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posted on 26 June 2016

Instruction Manual: How To Start A Public Bank

Written by

Public banking has a long and successful history in the United States, yet many are totally unfamiliar with it. The Bank of North Dakota (BND), the only state-owned bank in the U.S., was founded 97 years ago and has seen the state and local private banks smoothly through every crisis since then. See this interview with president of the BND in early 2009, during the Great Financial Crisis.


Why write a How-To Guide to starting a Public Bank?

A lot has been written about why we need Public Banks, from the books and articles of Ellen Brown - essentially the founder of the modern American Public Banking Movement in the 21st century - to individual State or City Public Banking chapters creating their own feasibility studies and documenting their results and projections.

Unfortunately, for the average activist looking to take on this kind of reform in his or her community, there is very little to actually show them the way in a step-by-step nuts and bolts fashion. Where will the money come from? Will that money be needed back and if so, when and is that feasible? What are the balances, operating and performance ratios you must maintain (if you don't know what these terms mean, don't worry, that's another thing that will be explained in the following pages), how much money can a community of X population expect a public bank to be able to lend? How will this change over the years as the bank becomes more profitable?

There are some banking basics books and articles available that explain how to create a small, basic commercial bank, and we will use a three-page section from one of them: Banking Basics (pgs 19-21) from the article Money Basics by Christopher D. Moore, 2003 (see Appendix). But the requirements and options for a Public Bank are substantially different, and advantageous as we will see, and so require modifications to the basic banking spreadsheet created by Moore. These have been made to the working spreadsheet that accompanies this document.

Both this Adobe Acrobat document and the MS Excel spreadsheet may be found and downloaded from the files section of the Public Banking for New York State Facebook Page:

Even though the Facebook page is set up for New York, my work as the New York Coordinator for the Public Banking Institute has brought me projects from New York City; Goshen, NY; Pennsylvania; Philadelphia; Vermont; New Jersey (Princeton, Trenton, etc.); Tacoma, Washington; Arizona; New Mexico; California (Santa Cruz); and, most importantly for this exercise, the moderately sized city of Oakland, California.

The members of the Oakland chapter first hired me to assess the assets potentially available to create a Public Bank in the summer of 2015. I completed that assignment in early 2016, but quickly realized that it was not enough to just identify the pools of money available (more on that later) without specifying how that money will be used to set up a bank and critically, since it will be borrowed from existing funds under the scenario I've been promoting for 4 years, how and when it will be repaid.

The CAFRs (CAFRs = Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports)

The Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFRs) contain every Federal, State, County, City agency's or enterprise's assets for all time. Think of the budget as the yearly account of revenues and expenses, and the CAFR as the report of all the entity's assets, for all time. The last part is very important, especially for large stashes of cash like pension funds, because most of this money is never spent, just invested and added to, year after year. For example, a well-run pension fund will spend 4% of its assets and retain 96% in various investments. In fact, if a pension fund - whether through over-promising, but mostly from under-performance - were to spend even 5% of its assets on pensioners in a given year, its managers would start to get concerned they were depleting the fund too quickly. At 6%, they would go into a panic, leading to reducing allocations most commonly, and, more rarely, to reallocating investments.

One of the purposes of this document, and my personal career path as a Public Banking advocate, has been to convince activists, politicians, and media that a good investment for part of these funds would be to capitalize a Public Bank. I had a chance to detail how this would work to Public Banking Institute coalition members on a monthly conference call in January 2016. That call is archived here:

But, until recently, there was no way to actually prove that on a spreadsheet, for all to see how it could be done, what the pitfalls are, and whether assumptions are in conformance with existing regulations and practices or whether the assumptions need to be changed. (In spite of the violations and fraud of the Systemically Important Financial Institutions (SIFIs), most small to medium-sized banks are actually subject to a series of tight regulations. We won't discuss specific regulations here; they vary significantly from state to state, and even in cities, but the spreadsheet is flexible enough to handle most of the basic possible regulatory requirements. I leave it to the reader to discover for him or herself what the regulatory requirements are for his or her particular area).

