The British government did not approach insolvency in March 2020

As background, this article is useful– On voluntary restraints that undermine public purpose (December 25, 2009).

The lurid heading clearly worked out the creativity of some copy editor or whatever they are called but doesnt help the reader understand the situation that they were reporting at all.

The UK Guardian decided to go the phony news path in its short article (June 23, 2020)– Britain almost went bust in March, says Bank of England.

The term can not be used to a national federal government that does not provide liabilities in foreign currencies. Such a federal government can constantly fulfill its nominal liabilities irrespective of institutional plans it might have put in location to produce contingent flows of numbers from one box (account) to another box. When the British press went insane the other day reporting remarks made by the Bank of England guv that the British government was on the cusp of insolvency, they did the British public an injustice.

The UK Guardian continued:

Britain came close to effective insolvency at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis as monetary markets plunged into turmoil

The Bank of England guv appeared initially at the 6:22 minutes mark.

Keep in mind the term “efficient insolvency” which has no real meaning anyway.

The interview that started all the hooha was aired as a podcast on the Sky News program The World Tomorrow (June 22, 2020).

The segment saw the “Ed Conway and Sajid Javid talk with Andrew Bailey about the Bank of Englands intervention at the start of the pandemic”.

Conway is Skys economics head and Javid is the ex-Chancellor.

A few of the early remarks from the recruiters were ludicrous– like those associating with the Bank of England “running out of ammo to battle the pandemic”.

The remarks that set the media into a lying craze begin at 6:46:

At 8:02, Ed Conway asked “How scary was that? I imply what were the potential customers if the bank had not really stepped in”.

You might remember in the first week, we basically had a pretty near disaster of some of, some of the core financial market When you get to, I got to Wednesday afternoon, and the markets team came down here, and, in the afternoon. We were in a state of borderline disorderly, I imply it was disorderly in the sense that when you looked at the volatility in what was core markets, I indicate core exchange rates, core federal government bond markets, we were seeing things that were pretty extraordinary certainly in current recent times, and we were facing severe condition.
Obviously it was clear why we were facing it in terms of what was going on outside in this unmatched closed down of the economy, successfully that was going on.

Andrew Bailey responded:

Oh I think the prospects would have been very bad. Oh, and by the method, I need to say that the other major main banks were also doing extremely similar things and we were all carefully coordinated. I believe it would have been really major. I think we would have had a situation where in the worst component, the government would have struggled to fund itself in the short run …
Obviously we had, there are things you could do at that point. It is not, its not outright failure because sense We have got backup systems that you can use.

Note– “there are things you could do”!

The UK Guardian article rather down the page confessed that “Although the government said the country would still have had choices available” it still persisted with the lurid heading.


1. Britain did not “almost fail in March”.

2. Britain as a nation can not go bust.

3. It is not a corporation.

4. It is not a household.

5. The principle of a business balance sheet does not have any application to a currency-issuing government.

What was this all about?

What the Bank guv was really talking about was the financial market disruption that emerged in the early days of the pandemic. It is clearly the function of the Bank of England to maintain monetary stability in British markets.

We require to understand the various methods in which federal governments work within the institutional arrangements they put in place around financial obligation and payments.

That was where the unpredictability lay.

For Britain, 2 kinds of financial obligation are released by means of auction:

1. Gilts– are normally liabilities released by the federal government which guarantee to pay a yield ( voucher rate) at regular intervals and return the concept at the concurred maturity date (say, 5 years or 10 years).

There are other types undated gilts, index-linked gilts which have other qualities however are less substantial in the overall image.

See– About gilts.

2. Treasury Bills– are “absolutely no voucher qualified financial obligation securities” that are typically released “through regular weekly or advertisement hoc tenders”. The absolutely no voucher just means that they are released at a discount however redeemed at the par worth.

For example, say the marketplace yield for short-term financial obligation was 10 percent. A six-month treasury bill may have a par value of ₤ 100 (which is what the holder will get on redemption).

If there are political or contractual spending imperatives today, and the treasury expense account can not cover the funds needed then, from an institutional perspective, there is a financing shortfall.

Under the voluntary institutional arrangements that the federal government has actually put in place through legislation and regulation, funds raised from treasury bill tenders are placed in an account from which the Government then makes use of when it invests.

