Tag Archives: USA

Money for Nothing? Banking Failure and Public Funds in Michigan in the early 1930s

The Effects of Reconstruction Finance Corporation Assistance of Michigan’s Bank’s Survival in the 1930s

Charles W. Calomiris (cc374@columbia.edu), Joseph R. Mason (joseph.r.mason@gmail.com ), Marc Weidenmier (marc_weidenmier@claremontmckenna.edu), Katherine Bobroff (klbobroff@gmail.com)

URL: http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18427&r=his

Abstract

This paper examines the effects of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation’s (RFC) loan and preferred stock programs on bank failure rates in Michigan during the period 1932-1934, which includes the important Michigan banking crisis of early 1933 and its aftermath. Using a new database on Michigan banks, we employ probit and survival duration analysis to examine the effectiveness of the RFC’s loan program (the policy tool employed before March 1933) and the RFC’s preferred stock purchases (the policy tool employed after March 1933) on bank failure rates. Our estimates treat the receipt of RFC assistance as an endogenous variable. We are able to identify apparently valid and powerful instruments (predictors of RFC assistance that are not directly related to failure risk) for analyzing the effects of RFC assistance on bank survival. We find that the loan program had no statistically significant effect on the failure rates of banks during the crisis; point estimates are sometimes positive, sometimes negative, and never estimated precisely. This finding is consistent with the view that the effectiveness of debt assistance was undermined by some combination of increasing the indebtedness of financial institutions and subordinating bank depositors. We find that RFC’s purchases of preferred stock – which did not increase indebtedness or subordinate depositors – increased the chances that a bank would survive the financial crisis. We also perform a parallel analysis of the effects of RFC preferred stock assistance on the loan supply of surviving banks. We find that RFC assistance not only contributed to loan supply by reducing failure risk; conditional on bank survival, RFC assistance is associated with significantly higher lending by recipient banks from 1931 to 1935.

Review by Sebastian Fleitas

The systemic risk of bank failures, and its macroeconomic consequences, led the Fed to take action when some banks started to fail in 2008. How much money did the Fed give to the banks in 2008? And even more important, was this money helpful to avoid banking failures? The latter question seems to be a key question every time that the government is implementing a program to try to stem bank failures and to reduce the economic cost of financial disintermediation.

Detroit skyline, circa 1930

The paper by Calomiris, Mason, Weidenmier and Bobroff, distributed by NEP-HIS on October 6th,2012, assess the success of a public support program aimed at banks in financial distress. This through assistance provided by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), ,a government-sponsored enterprise, to Michigan’s banks in the  1930’s.

Calomiris and friends offer a very interesting description of the timing of the crisis and a regression analysis of the impact of the RFC assistance. The period of analysis, from January 1932 through December 1934, covers two sub-periods: the first in which bank failures occurred sporadically; and a second sub-period in which the failures were concentrated and coincided with regional and national panics.

The banking crisis of 1933 in Michigan is situated in the middle of the period of analysis. This is a very important episode as it can be seen as a prelude to the national banking disaster as well as the Michigan hosting the automobile industry, an industry on the raise and of future importance for the national economy.

The role of the RFC changed between the two sub-periods. During the first period, the RFC main action was to help banks advance money on loan. The risk involved in these loans was mitigated through their short duration, strict collateralization rules and high interest rates. Although these rules protected the RFC from losses, they also limited the effectiveness of the RFC lending policy. However, on March 9, 1933 the Congress passed an act altering the original mandate, allowing the RFC to purchase preferred stock in some financial institutions that were considered as likely to survive. This opened the possibility for the RFC assistance to be more effective in the second sub-period than in the first one.

1940 Reconstruction Finance Corporation RFC Cartoon

Econometric estimates then try to identify the effect of RFC assistance. Specifically whether in light of an increasing rate of bank failures, the federal government had decided offer support to banks with greater risk of failure. In this sense, the dummy variable of RFC assistance is an endogenous variable, and this problem has to be addressed in order to consistently estimate the effect. To deal with this problem, the authors use two different estimation techniques and they use two sets of instruments. First, they use a set of instruments that indicate the correspondent relationships of each bank, that indicate the extent to which the bank was important within the national network of banking and also the correspondent relationships with Chicago and New York. Second, they included county specific characteristics that might have affected RFC assistance without affecting bank failure risk.

The authors conclude that the loans from the RFC did mitigate the risk of bank failure  but rather, that recapitalization (in the form of the purchase of preferred stocks) increased the likelihood of bank survival. Reasons why preferred stocks assistance was more effective included: a) because unlike loans, it neither increases the debt of the bank nor the liquidity risk or collateral requirements, b) the RFC was selective when choosing who was included in the program, and c) the RFC was able to prevent abuse from assisted banks. In general, they conclude that these results suggest that during a banking crisis, effective assistance requires that the government takes a significant part of the risk of the bank failure.

