Stock picker Janet Yellen

If you are looking for a new stock broker look no further! This is Fed chair Janet Yellen at her testimony in the US Senate yesterday:

“Valuation metrics in some sectors do appear substantially stretched—particularly those for smaller firms in the social media and biotechnology industries, despite a notable downturn in equity prices for such firms early in the year.”

This is quite unusual to say the least that the head of most powerful central bank in the world basically is telling investors what stocks to buy and sell.

Unfortunately it seems to part of a growing tendency among central bankers globally to be obsessing about “financial stability” and “bubbles”, while at the same time increasingly pushing their primary nominal targets in the background. In Sweden an obsession about household debt and property prices has caused the Riksbank to consistently undershot its inflation target. Should we now start to think that the Fed will introduce the valuation of biotech and social media stocks in its reaction function? Will the Fed tighten monetary policy if Facebook stock rises “too much”? What is Fed’s “price target” in Linkedin?

I believe this is part of a very unfortunate trend among central bankers around the world to talk about monetary policy in terms of “trade-offs”. As I have argued in a recent post in the 1970s inflation expectations became un-anchored exactly because central bankers refused to take responsibility for providing a nominal anchor and the excuse was that there are trade-offs in monetary policy – “yes, we can reduce inflation, but that will cause unemployment to increase”.

Today the excuse for not providing a nominal anchor is not unemployment, but rather the perceived risk of “bubbles” (apparently in biotech and social media stocks!)  The result is that inflation expectations again are becoming un-anchored – this time the result, however, is not excessively high inflation, but rather deflation. The impact on the economy is, however, the same as the failure to provide a nominal anchor will make the working of the price system less efficient and therefore cause a general welfare lose.

I am not arguing that there is not misallocation of credit and capital. I am just stating that it is not a task for central banks to deal with these problems. In think that moral hazard problems have grown significantly since 2008 – particularly in Europe. Therefore governments and international organisations like the EU and IMF need to reduce implicit and explicit guarantees and subsidies to (other) governments, banks and financial institutions to a minimum. And central banks should give up credit policies and focus 100% on monetary policy and on providing a nominal anchor for the economy and leave the price mechanism to allocate resources in the economy.

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The un-anchoring of inflation expectations – 1970s style monetary policy, but now with deflation

In country after country it is now becoming clear that we are heading for outright deflation. This is particularly the case in Europe – both inside and outside the euro area – where most central banks are failing to keep inflation close to their own announced inflation targets.

What we are basically seeing is an un-anchoring of inflation expectations. What is happening in my view is that central bankers are failing to take responsibility for inflation and in a broader sense for the development in nominal spending. Central bankers simply are refusing to provide an nominal anchor for the economy.

To understand this process and to understand what has gone wrong I think it is useful to compare the situation in two distinctly different periods – the Great Inflation (1970s and earlier 1980s) and the Great Moderation (from the mid-1980s to 2007/8).

The Great Inflation – “Blame somebody else for inflation”

Monetary developments were quite similar across countries in the Western world during the 1970s. What probably best describes monetary policy in this period is that central banks in general did not take responsibility for the development in inflation and in nominal spending – maybe with the exception of the Bundesbank and the Swiss National Bank.

In Milton Friedman’s wonderful TV series Free to Choose from 1980 he discusses how central bankers were blaming everybody else than themselves for inflation (see here)

As Friedman points out labour unions, oil prices (the OPEC) and taxes were said to have caused inflation to have risen. That led central bankers like then Fed chairman Arthur Burns to argue that to reduce inflation it was necessary to introduce price and wage controls.

Friedman of course rightly argued that the only way to curb inflation was to reduce central bank money creation, but in the 1970s most central bankers had lost faith in the fundamental truth of the quantity theory of money.

Said in another way central bankers in the 1970s simply refused to take responsibility for the development in nominal spending and therefore for inflation. As a consequence inflation expectations became un-anchored as the central banks did not provide an nominal anchor. The result was predictable (for any monetarist) – the price level driffed aimlessly, inflation increased, became highly volatile and unpredictable.

Another thing which was characteristic about monetary policy in 1970s was the focus on trade-offs – particularly the Phillips curve relationship that there was a trade-off between inflation and unemployment (even in the long run). Hence, central bankers used high unemployment – caused by supply side factors – as an excuse not to curb money creation and hence inflation. We will see below that central bankers today find similar excuses useful when they refuse to take responsibility for ensuring nominal stability.

