Best of the Week
Most Popular
1.Independent Scotland Will Disintegrate as Unionist Regions Demand Referendum's to Rejoin UK - Nadeem_Walayat
2.Bank of England Panic! Scottish Independence Bank Run Already Underway! - Nadeem_Walayat
3.Scottish Independence Referendum Result NO 55%, YES 45% - Vote Forecast - Nadeem_Walayat
4.Scotland Independence Result NO Win 55% to Yes on 45% - Nadeem_Walayat
5.US Dollar Forecast to Go Much Higher - David_Petch
6.Russian Union Of Engineers Accuses Ukraine Airforce In MH17 Crash - Raul_I_Meijer
7.The Emergence of the US Petro-Dollar - Gary_Dorsch
8.Don't Miss This Gold Buying Opportunity - Brien Lundinr
9.Silver Price: A Collapse and a Rally - DeviantInvesto
10.Silver Buyers Keep Stacking And Demand Higher Despite Falling Prices - 18th Sept 14 - GoldCore
Last 5 days
The Japanese Deflation Myth and the Yen’s Slump - 29th Sept 14
Epic Investor Optimism that Can Be Reversed Only by a Huge Stocks Bear Market - 29th Sept 14
Russia’s Gokhran Buying Gold Bullion In 2014 and Will Buy Palladium In 2015 - 29th Sept 14
The End of Monetary Policy - 29th Sept 14
Here's What Rising Interest Rates Really Do to Your Shares - 29th Sept 14
Is a Credible Stock Market Top Forming? - 29th Sept 14
Silver Price At or Very Close to an Important Low - 29th Sept 14
Gold Price Very Close to an Important Low - 29th Sept 14
Nihilism And The Unknown Future - 29th Sept 14
Stock Market S&P, NAS Change In Trend? None Apparent, But A Caveat - 29th Sept 14
UK Saved From I.S. Threat But Scottish Independence Nightmare is Not Over! - 29th Sept 14
U.S. Aggression - Will Russia and China Hold Their Fire? - 28th Sept 14
Currency Wars and the Death of the Euro - Audio - 28th Sept 14
Obscure Maritime Law Practically “Guarantees” Profits for These Energy Companies - 28th Sept 14
Stock Market Primary IV Underway? - 27th Sept 14
Darwin And The Climate Apocalypse - 27th Sept 14
The Global Middle Class and Copper Consumption, A Stop Spike Event - 27th Sept 14
Can Money Save The Climate? - 27th Sept 14
Gold And Silver - PetroDollar On Its Deathbed? PMs About To Rally? No - 27th Sept 14
Debt and Inflation Consquences of American Fear - 27th Sept 14
U.S. and Global Confidence are in Divergence - So Are Stock Markets - 27th Sept 14
Are U.S. Cars About to Crash? - 27th Sept 14
Why the U.S. Created and Armed ISIS From Libya to Syria - 27th Sept 14
Stock Market vs the Developing Bear Market for Liberal Democracy? - 26th Sept 14
Stock Market Major Selloff Looms - 26th Sept 14
How My Charts Uncovered Two Big Stocks That Are Soaring Like Small Caps - 26th Sept 14
What Cycles Reveal About Stock Market Crash - 26th Sept 14
Gold Not A Safe Haven On Terrorism, Middle East Bombing, Russia ... Yet - 26th Sept 14
Valuing Gold and Turkey Farming - 26th Sept 14
Gold $1200 Underpinned by Physical Demand - 26th Sept 14
Inflate or Die! When Leverage Fails and Market Hope Turns to Fear - 26th Sept 14
Market Forecasts for Stocks, Gold, Silver, Commodities, Financials and Currencies - 26th Sept 14
Gold and Silver Bear Phase III Dead Ahead - 26th Sept 14