See– About treasury bills.

And as Andrew Bailey went on to say– “there are things you might do”– which just refers, in one way, to the reality that the reserve bank can always fill these spaces for the Treasury department.

So the discounted cost that the buyer of the costs at concern would be prepared to pay to the government would be ₤ 95.20 (do not fret about how I computed that– there is a basic formula and I presumed half-yearly compounding).

Treasury Bills are used to match short-run spending needs. The gilts market is less responsive to day-to-day needs– the institutional structure surrounding the auctions, for instance, doesnt lend itself to immediate flows of funds.

Treasury Bill can be issued for just 1 day and as much as 364 days but generally they are for 1, 4 and 6 month maturities.

One pocket of government can constantly be replenished by the other pocket at any time it picks, institutional arrangements regardless of!

All these other administrative type conventions do not alter that truth.

The Treasury instructs the main bank to credit savings account in the non-government sector on its behalf.

Every hour of every day.

A few months ago there was a bit hooha about the so-called Ways and Means Account held by H.M. Treasury at the Bank of England.

Efficiently, the Ways and Means account is an overdraft that the Treasury has with its main bank that enables it to spend easily without pleasing the typical accounting and administrative practices (ex post) associating with treasury expense or gilt issuance.

That is how costs happens.

We need to keep in mind, of course, that government costs takes place in the same method, nevertheless these administrative, institutional and accounting conventions and practices are exercised.

On April 9, 2020, the British Treasury made this statement– HM Treasury and Bank of England reveal short-term extension of the Ways and Means facility– which told the public that the Bank of England would increase the available funds because overdraft account if the Treasury required to invest large amounts rapidly.

I composed about this problem in this article– Bank of England official blows the cover on mainstream macroeconomics (April 28, 2020).

In other words, they can increase financial deficits without recourse to the marketplaces matching the deficits with debt-issuance at any time they like.

On April 23, 2020, an external member of the Bank of Englands Monetary Policy Committee, provided a speech– Monetary policy and the Bank of Englands balance sheet– where he stated that:

1. The Ways and Means account is used to ravel “federal government capital”.

2. “Such a back-up is rarely required other than in durations of sharp unforeseen variances from the funding strategy.”

Or, when there is serious interruption in the short-term money markets due to endemic unpredictability engendered by an occasion such as the coronavirus pandemic.

The Treasury bills market

The bid-to-cover ratio is just the ₤ volume of the quotes got to the total ₤ volumes desired. If the federal government wanted to put ₤ 20 million of financial obligation and there were bids of ₤ 40 million in the markets then the bid-to-cover ratio would be 2.

The following graph shows the bid-to-cover ratio for the UK Treasury Bills tenders from the start of June 2016 to June 19, 2020.

The financial media are always forecasting the ratios will fall as financiers provide up on buying government bonds

Over this duration, the averages have been:

However, occasionally, the demand for the tender can fall well listed below these typical ratios.

After going over how extraordinary nature of the Banks reaction, he went on to say (starting around 18:49):.

— 1 month costs = 3.76

He wished to stop irrational property sales by wealth holders driving down costs and rising yields throughout the appropriate maturity ranges.

As you can see from the chart, the ratios fell below 1 to 0.87 for 3 month costs on March 20, 2020 however was at 1.56 for 1 month bills on the same day and 1.11 for 6 months costs.

Andrew Bailey stated his concern was truly about “market instability” rather than whether the government would be able to money itself.

— 6 month expenses = 2.95

So, in effect the ₤ 200 billion result (the largest QE and quickest to be introduced in British history) presented nothing to do with government absolutely nothing requirements under the federal government financing structure.

Which weakness vanished by the end of the week, with the ratio of 3.55 in the following week for 3 month costs.

So mainly, the tenders are strong.

Later on in the interview, the Bank of England guv looked for to clarify what he had stated previously provided that clearly in the short-term expenses market, except for the blip on March 20, 2020 in the 3 month bills, there was no concern the markets wanted to acquire British federal government costs throughout the maturity variety offered (1, 3 and 6 months).

