Central Bank of Ireland
|Established||1 February 1943|
|Governor||Philip R. Lane (2015)|
|Central bank of||Ireland|
Currency Commission (currency control)|
Bank of Ireland (Government's banker)1
1 Even after establishment of the Central Bank, Bank of Ireland remained the government's banker until 1 January 1972.|
The Central Bank of Ireland (Irish: Banc Ceannais na hÉireann) is Ireland's central bank, and as such part of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB). It is Ireland's financial services regulator for most categories of financial firms. It was the issuer of Irish pound banknotes and coinage until the introduction of the euro currency, and now provides this service for the European Central Bank.
The Central Bank was founded on 1 February 1943 and since 1 January 1972 has been the banker of the Government of Ireland in accordance with the Central Bank Act 1971, which can be seen in legislative terms as completing the long transition from a currency board to a fully functional central bank.
Its head office was located on Dame Street, Dublin from 1979 until 2017. Its offices at Iveagh Court and College Green also closed down at the same time. Since March 2017, its headquarters are located on North Wall Quay, where the public may exchange non-current Irish coinage and currency (both pre- and post-decimalization) for euros, as well as High Value Euro Currency Bank Notes and Mutilated Currency. It also operates from premises at nearby Spencer Dock. The Currency Centre at Sandyford is the currency manufacture, warehouse and distribution site of the bank.
The Central Bank's reputation was badly damaged in the Irish financial crisis. While the Bank has taken actions to address some of the main criticisms (e.g. break from "green jersey agenda", explicit mortgage controls, and the new modified gross national income metric), there is evidence other issues remain (e.g. commercial property bubbles, and light-touch regulation), and that new controls, such as mortgage limits, are being circumvented by Irish banks and the Irish State.
The Central Bank of Ireland’s mandate calls on it to contribute to the well being of the people of Ireland and more widely in Europe by performing statutory responsibilities which cover a wide range, including :
- price stability;
- financial stability;
- consumer protection;
- supervision and enforcement;
- regulatory policy development;
- payment, settlement and currency systems operations and oversight;
- the provision of economic advice and financial statistics; and
- the recovery and resolution of distressed financial services firms.
|Term of office|
|James J. McElligott
|T. K. Whitaker
|Charles Henry Murray
|Tomás F. Ó Cofaigh
|Maurice F. Doyle
|Philip R. Lane
Recurrent criticisms have been made, both before and after the Irish banking crisis, of the Central Bank of Ireland. As seen in the Irish banking crisis, when global markets are stressed, several of these issues can occur simultaneously (i.e. they are not independent risks), to amplify the seriousness of the situation. While the pre-crisis Central Bank of Ireland was judged to fail on all these criticisms, the Irish State had the financial resources to bail out the Irish banking system (it was almost debt-free pre-crisis). Post the 2011 bailout, the Irish State has a debt-to-GNI* ratio of over 100%, and will not be able to withstand such a material failing by the Central Bank of Ireland again. A recurrence would place the Irish State into creditor restructuring.
Green jersey agenda
Several Irish bank CEOs testified to being asked by senior Central Bank officials to follow a "green jersey agenda" in obfuscating the facts behind Ireland's banking system. After the bailout by the European troika of the Irish banking system, a number of non-Irish senior executives were placed in the Central Bank of Ireland. However, almost all have now departed the Central Bank, and some have publicised concerns about the Central Bank's tendency to push aside risk-management in pursuit of political objectives. For example, the Central Bank ignored its own new "suitability and experience" code, to allow the ex. CEO of an online-betting company become Chairman of Ireland's main bank, Bank of Ireland. The Central Bank was silent when the Government launched the 'Help-to-Buy' scheme as a way to artificially inflate house prices by breeching Central Bank's own mortgage rules, with increased levels of leverage.
