Imagine that US non-farm payrolls were growing by 400k/month (that is how strong the UK labour market is)

My Danske Bank colleague Anders Vestergård Fischer had a fun idea today – he wanted to “translate” the latest UK labour market numbers into something an US audience could understand.

Here is the result of Anders’ back of an envelop calculations – if the US non-farm payrolls were growing as fast as the latest UK employment growth (Q3 2013) then the US economy would be adding 380-400k jobs per month! We haven’t seen job growth like that in the US since the late 1990s. Over the past three months US payrolls have growing around 190k per month.

So what are the explanations for the the UK labour market improvement? The negative spin: Horrible British productive growth. The positive spin: A very healthy combination of monetary easing and fiscal consolidation.

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Rules vs central bank superheros

I have a new piece in today’s City AM on central bankers as (pretend) superheros versus rules based monetary policy:

LARRY Summers is out of the race to succeed Ben Bernanke as Fed chair. After months of debate, with politicians and media picking over Summers’s personality and background, the spotlight has returned to Janet Yellen, deputy Fed chairwoman. Is she now a certainty? Or is another monetary superhero about to emerge?

All of this recalls the moment when George Osborne announced that Mark Carney would be governor of the Bank of England. Carney was described by both the chancellor and the media as a superstar. It’s hard to miss the parallel with the hubbub around Gareth Bale’s £85.3m switch to Real Madrid.

But it’s a problem when monetary policy becomes viewed as uniquely dependent on a single “personality”. Central bankers should not be seen as star footballers. At best, they are referees. This is partly a problem of job description. What should the governor do? Should he or she fly about, putting out fires as they erupt in the economy? Or should he or she follow clearly defined monetary policy rules?

Over the past five years, we have grown increasingly used to the idea of the fire-fighting central banker. Even in 1999, Time magazine described Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin and Summers as “The Committee to Save the World” for their role in the Asian crisis, the Russian crisis and the collapse of long-term capital management. Summers’s reputation nearly landed him the top job at the Fed.

Read the rest here.

Prediction markets and UK monetary policy

I have long argued that central banks should utilise prediction markets for macroeconomic forecasting and for the implementation of monetary policy.

In today’s edition of the UK business daily City AM I have an oped on this topic and about how the Bank of England should have a closer look at prediction markets. See here:

IN HIS first major speech since becoming governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney is today likely to defend a policy that has come to be described as the “Carney rule”. Also known as forward guidance, the rule effectively promises that interest rates will stay at present levels until unemployment drops below 7 per cent, so long as the Bank’s inflation forecast does not top 2.5 per cent.
 
This kind of forward guidance is welcome news for the financial markets. We will now at least have some sort of map to navigate monetary policy, instead of relying on insinuations from the lips of the wise men on the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).
 
But this still leaves markets at the mercy of the Bank of England’s internal forecasters, whose credibility can certainly be questioned. The Bank doesn’t need to be biased to consistently predict that it will hit its inflation target, for example (though what institution would forecast that it will fail?). Even with the best incentives, it cannot possibly bring together all the private knowledge spread across investors, firms and households.
 
It is this inability of elite central planners to gather such a wide source of information that led even committed Marxist GA Cohen to agree that markets may be necessary for a rational economic system. No individual, however intelligent, can know enough about the economy to make a really reliable prediction about it.
 
And it’s not just the dragging-together of information from thousands of different sources that makes market predictions more accurate than those made by small elite groups. Investors betting in markets have skin in the game; they have an extremely strong incentive to get their bets right, since they will lose money for bad (inaccurate) bets and win money for good (accurate) ones.
Read the rest of the piece here.
 
And Mark Carney is lucky that he now in fact has a prediction market to look at. This is from a press release from the Adam Smith Institute:

Today we’ve launched two betting markets to try to use the ‘wisdom of crowds’ to beat government economic forecasters….The Bank of England’s economic forecasts have been wrong again and again. To counter this, the free market Adam Smith Institute is today (Wednesday 28th August) launching two betting markets where members of the public can bet on UK inflation and unemployment rates, taking the government’s experts on at their own game. The markets are designed to aggregate individual predictions about the economy’s prospects to use the ‘wisdom of crowds’ to beat the predictions of government experts.

