- There are two high level ways that borrowing occurs in the private sector — bank loans, and all other forms of borrowing, i.e., bond issuance, securitization, peer to peer lending, etc.
- When there is an "excess" of short duration assets (primarily money) held by the private sector, the holders of those assets will be eager to lend it out, and thus acquire a higher yielding asset. The money supply remains unchanged.
- When there is no "excess" of money to lend (i.e., portfolio preferences are satisfied with the current levels), then banks will have a higher propensity than non-bank lenders to fulfill the economy's current borrowing needs, because they can lend an [almost] unlimited amount, independent of their level of money/reserves. (Their only limit on lending to worthy borrowers, and it is temporary, is how much equity capital they can raise). Bank lending increases the money supply, so from a macro perspective, banks could be considered the private sector's lender of last resort.
- By choosing the relative proportion of the two type of borrowing, the private sector is able to choose its portfolio mix of long duration assets and short duration assets (money), independently of the actions of the federal government, and [mostly] independently from the desired level of private sector borrowing!
- When the Federal Reserve conducts Quantitative Easing, it buys long duration assets (treasury bonds, etc) out of the private sector, and gives the private sector short duration assets (money balances) instead.
- If the private sector is not happy with this new portfolio mix resulting from QE, it likely has the power to "undo" the change over time via shifts in the proportion of bank loans versus other types of lending that it uses!
Possible Evidence from a Post-Keynesian Expert that this Theory may be Correct
In the comments of my previous post, commenter Ramanan helpfully linked to a PDF from Marc Lavoie, one of the leading Circuitists. Circuitists (also known as horizontalists) are one "school" of theory within Post-Keynesian economics, and they share most of the same concepts as Modern Monetary Theorists. In section 9.3.1, Lavoie seems to describe the same dynamic that I have attempted to describe. Here is an excerpt:
"...for apparently the demand for money and the supply of credit are determined by two independent mechanisms. In the Lavoie and Godley (2001-2002) model for instance, the demand for credit, at the end of the period, depends on the part of investment expenditures which has not been financed by retained earnings and new equity issues..."
"...the decision by households to hold on to more or less money balances has an equivalent compensatory impact on the loans that remain outstanding on the production side."While Lavoie only mentions "equity issues", I have seen evidence elsewhere that he uses that term as shorthand to describe any non-bank borrowing mechanism employed by a firm, i.e., his reference to "equity issues" is supposed to also encompass bond issues and some other types of liabilities.
For reasons that are unclear to me, some MMT authors repeatedly claim that QE does not add to the broad money supply. While it is true that if the primary dealers sell their own treasuries to the Fed, then only base money supply is affected, this scenario is too limited given the size of QE to date. As I understand it, primary dealers frequently act as an intermediaries to facilitate QE buying assets from the larger private sector. But if the private sector can react relatively quickly enough via the mechanisms described here to "undo" the money supply changes, then the money supply data won't show any bulge in broad money supply resulting from QE! (And of course there are other factors impacting the money supply at the same time, primarily a desired deleveraging within the private sector, so it is probably not possible to disentangle these different dynamics when looking at the data.)
Evidence in the Recent Data for the QE in the United States
In the last post on this topic, I showed a graph of Japan's bank and non-bank borrowing. While inconclusive, it suggests that Japan's Quantitative Easing from 2001-2006 may have caused a relative decrease in bank-based borrowing as compared to non-bank borrowing, which could add to evidence of the theories above.
Below is a graph of US borrowing from Q2 2004 to Q1 2011.
Effects of US Quantitative Easing on Bank Lending Compared to Total Borrowing:
(click to enlarge)
The red line shows the annualized percentage change in bank loans and leases, by quarter. The green line shows the annualized percentage change in total private sector debt (from the Z.1 report, which is not yet available for Q1 2011). The blue line shows the annualized percentage change in non-financial private sector debt (since the private sector's debt has many layers that could overwhelm the other trends, I thought it worth separating financials out.) I have not subtracted bank loans out of the total debt data, so the shape of the blue and green lines is slightly impacted by the shape of the red line (though the absolute amount of bank debt is around $7 trillion versus around $41 trillion for total private sector debt, so crossover impact is not huge).
Notice how bank loans declined substantially faster than total debt after the first round of Quantitative Easing started! The gap between the red line and the blue line is probably the most relevant. Despite tracking closely to each other until late 2008, they diverged significantly starting in 2009, perhaps as the private sector favored non-bank lending on a relative basis over bank lending, in order to "shed" the excess money supply imposed by quantitative easing!
The second round of quantitative easing is smaller in magnitude, and the data so far only covers the start of QE2. However, in Q4 2010 the gap between the red and blue lines appears to begin widening again. Will that effect continue? I would guess so, but I could ultimately prove to be wrong.
It is also not clear how big the lag effects in this process are. Also, the changes in bank loans versus total debt diverged most significantly in the middle of QE1, and the gap narrowed partially before QE1 ended. It could be that other dynamics that I am unaware of provide a more accurate explanation than what I suggest here.
While it's far from scientific or conclusive, and I don't follow the details of specific financial markets, I occasionally see anecdotal evidence of the private sector's increased eagerness for non-bank lending. For example:
- Junk Borrowers Turn Tables on Investors With Looser Terms: Credit Markets: "...debt sold this week included a condition that allows the company to call 10 percent of the bonds at 103 cents on the dollar in each of the first four years... [The borrower] is trying to lock in low interest rates while getting the flexibility to repay debt any time, as it would with a loan..."
- Subprime Bonds Are Back
- [Maybe] recent increases in venture capital activity? (If true, it would be an example of equity issuance rather than bond issuance, but with a similar macroeconomic effect.)
In generating the chart in this post, I discovered the importance of using the percent change bank loan data as prepared by the Federal Reserve in its H.8 release whenever possible, instead of starting with the absolute levels of loans. The latter's level jumps around too much due to balance sheet consolidations, acquisitions, etc, while the percent change data appears to be adjusted to remove this effect, if I am understanding it correctly. Details are on the about page and notes page.