June 2020

The Effect of the Central Bank Liquidity Support during Pandemics: Evidence from the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic

Haelim Anderson, Jin-Wook Chang, and Adam Copeland

Abstract:

The coronavirus outbreak raises the question of how central bank liquidity support affects financial stability and promotes economic recovery. Using newly assembled data on cross-county flu mortality rates and state-charter bank balance sheets in New York, we investigate the effects of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic on the banking system and the role of the Federal Reserve during the pandemic. We find that banks located in more severely affected areas experienced deposit withdrawals. Banks which were members of the Federal Reserve were able to access central bank liquidity and so continue or even expand lending. Banks which were not members, however, did not borrow on the interbank market but rather curtailed lending, suggesting there was little-to-no pass-through of central bank liquidity. Further, in the counties most affected by the 1918 Influenza, even banks with direct access to the discount window liquidated assets so as to meet large deposit withdrawals, suggesting limits to the effectiveness of the liquidity provision by the Federal Reserve. Finally, we show that the pandemic caused only a short-term disruption on the financial sector. Over the long-term, deposits returned and banks restored their asset portfolios.

Keywords: 1918 influenza, pandemics, financial stability, bank lending, economic recovery

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2020.050

PDF: Full Paper

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Last Update: June 24, 2020