The launch coincides with Mark Carney’s first major speech as governor of the Bank of England and follows his announcement earlier this month that the Bank will consider both inflation and unemployment when deciding monetary policy.
Read more here.
 
It will extremely interesting to follow how this prediction market will work and it will obviously be very interesting to see how it will impact the monetary policy debate in the UK. My hope certainly is that it will help the case for market-driven monetary policy implementation and also help “police” the Bank of England’s forecasts.
 
 
 
 
 

Mark Carney’s tiny step in the right direction

I have an oped in UK’s City AM on Bank of England’s new forward guidance regime. Yes, I am disappointed…

ALMOST everyone will be disappointed by governor Mark Carney’s announcement yesterday. Those hoping the Bank of England would announce more monetary easing will feel let down. And while those of us hoping for strictly rules-based policy do have something to be happy about, Carney needed to go much further.

The Bank has now spelled out its own version of the Federal Reserve’s Evans Rule. The “Carney Rule”, as we might call it, implies that the Bank will commit itself to maintaining interest rates at the present level as long as unemployment is above 7 per cent, and the Bank’s inflation forecast is below 2.5 per cent….

Read more here

PS Mark Carney tightened monetary policy yesterday. Just look at the pound (it strengthened) and the UK stock market (it dropped). So those who fear that inflation is about to get out of control in the UK are very wrong.

Mark Carney please listen to “Reform”

The UK think tank Reform has good advice for Bank of England governor Mark Carney. This is from Reform’s latest publication “Kick-starting growth” (I stole it from it from Britmouse):

“The upshot is that ideal Bank policy should pin the two or three year forecast of inflation at 2 per cent, unless there are extenuating factors. Figure 6 shows that monetary policy performed exceptionally well on that score prior to the recession.

However, when the financial crisis hit the Bank was slow to respond, with the two-year inflation forecast dropping to just 0.3 per cent in 2009. That, coupled with the huge fall in nominal output, indicates a need to massively loosen monetary policy, which the Bank eventually did when it dropped its interest rate to 0.5 per cent and implemented a programme of quantitative easing.

Those actions have often been represented as constituting extremely loose monetary policy but the persistently low inflation forecasts tell a different story. In fact, monetary policy has been tight by the Bank’s own measures, with forecast inflation well below target throughout much of the recession. The low forecast path looks even worse in light of the series of external shocks to the CPI, such as VAT and tuition fees, detailed previously. Bearing in mind the large, positive shocks to the CPI, the forecast path shows even tighter policy, which suggests the Bank may have been focussing on inflation concerns to the exclusion of growth.

As Milton Friedman famously remarked, “Low interest rates are generally a sign that money has been tight, as in Japan; high interest rates, that money has been easy.” The UK’s low interest rates are not a signal that policy is easy, but rather a sign that nominal growth expectations are low. That problem can largely be laid at the feet of monetary policy.”

It hardly gets more Market Monetarist than this and we can only hope that Carney have read the Reform report ahead of tomorrow’s crucial and long-awaited announcement of BoE’s new “strategy”. I doubt we will get an announcement of an NGDP targeting regime, but we might get the announcement of a Evans rule style monetary policy in the UK. That would be NGDP targeting ultra light.

Even though I am not too optimistic about major regime change in UK monetary policy I must on the other hand say that there is no country in the world where Market Monetarists ideas have had such a big impact on the intellectual debate as in the UK – particularly among the UK think tanks. That makes me optimistic that UK monetary policy in the coming years will move even closer to the Market Monetarist ideal – even if Carney disappoint us all tomorrow.

HT Mike Bird

A five-step plan for Mark Carney

I am on the way to London – in fact I am writing this on the flight from Copenhagen – so I thought it would be fitting to write a piece on the challenges for the new Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

I fundamentally think that the UK economy is facing the same kind of problems as most other European economies – weak aggregate demand. However, I also believe that the UK economy is struggling with some serious supply side problems. Monetary policy can do something about the demand problem, but not much about the supply side problem.

