The risk of Chinese monetary policy failure

Back in October 2012 I wrote a blog post on what I called “My favourite Chinese monetary graph. In this post I am returning to this topic as I think the monetary developments in China has become increasing worrying.

My focus was on the development in M1:

Imagine a 4% inflation target – this year’s Chinese inflation target – trend real GDP growth 10-11% and money-velocity growth between -1% and 0% then the money supply (M1) should grow by 15-16% to ensure the inflation target  in the medium term. This is more or less a description of Chinese monetary policy over the past decade.

Over the past decade People’s Bank of China has been targeting M1 (and M2) growth exactly around 15-16% (give and take a bit…). Overall the PBoC has managed to hit its money supply target(s) and that has more or less ensured nominal stability in in China over the past decade.

I find it useful to track the growth of M1 versus two idealized targets path of 15% and 16% going back to 2000. This is my favourite graph for the Chinese economy.

This is how the updated M1 graph looks today:

M1 China Feb 2014

Back in October 2012 the actual level of M1 had just broken below the 16% trend line and since then M1 has kept inching downward compared to both the 16% and 15% trend lines and recently we have broken 15% tend line. This is obviously a very crude measure of monetary conditions in China, but I nonetheless think that the indication is pretty clear – monetary conditions are clearly getting tighter in China and I think it is fair to say that monetary conditions are disinflationary rather than inflationary.

Since my October 2012-post distress has clearly increased in the Chinese money markets and growth worries have certainly increased. Furthermore, given it is hard to ignore the connection between the continued tightening of monetary conditions in China and the turmoil we have seen in Emerging Markets over the past 6-12 months – after all China is a global monetary superpower.

It is time to ease Chinese monetary conditions 

I think that is totally appropriate that the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) initiated monetary tightening in early 2010 and overall the tightening has been warranted – even though it has had negative market implications for particularly some Emerging Markets. However, it is obviously not the task of the PBoC to conduct monetary policy for Brazil or Turkey for that matter. However, I think it is now pretty clear that Chinese monetary conditions has become too tight for China.

However, the PBoC has been extremely reluctant to step up monetary easing. In my view there are overall two reasons for this. First, PBoC obviously is worried that it could “reflate the bubble”. Second, the Chinese policy makers clearly seem to think that Chinese trend real GDP growth has declined and I would certainly agree that Chinese trend growth likely is closer to 7-8% y/y than to 10%.

So there likely has been good reason for a more cautious monetary policy approach in China, but if we indeed assume that Chinese trend growth has declined to for example 7-8% and money velocity on average decline 0-1% per year and the PBoC wants to hit 2-4%  inflation over the medium-term then M1 needs to growth by at least 9-13% (7+0+2 and 8+1+4).

Since October 2012 – when I put out my original post – Chinese M1 has actually averaged 9%, which is in the lower end of the range I think is necessary to avoid monetary policy to becoming excessively tight. Furthermore, it should be noted that the increased financial distress in China over the past year likely is pushing down both money velocity and the Chinese money multiplier, which in itself is disinflationary.

Concluding, I think there is little doubt that Chinese monetary conditions are becoming excessively tight – so far it is probably not catastrophic, but I can’t help thinking that the risk of nasty credit events increase significantly when economies go from a boom to a disinflationary weak growth scenario – said in another way I really fear is a “secondary deflation”.

PS A look at M2 growth would likely paint a slightly less scary picture.

PPS The growth rate of M1 in January 2014 was extremely weak (1.2% y/y). I am not certain what to make of the numbers, but it was what really got me to write this blog post.

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Helmut Reisen on the “China as monetary superpower” hypothesis

I have in a number of blog posts argued that China is a global or at least an Asian monetary superpower, which is exporting monetary tightening across Asia.

In a new very good blog post the former head of research at the OECD’s Development Centre Helmut Reisen discusses this hypothesis:

Usually, the current travails in emerging markets are blamed on expectations of slowing open market purchases by the US Federal Reserve System. Lars Christensen, head of emerging market research at Danske Bank, however, blames China´s monetary tightening as at least as important as the expected US Fed ´tapering´.  I have myself, with former colleagues, pointed to the growing impact that China´s growth has exerted since the last decade on GDP growth in middle- and low-income countries[1], pointing to the growing raw material, trade and production links of increasingly China centric emerging countries. So I shall have a lot of sympathy for Lars Christensen’s earlier proposition that China has also grown into a monetary superpower in a Sino monetary transmission mechanism with the rest of Asia. China´s monetary tightening, however, can hardly explain the current slump in Asian markets, on closer inspection.