The Great Moderation – “Inflation is always and everywhere monetary phenomenon” 

That all started to change as Milton Friedman’s monetarist counterrevolution started to gain influence during the 1970s and in 1979 the newly appointed Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker started what would become a global trend towards central banks again taking responsibility for providing nominal stability and in the early 1990s central banks around the world moved to implement clearly defined nominal policy rules – mostly in the form of inflation targets (mostly around 2%) starting with the Reserve Bank of  New Zealand in 1990.

Said in the other way from the mid-1980s or so central banks started to believe in Milton Friedman’s dictum that “Inflation is always and everywhere monetary phenomenon” and more importantly they started to act as if they believed in this dictum. The result was predictable – inflation came down dramatically and became a lot more predictable and nominal spending/NGDP growth became stable.

By taking responsibility for nominal stability central banks around the world had created an nominal anchor, which ensured that the price mechanism in general could ensure an efficient allocation of resources. This was the great success of the Great Moderation period.

The only problem was that few central bankers understood why and how this was working. Robert Hetzel obvious was and still is a notable exception and he is telling us that reason we got nominal stability is exactly because central banks took responsibility for providing a nominal anchor.

That unfortunately ended suddenly in 2008.

The Great Recession – back to the bad habits of the 1970s

If we compare the conduct of monetary policy around the world over the past 5-6 years with the Great Inflation and Great Moderation periods I think it is very clear that we to a large extent has returned to the bad habits of the 1970s. That particularly is the case in Europe, while there are signs that monetary policy in the US, the UK and Japan is gradually moving back to practices similar to the Great Moderation period.

So what are the similarities with the 1970s?

1) Central banks refuse to acknowledge inflation (and NGDP growth) is a monetary phenomenon.

2) Central banks are concerned about trade-offs and have multiple targets (often none-monetary) rather focusing on one nominal target. 

Regarding 1) We have again and again heard central bankers say that they are “out of ammunition” and that they cannot ease monetary policy because interest rates are at zero – hence they are indirectly saying that they cannot control nominal spending growth, the money supply and the price level. Again and again we have heard ECB officials say that the monetary transmission mechanism is “broken”.

Regarding 2) Since 2008 central banks around the world have de facto given up on their inflation targets. In Europe for now nearly two years inflation has undershot the inflation targets of the ECB, the Riksbank, the Polish central bank, the Czech central bank and the Swiss National Bank etc.

And to make matters worse these central banks quite openly acknowledge that they don’t care much about the fact that they are not fulfilling their own stated inflation targets. Why? Because they are concerning themselves with other new (ad hoc!) targets – such as the development in asset prices or household debt.

The Swedish Riksbank is an example of this. Under the leadership of Riksbank governor the Stefan Ingves the Riksbank has de facto given up its inflation targeting regime and is now targeting everything from inflation, credit growth, property prices and household debt. This is completely ad hoc as the Riksbank has not even bothered to tell anybody what weight to put on these different targets.

It is therefore no surprise that the markets no longer see the Riksbank’s official 2% inflation target as credible. Hence, market expectations for Swedish inflation is consistency running below 2%. In 1970s the Riksbank failed because it effectively was preoccupied with hitting an unemployment target. Today the Riksbank is failing – for the same reason: It is trying to hit another other non-monetary target – the level of household debt.

European central bankers in the same way as in the 1970s no longer seem to understand or acknowledge that they have full control of nominal spending growth and therefore inflation and as a consequence they de facto have given up providing a nominal anchor for the economy. The result is that we are seeing a gradual un-anchoring of inflation expectations in Europe and this I believe is the reason that we are likely to see deflation becoming the “normal” state of affairs in Europe unless fundamental policy change is implemented.

Every time we get a new minor or larger negative shock to the European economy – banking crisis in Portugal or fiscal and political mess in France – we will just sink even deeper into deflation and since there is nominal anchor nothing will ensure that we get out of the deflationary trap. This is of course the “Japanese scenario” where the Bank of Japan for nearly two decade refused to take responsibility for providing an nominal anchor.

And as we continue to see a gradual unchoring of inflation expectations it is also clear that the economic system is becomimg increasingly dysfunctional and the price system will work less and less efficiently – exactly as in the 1970s. The only difference is really that while the problem in 1970s was excessively high inflation the problem today is deflation. But the reason is the same – central banks refusal to take responsibility for providing a nominal anchor.

Shock therapy is needed to re-anchor inflation expectations

The Great Inflation came to an end when central banks around the world finally took responsibility for providing a nominal anchor for the economy through a rule based monetary policy based on the fact that the central bank is in full control of nominal spending growth in the economy. To do that ‘shock therapy’ was needed.

For example example the Federal Reserve starting in 1979-82 fundamentally changed its policy and communication about its policy. It took responsibility for providing nominal stability. That re-anchored inflation expectations in the US and started a period of a very high level of nominal stability – stable and predictable growth in nominal spending and inflation.

