It allow us to smooth our consumption profile making spending rather less variable. We can save during periods when income growth is strong and borrow when income growth is weak or income levels are actually falling. All of this means that in the short term consumption is less sensitive to changes in disposable income that it would otherwise be.
The financial crisis means new norms for the banking system and, hence, for the economy. One manifestation of this is that credit is much harder to come by. In terms of our consumption function this might mean consumption being more sensitive to income changes that it would otherwise be. In other words, consumption is potentially more volatile as a result of the financial crisis. But, the point is more general. All spending activity, whether by households or firms, is likely to be more sensitive to economic and financial conditions than before. For example, firms’ capital spending will be more sensitive to their current financial health and crucially to their flows of profits.
We can expect particular markets and sectors to be especially affected by new financial norms. An obvious example is the housing market which is very closely tied to the mortgage market. But, any market or sector that traditionally is dependent on financial institutions for finance will be affected. This may include, for example, small and medium-sized enterprises or perhaps organsiations that invest heavily in R&D. It is my view that economists are still struggling to understand what the financial crisis means for the economy, for particular sectors of the economy and for the determination of key economic relationships, such as consumer spending and capital spending. What is for sure, is that these are incredibly exciting times to study economics and to be an economist.
Statistical Interactive Database Bank of England
Cut in net lending to non-financial firms raises credit worries Herald Scotland, Mark Williamson (25/5/13)
Loans to business continue to shrink despite Funding for Lending Scheme Wales Online, Chris Kelsey (3/6/13)
Factbox – Capital shortfalls for five UK banks, mutuals Standard Chartered News (20/6/13)
UK banks ordered to plug £27.1bn capital shortfall The Guardian, Jill Treanor (20/6/13)
Barclays, Co-op, Nationwide, RBS and Lloyds responsible for higher-than-expected capital shortfall of £27.1bn The Telegraph, Harry Wilson (20/6/13)
UK banks need to plug £27bn capital hole, says PRA BBC News (20/6/13)
Barclays and Nationwide forced to strengthen BBC News, Robert Peston (20/6/13)
Five Banks Must Raise $21 Billion in Fresh Capital: BOE Bloomberg, Ben Moshinsky (20/6/13)
Co-operative Bank to list on stock market in rescue deal The Guardian, Jill Treanor (17/6/13)
Troubled Co-operative Bank unveils rescue plan to plug £1.5bn hole in balance sheet Independent, Nick Goodway (17/6/13)
Co-op Bank announces plan to plug £1.5bn hole Which?(17/6/13)
The Co-operative Bank and the challenge of finding co-op capital The Guardian, Andrew Bibby (13/6/13)
Co-op Bank seeks to fill £1.5bn capital hole Sky News (17/6/13)
Central banks told to head for exit Financial Times, Claire Jones (23/6/13)
Stimulating growth threatens stability, central banks warn The Guardian (23/6/13)
BIS Press Release and Report
Making the most of borrowed time: repair and reform the only way to growth, says BIS in 83rd Annual Report BIS Press Release (23/6/13)
83rd BIS Annual Report 2012/2013 Bank for International Settlements (23/6/13)
- What is meant by equity capital?
- How can banks increase the liquidity of their assets?
- Explain how Basel III is intended to increase the financial resilence of banks.
- What do you understand by the term ‘financialisation’? Use examples to illustrate this concept.
- How might we expect the financial crisis to affect the detemination of spending by economic agents?
- Using an appropriate diagram, explain how a reduction in capital spending could affect economic activity? Would this be just a short-term effect?
- What does it mean if we describe households as consumption-smoothers? How can households smooth their spending?
Figures released by the Bank of England show that M4 fell by 5.0% in the year to March 2012. This record fall comes despite over £320 billion of assets purchased by the Bank under its quantitative easing programme. These are funded by the creation of reserves in the Bank of England. (See the Bank of England site for details of the timing and amounts of QE.)
Because of the considerable injection of new money into the banking system, notes and coin plus banks’ reserve balances in the Bank of England rose by 44.9%. So how is it that this measure of narrow money has increased massively and yet M4 has fallen?
One problem with using figures for changes in M4 to gauge economic activity is that they include intra-financial sector transactions – transactions between ‘other financial corporations’ (OFCs). Such transactions do not impact on the real economy. For this reason, the Bank of England prefers to focus on a measure that excludes these transactions between OFCs, a measure known as ‘M4 excluding intermediate OFCs’. This measure rose by 2.7% in the year to March 2012. Although this was positive, it was still weak.
So why does quantitative easing seem to be having such a small effect on bank lending? The following articles look at the issue.