Five things Carney should focus on

Bank of England’s legal mandate remains a flexible inflation targeting regime – however, in latest “update” of the mandate gives the Bank of England considerable leeway to be “flexible” – meaning it can allow for an overshoot on inflation in the short-run if needed to support growth. I am not happy with BoE’s updated mandate as I fear it opens the door for too much discretion in the conduct of monetary policy, but on the other hand it do also make it possible to put good policies in place. I therefore strongly believe that Mark Carney from day one at the BoE needs to be completely clear about the BoE’s policy objectives and on how to achieve this objective. I therefore suggest that Carney fast implement the following policy changes:

1)   Implement a temporary Nominal GDP level target: The BoE should announce that it over the coming two years will bring back the level of NGDP to the pre-crisis level defined as a 4% trend path from the 2008 peak. This would be fairly aggressive as it would require 8-10% NGDP growth over the coming two years. That, however, is also pretty telling about how deep the crisis is in the UK economy. Furthermore, the BoE should make it clear that it will do whatever it takes to reach this target and that it will step up these efforts if it looks like it is falling behind on reaching this target. It should similarly be made clear that the BoE is targeting the forecasted level of NGDP and not the present level. Finally, it should be made clear that once the temporary NGDP target is hit then the BoE will revert to flexible inflation targeting, but with a watchful eye on the level of NGDP as an indicator for inflationary/deflationary pressures. I would love to see a permanent NGDP targeting regime put in place, but I doubt that that is within the BoE’s present legal mandate.

NGDP UK Carney

 

2)   Institutionalise the Sumner Critique: According to the Sumner Critique the fiscal multiplier is zero is the central bank targets the NGDP level, the price level or inflation. I believe it would greatly enhance monetary policy predictability and transparency if the BoE so to speak institutionalized the Sumner Critique by announcing that the BoE in it conduct of monetary policy will offset significant demand shocks that threaten it’s NGDP target. Hence, the BoE would announce that if the UK government where to step up fiscal consolidation then the BoE will act to fully offset the impact of these measures on aggregate demand. Similarly the BoE should announce that any change in financial regulation that impacts aggregate demand will be offset by monetary policy. And finally any shocks to aggregate demand from the global economy will be fully offset. The “offset rule” should of course be symmetrical. Negative demand shocks will be lead to a stepping up of monetary easing, while positive demand shocks will be offset by tighter monetary policy. However, as long as NGDP is below the targeted level positive shocks to demand – for example if financial regulation is eased or fiscal policy is eased – then these shocks will not be offset as they “help” achieve the monetary policy target. This offset rule would to a large extent move the burden of adjusting monetary conditions to the financial markets as the markets “automatically” will pre-empt any policy changes. Hence, it for example British exports are hit by a negative shock then investors would expect the BoE to offset this and as a consequence the pound would weaken in advance, which in itself would provide stimulus to aggregate demand reducing the need for actually changes to monetary policy.

3)   Introduce a new policy instrument – the money base – and get rid of interest rates targeting: There is considerable confusion about what monetary policy instrument the BoE is using. Hence, the BoE has over the past five years both changed interest rates, done quantitative easing and implement different forms of credit policies. The BoE needs to focus on one instrument and one instrument only. To be able to ease monetary policy at the Zero Lower Bound the BoE needs to stop communicating about monetary policy in terms of interest rates and instead use the money base as it’s primary monetary policy instrument. The annual targeted money base growth rate should be announced every month at the BoE Monetary Policy Committee meetings. For transparency the BoE could announce that it will be controlling the growth of the money base by it buying or selling 2-year Treasury bonds from risk and GDP weighted basket of G7 countries. The money base will hence be the operational target of the BoE, while the level of NGDP will be the ultimate target. The targeted growth rate of the money base should always be set to hit the targeted level of NGDP.

4)   Reform the Lender of Last Resort (LoLR): Since the outbreak of the crisis in 2008 the BoE has introduced numerous more or less transparent lending facilities. The BoE should get rid of all these measures and instead introduce only one scheme that has the purpose of providing pound liquidity to the market against proper collateral. Access to pound liquidity should be open for everyone – bank or not, UK based or not. The important thing is that proper collateral is provided. In traditional Bagehotian fashion a penalty fee should obviously be paid on this lending. Needless to say the BoE should immediately stop the funding for lending program as it is likely to create moral hazard problems and it unlikely to be of any significantly value in terms of achieving BoE’s primary policy objectives. If the UK government – for some odd reason – wants to subsidies lending then it should not be a matter for the BoE to get involved in.  My suggestion for LoLR is similar to what George Selgin has suggested for the US.