So, without further ado, here is how the spreadsheet works, using Oakland, California as a specific example, from actual 2015 CAFR figures, population and other information from that city. A city of the same approximate size - 413 thousand - and fiscal stability may expect similar results.

Before reading the rest, you should download the spreadsheet from the Facebook page and save it under a different name so you can go back to the original in case adjustments make the results go kerflooey and you need to start over. Changing even one number can make many results change. It takes practice and experimentation to get everything "right."

CAFR Assets

Source materials to study:

A. The CAFRman review process page: assembled by Gerald R. Klatt Lieutenant Colonel, USAF (Deceased) with the help of Walter Burien. There are other useful pages on this site and reading all of them would help, but the site has a return-surpluses-to-taxpayer bias, and we are talking about funding a Public Bank (PB), so our emphasis and ingredients will differ.

B. My slideshow based on my book, "America is Not Broke!" (see below). Slides 36-40 deal exclusively with CAFRs: and pages 12-13 of the commented version. These may be downloaded too, from and, respectively.

C. (Optional) My book: "America is Not Broke!" which may be ordered from Amazon, Barnes & Nobel etc. Chapter 4 is about CAFRs and includes the real world example of Detroit, among others. Chapter 3 deals with CAFRs as a possible funding source for Public Banks.

The first thing you need to do is download the CAFR for your state, city etc. I looked up Oakland's CAFR online and found it here:

This will be a PDF file.

Instructions on how to read, extract and use the numbers in the CAFR - which can run for 200-400 pages - are available at the Public Banking Institute at the archived podcast mentioned above.

The following illustrations are two screenshots of the CAFR section of the Workbook (a combination of three spreadsheets). Using the instructions above I was able to plug in the correct numbers for Oakland as shown below the short set of instructions on the spreadsheet.

All numbers in blue have to be entered. All calculations are shown in black bold italics. This is the convention throughout the workbook. Note: all figures on this sheet are in thousands and on the Returns sheet in millions except in the demographic section.

The green number in the orange highlight is the figure we will take approximately 10% out of in the next spreadsheet, from the tab Returns, actually just $50m, with which to create our initial equity for the bank. We can do this, within reason, because as the last line on the CAFRs spreadsheet says:

Note: Pension funds typically payout 4-6%/year, rest is kept invested - See Returns Worksheet page for how 10% of pension money - shown here in green - might be used to capitalize a PB.


Startup & Fixed Costs

A Public Bank has a simpler setup than a commercial bank. There is only one branch - headquarters - and, perhaps ironically, there is no need for most of the staff to meet the public, since the sole, or nearly sole, depositor is the entity that owns the bank, in this case, the city of Oakland. This is based on the model of the Bank of North Dakota (BND), which partners with local community banks, both supporting them and enhancing their ability to serve their local community by acting as a sort of mini-Fed.

Like the BND, we're going to assume the Bank of Oakland (BOO) is staffed by Civil Service employees, whose benefits do not include stock options or lavish bonuses. All of these things cut down on both Building Setup Costs, Employee Costs and even to a limited extent, the Fixed Costs of running the building, maintaining software, insurance, etc.

The figures shown in the Fixed Costs section should be taken as estimates based on the number of staff (22) and square footage required, plus anticipated expansion. For simplicity's sake, I assumed no real estate taxes would be paid on a building owned by the city itself, like any other government building. This too is a cost savings, but only if the entire building is government owned. Adjust your figures accordingly!

The Grand Total Employee + Fixed Costs figure highlighted in pink will be updated on the Returns spreadsheet automatically and is shown as the pink highlighted Fixed Costs calculation.

The Bldg & equip. Net figure highlighted in green is carried over to the same field on the Returns spreadsheet in the Assets section. If this figure is changed, you will need to adjust your remaining Initial Equity figures - Reserves and Cash - to total the Initial Equity. There is a calculation - Unallocated Initial Equity - that will go up or down depending on how far away you are from the initial amount. Don't leave money unallocated! And remember, Initial Equity will not go up or down even when it is repaid since the bank will retain that equity even after paying back the pension fund from dividends.