To get back to a Great Moderation style regime central banks need to be completely clear that they take responsibility for for ensuring nominal stability and that they acknowledge that they have full control of nominal spending growth and as a consequence also the development in inflation. That can be done by introducing a clear nominal targeting – either restating inflation targets or even better introducing a NGDP targeting.

Furthermore, central banks should make it clear that there is no limits on the central bank’s ability to create money and controlling the money base. Finally central banks should permanently make it clear that you can’t have your cake and eat it – central banks can only have one target. It is the Tinbergen rule. There is one instrument – the money base – should the central bank can only hit one target. Doing anything else will end in disaster. 

The Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan have certainly moved in that direction of providing a nominal anchor in the last couple of years, while most central banks in Europe – including most importantly the ECB – needs a fundamental change of direction in policy to achieve a re-anchoring of inflation expectations and thereby avoiding falling even deeper into the deflationary trap.

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PS This post has been greatly inspired by re-reading a number of papers by Robert Hetzel on the Quantity Theory of Money and how to understand the importance of central bank credibility. In that sense this post is part of my series of “Tribute posts” to Robert Hetzel in connection with his 70 years birthday.

PPS Above I assume that central banks have responsibility for providing a nominal anchor for the economy. After all if a central bank has a monopoly on money creation then the least it can do is to live up to this responsibility. Otherwise it seems pretty hard to argue why there should be any central bank at all.

The Casselian-Mundelian view: An overvalued dollar caused the Great Recession

This is CNBC’s legendary Larry Kudlow in a comment to my previous post:

My friend Bob Mundell believes a massively over-valued dollar (ie, overly tight monetary policy) was proximate cause of financial freeze/meltdown.

Larry’s comment reminded me of my long held view that we have to see the Great Recession in an international perspective. Hence, even though I generally agree on the Hetzel-Sumner view of the cause – monetary tightening – of the Great Recession I think Bob Hetzel and Scott Sumner’s take on the causes of the Great Recession is too US centric. Said in another way I always wanted to stress the importance of the international monetary transmission mechanism. In that sense I am probably rather Mundellian – or what used to be called the monetary theory of the balance of payments or international monetarism.

Overall, it is my view that we should think of the global economy as operating on a dollar standard in the same way as we in the 1920s going into the Great Depression had a gold standard. Therefore, in the same way as Gustav Cassel and Ralph Hawtrey saw the Great Depression as result of gold hoarding we should think of the causes of the Great Recession as being a result of dollar hoarding.

In that sense I agree with Bob Mundell – the meltdown was caused by the sharp appreciation of the dollar in 2008 and the crisis only started to ease once the Federal Reserve started to provide dollar liquidity to the global markets going into 2009.

I have earlier written about how I believe international monetary disorder and policy mistakes turned the crisis into a global crisis. This is what I wrote on the topic back in May 2012:

In 2008 when the crisis hit we saw a massive tightening of monetary conditions in the US. The monetary contraction was a result of a sharp rise in money (dollar!) demand and as the Federal Reserve failed to increase the money supply we saw a sharp drop in money-velocity and hence in nominal (and real) GDP. Hence, in the US the drop in NGDP was not primarily driven by a contraction in the money supply, but rather by a drop in velocity.

The European story is quite different. In Europe the money demand also increased sharply, but it was not primarily the demand for euros, which increased, but rather the demand for US dollars. In fact I would argue that the monetary contraction in the US to a large extent was a result of European demand for dollars. As a result the euro zone did not see the same kind of contraction in money (euro) velocity as the US. On the other hand the money supply contracted somewhat more in the euro zone than in the US. Hence, the NGDP contraction in the US was caused by a contraction in velocity, but in the euro zone the NGDP contraction was caused by both a contraction in velocity and in the money supply, reflecting a much less aggressive response by the ECB than by the Federal Reserve.

To some extent one can say that the US economy was extraordinarily hard hit because the US dollar is the global reserve currency. As a result global demand for dollar spiked in 2008, which caused the drop in velocity (and a sharp appreciation of the dollar in late 2008).

In fact I believe that two factors are at the centre of the international transmission of the crisis in 2008-9.

First, it is key to what extent a country’s currency is considered as a safe haven or not. The dollar as the ultimate reserve currency of the world was the ultimate safe haven currency (and still is) – as gold was during the Great Depression. Few other currencies have a similar status, but the Swiss franc and the Japanese yen have a status that to some extent resembles that of the dollar. These currencies also appreciated at the onset of the crisis.