The Home Depot Breach Boils Our Blood – and It Should - 26th Sept 14
Why the Pundits are Wrong About Crude Oil Prices - 26th Sept 14
Where’s the Economic Growth? - 26th Sept 14
Stock Market Future Bull - 25th Sept 14
The Specter of Global Debt Default is Once Again Rearing its Head - 25th Sept 14
All Major Market Analysis and Forecasts Investor Open House has Started! - 25th Sept 14
Federal Reserve Policies Cause Booms and Busts - 25th Sept 14
Currency Wars Deepen - Russia, Kazakhstan Buy Very Large 30 Tons Of Gold In August - 25th Sept 14
Strong U.S. Dollar Pressures Gold - 25th Sept 14
10 Things That Affect Your Purchasing Power - 24th Sept 14
US Government - The World’s Largest Subprime Debtor - 24th Sept 14
Venezuela's Gold Appears To Be Still In Venezuela But For How Long? - 24th Sept 14
The Washington-Wall Street "Corruption Corridor" - 24th Sept 14
The Poison Eating at the Heart of Macroeconomics - 24th Sept 14
Gold And Silver Voodoo Analysis Price Forecasts - 24th Sept 14
Stock Market Decline Below Wave (iv) Low - 24th Sept 14
How Falling Oil Prices Could Trigger an "Unpredictable and Dangerous Mess" - 24th Sept 14
The Quick Slide From Hope to Despair As War Returns--If It Ever Went Away - 24th Sept 14
Hedge Funds Surpass 2007 Leverage; New Era of 'Permanent Investigations' Confirms Imminent Reversal - 23rd Sept 14
Home Healthcare Cuts Threaten 500,000 Jobs and Female-Owned Businesses - 23rd Sept 14
Silver, Gold, Debt and Taxes - 23rd Sept 14
A Post-Petrodollar Play for Triple-Digit Gains - 23rd Sept 14
Regime Uncertainty Weighs on U.S. Economic Growth - 23rd Sept 14
Bread, Circuses and Bombs - Decline of The American Empire - 23rd Sept 14
Has The Gold Price Drop Run Its Course? - 23rd Sept 14
Stocks Rally Following Janet Yellen's Conference and Scotland's Historic Referendum Result - 23rd Sept 14
Why Isn’t U.S. Housing Market A Bubble? - 23rd Sept 14
The Macro View and the Stock Market - 23rd Sept 14
Gold, the Fed and the Looming Stock Market Correction Q&A - 23rd Sept 14
Can Gold Act as a Safe Haven Again? - 23rd Sept 14
Tesco Super Market Giant Fast Disappearing Down a Financial Black Hole - 22nd Sept 14
Where China and Japan Are Investing Billions - 22nd Sept 14
Scotland YES 71% - Global Youth Intifada Moves On - 22nd Sept 14
U.S. Dollar: The Last Hurrah? - 22nd Sept 14
China Moves To Dominate Gold Market With Physical Exchange - 22nd Sept 14
One Giant Cluster Ponzi - 22nd Sept 14
The Millenial Cult Of Global Warming - 22nd Sept 14
Dubai Residential is NOT a Property Bubble But the Party’s Over - 22nd Sept 14
Stock Market Topping Process Update - 22nd Sept 14
Indian Stock Market BSE SENSEX The Encore Rally - 21st Sept 14
ISIS Fear-Mongering Ahead of Another US False Flag? - 21st Sept 14
Ecology Politics And Haeckel's Tree Of Meaning - 21st Sept 14
ASX200 Stock Market Index Set For New Highs - 21st Sept 14
Scottish Referendum Not Avoiding The Future - 21st Sept 14
Five Lessons Learned from the Scottish Referendum - 21st Sept 14
The Problem With UKIP And Other I I P's - 21st Sept 14

