The European Central Bank and its counterparts in the UK, US, China and India are exploring a new form of state-backed money built on similar online ledger technology to cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ethereum.
So-called central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) envision a future where we’ll all have our own digital wallets and transfer money between them at the touch of a button, with no need for high-street banks to be involved because it all happens on a blockchain.
But CBDCs also present an opportunity that has gone unnoticed – to vastly reduce the exorbitant levels of public debt weighing down many countries. Let us explain.
The idea behind CBDCs is that individuals and firms would be issued with digital wallets by their central bank with which to make payments, pay taxes and buy shares or other securities. Whereas with today’s bank accounts, there is always the outside possibility that customers are unable to withdraw money because of a bank run, that can’t happen with CBDCs because all deposits would be 100% backed by reserves.
Today’s retail banks are required to keep little or no deposits in reserve, though they do have to hold a proportion of their capital (meaning easily sold assets) as protection in case their lending books run into trouble. For example, eurozone banks’ minimum requirement is 15.1%, meaning if they have capital of €1 billion (£852 million), their lending book cannot exceed €6.6 billion (that’s 6.6 times deposits).
In an era of CBDCs, we assume that people will still have bank accounts – to have their money invested by a fund manager, for instance, or to make a return by having it loaned out to someone else on the first person’s behalf. Our idea is that the 100% reserve protection in central bank wallets should extend to these retail bank accounts.
That would mean that if a person put 1,000 digital euros into a retail bank account, the bank could not multiply that deposit by opening more accounts than they could pay upon request. The bank would have to make money from its other services instead.
At present, the ECB holds about 25% of EU members’ government debt. Imagine that after transitioning to a digital euro, it decided to increase this holding to 30% by buying new sovereign bonds issued by member states.
To pay for this, it would create new digital euros – just like what happens today when quantitative easing (QE) is used to prop up the economy. Crucially, for each unit of central bank money created in this way, the money circulating in the wider economy increases by a lot more: in the eurozone, it roughly triples.
This is essentially because QE drives up the value of bonds and other assets, and as a result, retail banks are more willing to lend to people and firms. This increase in the money supply is why QE can cause inflation.
If there was a 100% reserve requirement on retail banks, however, you wouldn’t get this multiplication effect. The money created by the ECB would be that amount and nothing more. Consequently, QE would be much less inflationary than today.
The debt benefit
So where does national debt fit in? The high national debt levels in many countries are predominantly the result of the global financial crisis of 2007-09, the eurozone crisis of the 2010s and the COVID pandemic. In the eurozone, countries with very high debt as a proportion of GDP include Belgium (100%), France (99%), Spain (96%), Portugal (119%), Italy (133%) and Greece (174%).
One way to deal with high debt is to create a lot of inflation to make the value of the debt smaller, but that also makes citizens poorer and is liable to eventually cause unrest. But by taking advantage of the shift to CBDCs to change the rules around retail bank reserves, governments can go a different route.
The opportunity is during the transition phase, by reversing the process in which creating money to buy bonds adds three times as much money to the real economy. By selling bonds in exchange for today’s euros, every one euro removed by the central bank leads to three disappearing from the economy.
Indeed, this is how digital euros would be introduced into the economy. The ECB would gradually sell sovereign bonds to take the old euros out of circulation, while creating new digital euros to buy bonds back again. Because the 100% reserve requirement only applies to the new euros, selling bonds worth €5 million euros takes €15 million out of the economy but buying bonds for the same amount only adds €5 million to the economy.
However, you wouldn’t just buy the same amount of bonds as you sold. Because the multiplier doesn’t apply to the bonds being bought, you can triple the amount of purchases and the total amount of money in the economy stays the same – in other words, there’s no extra inflation.
For example, the ECB could increase its holdings of sovereign debt of EU member states from 25% to 75%. Unlike the sovereign bonds in private hands, member states don’t have to pay interest to the ECB on such bonds. So EU taxpayers would now only need to pay interest on 25% of their bonds rather than the 75% on which they are paying interest now.
Interest rates and other questions
An added reason for doing this is interest rates. While interest rates payable on bonds have been meagre for years, they could hugely increase on future issuances due to inflationary pressures and central banks beginning to raise short-term interest rates in response. The chart below shows how the yields (meaning rates of interest) on the closely watched 10-year sovereign bonds for Spain, Greece, Italy and Portugal have already increased between three and fivefold in the past few months.
