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For release on delivery

Statement of
William McChesney Martin, Jr.,
Chairman, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
before the
Joint Economic Committee

July 27, 1959


Mr. Chairman:
In this opening statement, I would like to comment first on
one aspect of the problem you are considering—the importance of freely
competitive markets to maximum economic growth,

In so doing, I do not

wish to understress the importance of any other conditions necessary to
healthy economic growth.

Indeed, if there is one essential for sustained

growth that stands out above all others, it is the maintenance of a
volume of real saving and investment sufficient to support continuous
renewal, adjustment, and expansion of our total capital resources. As
you know, the maintenance of adequate saving and investment depends
upon broadly based and justified confidence in a reasonably stable
Role of Free Markets
No one here would deny that free markets are essential to
the vital and vigorous performance of our economy.

No one would urge

that we encourage monopolistic practices or administered pricing, and
few would advocate Government interference with the market process as
a general principle.

On the contrary, nearly everyone would agree

that such developments are injurious to the best use of our resources,
that they distort the equitable distribution of final product, and
that they interfere with economic progress.
Differences of viewpoint on free markets arise only when the
complexities of specific market situations make it difficult to discern
whether markets are, in fact, functioning as efficiently as we might
reasonably expect. Well-informed and well-intentioned observers will


disagree as to whether an appropriate degree of competition exists in
particular markets and, if not, as to what corrective steps, if any,
it is appropriate for Government to take.
If the policies we follow in the financial field are to be
fully effective in promoting growth and stability, they must be able
to permeate the economy through the mechanism of efficient markets.
This generalization applies to all markets, for all types of goods and

Naturally, the Treasury and the Federal Reserve are most

immediately concerned with financial markets, both because we have some
direct responsibility for these markets, and because they represent the
main channel through which the Government financial policies to foster
growth and stability must pass.
The Market for Government Securities
We are especially concerned with the market for United States
Government securities. With a Federal debt of $285 billion, Government
securities are a common and important asset in the portfolios of businesses,
financial institutions, and individuals. An efficient market for Government
securities is obviously needed for the functioning of our financial
mechanism. We are fortunate in this country to have such a market. From
the standpoint of the Federal Reserve, it is hard to conceive of the
effective regulation of the reserve position of the banking system without
some such facility through which to conduct open market operations of
large magnitude.
The initial results of our study of this market with the
Treasury are encouraging in many ways.

As was pointed out in the

summary of the study made available to you on Friday, huge transactions

-3are carried cut every day in an orderly fashion and at very small cost
to ultimate investors.

One cannot fail to be impressed by the fact that

there are dealers who stand ready, at their own initiative and at their
own risk, to buy or sell large blocks of securities. Frequently, single
transactions run into millions of dollars. Despite the absence of any
assurance that a given purchase will be followed by an offsetting sale,
dealers quote bid and ask prices that typically have a spread of less
than 1/4 of 1 per cent on the price of long-term bonds and range down
to a few one-hundredths of 1 per cent on Treasury bill yields.
If you have had an opportunity to examine the preliminary
study manuscripts, you are aware that they do suggest that some
improvements in the Government securities market may be in order. We
would hope that these improvements can be made within the framework of
existing authority and through voluntary cooperation with various market

There is, however, a possibility that further authority

might be necessary or desirable. We expect to have a clearer idea about
how to accomplish desirable improvements after we have had an opportunity
to consider carefully the findings of the staff study just completed last
There is one possible change in the organization of the
Government securities market that would not, as I view it, lead to
improvement. That change would be the enforced conversion of the
present over-the-counter dealer market into an organized exchange

The reasons why this change would not be constructive or

even practicable are set forth in the joint statement on the study's


On the other hand, any efforts on the part of existing

organized exchanges to extend or strengthen the facilities now made
available to buyers and sellers of Government securities should
certainly be encouraged.