Free Instant Analysis

Free Instant Technical Analysis


Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

The Most Exciting Event in the History of Technical Analysis

The Fractional Reserve Banking System Explained

InvestorEducation / Global Financial System Jun 14, 2010 - 02:36 PM GMT

By: Robert_Murphy

InvestorEducation

Diamond Rated - Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleAustrian economics is superior to Marxism in every respect, and this includes internal, sectarian squabbles. When we Austrians feel the time is ripe for another bloodletting — it keeps us strong by thinning the herd once in a while — we argue over fractional-reserve banking.

If you have never had the pleasure of watching such fireworks, I point you to Joe Salerno's recent blog post; it has enough links to bring you up to speed. In the present article, I want to walk through a simple example to make sure everyone understands exactly why some of us think fractional-reserve banking is just plain weird.


Of course, weirdness is not proof of dubiousness, let alone fraud, but bankers who engage in fractional-reserve banking really do "create money out of thin air" in a sense that I think many commentators don't fully appreciate. I offer this article to at least clarify what the ostensible problem is.

A Simple Example

Suppose a teenager, Bill, is rummaging in the attic and finds $1,000 in physical currency in an old chest. Bill is ecstatic and runs to the local bank, where he opens a checking account and deposits the green pieces of paper.

Under a 100-percent-reserve banking system, this would be the end of the story. In the act of making the deposit, Bill's currency holdings would fall by $1,000, while his checkbook balance would rise by $1,000. Putting the money in the bank wouldn't affect the total amount of money in the economy.

However, in our current system, Bill's bank would see a new profit opportunity. After the bank put the $1,000 of paper currency into its vault, its reserves would be that much higher, while its outstanding deposit liabilities would have risen by $1,000 as well (in the form of Bill's new checking account). But since banks in the United States are subject only to a reserve requirement of (approximately) 10 percent, the bank would have new excess reserves of $900. If it found a suitable borrower, the bank would have the legal ability to grant a new loan for this amount.

Suppose the bank found such a borrower, Sally, and charged her 5-percent interest for a 12-month loan. Assuming she paid off the loan in a timely manner, here is what the bank's balance sheet would look like at various stages in the process:

I. Bank's Balance Sheet after Billy's Deposit

Assets

Liabilities + Shareholder's Equity

$1,000 in vault cash

$1,000 (Billy's checking account balance)

 

II. Bank's Balance Sheet after Loan Granted to Sally

Assets

Liabilities + Shareholder's Equity

$1,000 in vault cash

$900 loan to Sally at 5% for 12 months

$1,000 (Billy's checking account balance)

$900 (Sally's new checking account)

 

III. Bank's Balance Sheet after Sally Spends Her Loan on Business Supplies

Assets

Liabilities + Shareholder's Equity

$100 in vault cash

$900 loan to Sally at 5% for 12 months

$1,000 (Billy's checking account balance)

$0 (Sally's checking account balance)

 

IV. Bank's Balance Sheet after Sally Sells Her Products for $1,000 Cash and Deposits the Proceeds in Her Account

Assets

Liabilities + Shareholder's Equity

$1,100 in vault cash

$900 loan to Sally at 5% for 12 months

$1,000 (Billy's checking account balance)

$1,000 (Sally's checking account balance)

 

V. Bank's Balance Sheet After Sally Pays Off Her Loan Plus Interest

Assets

Liabilities + Shareholder's Equity

$1,100 in vault cash

$1,000 (Billy's checking account balance)

$55 (Sally's checking account balance)

$45 in bank shareholder equity

 

As our hypothetical example[1] makes clear, with the power of fractional-reserve banking, bankers can apparently earn income out of nothing! So long as Billy leaves his money in the bank, and so long as Sally is able to earn enough revenues from her business to avoid defaulting on her loan, the bank's shareholders end up with $45 of the community's cash, free and clear.

Now, the bank didn't stick a gun in anyone's belly, and the original owners of that $45 voluntarily traded them to Sally in exchange for whatever goods or services her business produced. Still, something seems a bit fishy in that the bank created $900 in new money, earned $45 in "old" money held by the outside community, and then destroyed the $900 when Sally paid back her loan.

Incidentally, it is because of these strange machinations that many critics of our current financial system describe it as "debt-based money." In a very real sense, if people stopped taking out new loans (from banks) and paid off their outstanding loans, the total quantity of money would shrink drastically. In my opinion this would be a good thing — especially if the politicians and the Fed sat back and let it happen — but it is nonetheless a very strange feature of our current system.

