The banking sector was at the heart of the credit crunch and it may also be at the heart of the recovery. Too much lending to those who could not repay has now translated into government encouragement and targets to stimulate further lending. Banks made a deal with the government (Project Merlin) to lend £76bn to small and medium sized companies (SMEs) in 2011, however, the data for the first quarter of 2011 shows that the top five UK banks lent only £16.8bn, some £2.2bn short of their quarterly target (about 12%). Despite this sum still being a significant figure, small companies have said that they are still finding it difficult to obtain credit from banks. A poll found 44% of companies that asked for a loan were turned down and many were discouraged from even applying as they had almost no chance.
Encouraging banks to lend and hence stimulating investment by businesses may prove crucial to the UK’s recovery. Vince Cable’s words with regard to lending emphasise its importance:
“We will monitor the banks’ performance extremely closely and if they fail to meet the commitments they have agreed we will examine options for further action.”
If small businesses can obtain credit, it will help them to develop and expand and this should have knock on effects on the rest of the economy. Jobs could be created, giving more people an income, which in turn should stimulate consumption, further investment and finally aggregate demand. It may not be the case that the UK’s recovery is entirely dependent on bank lending, but it could certainly play an important role, hence the government’s insistence for further lending. It may also act to create confidence in the economy. The following articles consider the bank’s role in providing credit to SMEs.
Bank lending falling short of promises by £25m a day Mail Online, Becky Barrow (24/5/11)
Cable tells banks to increase lending to small firms BBC News (23/5/11)
Bank lending targets: What the experts say Guardian, Alex Hawkes (23/5/11)
Major banks fail to meet their lending targets Independent, Sean Farrell (24/5/11)
Banks on course to miss small business lending target Guardian, Philip Inman (23/5/11)
Project Merlin needs to be less woolly and more wizard Guardian, Nils Pratley (23/5/11)
Bankers caused the crash and now they strangle recovery Guardian, Polly Toynbee (27/5/11)
Trends in Lending Bank of England (see in particular, Lending to UK Businesses)
- Why have banks not met their lending targets for the first quarter of 2011?
- Why is project Merlin so potentially important to the recovery of the economy?
- Using an AD/AS diagram, illustrate the possible effects of further lending.
- Are there any possible adverse consequences of too much lending?
- Why might banks have little incentive to increase their lending to SMEs?
In a statement to the House of Commons on 9 February 2011, the Chancellor announced that banks would extend their new lending to SMEs (Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises) from £179 billion in 2010 to £190 billion in 2011. An important question is the extent to which this initiative, which forms part of a series of initiatives in conjunction with the banking sector known as Project Merlin, will impact on economic activity.
Let’s begin by thinking about the role that credit plays in an economy. Firstly, it serves a short-term role by enabling individuals and firms to ‘bridge the gap’ between their income and their spending. Secondly, it can, depending on the size and terms of the credit, help to fund longer-term investments. In the case of firms, for instance, it can help to fund capital projects such as an expansion of premises or the installation of new equipment or production processes.
The extension of credit is the main source of growth in the money supply. If the credit which is extended by financial institutions is spent it increases economic activity. The size of the increase in economic activity will depend on how many times the credit is passed on from one firm or individual to the next. In other words, it depends on the velocity of circulation of money – often referred to simply as V. If the initial credit funds a series of purchases and the recipients of these monies, i.e. those from whom the purchases are made, then use their increased deposits to fund purchases themselves, the expansion could be sizeable.
There is every indication that the additional credit for SMEs will be welcome and it seems reasonable to assume that this will positively impact on spending. But, by how much is not entirely clear. This is what fascinates me about macroeconomics, but, perhaps understandably, may well frustrate others! Once the payments for the purchases made using the newly available credit become new deposits, how will these recipients respond? Will other credit-constrained firms use this liquidity to engage in purchases themselves? But, what if these recipients use the monies to increase or rebuild their own financial wealth? In this last scenario – a pessimistic scenario – the velocity of circulation will increase relatively little and economic activity little too.