So I nearly got Helmut convinced, but not quite. Here is Helmut again:

First, let us consider  the expected monetary stance in the US and in China. Graph 1 clearly shows that the market has formed expectations since May that the Fed would not continue open market purchases at the pace witnessed over the last years, partly fueled by Bernanke´s taper talk that month to US Congress. China´s monetary tightening, by contrast, occurred during late 2010 to early 2012 from when the Bank of China[2]. Since then, minimum reserve requirements were repeatedly reduced. Further, the PBC reduced its benchmark deposit and loan rates in June 2012. In addition, the PBC has also used a mix of monetary policy instruments to appropriately increase market liquidity. Even considering huge time lags, the current turmoil of Asia stock and bond markets cannot be blamed on China´s monetary tightening.

Hence, Helmut’s argument is that this is mostly caused by the Fed rather than by the People’s Bank of China. I do not disagree that the discussion of Fed tapering is having a negative impact on market sentiment in Asia. My view is just that that is not the whole story. China remains very important.

Furthermore, this is a good illustration of the Market Monetarist view of how to “measure” the monetary policy stance. While Helmut stresses that the PBoC has cut reserve requirements and interest rates recently Market Monetarists would instead focus on what markets are telling us about the monetary policy stance.

This discussion of course is similar to what happened in the euro zone and the US in 2008. Did the Fed ease or tighten monetary policy? Well, despite cutting nominal interest rates inflation expectations plummeted as did expectations for NGDP growth. That was indeed monetary tightening. And if we had good indicators for NGDP growth or inflation in China I would expect them to indicate a continued tightening of the Chinese monetary policy stance did the cut in official interest rates and reserve requirements.  The best market indicators for Chinese NGDP growth are probably copper and the Aussie dollar – and the Chinese stock market.

Hence, judging from for example the Chinese stock market monetary conditions have not become easier. Rather the opposite. And if the PBoC really had eased monetary conditions the Renminbi would have weakened significantly – it has not.

Furthermore, I would argue that communication about future changes in the money base is at least – in fact more – important than present changes to for example reserve requirements or interest rates. Hence, the communication from the Chinese authorities over the last couple of months has been decisively hawkish and if one wants to forecast the future path of the money base or the money supply in China one surely would have to conclude that the PBoC now plans a much slower rate of growth in the money supply than market participants had expected only a few months ago.

Furthermore, the PBoC’s rather clumsy handling of money market distress back in May-June left the impression that the Chinese authorities were quite happy about the impact it had on parts of the Chinese banking sector. In fact the turmoil gave reason to question that the PBoC really would act as lender-of-last-resort. That in my view was a very clear signal that the PBoC was quite happy with monetary conditions becoming tighter.

So yes, the PBoC has eased reserve requirements and cut official interest rates, but given the PBoC’s continued hawkish rhetoric market participants are not seeing the PBoC’s monetary policy stance becoming more accommodative – rather the opposite and judging from market pricing monetary contraction continues in China. That is having a clearly negative impact on the financial market sentiment across Asia.

That of course does not mean that Fed tapering is not important for what is going on in Asia at the moment. I think it is very important and it is for example clear that the sell-off in the Asian markets accelerated further this morning after the release yesterday of minutes from the latest FOMC meeting.

My point is just that the Fed is not the only monetary superpower in the world. The PBoC is also tremendously important. And on that I think Helmut and I are in total agreement.

The Second Asian Crisis? Feeling the impact of Chinese monetary tightening

This is from Bloomberg this morning:

Asian stocks fell for a fourth day after U.S. Treasury yields reached a two-year high. Currencies from Malaysia to Thailand declined amid an emerging market exodus that’s seen investors withdraw $8.4 billion from exchange-traded funds this year.

…Indonesia’s Jakarta Composite Index dropped 3 percent, taking a four-day rout beyond 10 percent…Malaysia’s ringgit decreased for a seventh day, and the Thai baht fell 0.8 percent.

…Asian economies are struggling to ignite growth.

…Five stocks fell for every three that gained on the Asia-Pacific index. Real estate and construction firms led declines in Jakarta where the benchmark index tumbled as much as 20 percent from a high in May.

China’s economy, No. 2 in the world, has been slowing for the past two quarters. Indonesian shares led declines in emerging Asian markets yesterday, sliding 5.6 percent, after data showed the current-account deficit widened to a record last quarter. A report this month also showed the economy grew less than 6 percent for the first time since 2010 in the second quarter.

…Foreigners sold a net $3 billion of Indian stocks and bonds in July amid the slowest growth in a decade in Asia’s third-largest economy, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The rupee slid to a record low yesterday and 30-day volatility on the CNX Nifty Index touched the highest level since April 2012.

…Thailand’s SET Index dropped 3.3 percent yesterday, the most in two months, after a report showed the economy unexpectedly shrank in the second quarter, pushing the country into a recession. The government also cut its growth forecast.

