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i . r, ¿¿opp presented to
v «.
^residents’ Conference
June 21, 1954

The discount rate, with which this memorandum is primarily con­
cerned, cannot be separated from the tradition against borrowing and the
rules of borrowing any more than the discount mechanism as a whole can be
separated from open market operations and changes in reserve requirements
as an independent instrument of Federal Reserve policy.
Money market developments from April 1952 to June 1953 acceler­
ated reconsideration by the System of the appropriate relationships among
the three facets of the discount mechanism.

The background briefly is as

For a considerable period before the summer of 1952, transactions
for the System Open Market Account were conducted "with a view to exercis­
ing restraint upon inflationary developments".

This restraint was re­

flected in rising yields on securities but not in any persistent increase
in the volume of borrowing from the Federal Reserve Banks.


rapid increases in borrowings were of short duration - for example, ad­
vances increased from $227 million on November 21, 1951 to $959 million on
December 5; 1951 > but by January 2, 1952 they were down to $105 million.
In the middle of April 1952, however, the volume of discounts
rose rapidly and remained high for more than a year with only temporary
interruptions. Since this was a period in which the System was "exercising
restraint", question was raised as to whether member banks were escaping or might be able at some future time to escape - the restraint that the
System wished to exert.

Question was raised as to whether the tradition

against borrowing was being impaired and whether it should be reenforced or
replaced by more rigid enforcement of rather restrictive rules for borrowing.
In this memorandum primary attention will be directed to the rela­
tionship between profit and the volume of borrowing.

It should not be

- 2 -

inferred, however, that profitability of borrowing is the only factor in­

For example, if the System were now to reduce the discount rate

to a level below the yield on short Treasury bills and were to make dis­
counts freely available at that low rate, it would not follow that member
banks would Immediately borrow huge amounts or that the System could re­
place a large fraction of its Government security portfolio with loans and

Furthermore, an attempt by the System to liquidate a large

amount of Government securities, even though discounts were readily avail­
able at the low rate indicated, would result in severe pressure on the
money market.
The "tone" of the money market is greatly influenced by the at­
tempt of banks to adjust their asset structures to desired relationships.
Banks generally do not like to borrow money (except, of course, in the
form of deposits).

Some never borrow and others borrow only temporarily

to meet reserve deficiencies (that cannot be met by borrowing Federal
funds) until they can readjust their position in other ways.

The market

tightens as more banks try in larger amounts to adjust their positions in
these other ways.
Such considerations lead to the question:
the money market influence the volume of borrowing?

What conditions in
Three charts have

been appended to show the relationships between certain relevant factors
in the period 1952-1954 and during the 1920's.
The close positive relationship between the historical level of
rates and the volume of borrowing - which has frequently been pointed out
for the 1920fs - is apparent also in the more recent period.
more when rates are high tt
.yyi when rates are low.

Banks borrow

This relationship has

sometimes been interpreted to mean that banks do not borrow for profit.

- 3 -

The historical level of rates, however, does not measure the
profitability of borrowing.

Profitability is determined by comparison

between market rates and the discount rate at a given time.

There will

always be differences of opinion as to which market rate or rates should
be compared with the discount rate to determine profitability.

In the

attached charts the rate in the largest short term market has been used.
In the 1920’s this was the call loan rate.

In the recent period it has

been the Treasury bill rate.
The relationships between profitability as thus measured and
the volume of borrowing is sufficiently close to warrant the conclusion
that banks do borrow more when market rates are above, than when they are
below the discount rate.

This does not mean that member banks do not have

a strong feeling against large and continuous borrowing from their Reserve
Banks. Rather the interpretation would seem to have the following com­

When a bank finds itself deficient in reserves, its immediate

action is to restore its position in the "best" way possible.
has its own ideas as to the best way but one aspect is cost.

Each bank
When borrow­

ing from the Reserve Bank is the cheapest source of funds, some banks will
resort to it temporarily.

But typically, because of the tradition against

borrowing, they will begin to readjust their position to repay.
so, however, they may shove other banks into borrowing.

In doing

To illustrate:

If Bank A, after being indebted to the Reserve Bank for several days,
calls loans or sells securities to repay the Reserve Bank, it may receive
funds through the clearings from, say, Bank B.

Bank B in turn becomes

deficient, **nd discounts to restore its reserves.

As it attempts to ad­

just its position to repay the loan to the Reserve Bank, it may force
Ttenk c into the Reserve Bank.

Thus, although no single bank would have

violated the tradition against continuous borrowing, the total volume of


k -

discounting may remain at a significant level.

From the point of view of

total borrowing of all banks, frequency as well as length and amount of
borrowing by individual member banks becomes important.
At times the volume of borrowing is large even though bank rate
is above the market rate.

But borrowings do not, typically, remain large

very long under these circumstances. Part of the explanation may be that
a few banks experience reserve deficiencies when they do not have adequate
money market securities to liquidate - hence they borrow.

As they read­

just their positions to repay, they shift the pressure to other banks
which do have an adequate supply of money market securities which can be
liquidated at the lower market rate to absorb the pressure without

Although the volume of borrowing is closely related to profit­
ability, it is significant that market rates rise above - at times
significantly above - the discount rate.

The surprising thing, perhaps,

is not that the volume of discounting remained large - in comparison with
earlier periods - from April 1952 to June 1953 > hut that it did not reach
much higher levels.
the question remains.

To be sure moral pressure was exerted at times; but
The reason may be that when the volume of dis­

counting approaches, say $1 3 A to $2 billion, borrowing for individual
banks ceases to be intermittent.

Many borrowing banks are trying to shift

the pressure to others, but these other banks are already borrowing, so
that some liquidate marketable securities even at rates above the discount
rate to repay their borrowings.
Most banks borrow as a convenience to restore reserve deficien­
cies rather than to expand their earnings by scalping a rate differential.
It is unlikely that the volume of discounting would become large relative

- 5 -

to the System's portfolio of Government securities even though the discount
rate were kept relatively low in the short term structure of market rates.
Within that limit of perhaps several "billion dollars, however, the general
level of borrowing is closely related to the spreads between the discount
rate and market rates.
firmed in 1952-1953*

This is the experience of the 1920’s;

it was con­

Borrowing increases when the discount rate is rela­

tively low and decreases when it is relatively high in the structure of
It would appear, therefore, that the rate is an effective means
of regulating total volume of borrowing.

K .R .B .










Discount rate

(F.R.B. , New York)

% -

+ 5

+ 3



.1 1.















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