Financial Structures and Regulation: A Comparison of Crises by Alessandro Roselli (auth.)

By Alessandro Roselli (auth.)

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Clearing banks were instruments implementing the central bank’s monetary and credit policy. 14 In fact, clearing banks should be seen as a part of the whole category of banks. Functionally connected with banks was the small group of discount houses, typical money market institutions, whose liabilities consisted of “spare cash wherever they could find it”,15 mostly callable loans from clearing banks. These loans were the most liquid form of asset that banks held within their treasury management activities.

1 billion in 1939. The market share of each category of institutions, it should be noted, is in inverse proportion to the number of institutions. Banks were relatively few, and declining in number – 38 in 1920, 30 in 1939 – with numerous branches, constituting a nationwide system, in sharp contrast, for instance, to the US, where a system of “unit banks” (many banks with a single branch, operating locally) prevailed for a long time. This geographical diversification was important, since it provided a better spreading of risk.

The bail-out showed the intrinsic weakness of the whole banking structure and the need for a strong public lender of last resort. The FED was set up as a System of 12 regional banks with a central Board in Washington DC. Their capital would be subscribed by national banks, and by any State banks that opted to do so. Only shareholding banks – “member banks”, which were anyway the more systemically relevant – would be under central bank supervision and have access to its credit of last resort. Savings banks, present mainly in the American North-East, were Statechartered, while Savings and Loan Associations (S&Ls) might obtain either charter.

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