It is hard to feel optimistic about growth in Asia when you read this kind of thing.

In the article the market turmoil is blamed in Fed “tapering”, but I would suggest that Chinese monetary tightening is at least as important. Hence, China is as I have argued earlier the monetary superpower of Asia and Chinese monetary tightening weigh heavily on the Emerging Asian currencies. If the “local” central banks try to fight the currency sell-off then they are automatically importing monetary tightening from China causing growth to slump. The slump in the local stock markets is an indication that this is in fact what is partly happening.

The good news is that we are in fact seeing currencies weaken across Asia – that is softening the blow from the “China shock” . The bad news is that Asian central banks in general has been fighting the currency sell-off by hiking interest rates, intervening in the FX markets and by introducing all kinds of draconian currency controls. All that is likely hit growth across the region. And yes, I am quite nervous about new cases of monetary policy failure, where local policy makers in their attempts to curb the currency sell-off end up doing more bad than good. Just take a look at stop-go policies of Bank Indonesia and the Reserve Bank of India over the past two months.

The best way to shield the Asian economies from the negative impact of Chinese monetary tightening and fed tapering is to let currencies float completely freely and to the extent necessary letting the currencies weakening. Trying to fight the currency sell-off with monetary tightening is the recipe for setting of the Second Asian Crisis. As long as the impact of the Chinese monetary tightening continues Asian policy makers have the choice between weaker currencies or lower growth.  You cannot have both in the present situation.

Indian superstar economists, Egyptian (not so liberal!) dictators, the Great Deceleration and Taliban banking regulation – Some more unfocused musings

While the vacation is over for the Christensen family I have decided to continue with my unfocused musings. I am not sure how much I will do of this kind of thing in the future, but it means that I will write a bit more about other things than just monetary issues. My blog will still primarily be about money, but my readers seem to be happy that I venture into other areas as well from time to time. So that is what I will do.

Two elderly Indian economists and the most interesting debate in economics today

In recent weeks an very interesting war of words has been playing out between the two giants of Indian economic thinking – Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen. While I don’t really think that they two giants have been behaving themselves in a gentlemanly fashion the debate it is nonetheless an extremely interesting and the topic the are debate – how to increase the growth potential of the Indian economy – is highly relevant not only for India but also for other Emerging Markets that seem to have entered a “Great Deceleration” (see below).

While Bhagwati has been arguing in favour of a free market model Sen seems to want a more “Scandinavian” development model for India with bigger government involvement in the economy. I think my readers know that I tend to agree with Bhagwati here and in that regard I will also remind the readers that the high level of income AND the high level of equality in Scandinavia were created during a period where all of the Scandinavian countries had rather small public sectors. In fact until the mid-1960s the role of government in Scandinavia was more limited than even in the US at the same time.

Anyway, I would recommend to anybody interested in economic development to follow the Bhagwati-Sen debate.
Nupur Acharya has a good summery of the debate so and provides some useful links. See here.

By the way this is Bhagwati’s new book – co-authored with Arvind Panagariya.

Bhagwati

The Economics of Superstar Economists

Both Bhagwati and Sen are what we call Superstar economists. Other superstar economists are people like Tyler Cowen and Paul Krugman. Often these economists are also bloggers. I could also mention Nouriel Roubini as a superstar economist.

I have been thinking about this concept for a while  and have come to the conclusion that superstar economists is the real deal and are extremely important in today’s public debate about economics. They may or may not be academics, but the important feature is that they have an extremely high public profile and are very well-paid for sharing their views on everything – even on topics they do not necessarily have much real professional insight about (yes, Krugman comes to mind).

In 1981 Sherwin Rosen wrote an extremely interesting article on the topic of The Economic of Superstars. Rosen’s thesis is that superstars – whether in sports, cultural, media or the economics profession for that matter earn a disproportional high income relative to their skills. While, economists or actors with skills just moderately below the superstar level earn significantly less than the superstars.

I think this phenomenon is increasingly important in the economics profession. That is not to say that there has not been economic superstars before – Cassel and Keynes surely were superstars of their time and so was Milton Friedman, but I doubt that they were able to make the same kind of money that Paul Krugman is today.  What do you think?

The Great Deceleration – 50% structural, 50% monetary

The front page of The Economist rarely disappoints. This week is no exception. The front page headline (on the European edition) is “The Great Deceleration” and it is about the slowdown in the BRIC economies.

I think the headline is very suiting for a trend playing out in the global economy today – the fact that many or actually most Emerging Markets economies are loosing speed – decelerating. While the signs of continued recovery in the developed economies particularly the US and Japan are clear.