Second, it is completely key how monetary policy responded to the change in money demand. The Fed failed to increase the money supply enough to meet the increase in the dollar demand (among other things because of the failure of the primary dealer system). On the other hand the Swiss central bank (SNB) was much more successful in responding to the sharp increase in demand for Swiss francs – lately by introducing a very effective floor for EUR/CHF at 1.20. This means that any increase in demand for Swiss francs will be met by an equally large increase in the Swiss money supply. Had the Fed implemented a similar policy and for example announced in September 2008 that it would not allow the dollar to strengthen until US NGDP had stopped contracting then the crisis would have been much smaller and would long have been over…

…I hope to have demonstrated above that the increase in dollar demand in 2008 not only hit the US economy but also led to a monetary contraction in especially Europe. Not because of an increased demand for euros, lats or rubles, but because central banks tightened monetary policy either directly or indirectly to “manage” the weakening of their currencies. Or because they could not ease monetary policy as members of the euro zone. In the case of the ECB the strict inflation targeting regime let the ECB to fail to differentiate between supply and demand shocks which undoubtedly have made things a lot worse.

So there you go – you have to see the crisis in an international monetary perspective and the Fed could have avoided the crisis if it had acted to ensure that the dollar did not become significantly “overvalued” in 2008. So yes, I am as much a Mundellian (hence a Casselian) as a Sumnerian-Hetzelian when it comes to explaining the Great Recession. A lot of my blog posts on monetary policy in small-open economies and currency competition (and why it is good) reflect these views as does my advocacy for what I have termed an Export Price Norm in commodity exporting countries. Irving Fisher’s idea of a Compensated Dollar Plan has also inspired me in this direction.

That said, the dollar should be seen as an indicator or monetary policy tightness in both the US and globally. The dollar could be a policy instrument (or rather an intermediate target), but it is not presently a policy instrument and in my view it would be catastrophic for the Fed to peg the dollar (for example to the gold price).

Unlike Bob Mundell I am very skeptical about fixed exchange rate regimes (in all its forms – including currency unions and the gold standard). However, I do think it can be useful for particularly small-open economies to use the exchange rate as a policy instrument rather than interest rates. Here I think the policies of particularly the Czech, the Swiss and the Singaporean central banks should serve as inspiration.

ECB: “We’re not sure we can get out of it”

When Milton Friedman turned 90 years back in 2002 Ben Bernanke famously apologized for the Federal Reserve’s role in the Great Depression:

Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.

On Twiiter Ravi Varghese has paraphrased Bernanke to describe the role of the ECB in the present crisis:

“You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But we’re not sure we can get out of it.”

Brilliant…follow Ravi on Twiiter here (and follow me here).

Stanley Fischer – this guy can keep NGDP on a straight line

This is from Reuters:

Stanley Fischer, who led the Bank of Israel for eight years until he stepped down in June, has been asked to be the Federal Reserve’s next vice chair once Janet Yellen takes over as chief of the U.S. central bank, a source familiar with the issue said on Wednesday.

Fischer, 70, is widely respected as one of the world’s top monetary economists. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he once taught current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president.

Yellen, the current Fed vice chair, is expected to win approval from the U.S. Senate next week to take the reins from Bernanke, whose term ends in January.

Fischer, as an American-Israeli, was widely credited with guiding Israel through the global economic crisis with minimal damage. For the Fed, he would offer the fresh perspective of a Fed outsider yet offer some continuity as well.

Good news! Stanley Fischer certainly is qualified for the job. He knows about monetary theory and policy. And even better he used to have some sympathy for nominal income targeting. Just take a look at this quote from his 1995 American Economic Review article “Central Bank Independence Revisited” (I stole this from Evan Soltas):

“In the short run, monetary policy affects both output and inflation, and monetary policy is conducted in the short run–albeit with long-run targets and consequences in mind. Nominal- income-targeting provides an automatic answer to the question of how to combine real income and inflation targets, namely, they should be traded off one-for-one…Because a supply shock leads to higher prices and lower output, monetary policy would tend to tighten less in response to an adverse supply shock under nominal-income-targeting than it would under inflation-targeting. Thus nominal-income-targeting tends to implya better automatic response of monetary policy to supply shocks…I judge that inflation-targeting is preferable to nominal-income-targeting, provided the target is adjusted for supply shocks.”

While at the Bank of Israel Fischer certainly conducted monetary policy as if he was targeting the level of nominal GDP. Just take a look at the graph below and note the “missing” crisis in 2008.

NGDP Israel

Undoubtedly Fischer had some luck, while at the BoI, and I must also say that I think he from time to time had a problem with his “forward guidance”, but his track-record speaks for itself – while Bank of Israel  governor, Stanley Fischer provided unprecedented nominal stability, something very rare in Israeli economic history. Lets hope he will help do that at the Fed as well.