Weak mortgage controls
The Celtic Tiger era was typified by large, interest only, and highly leveraged mortgages. Post the bailout, the Central Bank introduced macro-prudential controls on mortgages both in terms of loan-to-value (caps of 80% and 90% depending on circumstances), and loan-to-income (caps of 3.5 times income). However, it appears loan-to-income levels are approaching 5 times income for new mortgages (Irish banks blend new mortgages into the overall book to reduce aggregate metrics). There is evidence Irish banks are returning to the practice of offering "Jumbo mortgages" (i.e. over €1 million), on the same terms as smaller mortgages. The Central Bank was silent when the Government introduced an aggressively leveraged “help-to-buy” scheme in 2017 (5 times loan-to-income). The Central Bank was silent when Bank of Ireland allowed people to transfer ultra-low rate pre-crisis tracker mortgage products to new home purchases, further inflating Irish house prices by injecting ultra-cheap credit into the Irish residential market. This is behaviour common under the pre-crisis "green jersey agenda" when the inflation of property prices was Irish national economic policy.
Brochures of IFSC professional services firms market Ireland as a “light-touch” regulatory regime. Post the financial crisis in Ireland, the Central Bank of Ireland was given additional resources to improve oversight. However, it has been shown that in the area of Section 110 SPVs for example, that a light-touch regime persists. Academic research has shown that these SPVs have been used by sanctioned Russian banks to access global capital markets. Inappropriate use was made of these SPVs by U.S. distressed debt funds in 2012-2016, aided by the IFSC professional services firms, to avoid billions in Irish domestic taxes. The Central Bank itself was paying rent to a US distressed debt landlord with using a Central Bank regulated ICAV structure that avoided all Irish taxes. In February 2018, the Central Bank expanded the little-used L-QIAIF regime to give the same tax benefits as Section 110 SPVs but without having to file public accounts with the Irish CRO, which was how the abuses above were uncovered. In June 2018, the Central Bank reported that distressed debt funds switched over €55 billion, or 25% of Irish GNI*, out of Section 110 SPVs, and presumably into L-QIAIFs.
Distorted economic data
Ireland is a small economy and also one of the world’s main corporate tax havens. As with all tax havens, Ireland’s economic data is distorted by BEPS flows from various tax management activities. The top 10 GDP-per-capita countries, excluding natural resource countries, are all tax havens (see GDP-per-capita and tax havens). This was shown dramatically in 2016 during "leprechaun economics" when Apple on-shored its non-U.S. intellectual property to Ireland.
At this point, multinational profit shifting doesn't just distort Ireland's balance of payments; it constitutes Ireland’s balance of payments.
Exaggerated credit cycles are a feature of tax havens as global capital markets misprice the “headline” Debt-to-GDP in benign times, only to reprice aggressively in less benign times, leading to a credit crisis (discussed in tax haven credit cycles). The Central Bank decisively responded to this in 2017 by introducing Modified gross national income (or GNI*), as a more appropriate measure for Ireland’s economy.
Ireland has, more or less, stopped using GDP to measure its own economy. And on current trends [because Irish GDP is distorting EU-28 aggregate data], the eurozone taken as a whole may need to consider something similar.
- On a Gross Public Debt-to-GDP basis, Ireland's 2015 figure at 78.8% is not of concern;
- On a Gross Public Debt-to-GNI* basis, Ireland's 2015 figure at 116.5% is more serious, but not alarming;
- On a Gross Public Debt Per Capita basis, Ireland's 2015 figure at over $62,686 per capita, exceeds every other OECD country, except Japan.
Commercial property bubbles
Ireland’s status as a major corporate tax haven, means its commercial property market is prone to overinflating. This effect is amplified by the fact that the Irish State enables foreign investors to pay no taxes on Irish commercial property via Central Bank regulated QIAIFs (and ICAVs in particular). The ratio of the value of Dublin prime office to its cost of the build is the second largest in the EU-28 (only exceeded by Paris). Irish office rents are close to London City office rents. Irish banks are the main lending institutions to Irish commercial property, and thus most exposed to material price movements. As was seen in the Irish banking crisis, when global conditions weaken and the demand for Irish office falls, the drop in Irish commercial valuations is far more extreme than other markets. When this occurs in sync with a global repricing of Irish credit (from a realisation of the level of artificial distortion in Irish economic data), the effects are further amplified. This risk was highlighted in 2014 when the Central Bank consulted the European Systemic Risk Board ("ESRB") after lobbying by IFSC law firms to expand the L-QIAIF regime. Despite the experience of the Irish financial crisis, the Central Bank still largely ignores this area and relies on Dublin commercial property agents for data and assessment (the same source the Irish banks also rely on). When one of Ireland’s richest businessmen, and an office developer, stated to Bloomberg in January 2018 that Dublin’s office market was a bubble, the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar publicly refuted his statement the very same day. This issue is tied with the new risks of the U.S. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to Ireland's low-tax economy (discussed here).