The corporate sector, of course, does not exist in isolation of other sectors of the economy and, in particular, of the household sector. As some of the income from the expanded credit flows to them in the form of factor payments (i.e. wages and profits) – though by how much is itself debtable – how will they respond? Again will credit-constrained households look to spend? Alternatively, will they hold on to these liquid balances perhaps using them as buffer-stock savings? This is not an unrealistic possibility given the leverage of households and the need to rebuild wealth, especially so in times of incredible economic uncertainty? But, who knows!
So while Merlin may have waved his wand, the full extent of its impact, though probably positive, is far from clear. Time will tell. Isn’t macroeconomics wonderful!
HM Treasury Press Release
Government welcomes banks’ statement on lending by 15% more to SMEs, and on pay and support for regional growth, HM Treasury, 9 February 2011
Statement to the House of Commons by the Chancellor
Statement on banking by the Chancellor of the Exchequer 9 February 2011
Banks sign lending and bonus deal BBC News (9/2/11)
Banks agree Project Merlin lending and bonus deal BBC News (9/2/11)
Osborne’s plans arrive too late for the economy Independent, Sean O’Grady (11/2/11)
Project Merlin ‘could weaken UK banks’ Telegraph, Harry Wilson (11/2/11)
Nothing wizard about Project Merlin Guardian UK, Nils Pratley (7/2/11)
Softball: Britain’s banks make peace with the government – for now The Economist (10/2/11)
Smaller firms insist banks must change their attitude The Herald (11/2/11)
- Detail the various roles that financial institutions play in a modern-day economy.
- Do the activities of banks carry with them any risks? How might such risks be reduced?
- What is meant by the velocity of circulation or the velocity of money?
- What factors do you think could affect the velocity of money?
- How does credit creation affect the growth of the money supply?
- What do you understand by individuals or firms being credit-constrained?
- What factors are likely to affect how credit-constrained an individual household is?
- What do you think might be meant by buffer-stock saving? What might affect the size of the buffer-stock held by a household?
At the start of the new decade, many commentators are getting out their crystal balls to take a look into the future. Below you will find a selection of their predictions, including six extracts from The Economist’s ‘The World in 2010’.
In 2009, the world economy shrank for the first time since 1945. Will it now bounce back, or will global recovery be slow, or will there be a ‘double-dip recession’ with output falling once more before sustained recovery eventally sets in? And what about particular economies? How will the UK fare compared with other countries? How will the USA and the eurozone perform? Will China and India be the powerhouses of global recovery?
Then there is the whole question of the financial sector. Is it now fixed? Will businesses and consumers have sufficient access to credit – is the credit crunch over? Has toxic debt been expunged from the banking system? Do banks now have sufficient capital?
And what about debt? Even though private-sector debt is falling in many countries as households and businesses scale back borrowing and as banks have imposed tighter lending criteria, public-sector debt is soaring around the world. Will financial markets continue to support these growing levels of sovereign debt? Will central banks have to continue with quantitative easing in order to support these levels of debt and to keep interest rates down?