HAWKISH Market Monetarists

Over the past five years Market Monetarists have gotten a reputation for always being dovish in terms of monetary policy. The Market Monetarists have day-in and day-out been pushing for monetary easing in the US, the UK and the euro zone. So our reputation is correct in the sense that we – the Market Monetarists – in general have favoured a more dovish monetary stance both in the US and in Europe than has been implemented by central banks.

However, one might notice that the Market Monetarist bloggers have been surprisingly calm in recent months despite the sharp decline in inflation we have see in particularly Europe. Overall, we have obviously maintained that monetary policy in the euro zone is far too tight and that we are heading for deflation as a result of this. But the primary cause of the sharp decline in headline inflation in the euro zone has been lower commodity prices and to some extent also a result of an “austerity pause” (no indirect tax hikes).

Hence, Market Monetarists do not think a decline in inflation due a positive supply shock in itself should trigger interest rate cuts (or other forms of monetary policy easing). Remember Market Monetarists favour nominal GDP targeting and a supply shock will not impact nominal GDP – only composition of nominal GDP growth between inflation and real GDP growth.

As a result Market Monetarists actually tend to be somewhat less alarmed by the recent inflation decline in the euro zone than for example the ECB and in that sense you can argue that the Market Monetarists actually are more “hawkish” than the ECB presently is when it comes to the need for monetary easing in response to the recent decline in euro zone inflation. When Market Monetarists are calling for monetary easing in the euro zone it is hence for a somewhat different reason than the ECB.

Monetary policy remains overly tight in the euro zone and we are likely heading for deflation – even disregarding the recent supply side driven drop in inflation – and that is why we – the Market Monetarists are advocating monetary easing in the euro zone. Just a look at the dismail growth of nominal GDP in the euro zone – there is no better indication than that of the ECB’s failure to ease monetary policy appropriately. So we shouldn’t be too sad if the ECB moves to ease monetary policy – even if Market Monetarists think it is for the wrong reasons.

In 3-5 years the Market Monetarists will be among the biggest hawks

If we are lucky we continue to see supply side conditions improve both in the US and the euro zone in the coming years. I am personally particular optimistic about the outlook for the US economy, where I do expect a number of factors to give a welcomed lift to US potential growth. The end of the so-called commodity super cycle and fracking might hopefully to reduce oil prices. This is a positive supply shock to the US economy.

Furthermore, as I am optimistic that the US is in the process of ending two wars – the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. I will return to that issue in a later blog post, but I overall think that this is the direction we are moving in and that will be tremendously positive for the US labour supply (and public finances for that matter).

Finally, as the US economy continues to improve the present anti-immigration sentiment in the US will hopefully be reversed – after all Americans are more happy to welcome Mexicans to join the labour force when the economy is doing good rather than bad.

Add to that that US unemployment is still high so there is really no labour market constrains to growth at the moment in the US. So overall, I think we with a bit of luck could be in for a couple of years of fairly high real GDP growth driven by positive supply side factors. In such a scenario we could easily have 4% or even 5% real GDP growth for some years without any substantial pick-up in inflation. This would be very similar to mid-1990s.

Such a scenario would likely in 3-5 years time turn the Market Monetarist bloggers into proponents of Fed tightening – before most other economists would favour it. This would particularly be the case if the Fed overdo it on monetary easing in a scenario where positive supply side factors keep inflation low and hence we see a sharp pick-up in nominal GDP growth. This would of course be what Austrians call relative inflation.

So no, Market Monetarists are not always dovish. We advocate clear monetary policy rules and these rules sometimes leads us to advocate a dovish stance on monetary (as presently), but also to a hawkish stance if needed. For now I have no big fears that US monetary policy is becoming too easy, but if I am right about my “supply side optimism” then a Fed too focused on headline inflation might overdo it on the easy side down the road.

There is of course only one way to avoid such a monetary policy mistake – spell out a clear NGDP level targeting rule today.

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PS The ECB today did NOTHING to avoid deflation in the euro zone. No comments on that other than the ECB missed yet another opportunity to do the right thing.

PPS My best guess is that Scott Sumner will be a ultra hawk on US monetary policy in 2018-9.

More silliness from the tin foil hat Austrians

I love reading the normally good blog posts on freebanking.org written by clever economists such as George Selgin and Kurt Schuler. However, the Facebook page of freebanking.org very often fails to live up to the same good standards as the blog. In fact most updates are what I consider to be internet-Austrian nonsense.

Here is the latest example:

“If the dollar were suddenly to lose reserve status, the United States of America would face catastrophic inflation.”

