Money has taken various forms over the ages – whether it be tokens on a tree made of pewter (soft metal which comes from Malaysia) to the stone currency from the island of Yap in Micronesia. There was a problem with the stone currency in that one of the essential characteristics of money is portability and a 5 meter high stone with a hole in it doesn’t fit the bill let alone the wallet. Money that comes in small coins and notes became a much more efficient medium of exchange and facilitates more transactions but it still gives you a sense that you are spending it as your wallet becomes lighter and less bulky.
Today the vast majority of transactions are done without cash and there is a tendency not to feel the cost of the transaction, by physically taking money out of your wallet, when paying by credit card. This ease of payment encourages us to spend more. Research has shown that credit cards make people spend 12-18% more, on average, than they would using cash. But lets go further, you can now wave your card over the credit card terminal with no need for a security pin number or a signature. In fact a smartphone is able to carryout a similar transaction which further erodes the sense of parting with money. I recently received an updated airpoints card from a national airline which enables you to accumulate points that can be redeemed for flights. However reading the letter I was interested to see that the card was also offering me $10,000 credit limit. Credit was also offered from a petrol station and a supermarket card – the means of a deferred payment is a popular function.
For the AS level course remember the following:
The Functions of Money
There are 4 traditional functions of money.
1. Medium of exchange.
This is very important in a specialised economy as barter would be very inefficient. It also makes possible a great extension of the principle of specialisation.
The desirable qualities of money are as follows:-
- Acceptable: Must be sure somebody will accept your money for goods & services
- Scarce: Should be, if there’s too much, then no one would value it, hence gold was always good money.
- Portable: Convenient to carry around
- Divisible: Can be divide up into different denominations
- Durable: Money (physical) that can last
2. Unit of Account
A unit of account is a way of placing a specific value on economic goods and services. Thus, as a unit of account, the monetary unit is used to measure the value of goods and services relative to other goods and services. It thus enables individuals to compare, easily, the relative value of goods and services. A firm uses money prices to calculate profits and losses: and a typical household budgets its regular expenses daily using money prices as its unit of account.
3. Store of Value.
Once a commodity becomes universally acceptable in exchange for goods and services, it is possible to store wealth by holding a stock of this commodity. It is a great convenience to hold wealth in the form of money. Consider the problems holding wealth in the form of wheat. It may deteriorate, it is costly to store, must be insured, and there will be significant handling costs in accumulating and distributing it.
4. Standard of Value/Standard of Deferred Payment.
An important function of money in the modern world, where so much business is conducted on the basis of credit, is to serve as a means of deferred payment. When goods are supplied on credit, the buyer has immediate use of them but does not have to make an immediate payment. The goods can be paid for three, or perhaps six, months after delivery.
Another good video from Paul Solman of PBS ‘Making Sense of Financial News’.
In his new book, “The End of Alchemy,” Mervyn King still worries that the world banking system hasn’t reformed itself, eight years after its excesses led to collapse. He states that it’s easy with hindsight to look back and say that regulations turned out to be inadequate as mortgage lending was riskier than was thought. Furthermore, you are of the belief that the system works and it takes an event like the GFC to discover that it actually doesn’t.
Paul Solman asks the question that a large part of the problem that caused the GFC was the Bank of England and the US Fed were not able to keep up with the financial innovation that was going on in both of these countries. King refutes this by saying that there were two issues that were prevalent before the GFC:
- Low interest rates around the world led to rising asset prices and trading looked very profitable.
- Leverage of the banking system rose very sharply – Leverage, meaning the ratio of the bank’s own money to the money it borrows in the form deposits or short-term loans.
Central banks exist to be lenders of last resort. Problem: Too big to fail. And that’s what began happening in England, just like America, in the ’80s and ’90s. There needs to be something much more robust and much more simple to prevent the same problem from happening again. King makes two proposals:
- Banks insure themselves against catastrophe by making enough safe, secure loans so they have assets of real value to pledge to the Central Bank if they need a cash infusion in a hurry.
- Force the banks to keep enough cash on hand to cover loans gone bad as during the crisis banks didn’t have enough equity finance to absorb losses without defaulting on the loans which banks have taken out, whether from other bits of the financial sector or from you and I as depositors.
He finally states that the Brexit vote doesn’t make any significant difference to the risks facing the global banking system. There were and are significant risks in that system because of the potential fragility of our banks, and because of the state of the world economy.
Below is a video clip from the FT outling the reasons for the debt build up in the energy industry which is making investors nervous. Fracking has been partly responsible for the increase in oil output in the US by 400m barrels a day between 2010-2015. It was encouraged by high oil prices and also meant the sector took on a lot more debt – assuming that oil prices would stay above $100 a barrel. However as oil prices collapsed to around $30 a barrel oil extraction companies are finding it increasingly difficult to service their debt. Worth a look and with some very informative graphs.
The Economist has devised a composite measure of interest rates, deficits and debt which are mechanism that tend to be used by a country’s policymakers to cope with a recession.
They assign a value of 100 which is maximum wriggling room – that is interest rates that are 10% or above. A value of 0 means there is no room to drop interest rates i.e. interest rate are 0%.
They assign a value of 100 to those countries that have budget surplus of 5% of GDP or above. A value of 0 is given to deficits of 15% of GDP or more.
They assign 100 to a country that, in the IMF’s view, can borrow a further 250% of GDP or more and 0 to those, including Greece, Italy and Japan, that it judges to be testing markets’ faith.
The chart below shows how countries rank. Norway, South Korea and Australia are top and have all kept their interest well clear of 0% and have very low debt levels. On average the rich world’s wriggle room has fallen by about a third since 2007. The leeway of hard-pressed countries such as Italy and Spain has shrunk by nearly half.