There is no reason why better exchange

facilities would not prove to be a helpful supplement to those
provided " y the present dealer market.
Another change affecting the Government securities market
that has been suggested relates to Federal Reserve participation in
it, and pertains in particular to the extension to longer term maturities
of Federal Reserve open market operations. Some discussion of this
suggested change is appropriate here, for it is not a matter encompassed
by the Treasury-Federal Reserve study.
System Operations in Short-Term Government Securities
Since the Treasury-Federal Reserve accord in 1951, the System's
day-to-day trading in Government securities has largely been in short-term

In 1953, after extensive re-examination of System operations in

the open market, the Federal Open Market Committee formally resolved to
make this a continuing practice.
I think that nearly everyone who has studied these matters
would agree that the bulk of Federal Reserve operations must be conducted
in short-term securities; that necessarily means largely in Treasury bills.
The short-term sector of the market is where the greater part of the volume
of all trading occurs. Dealer positions are characteristically and
understandably concentrated in these shorter issues. Differences of
view on whether System trading should extend outside the short-term area

-5hinge upon whether or not some small part of our regular buying and
selling should be done in the longer term area.
To appraise this difference in viewpoint, we need first to
consider the basic economics of System open market operations. Federal
Reserve operations in Government securities influence prices and yields
of outstanding securities in three fundamentally different ways:
(1) They change the volume of reserves otherwise
available to member banks for making loans and investments
or paying off debts;
(2) They affect the volume of securities available
for trading and investment; and
(3) They influence the expectations of professional
traders and investors regarding market trends.
Of these effects, the first is by far the most important.
Under our fractional reserve banking system, additions to or subtractions
from commercial bank reserves have a multiple expansive or contractive
effect on bank lending and investing power. Other things being equal,
this means that any given change in System holdings of securities will
tend to be accompanied by a change in commercial bank portfolios of
loans and investments several times as large. Unlike many other
institutional investors, commercial banks maintain Government security
portfolios with a wide maturity distribution although the largest
component will be short-term securities. Hence, the major effect on
market prices and interest rates will result from the actions subsequently
taken by commercial banks to expand or contract their asset portfolios,
and the impact will be distributed throughout the market.

-6With regard to the effect on the availability of securities
in the market, substantial System purchases or sales of short-term
securities exert a minimum influence on the market supply.

For example,

most of the $35 billion of bills outstanding is in the hands of potential

On the other hand, much the largest part of the marketable longer

term issues is in the hands of permanent investors. Current trading in
them is confined to a very small fraction of the outstanding volume. For
this reason, the long-term area of the market shows greater temporary
reaction than the short-term area to large purchase or sale orders.
Any attempt to use System operations to influence the maturity
pattern of interest rates to help debt management would not produce
lasting benefits and would produce real difficulties.

If an attempt were

made to lower long-term interest rates by System purchases of bonds and
to offset the effect on reserves by accompanying sales of short-term
issues, market holdings of participants would shift by a corresponding
amount from long-term securities to short ones.

This process could

continue until the System's portfolio consisted largely of long-term
securities. Accordingly, the System would have put itself into a frozen
portfolio position.
The effect of thus endeavoring to lower long-term yields,
without affecting bank reserves, would be to increase the over-all
liquidity of the economy.

Hot only would the supply of short-term

issues in the market be increased, but also all Government bonds
outstanding would be made more liquid because they could be more
readily converted into cash. The problem of excess liquidity in the

-7economy, already a serious one, would be intensified.

The Treasury now,

even with the present interest rate ceiling, would have no difficulty in
reaching the same result.

It has merely to issue some $20 billion of

short-term securities and use the proceeds to retire outstanding long-term
debt. Fortunately, it is not contemplating any such action.
The effect of System open market operations on the expectations
of market professionals, can be of critical importance depending upon the
market area in which the operations are conducted.

In the longer term

area of the market, dealers, traders and portfolio managers are particularly
sensitive to unusual changes in supply and demand.

One important reason

is that long-term securities are subject to wider price fluctuation relative
to given changes in interest rates than are short-term issues. Therefore,
trading or portfolio positions in them incur a greater price risk.
These traders and investors in long-term securities are aware
that the System holds the economy's largest single portfolio of Government
securities. They also know that the System is the only investor of
virtually unlimited means. Consequently, if the System regularly engaged
in open market operations in longer term securities with uncertain price
effects, the professionals would either withdraw from active trading or
endeavor to operate on the same side of the market as they believed,
rightly or wrongly, that the System was operating.
If the professionals in the market did the former, the Federal
Reserve would become in fact the price and yield administrator of the longterm Government securities market.

If they did the latter, the total

effect might be to encourage artificially bullish or bearish expectations

-8as to prices and yields on long-term securities. This could lead to
unsustainable price and yield levels which would not reflect basic
supply and demand forces. The dangerous potentialities of such a
development is illustrated by the speculative build-up and liquidation
of mid-1958, described in detail in the Treasury-Federal Reserve study.
Either of these effects would permeate, and tend to be disturbing
to, the whole capital market. Accordingly, instead of working as a
stabilizing force for the economy, such open market operations in long-term
securities could have the opposite result.