The freebanking facebook page is quoting an article by Lawrence J. Fedewa. I have never heard about him before, but his article is a pretty good example of the kind of “the-world-is-coming-to-an-end” nonsense, which is floating around in cyberspace mostly written by tin foil hat Austrians.

But let me address the quote above.

First of all there are no signs that the dollar in any way is loosing its reserve status. In fact the dollar is more popular than ever. Hence, since the onset of the crisis in 2008 we have seen a massive increase in dollar demand – in fact that was what caused the crisis.

Or just ask yourself what currency is about to replace the dollar as the reserve currency of the world? The euro? I think not? Or the yuan? Think again you silly people.

I am presently vacationing in Thailand and I am pretty sure that if I wanted to pay any local street vendor here with dollars they would be very happy to accept it. But would they accept euros? Probably – there is a lot of German tourists in the area where we are vacationing so the locals are probably familiar with the euro.

But what if I tried to pay with yuan? I doubt the street vendors would accept that. So no the verdict is pretty clear from the Thai street vendors – the US greenback is what they prefer to any other currency (I nonetheless pays in Thai baht).

But lets get back to some more silliness. This is again from Fedewa’s article:

If the dollar were suddenly to lose reserve status, the United States of America would face catastrophic inflation. All the dollars that the Federal Reserve has been creating, at about $85 billion each month, would begin to be dumped right on our heads, and the dollar would become virtually worthless. A loaf of bread could cost $50, a basket of groceries could cost $500. Hyperinflation has happened to many nations, including post WWI Germany, France and Russia, and modern day Greece and Spain.

Note here this is the trick used by the internet-Austrians – “It might be that we do not have hyperinflation yet but it will comes once dollar demand collapses”. Fine, first of all there is unfortunately no real sign that dollar demand is declining and money-velocity in the US is still quite elevated.

Second, if dollar demand where to start declining it would be good news as it would mean that the world would becoming “normal” again. That the excessive demand for dollars driven by deflation fears were easing. That obviously would increase inflationary pressures. And that should be welcomed – after all there is still significant slack in the US economy and inflation continues to be way below the Federal Reserve’s semi-official inflation inflation of 2% and the reason the fed has had to massively expand its balance sheet is exactly the massive demand for dollars.

But ok lets say that out of the blue everybody suddenly did not want to hold US dollars – I still fail to see why that would be the case, but lets for the sake of the argument assume that to be the case. A collapse in dollar demand would of course effectively be massive US monetary easing. The impact of this would likely be a sharp increase in both real and nominal GDP – and inflation.

Would the Fed be helpless in this situation? No not at all. The Fed of course could just tighten monetary policy. It could of course easily shift quantitative easing into reverse by for example announcing that if would cut the money base by 100 or 200bn dollars per months until inflation expectations returned to (just) below 2% and given the fact that the Fed’s balance sheet has never been bigger it could cut the money base a lot. There is not limits to how easing or tightening a central bank can do. Only paleo Keynesians and tin foil Austrians fail to understand this.

It is too bad that there is so much nonsense about monetary policy floating around in cyberspace, but it is unfortunately only getting worse and worse. I don’t know why this is and these views have probably always been around, but I for one is sick and tired of listening to all is nonsense!

And finally, the US government is not about to default. The crackpots on the left are wrong when the claim that the US government would have to default had the debt ceiling not been raised (the US government could just have cut spending) and the crackpots on the right are wrong when they claim that the US government debt is out of control (the budget deficit is declining strongly and public debt levels have stabilized).

But of course that financial markets know that all this is just political hype in Washington. Just look at the S&P500 – it has gone up all though this show of US political dysfunctionality. Why? Because monetary policy dominates fiscal policy. It is the Sumner Critique stupid!

And now back to my vacation…

PS I have no clue whether Fedewa considers himself to be an Austrian. I use the term tin foil hat Austrian to describe a tendency or type of argument used by so many commentators rather than by people who actually read von Mises and Hayek. By the way I bet most of the people in cyberspace making what they believe to be “Austrian” arguments actually found these arguments on Youtube rather than by reading “Human Action” and other must-read Austrian classics. What I don’t understand is why Austrian scholars who actually did study von Mises and Hayek are not coming out much more aggressively and tell people like Peter Schiff that his arguments are nonsense. I would love to see a debate between for example Steve Horwitz and Peter Schiff.

PPS I just came to think of the Austrian version of Godwin’s law. Godwin’s law states that “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” The Austrian version of this should read: “As an online discussion about monetary policy grows longer, the probability that an Austrian will mention Zimbabwe or the Weimar Republic approaches 1.”

No tapering, but no rule either. Net, net that is bad

I just arrived in New York and I will spend the next couple of days in the New York and Boston. For once my timing is good – the Federal Reserve just announce that there is not going to be any tapering.