Creating Money Out of Thin Air?

Some people deny that commercial banks "create money out of thin air." They agree that the Fed does so when it buys assets by writing a check on itself. However, in our example above, it seems that the commercial bank at worst is taking $900 of "Bill's money" and handing it over to Sally. Sure, that might be dubious, but it's not as blatant as when the Fed literally writes checks drawn on thin air, right?

Actually, I think this standard textbook description — in which each new bank in the sequence creates new loans equal to 90 percent of the new deposit — is a bit misleading. There is nothing in the legal reserve requirement to prevent banks from making new loans that are large multiples of a new deposit. Instead, it is prudence on the part of the banks that enforces this restraint.

To see this, let's repeat the above story but have the bank make a much larger business loan to Sally:

I. Bank's Balance Sheet after Billy's Deposit

Assets

Liabilities + Shareholder's Equity

$1,000 in vault cash

$1,000 (Billy's checking account balance)

 

II. Bank's Balance Sheet after Loan Granted to Sally

Assets

Liabilities + Shareholder's Equity

$1,000 in vault cash

$9,000 loan to Sally at 5% for 12 months

$1,000 (Billy's checking account balance)

$9,000 (Sally's new checking account)

 

Let's stop at this point and consider what has happened. The bank's balance sheet still checks out — $10,000 in assets and $10,000 in liabilities. So the accountant's head won't explode on account of the large loan to Sally.

But perhaps the bank in our updated scenario is running afoul of the 10-percent reserve requirement enforced by the Fed? Again, no — as of the moment of the new loan to Sally, the bank's total customer checking account balances are $10,000, and the bank has $1,000 in physical currency in its vault, "backing up" those accounts. So the bank is satisfying the 10-percent reserve requirement.

To understand why the bank would be foolish to make a $9,000 loan to Sally after receiving Billy's $1,000 in cash, we must look ahead one step:

III. Bank's Balance Sheet after Sally Spends Her Loan on Business Supplies

Assets

Liabilities + Shareholder's Equity

($8,000) in vault cash

$9,000 loan to Sally at 5% for 12 months

$1,000 (Billy's checking account balance)

$0 (Sally's checking account balance)

 

Now we see the problem: Presumably, Sally is not going to borrow $9,000 at interest, in order to let that balance sit in her checking account. She is going to spend the money, by writing checks on the account. The people who receive those checks are going to deposit them in their own banks; and, during normal interbank clearing operations, the original bank will receive requests to transfer out $9,000 of its reserves.

We now see why standard economics textbooks have banks only making new loans equal to 90 percent of the amount of each new injection of deposits. The assumption is that the new depositor won't withdraw his money anytime soon, but that the new borrower (i.e., the person getting the loan) will withdraw the money very soon.

Let's be clear though on the moral of the story: in this second scenario — which is not in violation of the reserve requirement (though it might violate capital requirements or other regulations) — the commercial bank is quite obviously "creating money out of thin air."

Consider: The bank received $1,000 in currency from Bill, and it then made a loan of $9,000 to Sally. This new money didn't "come from" anywhere; it existed as soon as the bank clerk changed the numbers on the ledger. Sally went from having $0 in her checking account to having $9,000, with the simple push of a button.

Conclusion

In the present article, we have walked through a simple example to illustrate the strange nature of fractional-reserve banking. In a very real sense, this process creates money out of thin air. This observation alone doesn't prove its illegitimacy, let alone its connection with the business cycle, but it should give pause to those who see nothing wrong with the practice.

Robert Murphy, an adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute and a faculty member of the Mises University, runs the blog Free Advice and is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, the Study Guide to Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market, the Human Action Study Guide, and The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal. Send him mail. See Robert P. Murphy's article archives. Comment on the blog.

© 2010 Copyright Robert Murphy - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2014 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

Free Report - Financial Markets 2014