Following several years of immense shocks from the pandemic, the energy crisis and war emergency, there’s a risk that the markets start to think that Europe’s most indebted countries can’t cover their debts. This could lead to widespread bond selling and push interest rates up to unmanageable levels. In other words, our approach might even save the eurozone.
The ECB could indeed achieve all this without introducing a digital euro, simply by imposing a tougher reserve requirement within the current system. But by moving to a CBDC, there is a strong argument that because it’s safer than bank deposits, retail banks should have to guarantee that safety by following a 100% reserve rule.
Note that we can only take this medicine once, however. As a result, EU states will still have to be disciplined about their budgets.
Instead of completely ending fractional reserve banking in this way, there’s also a halfway house where you make reserve requirements more stringent (say a 50% rule) and enjoy a reduced version of the benefits from our proposed system. Alternatively, after the CBDC transition ends, the reserve requirement could be progressively relaxed to stimulate the economy, subject to GDP growth, inflation and so on.
What if other central banks do not take the same approach? Certainly, some coordination would help to minimise disruption, but reserve requirements do differ between countries today without significant problems. Also, many countries would probably be tempted to take the same approach. For example, the Bank of England holds over one-third of British government debt, and UK public debt as a proportion of GDP currently stands at 95%.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Copyright © 2010–2022, The Conversation Trust (UK) Limited
This bank in UAE has given salary hikes to adjust for inflation
Dubai’s biggest bank Emirates NBD has given most employees a pay rise of up to 8% to help cushion against rising costs of living driven by inflation, two sources familiar with the matter have told Reuters.
The increases varied according to seniority and were part of a mid-cycle salary adjustment for inflation, with top executives receiving smaller or no increases, the sources said.
Most employees received a pay rise of between 5% and 8%, with lower-paid staff receiving the biggest increase, one of the sources, who has direct knowledge of the matter, said.
Emirates NBD, majority owned by Dubai’s government, said it did not comment on staff-related matters.
“As a people-first organization and a leading employer, Emirates NBD has remained committed to initiatives and policies that support staff well-being, while adopting a robust employee recognition program,” a spokesperson added in an emailed response to a Reuters query.
It was not immediately clear if the salary increases were only for employees in the country. The bank also has operations in Egypt, India, Turkey and elsewhere.
Annual inflation in the oil-producing Gulf state reached 3.4% in the first quarter, according to the central bank, which has projected 5.6% inflation for the year. The UAE has not published monthly inflation figures this year.
The trajectory of price increases represents a significant turnaround from deflation throughout 2019, 2020 and the first seven months of 2021.
In recent months people have voiced concerns over increasing living costs in the UAE, with retail fuel prices now up around 55% so far this year, falling from a high of about 80%.
The UAE is the only Gulf Arab country without a cap on domestic fuel prices, leading to petrol costs surging at the pump.
Dubai average rental prices for apartments and townhouses rose by 29% and 33% in the first half of the year and for villas by 64%, according to Betterhomes, as the property market continued a strong post-pandemic recovery.
Emirates NBD in late July reported a 42% jump in second quarter profit to 3.5 billion dirhams ($952.98 million).
The Central Bank of the UAE has increased its base rate a cumulative 225 basis points since March in parallel with the US Federal Reserve, because its currency is pegged to the dollar, as central banks globally battle historic inflation.
New rules for UAE real estate industry for property bought with cryptocurrency
The Ministry of Economy (MoE) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), in partnership with the UAE Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), have announced the introduction of new reporting requirements aimed at certain real estate transactions.
The UAE is one of the first countries to implement such a mechanism for real estate transactions involving virtual assets, marking the latest example of the UAE’s global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.
All real estate agents, brokers, and law firms are obliged to file reports to the FIU for purchase and sale transactions of freehold real estate properties in the UAE that include any of the below three methods of payment, whether for a portion or the entirety of the property value:
- Single or multiple cash payment(s) equal to or above AED 55,000
- Payments that include the use of a virtual assets
- Payments where the fund(s) used in the transaction were derived from a virtual asset.
The reporting mechanism requires real estate agents, brokers, and law firms to obtain and record the identification documents of the parties to the applicable transaction, among other relevant documents related to the transaction.