Scott Sumner is happy, but I must admit that I for once disagree with the Fed on the hawkish side (kind of). Not that I am not favouring monetary easing, but I don’t really think that the important thing is the amount of quantitative easing the Fed is doing in the sense of 10 or 20 billion dollars more or less per month relative to Fed communication.

Blackrock’s Larry Fink is speaking on CNBC as I am writing this. He is saying that minor tapering with better guidance would have been better. I agree on that. I would much more have liked to see the Fed coming out today spelling out its monetary policy much more clearly. The fact is that the US economy is getting better – slowly, but surely so tapering is justified sooner or latter.

After all the Fed has now spend months getting the markets ready for the tapering and now it didn’t “deliver”. Not that I want tightening US monetary policy, but I want much better communication and better rules. The Fed didn’t move in that direction today. That is a missed opportunity. Today the fed could have tapered by 10 or 20 billion dollars, but at the same time clearly spelled out a rule for money base growth. It didn’t do tapering, but didn’t spell out a rule. Remember – Market Monetarism is not about monetary “stimulus”. It is about a rule based monetary policy. And remember the Fed could actually have eased today with a clear rule AND done tapering at the same time.

There is still good arguments for monetary easing in the US, but relative to the need for spelling a clear monetary policy rule that it unimportant.

Unfortunately I don’t have more time for blogging now – I am off to dinner with a good friend who happens to be another Market Monetarist. Try to guess who it is…

PS Larry Fink is also talking on CNBC about the debt celling. I don’t care about that. Lets just ignore it. Phew Larry Fink thinks Larry Summers would be a great Fed chairman. I don’t.

Chuck Norris is back in the running

I seldom agree with Joseph Stiglitz on anything, but I agree with him that it would be a bad idea to name Larrry Summers new Fed chairman. So both Stiglitz and I should be happy today as Summers has redrawn his candidacy for new Fed chairman.

This is Summers’ letter to president Obama:

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing to withdraw my name for consideration to be Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

It has been a privilege to work with you since the beginning of your Administration as you led the nation
through a severe recession into a sustained economic recovery built on policies to promote employment
and strengthen the middle class.

This is a complex moment in our national life. I have reluctantly concluded that any possible
confirmation process for me would be acrimonious and would not serve the interests of the Federal
Reserve, the Administration, or ultimately, the interests of the nation’s ongoing economic recovery.

I look forward to continuing to support your efforts to strengthen our national economy by creating a
broad based prosperity and to reform our financial system so that no President ever again faces what you
and your economic team faced upon taking office in 2009.

Sincerely yours,

Lawrence Summers

And the market reaction? Well, the US stock market is up, the dollar weaker and yields are lower. Said in another way US monetary conditions are easier today than on Friday.

So by redrawning from the Fed race Summers has done more for a “sustaine economic recovery”  and more “to promote employment” than by staying in the race.  That is not my verdict, but the verdict of the markets.

Don’t ever mess with Chuck Norris!

It is time to let bygones be bygones

US bond yields continue to rise. To some this is a major risk for the global economy. However, I continue to think that there is no reason to worry about rising US bond yields – at least not from the perspective of the US economy.

Many have highligthed that the rise in US yields have been caused by the Federal Reserve’s plans to scale back quantatively easing. The fear of “tapering” is certainly a market theme and I would certainly not rule out that the tapering talk has contributed to the rise in bond yields. However, we don’t know that and a lot of other factors certainly also have contributed to the rise in yields and I do certainly not think that the recent rise in yields in itself is likely to derail the US economy. The Fed might still fail by prematurely tighten monetary conditions, but bond yields are not telling us much in that regard. Or rather if the market really feared premature monetary tightening then yields would probably have collapsed rather than continued to rise.

Back in May I wrote the following:

Greenspan was thinking that the Federal Reserve should (or actually did) target NGDP growth of 4.5%. Furthermore, he (indirectly) said that that would correspond to 30-year US Treasury yields being around 5.5%.

This is more or less also what we had all through the Great Moderation – or rather both 5% 30-year yields and 5% NGDP growth. However, the story is different today. While, NGDP growth expectations for the next 1-2 years are around 4-5% (ish) 30-year bond yields are around 3.3%. This in my view is a pretty good illustration that while the US economy is in recovery market participants remain very doubtful that we are about to return to a New Great Moderation of stable 5% NGDP growth.

That said, with yields continuing to rise faster than the acceleration in NGDP growth we can say that we are seeing a gradual return to something more like the Great Moderation. That obviously is great news.

