Should central banks have an Independent Evaluation Office?

Should the European Central Bank (ECB) have an independent evaluation office (IEO)? Benjamin Braun recently asked this question on Twitter.

My first reaction was: probably not, because the ECB already evaluates its past performance. However, after more thought, I have changed my mind. This post examines some recent failures of central banks; how an IEO could improve monetary policy going forward1; and what it would take for the IEO to be an effective department rather than a paper tiger. Continue reading “Should central banks have an Independent Evaluation Office?”

Michael Lewis on the US Department of Energy (highly recommended!)

Michael Lewis, the author of The Big Short, has written a great article for Vanity Fair.

Why the scariest nuclear threat may be coming from inside the White House is a fascinating portrait of the Department of Energy.

If you’re interested in politics, management, innovation, nuclear weapons or environmental pollution, you should read the article now.

I especially liked the description of how the managers appointed by the Obama administration could not transfer their knowledge to their successors. That’s because the newcomers weren’t appointed on time, or because the new political managers simply weren’t interested in learning the complexities of the DoE.

The story is a great case study that contains lessons which are relevant for all organizations. MBA students: read this instead of the Harvard Business Review!

What do physicists do? Research, software, and finance

After I got my PhD in physics, I started working for a bank. People often ask why I left physics. I usually reassure them by saying that this career choice isn’t exceptional. In fact, most physicists don’t work “in physics”.

A report by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) tracked down physicists working in the private sector, who earned their PhDs in the U.S. about ten years earlier. The respondents were employed in a variety of industries, working as consultants, managers, (software) engineers, etc.

But what about the rest of the world? Are the AIP findings representative for all physicists? Continue reading “What do physicists do? Research, software, and finance”

My favorite finance and economics podcasts

Podcasts – radio shows you can download – are a great medium when you’re driving, in the gym, or cooking dinner.

Here is my current top four podcasts that deal with money and economics in general. For each series, I’ve picked one episode that I enjoyed a lot. Continue reading “My favorite finance and economics podcasts”

Problems with Christopher Balding’s analysis of Chinese banks and currency

Professor Christopher Balding has published a blog post with his views on the link between the China’s banking system and its currency: Can China Address Bank Problems without Having Currency Problems?

He believes that “it is much more likely that if there are systemic banking issues that currency problems will also arise.”

It is laudable that Prof. Balding summarizes his arguments. By being explicit about the assumptions, readers don’t just have to trust his opinion. Instead they can follow the logic and evaluate the strong and weaker points themselves.

The goal of this post is to counter some of the points listed by Balding to support his conclusion. Continue reading “Problems with Christopher Balding’s analysis of Chinese banks and currency”

A lost decade (for bank investors)

2007 seems ages ago. It was the final year of another era, the time before the Crisis. Whatever you prefer to call it – credit crisis, debt crisis, global financial crisis, banking crisis – the crisis has scarred the shareholders of banks. Even though ten years have passed, most bank stocks still have not recovered to their pre-crisis highs.

This post looks at the evolution of the stock prices of the largest banks1 in Europe and the US. For European banks, I made a distinction between institutions with headquarters inside and outside the euro area. Continue reading “A lost decade (for bank investors)”

WannaCry about cybersecurity? Consider this first

In an event that has been called the WannaCry ransomware attack, hackers encrypted data on computers all around the world. The victims – which included hospitals and car factories – had to pay ransom in Bitcoin to get their files back.

Computers without up to date operating systems were particularly vulnerable to the attack.

People who have never come into contact with the internal IT operations of a large company find this hard to understand. Why don’t companies just install the latest patches, like private persons do on their home computers?

Software engineer Jürgen ‘tante’ Geuter has a nice blog post that explains why things are not so simple in the real world: “Why don’t they just update?” Continue reading “WannaCry about cybersecurity? Consider this first”

Stop calling banking ‘monetary intermediation’

Banks create money. To be more precise, when a bank grants a loan, it simultaneously creates a deposit. Bank deposits are functionally equivalent to cash.

The insight that bank lending creates money is a direct result of basic accounting, and has been explained many times. See for example the Bank of England, Positive Money, this blog, and most recently the Bundesbank (h/t Benjamin Braun) and Norges Bank (h/t Frank van Lerven).

A while ago, Daniela Gabor pointed out that economists have know this for a long time (see the replies to her tweet for even earlier references):

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Renaissance bankers who understood double-entry bookkeeping were well aware of the fact that they were creating money.

So how is it possible that some famous economists still don’t know that banks really do create money? Why do they insist that banks lend out savings?

Economics education apparantly fails to pass on some elementary knowledge to students.

It doesn’t help that the activities of banks are often described as ‘monetary intermediation’. Intermediation implies that bankers are the middle men between borrowers and savers.

Monetary intermediation is even an official term in the statistical classification of economic activities in Europe:

The English description of NACE code 64.1 is ‘monetary intermediation’. Source

However, there exists a much better description for banks. In Dutch, the formal description of banks is “geldscheppende financiële instellingen”, which literally means “money-creating financial institutions”:

The Dutch description of NACE code 64.1 means ‘money-creating financial institutions’. Source

As far as I can tell, Dutch is the only European language in which banks are described as active money creators1. All other languages use ‘monetary intermediation’.

Maybe everybody should take a cue from Dutch and start saying ‘money creating institutions’ from now on, so we don’t have this debate a hundred years from now 😛

Do you want to know more about banks, central banks or monetary policy? Follow me on Twitter!

Baby steps towards more ECB accountability

Transparency International EU has published a report about the European Central Bank (ECB). The author of the report, Dr. Benjamin Braun, has analyzed the independence, transparency, accountability and integrity of the ECB.

Several media organizations covered the findings.

The launch of the report was accompanied by a symposium in Brussels on Tuesday. During an interesting panel discussion, it was debated how the ECB can improve the way it works. Carl Dolan and Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm from Transparency International EU stressed that the ECB had cooperated with the NGO.

Benoît Cœuré addresses the room. Source.

Many topics were covered during the discussion. For example the status of whistleblowers, freedom of information requests, and the “cool-off period” demanded when ECB executives move to the private sector.

But my main interests were monetary policy and the ECB’s supervision of the banking sector. Continue reading “Baby steps towards more ECB accountability”