Record collapse in UK money supply blamed on banks The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (2/5/12)
UK March mortgage approvals rise unexpectedly London South East (2/5/12)
UK March Net Consumer Lending +GBP1.4 Billion NASDAQ, Jason Douglas and Nicholas Winning (2/5/12)
M4 Hits Record Low; Non-Residents Sell Gilts Market News International (2/5/12)
Bankstats (Monetary & Financial Statistics) – March 2012 Bank of England (2/5/12): see Tables A1.1.1, A2.1.1 and A2.2.3
- How does quantitative easing impact on the narrow measure of money: notes, coin and banks’ reserve balances in the Bank of England?
- How might an increase in narrow money lead to an increase in broad money (such as M4)?
- How is it that notes, coin and banks’ reserve balances rose so rapidly in the year to March 2012, while M4 fell and even M4 excluding OFCs rose only slightly?
- Does this suggest that money supply is endogenous? Explain.
- How does requiring banks to rebuild their capital base impact on the relationship between narrow and broad money?
This week has seen the publications of two sets of forecasts on the UK housing market in 2011. The first of these came from Rightmove. It is forecasting that house prices next year could fall by as much as 5%. The extent of the fall though is argued to dependent, in part, on any rise in the Bank of England’s base rate and the number of properties taken into possession by lenders. These two factors are, of course, linked because higher debt-servicing costs can contribute to repossessions as the affordability of mortgages decrease. An increase in what are termed ‘forced sales’ will add to Rightmove’s general expectation of over-supply of property.
Righmove are expecting considerable local variations in house prices as a result of local demand and supply conditions. This makes forecasting a national average house price change extraordinarily difficult. It argues that the extent to which potential buyers are credit-constrained or to which demand is ‘credit crunch resistant’ varies across the country. This coupled with variations in the amount of supply to local markets will contribute to considerable differences in house price movements with house prices being ‘underpinned’ in some markets.
Rightmove is expecting the number of properties coming on to the housing market in 2011 to be around 1.2 million, 10% lower than in 2010. However, it is expecting only around 600,000 transactions which is close to half the historic average.
The second set of housing market forecasts this week was published by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML). The CML is forecasting that low interest rates will help to underpin current house price values with ‘flat or modestly falling house prices’. They argue that that while recent house price weakness will persist they ‘do not foresee any sharp fall in prices’. The CML are not expecting large numbers of buyers to hold off from looking to buy, but acknowledge there is uncertainty about the availability and cost of mortgage funding.
One contributing factor to the uncertainty surrounding the quantity and price of mortgages is the end to the Bank of England’s Special Liquidity Scheme (SLS). The SLS allowed banks to swap for a period of up to 3 years financial assets, such as mortgage-backed securities (a security representing a claim on the cash flows from mortgage loans), for UK Treasury Bills (short-term government debt). The scheme was designed to provide the banking system with liquidity. The last swaps will expire in January 2012. The CML reports that currently about £130 billion needs to be repaid by banks. More generally, of course, financial institutions are likely in 2011 to continue repairing and rebalancing their balance sheets and this is likely to impact on their lending decisions.
We noted how the Rightmove house price forecast for 2011 was partly dependent on those forced sales arising from repossessions. The CML is expecting what it terms a ‘modest increase’ in the number of possessions from around 36,000 this year to 40,000 next year. The CML though expects the number of transactions in 2011 to be a little higher than Rightmove, albeit still historically low at around 860,000.
All in all, activity levels in the housing and mortgage markets in 2011 are expected to be relatively subdued. This coupled with the expectation that house prices will be lower in 2011 suggests a very sober outlook indeed for the UK housing market. Happy New Year!
Lenders forecast flat house prices Financial Times, Norma Cohen (14/12/10)
UK mortgage lending to fall to 30-year low Telegraph, Steven Swinford (15/12/10)
Repossessions to rise in 2011, lenders forecast BBC News (15/12/10)
Market freeze: Homes sold once in 20 years Sky News, Hazel Baker (15/12/10)
U.K. mortgage lending may decline by a third in 2011 as weakness persists Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton (15/12/10)
House prices fall faster as estate agent predicts worse to come Telegraph, Ian Cowie (13/12/10)
Home sellers warned to drop asking price by 5% if they want to find a buyer Daily Mail, Becky Barrow (13/12/10)
U.K. home sellers may cut prices by as much as 5% in 2011 after December drop Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton (13/12/10)
Housing market forecasts
Rightmove’s housing market forecasts can be found within the December 2010 edition of its House Price Index
Rightmove December 2010 House Price Index (13/12/10)
CML publishes 2011 market forecasts CML News and Views, Issue 24 (15/12/10)
- Compare and contrast the Rightmove and CML house price forecasts for 2011. How similar are the stories underpinning their forecasts?
- What do you understand by forced sales? Using a demand-supply diagram explore how an increase in properties taken into possession could impact on house prices in 2011.
- What do you think affordability means in the context of housing? How might we measure this?
- What factors do you think might impact on the price and availability of mortgage finance in 2011?
- What do you understand to be the purpose of the Bank of England’s Special Liquidity Scheme. Using a demand-supply diagram explore how the termination of the scheme early in 2012 could impact on house prices in 2011.