The rules apply to both individuals and corporate entities that are parties to the above real estate transactions.
The relevant private sector entities have been informed about the specific requirements in regulatory circulators issued by the MoE and MoJ.
Additionally, to ensure preparedness, UAE authorities have collaborated to host three separate workshops with real estate agents and brokers, as well as law firms, helping to guide them through the new reporting requirements and enhance their familiarisation with the FIU’s anti-money laundering system. The MoE and MoJ apply a proactive, risk-based supervisory approach in line with UAE legislation and the international standards set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Cryptocurrency terms in the UAE
According to real estate agency OPR, though you can buy real estate with cryptocurrency, it is impossible to pay with it directly. According to the requirements of the UAE Central Bank, all transactions outside the territory of the state must be carried out using the national currency – the dirham (AED).
In this case, it is necessary to transfer the digital currency to the account of the trading company and then get a cheque for the agreed amount of money. Only then can you pay for the purchase.
How to buy and from whom to buy with your virtual assets
FAM Properties has tied up with Singapore exchange company Huobi to facilitate such transactions while Binance and other cryptoexchanges have set up bases in the UAE.
The most well-known Dubai developers are ready to offer real estate to cryptocurrency holders. Among them are Emaar Properties, DAMAC Properties, Select Group, Dubai Properties, Meraas, Fam Properties and MAG Lifestyle Development. But an important condition is the co-operation with only licensed real estate agencies, brokers and trading companies with an impeccable reputation.
The following projects have been listed as of December 2021 that can be bought with cryptocurrency, although the list has widened much more since:
Dubai business setup firm issues record free zone licenses
In a first for any company in Dubai, a business setup consultancy capped a Dh5m turnover in a single month while handing out over 200 new free-zone licenses in July – a reflection of UAE’s strong business sentiment and record growth in the post-Covid era.
“These are incredible times for us and the country. No company in Dubai has achieved such numbers in just one month. And it is indicative of the huge confidence investors have right now in the country and in Dubai particularly,” said Robin Philip, the founder-director of A&A Associate. The Dubai consultancy was adjudged ‘Highest Performing Channel Partner for the year for 2021’ by Sharjah Media Free Zone earlier this year for helping set up over 2,500 companies in 2021.
“If our strength lies in our excellence in our diversified auxiliary services like litigation and auditing that make us a one-stop solution provider for every new business owner then our other big advantage has been the current economic climate in the country,” explained Philip whose team helped set up over 70 new e-commerce companies this month.
“That’s almost 36 percent of the pie this month. Another quarter of new investors this month opened trading establishments while around 14 percent started new consultancies in Dubai,” said Philip while explaining how trends in July saw a “further 10 percent deep dive into travel and tourism business, six percent in logistics and about nine percent open businesses in the crypto space.”
A&A’s recent figures mirror last week’s announcement that Dubai issued 45,653 new business licences in the first half of 2022, a growth of 25 percent compared to H1 last year when 36,647 licenses were issued. The latest figures were released by the Business Registration and Licensing sector at the Department of Economy and Tourism in Dubai.
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“These numbers only reaffirm once again the tremendous success of the government’s innovative new strategic measures they have executed through a raft of changes in their policies. These policy amendments have not only rejuvenated a post-pandemic economy but also spurred a massive uptick in local and foreign investment which, in turn, has helped Dubai and the rest of the country to accelerate the pace of sustainable economic growth and diversification,” said Philip, who has so far helped start over 10,000 businesses since founding A&A Associate’s business setup division three years ago.
Ailee Syarief, a Swiss entrepreneur who started her new venture in Dubai only this month, said: “I was tempted by UAE’s recent policy changes towards giving full ownership to foreign investors. I think it’s the same for any foreigner coming to invest in this country and it helps attract foreign direct investment (FDI) into vital sectors.”
“The new data gives global investors like us the confidence and belief that there are huge growth prospects in this place,” said Chinese Sang Yige who set up a new travel and tourism company.
Among the new business licences issued in the first half of the year, nearly 55 percent were professional while the remaining were commercial.
Breakup of commercial licences in H1 2022
- 30 % – FZE or sole establishments
- 25 % – Civil companies
- 22 % – Limited liability companies
- 23 – Others