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How Central-Bank Interest-Rate Policy Is Destabilizing Banks

How Central-Bank Interest-Rate Policy Is Destabilizing Banks

Broadly speaking, banks operate under the concept of maturity transformation. Banks take short-term – less than one year – financing vehicles, such as customer deposits, and use that to finance long-term – more than one year – returns. These returns range from the most commonly understood loans, such as auto loans and mortgages, to investments in equity, bonds and public debt. Banks make money on the interest spread between what they pay to the owners of the money and what is earned from the operations. Banks also make money on other services, such as wealth management and account fees, though these are relatively small compared to the maturity transformation business.

In terms of assets, the primary asset a bank holds is the demand deposit, also referred to as the core deposit. These are your everyday savings and checking accounts. Banks also sell Wholesale Deposits, such as CDs, have shareholder equity and also can take out debt, such as interbank lending. As these assets are owned by someone else, each of them demands a return for the use of those assets. These are part of the costs of operation for a bank. There are also more fixed operating costs, such as employees, buildings and equipment that must also be financed.

So, a bank will take assets and formulate loans on them. Like most of the world, the US operates on a fractional reserve system, one where banks originate loans in excess of the deposits on-hand. Take a look at the balance sheet of a large regional bank, 5/3 Bank, for example. For the 2018 fiscal year, 5/3 reported non-capital assets of $94 billion and a deposit base of $108 billion. However, the cash and cash equivalent component of these assets stood at $4.4 billion, or just 4% of demand deposits.

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