The Economist rightly asks the question whether the slowdown is temporary or more permanent. The answer from The Economist is that it is a bit of both. And I agree.

There is no doubt that particularly monetary tightening in China is an extremely important factor in the continued slowdown in Emerging Markets growth – and as I have argued before China’s role as monetary superpower is rather important.

However, it is also clear that many Emerging Markets are facing structural headwinds – such as negative demographics (China, Russia and most of the rest of Central and Eastern Europe), renewed “Regime Uncertainty” (Egypt, Turkey and partly South Africa) and old well-known structural problems (for example the protectionism of India and Brazil).  Maybe it would be an idea for policy makers in Emerging Markets to read Bhagwati and Panagariya’s new book or even better Hernando de Soto’s “The Mystery of Capital – Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else”

Egypt – so much for “liberal dictators”

While vacationing I wrote a bit Hayek’s concept of the “liberal dictator” and how that relates to events in Egypt (see here and here). While I certainly think that the concept a liberal dictatorship is oxymoronic to say the least I do acknowledge that there are examples in history of dictators pursuing classical liberal economic reforms – Pinochet in Chile is probably the best known example – but in general I think the idea that a man in uniform ever are going to push through liberal reforms is pretty far-fetched. That is certainly also the impression one gets by following events in Egypt. Just see this from AFP:

With tensions already running high three weeks after the military ousted president Mohamed Morsi, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s call for demonstrations raises the prospect of further deadly violence.

…Sisi made his unprecedented move in a speech broadcast live on state television.

“Next Friday, all honourable Egyptians must take to the street to give me a mandate and command to end terrorism and violence,” said the general, wearing dark sunglasses as he addressed a military graduation ceremony near Alexandria.

You can judge for yourself, but I am pretty skeptical that this is going to lead to anything good – and certainly not to (classical) liberal reforms.

Just take a look at this guy – is that the picture of a reformer? I think not.

Dictator

Banking regulation and the Taliban

Vince Cable undoubtedly is one of the most outspoken and colourful ministers in the UK government. This is what he earlier this week had to say in an interview with Finance Times about Bank of England and banking regulation:

“One of the anxieties in the business community is that the so called ‘capital Taliban’ in the Bank of England are imposing restrictions which at this delicate stage of recovery actually make it more difficult for companies to operate and expand.”

While one can certainly question Mr. Cable’s wording it is hard to disagree that the aggressive tightening of capital requirements by the Bank of England is hampering UK growth. Or rather if one looks at tighter capital requirements on banks then it is effectively an tax on production of “private” money. In that sense tighter capital requirements are counteracting the effects of the quantitative easing undertaken by the BoE. Said in another way – the tight capital requirements the more quantitative easing is needed to hit the BoE’s nominal targets.

That is not to say that there are not arguments for tighter capital requirements particularly if one fears that banks that get into trouble in the future “automatically” will be bailed out by the taxpayers and the system so to speak is prone to moral hazard. Hence, higher capital requirements in that since is a “second best” to a strict no-bailout regime.

However, the tightening of capital requirements clearly is badly timed given the stile very fragile recovery in the UK economy. Therefore, I think that the Bank of England – if it wants to go ahead with tightening capital requirements – should link this the performance of the UK economy. Hence, the BoE should pre-annonce that mandatory capital and liquidity ratios for UK banks and financial institutions in general will dependent on the level of nominal GDP. So as the economy recovers capital and liquidity ratios are gradually increased and if there is a new setback in economy capital and liquidity ratios will automatically be reduced. This would put banking regulation in sync with the broader monetary policy objectives in the UK.

 

China as a monetary superpower – the Sino-monetary transmission mechanism

This morning we got yet another disappointing number for the Chinese economy as the Purchasing Manager Index (PMI) dropped to 47.7 – the lowest level in 11 month. I have little doubt that the continued contraction in the Chinese manufacturing sector is due to the People’s Bank of China’s continued tightening of monetary conditions.

Most economists agree that the slowdown in the Chinese economy is having negative ramifications for the rest of the world, but for most economist the contraction in the Chinese economy is seen as affecting the rest of world through a keynesian export channel. I, however, believe that it is much more useful to understand China’s impact on the rest of the world through the perspective of monetary analysis. In this post I will try to explain what we could call the Sino-monetary transmission mechanism.

China is a global monetary superpower

David Beckworth has argued (see for example here) that the Federal Reserve is a monetary superpower as “it manages the world’s main reserve currency and many emerging markets are formally or informally pegged to dollar. Thus, its monetary policy gets exported to much of the emerging world. “

I believe that the People’s Bank of China to a large extent has the same role – maybe even a bigger role for some Emerging Markets particularly in Asia and among commodity exporters. Hence, the PBoC can under certain circumstances “dictate” monetary policy in other countries – if these countries decide to import monetary conditions from China.

