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Fri Jul 24, 2015, 08:05 AM

Mario Draghi: The ECB Has No Mandate To Ensure Checks Clear Or Credit Cards Work


By Nathan Tankus, a writer from New York City. Follow him on Twitter at @NathanTankus


Last week Mario Draghi held a press conference following the decision to raise ELA a paltry 900 million dollars for Greek banks. In that press conference he said many things but I’d like to focus on one passage that has gotten no attention:

There is an article in the Treaty that says that basically the ECB has the responsibility to promote the smooth functioning of the payment system. But this has to do with the functioning of TARGET2, the distribution of notes, coins. So not with the provision of liquidity, which actually is regulated by a different provision, in Article 18.1 in the ECB Statute: “In order to achieve the objectives of the ESCB, the ECB and the national central banks may conduct credit operations with credit institutions and other market participants, with lending based on adequate collateral.” This is the Treaty provision. But our operations were not monetary policy operations, but ELA operations, and so they are regulated by a separate agreement, which makes explicit reference to the necessity to have sufficient collateral. So, all in all, liquidity provision has never been unconditional and unlimited.


This is a truly shocking statement. To understand why, we need to go back to the basics of central banking. Banks have accounts at the central bank (I’m going to call the balances in these accounts “settlement balances” in line with non U.S. Conventions) which are primarily used to settle payments with other banks. When you use a debit card issued by one bank to pay someone with a bank account in another bank, your bank has to in turn send a payment using settlement balances to make that payment.

As should be obvious from that description, in order to make that payment your bank has to have sufficient settlement balances in its account at the central bank or the central bank must provide an overdraft. Thus, if the smooth functioning of the payments system is defined as the ability of depository institutions to clear payments, the central bank must ensure that settlement balances are available at some price.

The Federal Reserve explicitly recognizes this in its “Policy on Payment System Risk” by stating that “the Board recognizes that the Federal Reserve has an important role in providing intraday balances and credit to foster the smooth operation of the payment system”. Draghi is arguing that the ECB’s mandate to “promote the smooth functioning of the payments system” is defined differently than the Federal Reserve’s mandate and (as far as I can tell) every other Central Bank’s payment system mandate around the world. I can’t under-emphasize how radical a departure Draghi’s position is from the norms of central banking. Whatever else we may want to criticize the Federal Reserve’s and the government’s response to the financial crisis, they did preserve the the smooth functioning of the payments system with their alphabet soup of lending facilities and ultimately an FDIC guarantee on interbank lending. The problem was that they didn’t put Too Big To Fail banks in a form of receivership and didn’t prosecute bank executives, not that they made sure payments continued to take place. .................(more)

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2015/07/mario-draghi-the-ecb-has-no-mandate-to-ensure-checks-clear-or-credit-cards-work.html




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