In other words, if the Federal

Reserve were to intrude in the adjustment of supply and demand in order
directly to influence prices and yields on long-term securities or in a
way that resulted in unsustainable prices and yields, it would impair
the functioning of a vitally important market process.
Some public discussion of the Federal Reserve's present practice
of conducting open market operations in short-term securities implies, it
seems to me, that the System has assumed an intractable and doctrinaire
position on this matter.

This is not a correct interpretation of what we

have done. We adopted this practice after a careful study of experience
and of the effects of our operations upon the market and the banking system.
In this review, we were naturally mindful of the specific tasks of the
System, namely, to regulate the growth of the money supply in accordance
with the economy's needs and to help maintain a stable value for the

-9The practice or technique was adopted, not as an iron rule,
but as a general procedure for the conduct of current operations. It
is subject to change at any time and is formally reconsidered once each
year by the Federal Open Market Committee in the light of recent
experience. Exceptions can be, and have been, authorized by the Committee
in situations where either Treasury financing needs, conditions in the
money market, or the requirements of monetary policy call for such
variations. The System, at times has been a subscriber to longer term
issues in Treasury exchange offerings when appropriate, and at other
times has purchased such securities in the market.
In other words, we endeavor to apply this practice flexibly
as we do all of our practices in the administration of monetary policy.
As I have stated to this Committee on other occasions, flexibility is
an essential ingredient of our entire reserve banking operation. When
reserve banking loses flexibility, it will no longer be able to do the
job that is required of the central bank in the market economies of the
free world.
Measurement of Economic Growth
Before concluding my statement, I want to mention one entirely
different matter that has special relevance to the broad scope of this
Committee's interest. That is the measurement of growth. As you know,
one of the frequently used indicators of growth in the industrial sector
has been the Board's index of industrial production.

One of the great

-10lessons we learn from the compilation of this index, which we try to do
as carefully and competently as we know how, is that the mere matter of
measuring growth is a very tricky thing.
As the structure of the economy keeps changing, the job of com¬
bining measures of its many parts into a single index cannot be done,
despite our best efforts, without having to make major revisions every few
years. We again have underway a basic revision, the final results of which
will be available soon. The nub of what this revision shows is that the
growth rate in the sectors covered by the Board's index has been materially
greater over the past decade than has appeared from the unrevised index.
The statistical data that we have to use from month to month,
can only be cross-checked in a comprehensive way when we have available
the results of a full census. Congress authorized the Department of
Commerce to conduct one of these in 1947, and another as of 1954. The
immense task of digesting and reappraising the results of these censuses,
and then refitting all of the monthly data into these basic benchmarks,
has now progressed far enough to indicate that the revised index, with
the 1947-49 period as the starting point at 100, will show a level of
around 165 at mid-1959. That is 10 points higher than the figure shown
by ouar unrevised index for June.
Some of this difference results because we are now able to in¬
clude, with appropriate proportional weight alongside other items, more
of the fuel and energy production that has been going on all the time
without being represented in the index. More than half of the difference,
however, results from improvements in measurement of presently included
industries. The monthly movements of the revised and present indexes

-11are quite similer, so that main effect of the revision in the total is
to tilt upward this measure of industrial growth over the past decade.
For example, it now appears that industrial output of consumer goods on
a revised basis has risen at an average annual rate of 3.8 per cent as
compared with 3.2 per cent shown by the unrevised index for the consumer
goods sector. Population growth has been at a rate of 1.7 per cent per
Industrial production, to be sure, is only one of the ways
that growth might be measured, but it is a measure in real terms and
so is free of price influences. Crude measurements of growth in aggregate
dollar terms can be seriously misleading, not only with respect to what
the economy has done but also in marking out guidelines as to how we may
reasonably expect the economy to grow in the years ahead.

It is no

achievement to have a rise of 10 per cent in the general price level
such as occurred in the months after the Korean outbreak—even though
that does puff up the figures on gross national product quite handsomely.
The increase of 15 per cent in the current dollar value of gross national
product from 1955 to 1957 was only half of what it seemed to be because
it was inflated by a general price increase of 7 per cent.
Throughout its entire history, this economy has grown by
staggering magnitudes.

It is because I, for one, want to do everything

I can to keep it growing that I urge the maintenance of free markets
and reasonably stable prices as primary objectives of public policy.