Overall I see three channels through which PBoC influence monetary conditions in the rest of the world:

1) The export channel: For many countries in the world China is now the biggest or second biggest export market. So a monetary induced slowdown in the Chinese economy will have significant impact on many countries’ export performance. This is the channel most keynesian trained economists focus on.

2) Commodity price channel: As China is a major commodity consumer Chinese monetary policy has a direct impact on the demand for and the price of commodities. So tighter Chinese monetary policy is causing global commodity prices to drop. This obviously is having a direct impact on commodity exporters. See for example my discussion of Chinese monetary policy and the Brazilian economy here.

3) The financial flow channel: China has the largest currency reserves in the world . This means that China obviously is extremely important for demand for global financial assets. A contraction in Chinese monetary policy will reduce Chinese FX reserve accumulation and as a result impact demand for for example Emerging Markets bonds and equities.

For the keynesian-trained economist the story would end here. However, we cannot properly understand the impact of Chinese monetary policy on the rest of the world if we do not understand the importance of “local” monetary policy. Hence, in my view other countries of the world can decide to import monetary tightening from China, but they can certainly also decide not to import is monetary tightening. The PBoC might be a monetary superpower, but only because other central banks of the world allow it to be.

Pegged exchange rates, fear-of-floating and inflation targeting give PBoC its superpowers

I believe it is crucial to look at the currency impact of Chinese monetary tightening and how central banks around the world react to this to understand the global transmission of Chinese monetary policy.

Take the example of Malaysia. China is Malaysia’s second biggest export market. Hence, if PBoC tightens monetary policy it will likely hit Malaysian exports to China. Furthermore, tighter monetary policy in China would likely also put downward on global rubber and natural gas prices. Malaysia of course is a large exporter of both of these commodities. It is therefore natural to expect that Chinese monetary tightening will lead to depreciation pressures on the Malaysian ringgit.

Officially the ringgit is a freely floating currency. However, in reality the Malaysian central bank – like most central banks in Asia – suffers from a fear-of-floating and would clearly intervene directly or indirectly in the currency markets if the move in the ringgit became “excessive”. The financial markets obviously know this so even if the Malaysian central bank did not directly intervene in the FX market the currency moves would tend to be smaller than had the Malaysian central bank had a credible hands-off approach to the currency.

The result of this fear-of-floating is that when the currency tends to weaken the Malaysian central bank will step in directly or indirectly and signal a more hawkish stance on monetary policy. This obviously means that the central bank in this way decides to import Chinese monetary tightening. In this regard it is import to realize that the central bank can do this without really realizing it as the fear-of-floating is priced-in by the markets.

Hence, a fear-of-floating automatically will automatically lead central banks to import monetary tightening (or easing) from the monetary superpower – for example the PBoC. This of course is a “mild” case of “monetary import” compared to a fixed exchange rate regime. Under a fixed exchange rate regime there will of course be “full” import of the monetary policy and no monetary policy independence. In that sense Danish or Lithuanian monetary policy is fully determined by the ECB as the krone and the litas are pegged to the euro.

In regard to fixed exchange rate regimes and PBoC the case of Hong Kong is very interesting. The HK dollar is of course pegged to the US dollar and we would therefore normally say that the Federal Reserve determines monetary conditions in Hong Kong. However, that is not whole story. Imagine that the Federal Reserve don’t do anything (to the extent that is possible), but the PBoC tighens monetary conditions. As Hong Kong increasingly has become an integrated part of the Chinese economy a monetary tightening in China will hit Hong Kong exports and financial flows hard. That will put pressure the Hong Kong dollar and as the HK dollar is pegged to the US dollar the HK Monetary Authority will have to tighten monetary policy to maintain the peg. In fact his happens automatically as a consequence of Hong Kong’s currency board regime. So in that sense Chinese monetary policy also has a direct impact on Hong Kong monetary conditions.

Finally even a central bank that has an inflation inflation and allow the currency to float freely could to some extent import Chinese monetary policy. The case of Brazil is a good example of this. As I have argued earlier Chinese monetary tighening has put pressure on the Brazilian real though lower Brazilian exports to China and lower commodity prices. This has pushed up consumer prices in Brazil as import prices have spiked. This was the main “excuse” when the Brazilian central bank recently hiked interest rates. Hence, Brazil’s inflation targeting regime has caused the central bank to import monetary tightening from China, while monetary easing probably is warranted. This is primarly a result of a focus on consumer price inflation rather than on other measures of inflation such as the GDP deflator, which are much less sensitive to import price inflation.