Economic Outlook: 2010 may narrow gap Financial Times, Chris Flood (27/12/09)
CIPD Annual Barometer Forecast: UK economy to shed a further 250,000 jobs before unemployment peaks at 2.8 million in 2010 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) (21/12/09)
Unemployment ‘set to peak in 2010’ Guardian (29/12/09)
Unemployment ‘will peak at 2.8m’ in 2010 BBC News (29/12/09)
What employment prospects lie ahead in 2010? BBC News, Shanaz Musafer (3/1/10)
Money printing scheme is working, Bank of England says Times Online, Gráinne Gilmore and Francesca Steele (1/1/10)
Bank optimism rises as credit to business eases Guardian, Ashley Seager (31/12/09)
The world in 2010: China continues its unstoppable economic charge Independent, Alistair Dawber (2/1/10)
The US slowly emerges from the gloom of 2009 Independent, Alistair Dawber (2/1/10)
Year dominated by weak dollar Financial Times, Anjli Raval (2/1/10)
A year when tipsters took a tumble Times Online, David Wighton (1/1/10)
PMEAC pegs growth at 8% in ’10-11 Times of India (2/1/10)
China and the other Brics will rebuild a new world economic order The Observer, Ashley Seager (3/1/10)
Five countries that crashed and burned in the credit crunch face a hard road to recovery The Observer, Heather Stewart, Ashley Seager, David Teather, Richard Wachman and Zoe Wood (3/1/10)
HSBC goes out on a limb and predicts growth beyond dreams of Chancellor Times Online, Gráinne Gilmore (2/1/10)
Uncertainty dogs sterling Financial Times, Peter Garnham (2/1/10)
A tough year to forecast as recovery hangs in the balance Scotsman, George Kerevan (30/12/09)
Unstable equilibrium in 2010 BBC News blogs, Peston’s Picks (30/12/09)
Intriguing economic questions for 2010 BBC News blogs, Stephanomics (23/12/09)
The hard slog ahead The Economist (13/11/09)
In the wake of a crisis The Economist (13/11/09)
Now for the long term The Economist, Matthew Bishop (13/11/09)
Recessionomics The Economist, Anatole Kaletsky (13/11/09)
The World in 2010: From the editor The Economist, Michael Pilkington (13/11/09)
The hard slog ahead The Economist (13/11/09)
For forecasts of various economies and regions see
World Economic Outlook (OECD)
European Economic Forecast – autumn 2009 (European Commission)
Tables set A and Tables set B from World Economic Outlook (IMF)
- What is likely to happen to the major economies of the world in 2010?
- How much reliance should be placed on macroeconomic forecasts for the medium term (1 or 2 years)?
- For what reasons might the UK economy fare (a) better or (b) worse than forecast?
- Why has unemployment risen less in the UK, and many other countries too, during the current recession compared to previous recessions? Does the flexibility of labour markets affect the amount that unemployment rises during a period of declining aggregate demand?
- Why may the world face a ‘long hard slog’ in recovering from recession?
- Why is the world in 2010 ‘balanced precariously’ and why are there huge uncertainties? (See Robert Peston’s blog.)
- Why are China and India likely to see much faster rates of economic growth than the USA, the EU and Japan?
- What is likely to happen to stock markets over the coming 12 months? What will be the main factors influencing the demand for and supply of shares?
- What fiscal and monetary policies are most appropriate during the coming 12 months?
Latest figures from the Bank of England show that the stock of personal debt has fallen for the first time since the Bank began recording the figures in 1993 (search for table LPMVTUV in the Bank of England’s Statistical Interactive Database). So why are people on average paying back more than they are borrowing and what will be the implications for the economy? The following articles look at the issues.
Record decline in UK lending threatens recovery Financial Times (1/9/09)
Britons’ mortgage repayments outstrip new loans Times Online (1/9/09)
Personal debt dips for first time BBC News (1/9/09)
Mortgage approvals rise again but repayments outstrip lending Guardian (1/9/09)
Exceptional times BBC, Stephanomics (2/9/09)
Personal debt falls BBC Today Programme (2/9/09)
UK personal debt levels fall (video) BBC News (2/9/09
For the July data from the Bank of England see:
Lending to Individuals: July 2009
and for later periods, if you access this news item after September 2009, see:
Lending to Individuals: latest
- What is the effect on aggregate demand of a net repayment of debt by individuals? What other information would you need to have in order to calculate whether aggregate demand is rising or falling?
- Use the Excel data from the Bank of England’s Statistical Interactive Database (linked above in the introduction to this news item) to trace the credit crunch.
- For what reasons have individuals switched from net accumulation of debt to net repayment of debt? Does this suggest that the fall in interest rates over the past 12 months has had a perverse effect?
- What factors have been determining personal saving and borrowing since the start of the credit crunch?
- What are the short-term and long-term implications of a reduction in personal debt?