The Bank License and Surety Bond amounts will vary from state to state, and in the latter case, should not be necessary at all because a public bank is essentially self-insured. Similarly, FDIC insurance is not only not necessary, but actually is not helpful because the $250k limit of FDIC insurance is far below what would be required to replace city, county or state money should something happen to it. The Public Bank has to be responsible!



The first thing to take a look at is the sample spreadsheet for a bank as demonstrated in the Banking Basics section (pgs 19-21) of Money Basics by Christopher D. Moore, 2003 showing idealized ROE, ROA, Ratios, etc. Note the Operating Ratios and Performance figures. These were the minimums when Moore wrote the article in 2003. They may have changed since then, in light of the 2008-09 banking crisis and other legislation and may just be different in your jurisdiction. Risk weightings may have also changed or just be different in your area. It is up to you to find out the current minimums to meet, as well as other regulatory requirements.


It is suggested that you leave this sample page on the final spreadsheet, at least until you are sure of the final product for your state, city or region. You may need to refer to it. Throughout this example, we will try to keep our Operating Ratios and Performance close to these sample ratios, except for year 1, when the bank is just starting.

To customize the spreadsheet for your region, you'll need to replace "Oakland, CA" in the Header section of the spreadsheet. Note: moderate proficiency in Microsoft Excel is assumed throughout this document.

The following are explanations for assumptions and figures used in the workbook. Please refer to the appropriate section when reading over the following.

The Returns spreadsheet shows the first eight years, labeled Year 1 through Year 8, each on its own page. The reason for this is the first two years have lower returns since loans are just being made and there are little to no retained earnings. In years 3 and beyond, the bank will start receiving significant returns on lending and begin to pay back the initial equity. Therefore, we have to set aside $25m in Common Stock so that Liabilities + Equity = Total Assets (more on this later). An 8-year picture provides a reasonable look at the ramp up of the bank without getting too speculative about the out years.


I set the initial equity (capitalization) of $50m from the pension funds, which is (in thousands): $507,827, when Pension and Private Purpose trust funds are totaled. $50m is a bit less than 10% of these fund totals. There is additional money in other city funds as well, but the need for repayment might be sooner on those so using 10% of the pension fund is cleaner, and is more than adequate. Green highlighted figures in the Assets section are broken out of the blue enterable Initial Equity figure in column J, repeated on each year's spreadsheet for convenience. Unlike the sample spreadsheet from Moore, I broke out cash separately.

It is critical to know your initial equity before proceeding further.

Note that the "Bldg & equip. Net" figure is the only calculated component of the Initial Equity and is derived from the Startup and Fixed Costs Spreadsheet, accessible from that tab. You will need to complete this section before proceeding to enter the remainder of your initial equity, split between Reserves and Cash.

Operating ratios in Year 1 are higher than they will be in later years because there are few loans but a relatively high amount of Common Stock. Common Stock will be reduced as we put this money to better use in making loans in later years when there are more retained earnings to add up to total Equity.

In year 2, the situation changes:


The Operating Ratios are compliant. However, if your minimums are significantly higher, you will need to have higher Retained Earnings (this is carried over from the previous year) and/or more Common Stock. Note that Common Stock is a bit of a misnomer in the Public Bank scenario because the city/state owns the entire bank as the sole shareholder anyway and does not sell stock to the public. Technically, this is called a Doing Business As (DBA) enterprise, as in the Bank of North Dakota is doing business as the state of North Dakota. The same holds true for the Bank of Oakland. Later on, when the Retained Earnings climb high enough, we can recycle that

Common Stock back into the bank, perhaps using it to make ordinary loans (which is the most profitable thing the bank can do), or to do other things, as long as they comply with regulations.

You may have noticed that not all money on deposit - $400m - is lent out the first two years. This is not just because there are no potential worthy borrowers, it is also to keep the Operating Ratios above the mandatory minimums.

In year 2, Common Stock is decreased to $23.16m and in year 3 retained earnings climb from $0.66m to $3.72m so it becomes easier to make more loans. All loans are set against the $400m Deposit Base, including for the first time in year 2, loans to other banks, so it is important to keep these four numbers - Bank Loans, Ordinary Loans, Govt Securities (i.e. Treasuries), and Common Stock within the $400m GFR figure in this example.

