The Money Problem

Professor Ricks

I recently read The Money Problem: Rethinking Financial Regulation by Morgan Ricks (University of Chicago Press 2016).  While it is not a book for the financially faint of heart, it does provide a great introduction to what money is and what banks and other financial intermediaries do. The back matter reads,

Years have passed since the world experienced one of the worst financial crises in history, and while countless experts have analyzed it, many central questions remain unanswered. Should money creation be considered a ‘public’ or ‘private’ activity—or both? What do we mean by, and want from, financial stability? What role should regulation play? How would we design our monetary institutions if we could start from scratch?

In The Money Problem, Morgan Ricks addresses all of these questions and more, offering a practical yet elegant blueprint for a modernized system of money and banking—one that, crucially, can be accomplished through incremental changes to the United States’ current system. He brings a critical, missing dimension to the ongoing debates over financial stability policy, arguing that the issue is primarily one of monetary system design. The Money Problem offers a way to mitigate the risk of catastrophic panic in the future, and it will expand the financial reform conversation in the United States and abroad.

I particularly recommend Part I to those trying to get their hands around money (the concept, not hard currency itself) and how it is created. Ricks reviews the “standard textbook description” of bank money creation and others’ account of it before providing his own “modified story.” (58-59)

Parts II and III provides a far-reaching blueprint for reforming the monetary system.  This reform agenda is not without its critics, but I think Ricks gives a fair reading to competing views so you can make up your own mind as to who is right.

The Fed’s Effect on Mortgage Rates

Federal Open Market Committee Meeting

Federal Open Market Committee Meeting

DepositAccounts.com quoted me in Types of Institutions in the U.S. Banking System – Investment Banks and Central Banks. It reads, in part,

Central Banks

Think of the central bank as the Grand Poobah of a country’s monetary system. In the U.S. that honor is bestowed upon the Federal Reserve. While there are other important central banks, like the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the People’s Bank of China. For now, focus stateside.

Think of the central bank as the Grand Poobah of a country’s monetary system. In the U.S. that honor is bestowed upon the Federal Reserve.

The Federal Reserve was created by the Congress to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system. The Federal Reserve was created on December 23, 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act into law. To keep it simple, think of the Fed as having responsibility in these four areas:

  1. conducting the nation’s monetary policy by influencing money and credit conditions in the economy in pursuit of full employment and stable prices;
  2. supervising and regulating banks and other important financial institutions to ensure the safety and soundness of the nation’s banking and financial system and to protect the credit rights of consumers;
  3. maintaining the stability of the financial system and containing systemic risk that may arise in financial markets
  4. providing certain financial services to the U.S. government, U.S. financial institutions, and foreign official institutions, and playing a major role in operating and overseeing the nation’s payments systems.

You need look no further than the Federal Reserve FAQs to learn more about how it is structured.

The Federal Reserve may not take your money, but be clear it has much financial impact on your life. Brooklyn Law Professor David Reiss gives one example, “The Federal Reserve can have an impact on the interest rate you pay on your mortgage. Since the financial crisis, the Fed has fostered accommodative financial conditions which kept interest rates low. It has done this a number of ways, including through its monetary policy actions. The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee sets targets for the federal funds rate. The federal funds rate, in turn, influences interest rates for purchases, refinances and home equity loans.”

Exotic Mortgage Increase

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DepositAccounts.com quoted me in 10 Things You Might See From Your Bank in 2016. It reads, in part,

It’s that time of year when experts pull out the crystal ball and start talking about “what they see”. Banking pros are no exception. When it comes to 2016, they expect plenty; change is on the horizon. Here’s a look at some of them.

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4. Exotic mortgages increase

David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, specializing in real estate believes that banks are going to get more comfortable with originating more exotic mortgages as they have more experience with the mortgage lending rules that were prescribed in Dodd-Frank. These rules, such as the Qualified Mortgage Rule and Ability To Repay Rule, encourages lenders to make “plain vanilla” mortgages. But there are opportunities to expand non-Qualified Mortgages, so “2016 may be the year where it really takes off,” says Reiss. The bottom line? “This means consumers who have been rejected for plain vanilla mortgages, may be able to get a non-traditional mortgage. This is a two-edge[d] sword. Access to credit is great, but consumers will need to ensure that the credit they get is sustainable credit that they can manage year in, year out.”