Control of total credit
The above distortion of Irish economic data and the tendency to commercial property bubbles has led to periods when Ireland's economy was over-leveraged and reliant on non-domestic capital. The ability of foreign capital to use Ireland's corporate tax haven tools (IP-based BEPS tools, and Debt-based BEPS tools) to avoid Irish taxes, attracts further non-domestic credit. It has been shown that smaller countries with a high proportion of non-domestic capital are prone to very severe credit cycles. To resolve this imbalance in the Irish financial crisis, Irish private sector debt was transferred to Irish public sector debt. The result is that Ireland is now one of the EU-28's most leveraged countries on a private and public sector basis (not using distorted GDP measures). This means that the Irish State will not be able to bailout its banking system for a considerable time.
During the global credit crisis, reports showed Ireland's combined public and private sector credit the highest in the OECD (some reports added in IFSC SPV credit producing higher, but misleading, figures). In the regard, the Central Bank now tracks private and public credit in Ireland in its quarterly bulletins. Private credit is tracked on a credit-to-income ratio, while public sector credit is tracked on a debt-to-GNI* ratio. In addition, as part of the post-crisis reforms, the independent statutory body, the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, also reports on Irish leverage (public and private) and its sustainability. However, it is still common to see other Irish statutory bodies (e.g. NTMA and IDA Ireland) openly present the distorted, and misleading, GDP/GNP data in their reports.
From Currency Commission to Central Bank (1920–1942)
On the independence of the Irish Free State in 1922, the new state's trade was overwhelmingly with the United Kingdom (98% of Irish exports and 80% of imports in 1924), so the introduction of an independent currency was a low priority. British banknotes (British Treasury notes, Bank of England notes), and notes issued by Irish banks circulated (but only the first were legal tender) and British coins remained in circulation.
Under the terms of the Coinage Act 1926, the Finance Minister was authorised to issue coins of silver, nickel, and bronze of the same denominations as the British coins already in circulation – however the Irish silver coins were to contain 75% silver as compared to the 50% silver coins issued by Britain at the time. These coins entered circulation on 12 December 1928.
Under the terms of the Currency Act 1927, a new unit of currency, the Saorstát Pound (Free State Pound) was created, which was to be maintained at parity with the British Pound Sterling by a Currency Commission which would keep British government securities, sterling cash, and gold to keep a 1–1 relationship.
Foundation of the Central Bank to decimalization (1942–1971)
The Central Bank Act 1942 which came into effect on 1 February 1943 renamed the Currency Commission the Central Bank of Ireland, although the organisation did not at that time acquire many of the characteristics of a central bank:
- it was not given custody of the cash reserves of the commercial banks
- it had no statutory power to restrict credit, though it could promote it
- the Bank of Ireland remained the government's banker
- the conditions for influencing credit through open-market operations did not yet exist
- Ireland's external monetary reserves were largely held as external assets of the commercial banks
The mid-1960s saw the Bank take over the normal day-to-day operations of exchange control from the Department of Finance. The Central Bank broadened its activities over the decades, but it remained in effect a currency board until the 1970s. Economist Patrick Honohan evaluates the success of the movement from currency board to central bank as follows: 'in contrast to many other post-colonial cases, (the currency board's) demise was not followed by a rapid depreciation and slide into semi-permanent high inflation and lack of convertibility.
Such was the proliferation of small industrial banks and hire purchase firms in the late 1960s, the 1971 Central Bank Act introduced significantly enhanced authorisation and supervision standards. In the inevitable consolidation in the marketplace, in 1976 a liquidator was appointed to Irish Trust Bank Ltd after Central Bank investigations and in 1982 Merchant Banking Ltd also collapsed.