— 3 month costs = 3.35

I believe one method, I think how would this have played out if we had not taken the action that we and other main banks took? I believe what you might have easily seen, would have seen in fact a, a threat premium get in into interest rates, I think markets would have priced in a risk premium, and it could have been rather substantial provided the degree of instability we were seeing. Now, and that would have, in terms, in terms of the Bank of Englands objectives, that would have made it harder for us to achieve our goals, both in terms of inflation and in terms of economic stability and economic development that underlies that.
Now the fact that the government, at that point in time, the government is the largest debtor– not the only debtor by the method because the corporate sector was obtaining rather greatly, the big corporates were borrowing heavily in anticipation at that point. I dont see that as compromisingour self-reliance …

To put it simply, insolvency fears had absolutely nothing to do with the Banks actions. It was a standard QE workout to keep rates of interest low and steady.

The point is that this behaviour reflected basic market unpredictability instead of an assessment that the UK federal government was about to default on its liabilities or some other such sentiment that would stop the private financial obligation markets from purchasing British federal government expenses.

It was about providing liquidity to the non-government sector to guarantee rates of interest didnt spike, which the bank considered would make the economic effects of the pandemic even more dire.

While we understand that the media is constantly attempting to sensationalise things one need to fix a limit about fake and lurid batter!

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The essential point is that legislation and policy can be changed by the bulk federal government.

I still get sent out blog links or papers composed as sorts of gotcha minutes– in the ah, I have you now, you silly MMT cultists custom that has actually progressed, which inform me that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is plain foolish because it is obvious there are monetary constraints on governments as evidenced by these institutional plans.

The monetary media are constantly anticipating the ratios will fall as investors give up on buying government bonds.

The British media– progressive and otherwise need to hang their heads in pity.

The bid-to-cover ratio is simply the ₤ volume of the quotes received to the total ₤ volumes wanted. So if the government desired to place ₤ 20 million of debt and there were quotes of ₤ 40 million in the markets then the bid-to-cover ratio would be 2.

The difference between the intrinsic state and the state on the ground at any moment show ideology and political option.

And by exposing that distinction, MMT brings the general public a long way forward in understanding than if they remain on the planet of mainstream macroeconomics which alleges the institutional truth is the intrinsic financial reality.

The British federal government could always change any of the voluntary arrangements it has embeded in place and, for example, instruct its reserve bank to ensure any spending needs have monetary integrity regardless of what numbers appear in different accounts (gilts, treasury costs, tax etc).

Not a lot has actually altered ever since in regards to robustness.

They missed out on the entire point of the interview.

It is very disturbing that the media misleads people so manifestly.

Here is the record of bid-to-cover ratios in the British gilts market from January 5, 2016 to the most current gilt auction on June 24, 2020.

Hence blurring the ideological component and covering up an entire raft of lying behaviour by governments who do not want to undertake certain policy alternatives.

The point is that MMT makes it clear that there is a difference between the intrinsic capacity of a currency-issuing federal government in a fiat financial system and the capabilities that they render for themselves through their legislative and regulative volition.


I discussed the development of that market in this recent post– Britain puzzling the macroeconomic textbooks– other than one! (May 21, 2020).

Further, if you take a look at the gilts market, the need for longer-term government debt has actually stayed strong throughout.

Even in the early days of the pandemic, the demand for gilts was strong.

Gilts market remains strong.

Refer back to the blog post from 2009 where I discuss that in information.

That suffices for today!

So, in effect the ₤ 200 billion intervention (the largest QE and quickest to biggest introduced in British history) was nothing to do with government funding requirements under the federal government financing structure.

The term can not be applied to a nationwide government that does not issue liabilities in foreign currencies. When the British press went crazy the other day reporting comments made by the Bank of England guv that the British federal government was on the cusp of insolvency, they did the British public a disservice. We were in a state of borderline disorderly, I indicate it was disorderly in the sense that when you looked at the volatility in what was core markets, I mean core exchange rates, core federal government bond markets, we were seeing things that were pretty extraordinary certainly in current recent times, and we were dealing with severe disorder.
Now the fact that the federal government, at that point in time, the government is the largest debtor– not the only customer by the way since the business sector was borrowing rather greatly, the big corporates were borrowing greatly in anticipation at that point. I dont see that as compromisingour independence …

( c) Copyright 2020 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

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