The Kryptonite to take away PBoC’s superpowers

My discussion above illustrates that China can act as a monetary superpower and determine monetary conditions in the rest of the world, but also that this is only because central banks in the rest of world – particularly in Asia – allow this to happen. Malaysia or Hong Kong do not have to import Chinese monetary conditions. Hence, the central bank can choose to offset any shock from Chinese monetary policy. This is basically a variation of the Sumner Critique. The central bank of Malaysia obviously is in full control of nominal GDP/aggregate demand in Malaysia. If the monetary contraction in China leads to a weakening of the ringgit monetary conditions in Malaysia will only tighten if the central bank of Malaysia tries to to fight it by tightening monetary conditions.

Here the case of the Reserve Bank of Australia is telling. RBA operates a floating exchange rates regime and has a flexible inflation target. Under “normal” circumstances the aussie dollar will move more or less in sync with global commodity prices reflecting Australia is a major commodity exporter. In that sense the RBA is showing no real signs of suffering from a fear-of-floating. Furhtermore, As the graph below shows recently the aussie dollar has been allowed to weaken somewhat more than the drop in commodity prices (the CRB index) would normally have been dictating. However, during the recent Chinese monetary policy shock the aussie dollar has been allowed to significantly more than what the CRB index would have dictated. That indicates an “automatic” monetary easing in Australia in response to the Chinese shock. This in my view is very good example of a market-based monetary policy.

CRB AUD

If the central bank defines the nominal target clearly and allows the currency to float completely freely then that could works “krytonite” against the PBoC’s monetary superpowers. This is basically what is happening in the case of Australia.

As the market realizes that the RBA will move to ease monetary policy in response to a “China shock” the dollar the market will so to speak “pre-empt” the expected monetary easing by weakening the aussie dollar.

Kryptonite

Related posts:

Angola should adopt an ‘Export-Price-Norm’ to escape the ‘China shock’

The PBoC’s monetary supremacy over Brazil (but don’t blame the Chinese)

The antics of FX intervention – the case of Turkey

Should PBoC be blamed for the collapse in gold prices?

Malaysia should peg the renggit to the price of rubber and natural gas

The PBoC’s monetary supremacy over Brazil (but don’t blame the Chinese)

Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega likes to blame the Federal Reserve (and the US in general) for most evils in the Brazilian economy and he has claimed that the fed has waged a ‘currency war’ on Emerging Market nations.

As my loyal readers know I think that it makes very little sense to talk about a currency war and  I strongly believe that any nation with free floating exchange rates is in full control of monetary conditions in the country and hence of both the price level and nominal GDP. However, here the key is a freely floating exchange rate. Hence, a country with a fixed exchange rate – like Hong Kong or Denmark – will “import” the monetary policy from the country its currency is pegged to – the case of Hong Kong to the US and in the case of Denmark to the euro zone.

In reality few countries in the world have fully freely floating exchange rates. Hence, as I argued in my previous post on Turkey many – if not most – central banks suffers from fear-of-floating. This means that these central banks effectively will at least to some extent let other central banks determine their monetary policy.

So to some extent Mantega is right – the fed does in fact have a great impact on the monetary conditions in most countries in the world, but this is because that the national central banks refuse to let their currencies float completely freely. There is a trade off between control of the currency and monetary sovereignty. You cannot have both – at least not with free capital movement.

From Chinese M1 to Brazilian NGDP  

Guido Mantega’s focus on the Federal Reserve might, however, be wrong. He should instead focus on another central bank – the People Bank of China (PBoC). By a bit of a coincidence I discovered the following relationship – shown in the graph below.

China M3 Brazil NGDP

What is the graph telling us? Well, it looks like the growth of the Chinese money supply (M1) has caused the growth of Brazilian nominal GDP – at least since 2000.

This might of course be a completely spurious correlation, but bare with me for a while. I think I am on to something here.

Obviously we should more or less expect this relationship if the Brazilian central bank had been pegging the Brazilian real to the Chinese renminbi, but we of course all know that that has not been the case.

The Chinese-Brazilian monetary transmission mechanism

So what is the connection between Chinese and Brazilian monetary conditions?

First of all since 2008-9 China has been Brazil’s biggest trading partner. Brazil is primarily exporting commodities to China. This means that easier Chinese monetary policy likely will spur Brazilian exports.

Second, easier Chinese monetary policy will also push up global commodity prices as China is the biggest global consumer of a number of different commodities. With commodity prices going up Brazil’s export to other countries than China will also increase.

Therefore, as Chinese monetary easing will be a main determinant of Brazilian exports we should expect the Brazilian real to strengthen. However, if the Brazilian central bank (and government) has a fear-of-floating the real will not be allowed to strengthen nearly as much as would have been the case under a completely freely floating exchange rate regime.Therefore, effectively the Brazilian central bank will at least partly import changes in monetary conditions from China.