Note that in year 3, we start repaying the initial equity to the pension fund; the Dividend % of Estimated Net Earnings is 40% (see column L). The annual dividend is automatically calculated above this hand-entered percentage. This payout will increase yearly to 50% in year 4, 60% in year 5, 65% in year 6, and 70% in years 7 and 8.


Note also the calculation at the far right of this sheet: # of years to repay initial equity + 2 non-dividend yrs. In year 3, this is 33.97 years, but that is because we have only had one year of paying dividends out of 3 at this point, and that was only 40% of the Estimated Net Earnings Rate. The dividend rate will climb higher in years 4 - 8, making repayment to the pension fund in this scenario in under 18 years, (see Year 8) even assuming the bank makes no payments in the first two years (so, really, it's 16 years to repay).

Note this line in the middle of each yearly sheet:

<- Total Assets should=Total Liabilities+Total Equity: Difference = 0.0

This calculation will adjust automatically as you adjust the assets, liabilities and equity. The Difference should = 0.0 if component figures are entered correctly.

In year 1, I used only a small portion of Oakland's General Fund Revenues of $624m since they can't be withdrawn right away. Banks create money ex nihilo (out of nothing) when they issue loans, but they still must retain deposits greater than loans to meet reserve ratio requirements. Cash is kept to a minimum since it's only the city that will deposit at the bank and it will have other means of accessing cash for the most part. In years 2-8, the city is expected to deposit the majority of its revenues (64% as shown in the % of GFR used for Deposits calculation) in the bank and withdraw them as the year goes on, with replenishment coming from the bank's investments and loans.

Not shown are the effects of compounding and retained earnings on assets in future years, but compounding will only increase the reserves and loan capability of the bank, making it possible to repay initial equity sooner etc, so this is a conservative omission. We need to repay the initial equity to the pension fund ASAP since that fund will need to be fully able to meet its obligations. We will use dividends to first repay the pension fund, and after that, dividends will represent a nice bonus to the city of Oakland year after year, or can optionally be retained as earnings, to be used to make new loans. The Bank of North Dakota paid $300m over a recent 10-year period, in a state with just 700 thousand people on average during that time, or slightly less than double the population of Oakland. On year 8, the smaller BOO is only paying out $3.95m/year, but this is increasing annually.

The dividend is zero the first 2 years to preserve earnings, and then gradually ramps up to 70% of Estimated Net Earnings as the bank becomes more profitable, considerably above the projected payout of $2.5m/year to pensioners from the $50m used to capitalize the bank (in both cases not including compounding). See columns O - R in year 8.

The total dividend payment, even under the unrealistically conservative scenario that years 9-27 will not see a dividend increase, is $106.03m, or $38.53m more than the pension fund would have received on that same $50m, assuming a 5% annual ROI throughout the 27 years. In neither case is compounding accounted for.


Since pension funds rarely pay out more then 5%/year (the assumption on the spreadsheet's column: Anticipated Payout % to pensioners from Pension fund), and since ROI takes place every year after the first two, there should be no problems with encumbered funds being unavailable.

As of year 18, Oakland is collecting at least $3.95m/year, but actually much more because of growth in the loan portfolio over that time, and because the bank can optionally retain more assets after year 16 by recycling Common Stock, for example. This increase in retained assets would show up in the After Tax Earnings and is NOT accounted for in the spreadsheet, which assumes 8th year conditions for the remainder of the first 27 years. In reality, the bank ought to be able to increase its dividend and repay the Initial Equity sooner.

In other words, the bank will be able to build up its capital base, and/or provide dividends directly into the city budget after year 16, but probably sooner.

Figures in columns T and U show Demographic Information: the population of Oakland and the actual Bank Assets Per Citizen. Though this is not required on any banking worksheet, it does provide a useful picture of the impact of having a Public Bank.

There are zero taxes paid under the Fixed Costs section because the bank would be a Doing Business As (DBA) of Oakland, CA. This is true of the Bank of North Dakota as well, based on their Annual Report. If this is not the case, profits will be lower.

The Risk Weights are from the Banking Basics spreadsheet and may have changed since that was written or be different in your region. This will have a material effect on returns.