5)   Reform macroeconomic forecasting: To avoid politicized and biased forecasts the BoE needs to serious reform it macroeconomic forecasting process by outsourcing forecasting. My suggestion would be that macroeconomic forecasts focusing on BoE’s policy objectives should come from three sources. First, there should be set up a prediction market for key policy variables. There is a major UK betting industry and there is every reason to believe that a prediction market easily could be set up. Second, the BoE should survey professional forecasters on a monthly basis. Third, the BoE could maintain an in-house macroeconomic forecast, but it would then be important to give full independence to such forecasting unit and organizationally keep it fully independent from the daily operations of the BoE and the Monetary Policy Committee. Finally, it would be very helpful if the British government started to issue NGDP-linked government bonds in the same way it today issues inflation-linked bonds.  These different forecasts should be given equal weight in the policy making process and it should be made clear that the BoE will adjust policy (money base growth) if the forecasts diverge from the stated policy objective. This is basically a forward-looking McCallum rule.

This is my five-step program for Mark Carney. I very much doubt that we will see much of my suggestions being implemented, but I strongly believe that it would greatly benefit the UK economy and dramatically improve monetary and financial stability if these measures where implemented. However, my flight is soon landing – so over and out from here…

PS it takes considerably longer to fly from Canada to the UK and from Denmark to the UK so Carney have more than two hours to put in place his program so maybe he can come up with something better than me.

I don’t care who becomes BoJ governor – I want better monetary policy rules

UPDATE: I have edited my post significantly – I misread what Scott really said. That is the result of writing blog posts very early in the morning after sleeping too little. Sorry Scott…

Scott Sumner has a blog post on who might become the next governor of Bank of Japan. Scott ends his post with the following comment:

Naturally I favor the least dovish of the three.

Note that Scott is saying “least dovish” (I missed “least” in my original post). But don’t we want a the most dovish BoJ governor? No, we want the most principled governor – or rather the governor most committed to a rule based monetary policy.

The debate over doves versus hawks is a debate among people who fundamentally think about monetary policy in a discretionary fashion. Market Monetarism is exactly the opposite. We are strongly against discretion in monetary policy (and fiscal policy for that matter).

The important thing is not who is BoJ governor – the important thing is that there are good institutions – good rules. As I have argued before – what we really want is a monetary constitution in spirit of Jim Buchanan. In that sense the BoJ governor should be replaced – as Milton Friedman suggested – by a ‘computer’ and not by the most ‘dovish’ candidate.

Market Monetarists would have been “hawks” in the 1970s in the sense that we would have argued that for example US monetary policy was far too easy and we are ‘doves’ now. But that is really a mistaken way to think about the issue. If we favour for example a 5% NGDP level target for the US today – then we would have been doves in 1974 or 1981. That would make us more or less dovish/hawkish at different times, but that debate is for people who favours discretionary monetary policies – not for Market Monetarists.

If we just want a ‘dovish’ BoJ governor then we should advocate that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gives Zimbabwean central bank governor Gideon Gono a call. He knows all about monetary easing – and so do the central bank governors of Venezuela and Argentina. But we all know that these people are ludicrously bad central bankers.  In similar fashion Janet Yellen would not be the Market Monetarist candidate for the Federal Reserve chairman just because she tends to favour monetary easing – in fact it seems like Yellen always favours monetary easing. In fact you should be very suspicious of the views of policy makers who will always be hawks or doves.

Gideon_Gono10

The reason that Mark Carney is a good choice for new Bank of England governor is exactly that he is not ‘dovish’ or ‘hawkish’, but that he tend to stress the need for a rule based monetary policy. That said, the important thing is not Mark Carney, but rather whether the UK government is serious about introducing NGDP level targeting or not.