- What do you think Rightmove means by ‘credit crunch resistant’ housing demand?
- Can demand-supply analysis help to explain how house prices pressure could vary from one area to another? Explain your answer using appropriate diagrams.
The governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, made an important speech in New York on 25th October. The Governor’s speech was a wide-ranging discussion of the banking system. At the heart of it was a fundamental economic concept: market failure. The market failure that King was referring to stems from the maturity transformation which occurs when banks borrow short, say through our savings or wholesale funds from other financial institutions, and then lend long as is the case with mortgages. Of course, the positive outcome of this maturity transformation is that it does allow for funds to be pooled and this, in turn, enables long-term finance, something which is incredibly important for business and households. However, King believes that banks have become too heavily reliant on short-term debt to finance lending. Indeed he went so far as to describe their levels of leverage as ‘extraordinary’ and ‘absurd’. He argued that such a system can only work with the ‘implicit support of the taxpayer’.
In elaborating on the market failure arising from maturity transformation in today’s financial system, King notes
…the scale of maturity transformation undertaken today produces private benefits and social costs. We have seen from the experience of first Iceland, and now Ireland, the results that can follow from allowing a banking system to become too large relative to national output without having first solved the “too important to fail” problem.
In the speech, King considers a range of remedies to reduce the risks to the financial system. These include: (i) imposing a tax on banks’ short-term borrowing which could, to use the economic terminology, help internalise the external cost arising from maturity transformation; (ii) placing limits on banks’ leverage and setting capital requirements as outlined in the recent Basel III framework (for a discussion on Basel III see Basel III – tough new regulations or letting the banks off lightly?; (iii) functional separation of bank activities to safeguard those activities critical to the economy. King argues that whatever remedies we choose they should be guided by one fundamental principle: “ensure that the costs of maturity transformation – the costs of periodic financial crises – fall on those who enjoy the benefits of maturity transformation – the reduced cost of financial intermediation”.
Mervyn King’s speech makes considerable reference to our banks’ balance sheets. So to conclude this piece we consider the latest numbers on the liabilities of British banks. At the end of each month, in its publication Monetary and Financial Statistics, the Bank of England publishes figures on the assets and liabilities of Britain’s banking institutions or ‘MFIs’ (monetary and financial institutions). The latest release showed that British banks had total liabilities of some £8.15 trillion at the end of September 2010. To put it into perspective that’s equivalent to around 5½ times the country’s annual Gross Domestic Product. Of this sum, £3.75 trillion was classified as Sterling-denominated liabilities, so largely reflecting operations here in the UK, while £4.39 trillion was foreign currency liabilities reflecting the extent of over-seas operations.
The Sterling liabilities of our financial institutions are dominated by two principal deposit types: sight deposits and time deposits. The former are deposits that can be withdrawn on demand without penalty whereas time deposits require notice of withdrawals. Sterling sight deposits at the end of September totalled £1.16 trillion (31% of Sterling liabilities and 80% of annual GDP) while time deposits totalled £1.52 trillion (40% of Sterling liabilities and 105% of annual GDP). The next largest group of deposits are known repos or, to give them their full title, sales and repurchase agreements. Repos are essentially loans, usually fairly short-term, where banks can sell some of their financial assets, such as government debt, to other banks and this can help to ease any shortages in funds. Sterling-denominated repos totalled £197.8 billion at the end of September (8% of Sterling liabilities and 21% of annual GDP).
To conclude, the growth in our banking system’s liabilities has been pretty staggering. Compared with today’s liabilities of nearly £8.15 trillion, liabilities 13 years ago totalled £2.35 trillion. So over this period the banks’ liabilities have risen from a little below 3 times Gross Domestic Product to over 5½ times GDP. That is certainly worthy of analysis.
Mervyn King’s speech
Banking: from Bagehot to Basel, and back again The second Bagehot lecture, New York City (25/10/10)
Mervyn King mobilises his tanks Independent, Ben Chu (26/10/10)
Get tougher on banks, says banking governor Mervyn King’ Daily Mail, Hugo Duncan (26/10/10)
Mervyn King attacks ‘absurd’ bank risk BBC News (26/10/10)
Mervyn King says banking must be reinvented BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (26/10/10)
Data on banks’ liabilities and assets are available from the Bank of England’s statistics publication, Monetary and Financial Statistics (Bankstats) (See Table B1.4.)
- What do you understand by the terms: (i) market failure; and (ii) maturity transformation?
- What is the external cost identified by Mervyn King arising out of maturity transformation?
- What does it mean to internalise an external cost? Can you think of examples from everyday life where attempts are made to do this?
- Consider the various ‘remedies’ identified by Mervyn King to reduce the riskiness of our financial system. (You may wish to download the speech using the web link above).
- Distinguish between the following deposits: (i) time deposit; (ii) sight deposit; and (iii) repos.