As a result the Brazilian authorities has – knowingly or unknowingly – left its monetary sovereignty to the People’s Bank of China. The guy in control of Brazil’s monetary conditions is not Ben Bernanke, but PBoC governor Zhou Xiaochuan, but don’t blame him. It is not his fault. It is the result of the Brazilian authorities’ fear-of-floating.

The latest example – a 50bp rate hike

Recently the tightening of Chinese monetary conditions has been in the headlines in the global media. Therefore, if my hypothesis about the Chinese-Brazlian monetary transmission is right then tighter Chinese monetary conditions should trigger Brazilian monetary tightening. This of course is exactly what we are now seeing. The latest example we got on Wednesday when the Brazilian central bank hiked its key policy rates – the SELIC rate – by 50bp to 8.50%.

Hence, the Brazilian central bank is doing exactly the opposite than one should have expected. Shouldn’t a central bank ease rather than tighten monetary policy when the country’s main trading partner is seeing growth slowing significantly? Why import monetary tightening in a situation where export prices are declining and market growth is slowing? Because of the fear-of-floating.

Yes, Brazilian inflation has increased significantly if you look at consumer prices, but this is primarily a result of higher import prices (and other supply side factors) due to a weaker currency rather than stronger aggregate demand. In fact it is pretty clear that aggregate demand (and NGDP) growth is slowing significantly. The central bank is hence reacting to a negative supply shock (higher import prices) and ignoring the negative demand shock.

Obviously, it is deeply problematic that the Brazilian authorities effectively have given up monetary sovereignty to the PBoC – and it is very clear that macroeconomic volatility is much higher as a result. The solution is obviously for the Brazilian authorities to get over the fear-of-floating and allowing the Brazilian real to float much more freely in the same way has for example the Reserve Bank of Australia is doing.

PBoC governor Zhou Xiaochuan should give Jeff Frankel a call (he is welcome to call me as well)

Jeffrey Frankel of course is a long-term advocate of NGDP targeting, but recently he has started to advocate that if central banks continue to target inflation then they should target producer prices (the GDP deflator) rather than consumer prices. As anybody who reads this blog knows I tend to agree with this position.

Jeff among other places has explained his position in his 2012 paper “Product Price Targeting—A New Improved Way of Inflation Targeting”In this paper Jeff explains why it makes more sense for central banks to target product prices rather than consumer prices.

Terms of trade volatility poses a serious challenge to the inflation targeting (IT) approach to monetary policy. IT had been the favoured monetary regime in many quarters. But the shocks of the last five years have shown some serious limitations to IT, much as the currency crises of the late 1990s showed some serious limitations to exchange rate targeting. There are many variations of IT: focusing on headline versus core CPI, price level versus inflation, forecasted inflation versus actual, and so forth. Some interpretations of IT are flexible enough to include output in the target at relatively short horizons. But all orthodox interpretations focus on the CPI as the choice of price index. This choice may need rethinking in light of heightened volatility in prices of commodities and, therefore, in the terms of trade in many countries.

A CPI target can lead to anomalous outcomes in response to terms of trade fluctuations. Textbook theory says it is helpful for exchange rates to accommodate terms-of-trade shocks. If the price of imported oil rises in world markets, a CPI target induces the monetary authority to tighten money
enough to appreciate the currency—the wrong direction for accommodating an adverse movement in the terms of trade. If the price of the export commodity rises in world markets, a CPI target prevents monetary tightening consistent with appreciation as called for in response to an improvement in the terms of trade. In other words, the CPI target gets it exactly backward.

An alternative is to use a price index that reflects a basket of goods that the country in question produces, including those exported, in place of an index that reflects the basket of goods consumed, including those imported. It could be an index of export prices alone or a broader index of all goods produced domestically. I call the proposal to use a broad output-based price index as the anchor for monetary policy Product Price Targeting (PPT).

It is clear that Jeff’s PPT proposal is related to his suggestion that commodity exporters should target export prices – what he calls Peg-the-Export-Price (PEP) and I have termed the Export Price Norm (EPN). A PPT or PEP/EPN is obviously closer to the the Market Monetarist ideal of targeting the level of nominal GDP than a “normal” inflation target based on consumer prices is. In that regard it should be noted that the prices in nominal GDP is the GDP deflator, which is the price of goods produced in the economy rather than the price of goods consumed in the economy.