Decimalization to European integration (1971–1978)
The 1970s was a decade of change, which began with the decimalisation of the currency which came into effect on 15 February 1971, when the decimal coinage was released into circulation (although 5p, 10p, and 50p coins were released a few years earlier, as they had exact equivalents in old currency units). Decimalisation would have provided an ideal opportunity to break the link with Sterling, but there was not much demand for this at that time. In 1972 however, the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates broke down, and in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis inflation in Britain increased dramatically, and economic theory would suggest that a smaller economy whose currency is pegged to a larger one will suffer the larger economy's inflation rate. At the same time moves to create a money market in Dublin and the transfer in 1968 of the commercial banks' sterling assets to the Central Bank made it possible to contemplate a break in the link. In the mid to late 1970s, opinion within the bank was moving toward breaking the link with sterling and devaluing the Irish currency in order to limit inflationary effects from abroad.
The EMS and movement toward a single currency
At this time, however, an alternative option became available. In April 1978, the European Council meeting in Copenhagen decided to create a "zone of monetary stability" in Europe, and European Economic Community institutions were invited to consider how to create such a zone. At the following Council meeting in Bremen, Germany in June 1978 the basic features of the European Monetary System were outlined, including the creation of the ECU – European Currency Unit, a basket of the Community's currencies used to determine exchange rates, and the forerunner of the euro.
The Irish government had to decide whether or not to participate in the EMS. If the EMS had included all the European Community's currencies, it would have provided stability for 75% of Ireland's external trade, but if Britain, which still accounted for 50% of Ireland's external trade, decided to stay out of the EMS. Despite this, on 15 December 1978 it was announced that Ireland would participate in the EMS. Countries were given the option of either a 2.25% or 6% margin of fluctuation within the EMS' Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM), and Ireland took the narrower margin. The EMS started on 13 March 1979, and towards the end of the month Sterling started to gain in value against the EMS currencies because of rising oil prices, and by 30 March Sterling breached the upper fluctuation band limit of the Belgian franc and the Irish currency could no longer track Sterling. After over 50 years, the parity of the Irish and British currencies was broken, and the Irish currency became known as the Irish pound (or Punt).
The initial experience of the EMS was disappointing. It had been expected that the Irish Pound would appreciate in value against Sterling, and hence reduce inflation in Ireland, but in practice, Sterling appreciated considerably in value thanks to its status as a petrocurrency and to the tight monetary policies of the new British government of Margaret Thatcher. By late 1980 the Irish Pound had fallen in value to less than 80 British pence, and Irish inflation was higher than British. Economic policy in Ireland was inconsistent with a "hard currency" policy, and the Irish Pound also failed to hold its value against the central rate of the Deutschmark, although it did appreciate in value against some of the other EMS currencies.
Eventually, the EMS settled down (notwithstanding a crisis in 1992 when the Irish Pound was devalued by 10%), and Irish inflation was the same or lower than Britain's inflation rate from 1987 onwards.
Towards the Euro
The idea of a single European currency goes back to the Schumann Plan of 1950. The first blueprint for how to go about implementing the currency, the Werner Report of 1970 was not proceeded with, but the ultimate aim was always kept in mind. The Delors Report endorsed by the Madrid Summit of June 1989 envisaged a three-stage process to monetary union, and this was given legal authority by the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 (enacted into Irish law as the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland by 70% of those voting in a referendum on 18 June 1992). This envisaged the start of monetary union on 1 January 1999 and the introduction of notes and coins on 1 January 2002.
The Central Bank began production of euro coins in September 1999, producing over a billion coins, weighing about 5,000 tons, with a value of €230 million before the introduction into circulation of the euro coins in January 2002. Production of euro banknotes began in June 2000, with 300 million notes worth €4 billion being produced in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 euros. Euro banknotes produced for the Central Bank are identified by having the serial number begin with the letter T. The Bank did not initially issue €200 or €500 notes, but has since begun to do so.