Capital and Leverage ratios are above minimums in all years. You may have to maintain the reserve ratio above 12.04%, even though that's well above the 10% minimum, because the deposit base is comprised of the fluctuating General Fund Revenues (GFR) on deposit and the extra 20% "buffer" above the required 10% minimum may not allows for sufficient flexibility.

Note that if the minimums required changes, this will have a material effect on the amount of deposits potentially available for underlying loans. I used only 64% of the total GFR of $624m for the deposit base, assuming some monies would be needed too soon to be deposited into the bank for a full year, even with a "flexible" reserve ratio.

Then again, the total GFR potentially available ought to climb every year if the city is growing, a scenario fueled by having a Public Bank! In that case, the deposit base may climb as well, enabling more loans, more profits, in an ever-growing virtuous cycle.

Because of the current low interest rate environment, and the low fixed costs, the Bank of Oakland (BOO) is able to offer low interest rate loans: 1.5% to other banks, and 2.25% to ordinary borrowers, significantly lower than most commercial banks. At the same time, the community banks benefit from having the BOO in their corner.

As stated on the Returns Worksheet, these are the Bank Priorities:

Public Bank Priorities:

1. Ordinary Loans as high as possible without violating min. reserve requirements

2. Low interest on loans

3. High annual dividend to city/state & no int. bearing deposits till equity repaid

4. Swift repayment of Initial Equity to pension funds (Note: this will reduce ROA & ROE)

5. Community support (e.g. no securitization)

Interest costs for accounts with interest-bearing deposits are based on the current low-interest environment but I left these rates near zero because it is all the city's money and the city is already getting dividends, which are higher anyway (there is a nominal cost just to maintain the account). If the bank is required to pay interest on deposits, dividends and profits will be correspondingly lower.

There is no need for private investment, borrowing through bonds, or for any other money-raising activity.

And as you can see in the final picture from year 8, the Operating Ratios and Performance, ROE and dividends meet regulatory standards, at least as specified by the original Moore sample bank. Return on Assets (ROA) is unusually low, under 1%, and ROE is as low as 5.74% in year 8, but that is because we are paying off the initial equity with such a high dividend.

The bank can optionally, pay off the Initial Equity over a longer period, say, 25 years, or increase the ROA and ROE by decreasing the dividend after the Initial Equity is paid off in year 17 (or really, as discussed, sooner, because it becomes possible to pay higher dividends in every year subsequent to year 8). If the pension fund managers are willing, the fund need not be repaid at all, and would then just collect higher annual dividends in perpetuity.


The figures for ROE (19.20%) and ROA (1.32%) below reflect what happens if there is no dividend payout. These figures compare favorably to the initial values of Moore's dividendless sample spreadsheet of ROE (19.92%) and ROA (1.60%) respectively, especially considering the low interest environment today.


Taking the Model to Another Political Entity: New Hampshire

A few months after completing the model for Oakland I gave a presentation on the model on a monthly conference call for about 30 of the Public Banking Institute's coalition members. The archive is here:

Shortly after that, the New Hampshire chapter of PBI contacted me to workup the figures for that state. With the model already worked out, I was able to do this with only minor modifications.

A few CAFR lines are different in New Hampshire's 2015 CAFR from Oakland's:


New Hampshire, being a state, is larger in population and has more assets, both in the pension fund and in its General Revenues. This allowed me to use only 4% of the pension fund to capitalize the bank (in thousands): $6,343,980.

There was another reason to use relatively less money; the potential deposit base is less in ratio to the pension fund than it was for Oakland, CA. It was the deposit base that ultimately limited the size of the bank, because I wanted to keep to using approximately the same percentage (67%) as I had for Oakland (64%). Unlike Oakland, the full 67% of the total GFR (in millions: $2,226) is used from year 1:


A more aggressive lending schedule deploys the money faster, while still maintaining the minimum operating ratios, including a Reserve Ratio of 16.54% which is higher than Oakland's 12.04%. This allows for a higher dividend, starting in year 3 of 50%, and topping out at 70% in year 8, which is after the initial equity is fully repaid to the pension fund in year 7.