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

Monday’s Adjudication Roundup

Reiss on SCOTUS Junior Lien Decision

US-Supreme-Court-room-SC

Bloomberg BNA quoted me in Nagging Economic and Credit Questions Dampen Bankruptcy Victory for Bankers (behind paywall). It reads, in part:

The U.S. Supreme Court delivered an important bankruptcy ruling for bankers that doesn’t, however, do anything about still-struggling homeowners (Bank of Am. N.A. v. Caulkett, 2015 BL 171240, U.S., No. 13-cv-01421, 6/1/15); (Bank of Am. N.A. v. Toledo-Cardona, 2015 BL 171240, U.S., No. 14-cv-00163, 6/1/15).

In a June 1 decision, the court said Chapter 7 debtors cannot void junior liens on their homes when first-lien debt exceeds the value of the property, as long as the senior debt is secured and allowed under the Bankruptcy Code.

The decision is a victory for Bank of America, which held both junior liens in the two related cases, and for banking groups that said a different result could have destabilized more than $40 billion in commercial loans secured by similar liens.

But Brooklyn Law School Professor David Reiss June 2 said the case highlights the need for a broad remedy for homeowners who have continued to struggle to make payments since the financial crisis.

“The bank’s position as a legal matter is a very reasonable one, but from a policy perspective we needed and still need a bigger and more systemic solution to the problems that households face,” Reiss told Bloomberg BNA.

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[S]ome said the ruling highlights economic questions on several levels.

Reiss, who coedits a financial blog, June 2 said the case shows the federal government’s inability to deal head-on with the impact of financial turmoil in 2008 and 2009.

“Not enough is being done to move households beyond the crisis, and it’s bad for households and it’s bad for the financial sector,” Reiss said. “Here we are seven or eight years later and we’re sitting here with these valueless second mortgages. We’re just slogging through the muck and we’re not coming up with any good solutions to get past it.”

Reiss on High Loan Fees

CRM Buyer quoted me in On-Premises Banks Stick It to Walmart Customers. It opens,

Walmart customers who use the banking services provided inside the chain’s stores are among the highest payers of fees — especially overdraft fees — in the U.S., a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal filings concluded.

The five banks with the most Walmart branches ranked among the top 10 U.S. banks in fee income as a percentage of deposits last year, the paper reported, compared to other U.S. banks that earn most of their income through lending.

It is a notable finding, especially given Walmart’s brand: First and foremost, the company has built a reputation for providing low-cost products at significant savings compared to other stores.

Walmart cannot be held completely responsible for the banks’ practices, of course. The financial sector is highly regulated, and no third-party retailer is in a position to set standards or make policies.

However, Walmart told the Journal that it has a thorough process for vetting banks to make sure they are in line with its philosophy.

Financial Reform? What Financial Reform?

Apart from the Walmart branding issue, the report highlights some other concerns. In spite of curbs on financial industry practices in the last few years, it still is possible for providers to levy high fees on consumers in the lowest economic brackets, making it more difficult for them to work their way out of debt. A new government agency, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, was established to curtail such activities. Why do they still occur?

The Wall Street Journal leads off its article with the story of a consumer who knowingly overdraws her checking account to pay for a needed car repair. The US$30 fee, which translated into an APR of more than 300 percent, was actually cheaper than a payday loan, the borrower said.

In the bank’s defense, there are certain financial, market, regulatory and business realities that cannot be ignored.

“While I am not going to defend high-cost fees for financial products, I would say that the lenders often have high fixed costs for each transaction that can work out to a higher percentage of the amount borrowed than they would be for larger transactions,” David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, told CRM Buyer.

“So, I would say that there is some gouging going on in this market, but also some basic business reality,” he remarked.