January 1931, Chester Garde

Emprical estimates in this paper concur with previous results in the literature. But by incorporating Michigan this papers offered added granularity and also improves in the use of econometric techniques used to address the issue of the effect of the RFC in banks failure. However, I think the paper could be improved by a more thorough discussion of the instruments used, in terms of why they can be assumed to be related to the RFC assistance and not directly related to bank failure. This is especially important because the results of the first stage estimations cast some doubt about the suitability of some of the instruments selected. Regarding the first set of instruments, one variable indicates the connections of a bank within the national network of banking and another one the relationships with Chicago and New York. However, in the first stage the effect of these two variables over the RFC assistant have different signs and their statistical significance depend on the period and specification of the model. A second concern is that they use the variable “Net due to banks over total assets” but this instrument is not significant in any first stage estimate. Banks with more creditors or debtors could be more important to save, but it could also be the case that these banks are more indebted with other banks because they are facing problems and thus they have more risk of failure. Regarding the second set of instruments, these variables generally fail to be consistently significant and the mechanisms through which they affect the decisions of the RFC without affecting the hazard of failure are not completely clear. Was the main proportion of the business of the banks concentrated at the county level at those times? Does the political importance of the county matter to allocate the assistance, even when the authors say that the manipulation of the RFC by Congress or the Administration was mitigated? Is the unemployment rate in the county in 1930 unrelated with the risk of failure of the banks during the crisis? A more deep consideration of these issues could help to understand why these variables are good instruments and why the results of the first stage estimations look like they do.

To sum up, this paper provides new evidence about the role of the RFC during the important period of 1932-1934. Furthermore, this paper addresses an issue that is relevant today: the efficiency of public funds to avoid bank failures. The general conclusion the authors achieve is that an effective assistance involves that the government assumes a significant share of the risk of bank failure. As in the thirties, in the present the government has spent lots of money trying to avoid the systemic risks related with the failures of some banks. This and other related papers in the literature can help us to understand the effects of a banking crisis in the real sector and the efficiency of public policies that try to reduce its negative impacts. This particular historical experience can not only shed light about what happened in that opportunity but also give us insights to approach these situations when they appear again, in particular to design better economic policies.

“If credence is given to colonial writers.” Revisiting the Colonial Money Puzzle

Chronic Specie Scarcity and Efficient Barter: The Problem of Maintaining an Outside Money Supply in British Colonial America

Farley Grubb (grubbf@udel.edu), University of Delaware (United States)

URL: http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:dlw:wpaper:12-08.&r=his

Abstract: Colonial Americans complained that gold and silver coins (specie) were chronically scarce. These coins could be acquired only through importation. Given unrestricted trade in specie, market arbitrage should have eliminated chronic scarcity. A model of efficient barter and local inside money is developed to show how chronic specie scarcity in colonial America could prevail despite unrestricted specie-market arbitrage, thus justifying colonial complaints. The creation of inside fiat paper monies by colonial governments was a welfare-enhancing response to preexisting chronic specie scarcity, not the cause of that scarcity.

Review by: Manuel Bautista González

Farley Grubb

“Assuming money rather than explaining it allows economists to do money-price-output analysis without caveats” – Grubb 2012: 22

This paper distributed in NEP-HIS 2012-05-22 embeds institutional, regulatory and market constraints within a transactions cost model to account for the chronic specie scarcity affecting British colonial America. In so doing, Grubb offers interesting insights on how to tackle problems in the history of commodity money systems.

The model offered in this paper is part of Grubb’s project to assess what has been called “the colonial money puzzle”, a heated scholarly controversy on the applicability of the quantity theory of money in explaining monetary phenomena in colonial America.

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The European Debt Crisis in an American Fiscal Mirror

Fiscal federalism: US history for architects of Europe’s fiscal union

By C. Randall Henning (henning@piie.com) and Martin Kessler (mkessler@piie.com)

URL: http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:bre:esslec:669&r=his

Abstract: European debates over reform of the fiscal governance of the euro area frequently reference fiscal federalism in the United States. The “fiscal compact” agreed by the European Council during 2011 provided for the introduction of, among other things, constitutional rules or framework laws known as “debt brakes” in the member states of the euro area. In light of the compact and proposals for deeper fiscal union, we review US fiscal federalism from Alexander Hamilton to the present. We note that within the US system the states are “sovereign”: The federal government does not mandate balanced budgets nor, since the 1840s, does it bail out states in fiscal trouble. States adopted balanced budget rules of varying strength during the nineteenth century and these rules limit debt accumulation. Before introducing debt brakes for euro area member states, however, Europeans should consider three important caveats. First, debt brakes are likely to be more durable and effective when “owned” locally rather than mandated centrally. Second, maintaining a capacity for countercyclical macroeconomic stabilization is essential. Balanced budget rules have been viable in the US states because the federal government has a broad set of fiscal powers, including countercyclical fiscal action. Finally, because debt brakes threaten to collide with bank rescues, the euro area should unify bank regulation and create a common fiscal pool for restructuring the banking system.

Review by: Manuel Bautista González

This paper was included in the NEP-HIS report issued on January 18th, 2012, through it C. Randall Henning and Martin Kessler contribute to the debate on fiscal solutions to the current European debt crisis. This by offering insights drawn from the past and present of U. S. fiscal federalism.

Henning and Kessler periodize their historical overview in five moments, namely, the financial reforms enacted after the adoption of the U. S. constitution, the state defaults of the 1840s, the financial troubles of state and local levels during the Reconstruction period, the fiscal instability during the Great Depression, and some recent experiences of state and local troubles from the 1970s to the current economic recession.

Later, in the analytical section of the paper, the authors study the probable adoption of balanced budget rules in the European Union with regards to their political enactment, their diversity across the Union and their effectiveness in preventing fiscal disarray. Henning and Kessler assess the need for (federal) countercyclical policies that complement the procyclical fiscal discipline at the state and local levels. They also review the literature on the relationship between state and local debt and capital and banking markets and offer preliminary conclusions relevant to both policymakers and scholars of monetary unions and fiscal federalism.

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