Monetary policy is not primarily about having the right people for the job, but rather about having the best institutions. Obviously you want to have the best people for the job, but ultimately even Scott Sumner would be a horrible Fed governor if his mandate was wrong.

If the BoJ had a rule based monetary policy and used for example NGDP futures to conduct monetary policy then it wouldn’t matter who becomes BoJ governor – because the policy would be the same no matter what. We cannot rely on central bankers to do the ‘right thing’. Central bankers only do the right thing by chance. We need to tie their hands with a monetary constitution – with strong rules.

Related posts:

Forget about “hawks” and “doves” – what we need is a “monetary constitution”
NGDP targeting is not about ”stimulus”
NGDP targeting is not a Keynesian business cycle policy
Be right for the right reasons
Monetary policy can’t fix all problems
Boettke’s important Political Economy questions for Market Monetarists
NGDP level targeting – the true Free Market alternative
Lets concentrate on the policy framework
Boettke and Smith on why we are wasting our time
Scott Sumner and the Case against Currency Monopoly…or how to privatize the Fed
NGDP level targeting – the true Free Market alternative (we try again)

 

Mathilde, Mathias and Carney – family life and blogging

Thursday was a very interesting day for me. You might think it was so because Mark Carney – the next Bank of England governor – was testifying in the British parliament. But frankly speaking even though Carney said some interesting things I have to disappoint you dear Mark – I wasn’t really listening. I had more important things to do.

What can be more important that than? Well, as Bob Hetzel expressed it – the Christensen household grew by 33% on Thursday as my wife gave birth to a beautiful Daughter – Mathilde. Her soon to be three year old brother Mathias is very proud – and his parents are very prod and happy as well.

So why do I tell you that? Should blogs be personal? No not necessarily, but the great thing about both writing and reading blogs is that they are written in a personal way with few disclaimers and that is why blogs are here to stay. And that is what I really want to reflect a bit on.

First, all when I write a blog post I do it at odd times when I can sneak in 5 or 30 minutes to do it. It is typically late at night when the rest of the family is sleeping or early in the morning – or when I am traveling, which I do quite a bit. That means that I rarely think about the structure in my posts. I just write. It is just about getting things off my chest or rather get out stuff that is in my head. Having been thinking about monetary policy issues a lot for more than two decades have led to a certain “overload” and I need to empty my head a bit. And yes, I desperately want people to read what I write and I want them to like what I write. But it is actually more about expressing my views than anything else. I think that is the case for most people writing blogs – whether it is about monetary policy or wine.

Obviously it makes it much easier to write blog posts when you don’t think much about the structure of the posts and write what you think rather than what you think people would like you to write. And editing? Forget about it – yes, I do read through my post, but frankly speaking you will have to live with my typos. The important thing is the message. It should be noted that I have people that are so very kind to help me editing in the sense that they will send me corrections to my text. That I always gladly welcome and I do try to correct my typos when I have time. So you are always welcome to drop me a mail about anything in that regard (lacsen@gmail.com).

I enjoy my blogging tremendously and it has brought me into contact with extremely interesting people from all over the world – particularly in Northern America. Another very enjoyable thing about blogging is that it is completely unpretentious and there is certainly nothing snobbish about it. I have many commentators who are completely normally people – “Amateur economists” who are interested just interested in understand the world they live in. I love that. As I have said many times “Economics is not an education. Economics is a state of mind”

But I must admit my favourite readers likely are the many economics students and PhD students that follow and comment on my blog. I love when I get mails from you guys about that world and what to make of it. You are all a great inspiration.

The worst temptation in blogging is to become a “blogging asshole”. Any blogger will tell you that they every single day will check out how many visitors their blog have had on a given day. I certainly do that – and I am surely more happy on days when a lot of people have visits my blog. I have noticed that I can maximize the number of visitors to my blog and the easiest way to do that is to become a “blogging asshole”. So what is a blogging asshole. To me it is somebody who first of all is hostile to other bloggers. Somebody who in more or less nasty ways attack the views of other bloggers and commentators. In fact I think that if I did a “I hate Paul Krugman” post every week it would do a lot to boost the number of visitors on my blog, but it would also generate traffic that I would consider as unwelcomed. I love debates about monetary policy issues, but I mostly just want people to get the message. I am no saint. I have been an blogging asshole from time to time when you thing has upset me. Here is an example.