Domestic banking crisis
The Central Bank noted in November 2005 that an overvaluation existed of 40% to 60% in Irish residential property market. Minutes of a meeting with the OECD indicated that while the Central Bank agreed that Irish property was overvalued it was fearful of precipitating a crash by "putting a number on it". Senior Allied Irish Bank officials expressed concerns in 2006 that Central Bank stress tests were "not stressful enough". The management ignored warnings from its own financial stability unit, according to one former staff member, whose evidence to the parliamentary inquiry was questioned by a number of other staff members, and from the Economic and Social Research Institute about the scale of bank loans to property speculators and developers leading to key information being suppressed. It was reported that it sought to gag a prominent economist from talking about the fragile state of the nation’s banks in relation the Irish branch of Northern Rock. The Central Bank "watered down" economic warnings about the property bubble in the run-up to the crash, blocked internal communication reaching board level due to the political interests (the so-called "green jersey agenda", and "rigorously" concealed data from the relevant external supervisors on the large exposures of Irish banks to individual developers.
In November 2007, they stated: "The Irish banking system continues to be well-placed to withstand adverse economic and sectoral developments in the short to medium term. The underlying fundamentals of the residential market continue to appear strong and the current trend in monthly price developments does not imply a sharp correction. The central scenario, therefore, is for a soft landing."
After the bubble burst, Irish banks faced mounting losses which exposed them to a collapse of confidence following the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in September 2008; they then suffered acute liquidity pressures which had to be met by Central Bank support, including emergency lending. Management abuses were also revealed at Anglo Irish Bank, which had to be nationalised in January 2009.
The Central Bank annual report, published three months before the Irish State unconditionally guaranteed the deposits of Irish-owned banks, said: "The banks have negligible exposure to the sub-prime sector and they remain relatively healthy by the standard measures of capital, profitability and asset quality. This has been confirmed by the stress testing exercises we have carried out with the banks".
The next annual report had little to say about how and why the Irish banking system collapsed. Although there were four Central Bank directors on the board of the Financial Regulator, the Central Bank maintained it had no powers to intervene in the market. Yet, the Central Bank had the power to issue directives to the Financial Regulator if it thought it was conducting its business in a way that was contrary to overall Central Bank policy aims. None were issued.
The regulator’s processes and reports, and the findings of external scrutineers, any of which should have raised red flags, failed to do so. As a result, they did not see the enormity of the risks being taken by the banks and the calamity that was to overwhelm them.
The European Commission in a November 2010 review of the financial crisis said "Some national supervisory authorities failed dramatically. We know that in Ireland there was almost no supervision of the large banks." Two months later, the President of the EU Commission in an angry exchange in the European Parliament, with a vehemence that shocked his audience, said that "the problems of Ireland were created by the irresponsible financial behaviour of some Irish institutions, and by the lack of supervision in the Irish market."
Separation of regulation – The Financial Regulator
In 2003 a new separate division of the Central Bank, with its own Chairman, Chief Executive, and board, was established as the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority. This was as a compromise between those who favoured a fully independent regulator and those who believed the Central Bank should maintain full control of regulation of the financial services industry. This division of the Bank authorised and regulated all financial institutions (including insurance undertakings, collective investment funds and credit unions) in Ireland.
Under the 2003 arrangements the Central Bank provided the Financial Regulator with services. The Regulator’s industry panel, which provided the Regulator with feedback on its charges and policies said in April 2007 that they had ‘‘major concerns with the quality and cost of the services’’ provided to the Regulator by the Central Bank.
The operations of the Financial Regulator were severely criticised in a report marked "strictly confidential and not for publication", as being poor value for money. The report stated that there were too few specialist staff, compared with its peers. There were also serious shortcomings in the crucial supervisory area. and the report was particularly critical of the regulator’s senior management structure, concluding that a clear management and oversight framework, which ensures that issues are escalated through the organisation, was "not fully in place".
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, said that his decision in 2001 to create a new financial regulator was one of the main reasons for the collapse of the Irish banking sector and "if I had a chance again I wouldn’t do it". "The banks were irresponsible," he admitted "But the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator seemed happy. They were never into us saying – ever – 'Listen, we must put legislation and control on the banks'. That never happened."
