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Ultimately the money supply is determined by the interaction of four groups: commercial banks and other depositories, depositors, borrowers, and the central bank. Like any bank, the central bank’s balance sheet is composed of assets and liabilities. Its assets are similar to those of common banks and include government securitiesStudents sometimes become confused about this because they think the central bank is the government. At most, it is part of the government, and not the part that issues the bonds. Sometimes, as in the case of the BUS and SBUS, it is not part of the government at all. and discount loans. The former provide the central bank with income and a liquid asset that it can easily and cheaply buy and sell to alter its balance sheet. The latter are generally loans made to commercial banks. So far, so good. The central bank’s liabilities, however, differ fundamentally from those of common banks. Its most important liabilities are currency in circulation and reserves.
Yes, currency and reserves. You may recall from Chapter 9 "Bank Management" that those are the assets of commercial banks. In fact, for everyone but the central bank, the central bank’s notes, Federal Reserve notes (FRN) in the United States, are assets, things owned. But for the central bank, its notes are things owed (liabilities), just like your promissory note (IOU) would be your liability, but it would be an asset for the note’s holder or owner. Similarly, commercial banks own their deposits in the Fed (reserves), which the Fed, of course, owes to the commercial banks. So reserves are commercial bank assets but central bank liabilities.
Currency in circulation (C) and reserves (R) compose the monetary baseThe most basic, powerful types of money in a given monetary system, that is, gold and silver under the gold standard, FRN, and reserves (Federal Reserve deposits) today. (MB, aka high-powered money), the most basic building blocks of the money supply. Basically, MB = C + R, an equation you’ll want to internalize. In the United States, C includes FRN and coins issued by the U.S. Treasury. We can ignore the latter because it is a relatively small percentage of the MB, and the Treasury cannot legally manage the volume of coinage in circulation in an active fashion, but rather only meets the demand for each denomination: .01, .05, .10, .25, .50, and 1.00 coins. (The Fed also supplies the $1.00 unit, and for some reason Americans prefer $1 notes to coins. In most countries, coins fill demand for the single currency unit denomination.) C includes only FRN and coins in the hands of nonbanks. Any FRN in banks is called vault cash and is included in R, which also includes bank deposits with the Fed. Reserves are of two types: those required or mandated by the central bank (RR), and any additional or excess reserves (ER) that banks wish to hold. The latter are usually small, but they can grow substantially during panics like that of September–October 2008.
Central banks, of course, are highly profitable institutions because their assets earn interest but their liabilities are costless, or nearly so. Therefore, they have no gap problems, and liquidity management is a snap because they can always print more notes or create more reserves. Central banks anachronistically own prodigious quantities of gold, but some have begun to sell off their holdings because they no longer convert their notes into gold or anything else for that matter.http://news.goldseek.com/GoldSeek/1177619058.php Gold is no longer part of the MB but is rather just a commodity with an unusually high value-to-weight ratio.