I believe that blogging has become increasing influential and will continue to play an important role in public debate and that is especially the case in the area of economic policy. The case of NGDP level targeting is obviously a very good example. As a central bank governor from a not to be disclosed European country said to me recently “Lars, you must be happy these days. Everybody is talking about NGDP targeting”.

But blogging is not scientific research and we should not forget about the importance of scientific research. That said the two things do certainly not rule out each other. As my readers know I like to share research I have read (or plan to read). Here is the latest example.

Anyway, time to go with my son Mathias to pick up my beloved wife Hanne and our daughter Mathilde.

PS Mark Carney, just relax I did find time to read your comments in the British parliament. I was slightly disappoint that we did not have a more clear endorsement of NGDP level targeting, but I certainly understand the politics of this issue so I also understand that we might be much closer to NGDP level targeting in the UK than Carney’s testimony could lead one to conclude.

Pricing in Carney

Here is a paper I did with my colleague Anders Vestergård Fischer on the Bank of England and what to expect from the new BoE governor Mark Carney – obviously with a special focus on NGDP level targeting.

Our conclusion is that the markets are not in any way priced for NGDP targeting in the UK yet.

Don’t ever tell me again that monetary policy does not work! Chuck Norris visits Japan

I continue to be completely puzzled that somebody would think that central banks somehow have run out of ammunition and that monetary policy is impotent. The developments in the global financial markets since August-September last year clearly tell you that monetary policy is extremely potent – also when interest rates are at the Zero Lower Bound.

Just take a look at this story from Japan today:

Japanese shares rose, with the Nikkei 225 Stock Average heading for the highest close since September 2008, as the yen fell after Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said he will step down ahead of schedule.

…The Nikkei 225 gained 3 percent to 11,377.53 as of 12:38 p.m. in Tokyo, heading for the highest close since Sept. 29, 2008, two weeks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Volume today was 48 percent above the 30-day average. The broader Topix Index advanced 2.8 percent to 966.03, with eight stocks rising for each that fell.

…The Topix has surged 34 percent since elections were announced on Nov. 14 on optimism a new government will push for aggressive stimulus. The gauge is trading at 1.14 times book value, compared with 2.1 for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and 1.45 for the Stoxx Europe 600 Index.

(Update: Nikkei is actually up 4%!)

And from another story:

The yen slid to its weakest level in almost three years against the dollar and euro on speculation Japan’s government will hasten the selection of a new central bank chief to take further steps to end deflation.

Japan’s currency added to yesterday’s biggest drop versus the euro in more than a week after Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said he will step down on March 19, almost three weeks before his term is due to end. Demand for the 17- nation euro was supported on prospects the European Central Bank will refrain from easing monetary policy tomorrow. The Australian dollar slid after data showed the nation’s retail sales unexpectedly fell in December.

Financial markets are the best indicators of the monetary policy stance we have – a surging Japanese stock market and much weaker yen is a very strong indication that Japanese monetary conditions are getting decisively easier. Easier monetary conditions mean higher Japanese nominal GDP – just wait and see.

The market action in the Japanese markets this morning is yet another extremely clear demonstration of the Chuck Norris effect – that monetary policy does not only work through “printing money”, but also through expectations. As Scott Sumner likes to say – monetary policy works with long and variable leads. Said in another way a new Bank of Japan governor has not even been appointed but he is already easing monetary conditions in Japan as Mark Carney is in the UK.

And to all you Keynesian fiscalists out there I challenge you to find me one single example of “optimism” about “fiscal stimulus” having moved any major stock market by 4% in a day!

What we are seeing now in the US, Japan and likely soon in the UK is the kind of Rooseveltian Resolve that brought the US economy out of the Great Depression in 1933 after Roosevelt went off the gold standard and trust me – monetary policy does work! In the 1930s the “gold bloc” countries failed to understand that – today it is the ECB – but luckily for Europeans the US and Japan are leading the charge and is pulling us out of this crisis. That is what the global stock markets have been celebrating since August-September. It is really simple.

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