In fact I would argue that when US 30-year hopefully again soon hit 5% then I think that we at that time will have to conclude that the Great Recession finally has come to an end. Last time US 30-year yields were at 5% was in the last year of the Great Moderation – 2007.

We are still very far away from 5% yields, but we are getting closer than we have been for a very long time – thanks to the fed’s change of policy regime in September last year.

Finally, when US 30-year bond yields hit 5% I will stop calling for US monetary easing. I will, however, not stop calling for a proper transparent and rule-based NGDP level targeting regime before we get that.

Since then US yields have continued to rise and even though 30-year yields are still someway away from 5% we getting closer on another measure, which is probably more relavant. Take a look at the graph below.

30yearyield

This is the market expectation for 30-year yields in five years. Since May we have seen a more 100bp increase in yields and we are now closing in on my “target” of 5%.

Historically there has been a very close relationship between nominal GDP growth and 30 year yields and it is reasonable to assume that when the market is expecting close to 5% yields in five years then it is a pretty strong indication that the market no longer expects a “Japanese scenario” of 10-15 years of deflation and no NGDP growth. In fact the market now more or less seem to expect that we are heading back towards nominal GDP growth rates similarly to what we had during the Great Moderation prior to 2008. Said in another way – we have moved out of the “expectational trap”. Investors no longer see weak nominal GDP growth as a permanent situation.

Therefore, I think it is safe to conclude that we effectively are at the end of the Great Recession in terms of market expectations. That, however, do not mean that we are out of the Great Recession in terms of the macroeconomic situation. Unemployment in the US likely is well-above the structural level of unemployment and the economy is certainly not working at full capacity. But judging from the bond market we are no longer caught in an expectational trap.

Obviously even though the US economy seems to be out of the expectational trap there is no guarantee that we could not slip back into troubled waters once again. In fact as the graph above shows that in 2009  5-year ahead 30-year yields swiftly recovered back to Great Moderation levels around 5%, but then fell back to “depression levels” in 2010 and then again in 2011/12 – both times seemingly driven primarily by the euro crisis.

It should, however, be stressed that the set-backs in 2010 and 2011/2012 happened at a time when the Fed had not clearly defined a monetary policy rule nor had the Fed defined a clear alternative monetary policy instrument to the interest rate tool. Now however, it is pretty clear to most market participants that the Fed would likely step up quantitative easing if shock would hit US aggregate demand and it is fairly clear that the Fed has become comfortable with using the money base as a policy instrument. The Evans rule is far from perfect, but it is certainly better than what we had in 2010 or 2011.

In that regard it is notable that yields started the  up-trend around September last year then the Fed basically announced the Evans rule, cf. the graph above. It is also notable that there probably has been a “recognition lag” – the markets did not immediately priced in 4-5% future NGDP growth. This has only happened gradually (indicating the Fed did not explain its target well enough), but we now seem to be quite close to having fully priced in longer-term growth rates in NGDP similar to what we had during the Great Moderation.

And finally, I must admit that I increasingly think – and most of my Market Monetarist blogging friends will likely disagree – that the need for a Rooseveltian style monetary positive shock to the US economy is fairly small as expectations now generally have adjusted to long-term NGDP growth rates around 4-5%. So while additional monetary stimulus very likely would “work” and might even be warranted I have much bigger concerns than the lack of additional monetary “stimulus”.

Hence, the focus of the Fed should not be to lift NGDP by X% more or less in a one-off positive shock. Instead the Fed should be completely focused on defining its monetary policy rule. A proper rule would be to target of 4-5% NGDP growth – level targeting from the present level of NGDP. In that sense I now favour to let bygones to be bygones as expectations now seems to have more or less fully adjusted and five years have after all gone since the 2008 shock.

Therefore, it is not really meaningful to talk about bringing the NGDP level back to a rather arbitrary level (for example the pre-crisis trend level). That might have made sense a year ago when we clearly was caught in an expectations deflationary style trap, but that is not the case today. For Market Monetarists it was never about “monetary stimulus”, but rather about ensuring a rule based monetary policy.  Market Monetarists are not “doves” (or “hawks”). These terms are only fitting for people who like discretionary monetary policies.

PS Just because I now argue that we should let bygones be bygones I certainly do not plan to let the Fed of the hook. Rather the opposite, but my concern is not that monetary policy is too tight in the US. My concern is that monetary policy still is far too discretionary.

PPS If the Fed once again “slips” and let monetary conditions become excessively tight as in 2011/12 I would certainly scream about that.

PPPS My worries that Larry Summers might become the next Fed chairman certain have influenced my thinking about these issues. I don’t fear that Summers will be too hawkish or too dovish. I fear that we will go back to an ultra-discretionary monetary policy in the US. The result of this could be catastrophic.

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