The operating ratios are well within compliance in all years, and the Performance is only low because of the high 70% dividend being paid to the pension fund, just like it was for Oakland. Without the dividend, the ROE and ROA are 16.80% and 1.71% respectively, which compares favorably with previous modeling and to the Bank of North Dakota.

The model spreadsheet is flexible and allows any moderate or larger sized city, region or state to be modeled quickly and easily. I was able to adapt the Oakland spreadsheet to New Hampshire in less than 5 hours.


Banking Basics chapter from Money Basics

by Christopher D. Moore, 2003

Banking Basics

A good way to understand how banks work is to imagine starting your own bank. The first thing you need to do is put up some of your own money. You won't receive a banking license unless you have your own capital at risk.

Getting Started

Let's assume you raise $6 million in cash with help from other investors. That will be the bank's initial equity, the owner's stake. Next you obtain a charter, rent a building, furnish it with all the necessary equipment, hire and train a staff, and open your doors for business.

You'll need to deposit some of your initial stake at the Fed. Those funds will be used to clear checks written by your own depositors. You'll also need to keep enough cash in the vault to meet the demand for withdrawals by your depositors. Let's assume initial expenses of $1.2 million. That leaves $4.8 million, of which you allocate $2 million to vault cash and $2.8 million to your Fed account.

Managing Loans and Other Investments

As your business develops, some customers will deposit their own money to open checking accounts. Others will invest in your savings accounts and certificates of deposit (term loans) which must pay a competitive interest rate. Still others will seek loans from the bank. It is up to you to determine whether prospective borrowers are good credit risks, and will be able to pay the interest charges and return the principal on the specified date.

Accounting Needs

To manage your bank effectively, you need a system of accounts. This will enable you to see the effect of your decisions on the bank's profitability. The most important account is the balance sheet. This shows at any given moment, the bank's assets (what it owns), its liabilities (what it owes to others), and its net worth (what belongs to the owners). Net worth, or equity, is equal to assets minus liabilities. Your equity should remain positive and preferably growing. If it ever gets too low relative to total assets, your regulator may close the bank.

Balance Sheet and Earnings Forecasts

If your bank does well, the balance sheet will expand with new assets and liabilities. The equity should also increase, assuming you retain some of the profits in the bank rather than pay them all out as dividends to the owners. You started with initial equity of $6 million. Let's take a look at the balance sheet after you have been in business for some time. It is shown together with an earnings forecast for the coming year.


The earnings forecast is based on expected earning rates of the bank's assets and the cost of borrowed funds. Also shown is the expected cost of operations or fixed costs, covering rent, insurance, utilities, salaries, etc. The entries in blue are items that you might try to modify to see how they would affect the key performance measure, the return on equity. Of course, you must maintain the required minimum ratios set by the regulators.

Growth Management

Note that your equity has grown from $6 million to $10 million due to retained earnings. You have acquired a substantial amount in deposits, some of which are ordinary checking accounts that pay no interest. Others were borrowed at market rates. All deposits whether or not they bear interest have associated costs.

With the additional funds available from deposits, you have redistributed your assets to what you hope will enhance future earnings: $4.5 million in reserves, $7.7 million in Tbills, $1.1 million in loans to other banks, and $110 million in ordinary loans. You project net earnings for the coming year after taxes of $2.06 million. That would be a return on equity of 20.6% and a return on assets of 1.65%, which is quite reasonable performance.

Required Operating Ratios

In the lower left corner of the table are the three ratios that must be kept above minimum values established by bank regulators. The capital ratio is the ratio of a bank's equity to a risk-weighted sum of the bank's assets. The weightings are 0 for reserves, 0 for government securities, 0.2 for loans to banks, and 1.0 for ordinary loans. A minimum capital ratio of 8% is required.

The leverage ratio is the ratio of a bank's equity to the unweighted sum of its total assets. The required minimum is 3%. The reserve ratio is the ratio of a bank's reserves (deposits at the Fed plus vault cash) to its demand deposits, i.e. checking deposits. The required minimum is 10%.

While there is much more to learn about banks, this simplified model outlines the essential details for small banks. Large banks are far more complex institutions. For some of them, lending is a minor part of the business. The next article surveys the main activities of large banks.

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