In April 2010, the new Financial Regulator, outlined his shock at the poor level of financial regulation he discovered when he started his job the previous January and "it is clear to me we need to undertake a fundamental overhaul of the regulatory model for financial services in Ireland." He also said that there was a "critical absence of intellectual firepower within his staff"
Following the banking collapse of 2008–9, the Government re-unified the organisation under a Central Bank of Ireland Commission to replace the board structures of the Central Bank and the Financial Services Regulatory Authority which became effective on 1 October 2010. A July 2009 editorial, in the respected, Sunday Business Post, said "returning the key powers of regulation to the Central Bank will be useless unless there is a fundamental change in the culture of the organisation. This does not require a complete change of personnel, but a change of key personnel." There can be no denying that the spinning off of the Financial Regulator from the functions of the Central Bank in 2003, was an outright failure.
Post crisis reforms
On 4 November 2014 the European Central Bank formally took supervisory control over the biggest banks in Europe, including those in Ireland. While banking supervision staff in the Central Bank of Ireland remained, a pan-European approach to how banks were supervised was introduced, the Single Supervisory Mechanism.
Subsequent to the parliamentary inquiry into the domestic banking crisis the organization said that the actions taken by the Central Bank combined with legislative reform and an overhaul of international regulation have enabled the organization to deliver effective supervision and financial stability measures since the crisis. Governor Philip Lane said, "The report describes a failure to identify risks to financial stability and recognizes the lack of an overall European framework to deal with the financial and fiscal crises. Many of the issues identified by the Inquiry relating to the Central Bank have been substantially addressed or continue to be addressed through measures including significant institutional reform, additional powers, the promotion of a culture of challenge and the implementation of the model of assertive risk-based supervision underpinned by a credible threat of enforcement."
In early 2015 the Central Bank introduced macro-prudential mortgage regulations to increase the resilience of the banking and household sectors to the property market and to reduce the risk of bank credit and house price spirals from developing in the future. These measures are to be reviewed annually, with the first report published in November 2016. However, there is evidence that these rules are not being followed, and Irish banks are using a pre-crisis technique of higher multiples of salary for house purchases (to 5x), offset by deleveraging/low geared re-financing (at 2x), to maintain aggregate compliance. This is causing renewed pricing stresses in the housing market. In particular, there is no specific control on large (or jumbo mortgages), a feature of the Celtic Tiger.
In response to the July 2016 leprechaun economics affair, the Central Bank convened a cross economic steering group (Economic Statistics Review Group, or "ESRG") including the IFAC, ESRI, NTMA, leading acadamics and the Department of Finance, to recommend new economic statistics to the Central Statistics Office ("CSO"), that would better represent the Irish economy (given the escalating distortions in GDP and GNP). The result was the introduction of "modified GNI" (or GNI*). Report Site of the ESRG. 2016 Modified GNI* is 70% of 2016 GDP (or 2016 GDP is 143% of 2016 GNI*).
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Pearse Doherty: It was interesting that when [MEP] Matt Carthy put that to the Minister's predecessor (Michael Noonan), his response was that this was very unpatriotic and he should wear the green jersey. That was the former Minister's response to the fact there is a major loophole, whether intentional or unintentional, in our tax code that has allowed large companies to continue to use the double Irish [called single malt].
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A former Anglo Irish Bank director has told the trial of four senior bankers accused of conspiring to mislead investors that there was a “green jersey agenda” which involved banks working together to help each other out during the financial turmoil of 2008.
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Lawyers for the accused argued during the trial that their motivation in authorizing the deal was the “green jersey” agenda, the financial regulator’s request for Irish banks to support one another as the financial crisis worsened.
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We heard a lot about the “green jersey” agenda during the Anglo trial, which finished during the week. It is the name given to the drive to protect the financial system as the crisis hit, taking in the government, Civil Service, regulators, banks and beyond.
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They'll do this by making commercial property investment, mainly by large foreign landlords, entirely tax free. This will drive up commercial rents, suppress residential development, put Irish banks at risk, and deprive the State of much-needed funds.
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ESRB: Nonetheless, if not subject to adequate macro- and micro-prudential regulation, this activity could grow rapidly and introduce new sources of financial stability risk. It could also raise the financial system’s vulnerability to runs, contagion, excessive credit growthand pro-cyclicality.
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