The Chinese producer price deflation

The reason I am writing about Jeff PPT’s proposal this morning is that I got reminded of it when I saw an article on CNBC.com on Chinese producer prices today. This is from the article:

The deflationary spiral in China’s producer prices that has plagued factories in the mainland for 16 consecutive months highlights the weakening growth momentum in the world’s second largest economy, said economists…

…The producer price index (PPI) dropped 2.7 percent in June from the year ago period, official data showed on Tuesday, compared to a fall of 2.9 percent in May. Producer prices in China have been declining since February 2012, weighed down by falling commodity prices, overcapacity and weakening demand.

…China’s consumer inflation, however, accelerated in June, driven by a rise in food prices.

China’s consumer price index (CPI) rose 2.7 percent in June from a year earlier, slightly higher than a Reuters forecast of 2.5 percent, and compared to a 2.1 percent tick up in the previous month. However, June’s reading is well under the central bank’s 3.5 percent target for 2013.

This I think pretty well illustrates Jeff’s point. If the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) was a traditional – ECB style – inflation target’er focusing solely on consumer prices then it would be worried about the rise in inflation, while if the PBoC on the other hand had a producer price target then it would surely now move to ease monetary policy.

Measuring Chinese monetary policy “tightness” based on PPT

In the pre-crisis period from 2000 to 2007 Chinese producer prices on average grew 2.3% y/y. Therefore, lets say that the PBoC de facto has targeted a 2-2.5% level path for producer prices. The graph below compares the actual level of producer prices in China (Index 2000=100) with a 2% and a 2.5% path respectively.  We can see that producer prices started to decline during the second part of 2011 and dropped below the 2.5% path more or less at the same time and dropped below the 2% path in the last couple of months. So it is probably safe to say that based on a PPT measure Chinese monetary policy has become tighter over the past 18 months or so and have become excessively tight within the last couple of quarters.

PPI China

The picture that emerges from using a ‘Frankel benchmark’ for monetary policy “tightness” hence is pretty much in line with what we see from other indicators of monetary conditions – the money supply, NGDP, FX reserve accumulation and market indicators.

It therefore also seems fair to say that while monetary tightening probably was justified in early 2010 one can hardly justify further monetary tightening at this stage. In fact there are pretty good reasons – including PPT – that Chinese monetary policy has become excessive tight and I feel pretty confident that that is exactly what Jeff Frankel would tell governor Zhou if he gave him a call.

Angola should adopt an ‘Export-Price-Norm’ to escape the ‘China shock’

It might be a surprise to most people but one of the fastest growing economies in the world over the last 10-15 years has been Angola. A combination of structural reforms and a commodity boom have boosted growth in the oil-rich African country. However, Angola is, however, at a crossroad and the future of the boom might very well now be questioned.

It is monetary tightening in China, which is now threatening the boom. The reason for this is that Angola has received significant direct investments from China over the past decade and the rising oil prices have fueled oil exports. However, as the People’s Bank of China continues to tighten monetary conditions in China it will likely have two effects. First, it is likely to reduce Chinese investments – also into Angola. Second, the slowdown in the Chinese economy undoubtedly is a key reason for the decline in oil prices. Both things are obviously having a direct negative impact on the Angolan economy.

Angola’s monetary policy is likely to exacerbate the ‘China shock’ 

This is how the IMF describes Angola’s monetary regime:

Angola’s de facto exchange arrangement has been classified as “other managed” since October 2009. The Banco Nacional de Angola (BNA) intervenes actively in the foreign exchange market in order to sterilize foreign currency inflows in the form of taxes paid by oil companies. Auctions were temporarily suspended from April 20 to October 1, 2009 leading to the establishment of a formal peg. Since the resumption of auctions, the kwanza has depreciated. However, the authorities maintain strong control over the exchange rate, which is the main anchor for the monetary policy. The BNA publishes a daily reference rate, which is computed as the transactionweighted average of the previous day’s rates negotiated with commercial banks. Banks and exchange bureaus may deal among themselves and with their customers at rates that can be freely negotiated provided they do not exceed the reference rate by more than 4 percent.

Hence Angola de facto operates a pegged exchange rate regime and it is pretty clear in my view that this regime is likely to exacerbate the negative impact from the ‘China shock’.

The China shock is likely to lead to depreciation pressures on the Angolan kwanza in two ways. First the drop in global oil prices is likely to push down Angolan export prices – more or less by a one-to-one ratio. Second, the expected drop in Chinese investment activity is likely to also reduce Chinese direct investments into Angola. The depreciation pressures could potentially become very significant. However, if the Angolan central bank tries to maintain a quasi-pegged exchange rate then these depreciation pressures will automatically translate into a significant monetary tightening. The right thing to do is therefore obvious to allow (if needed) the kwanza to depreciate to adjust to the shock.

There are two ways of ensuring such depreciation. The first one is to simply to allow the kwanza to float freely. That however, would necessitate serious reforms to deepen the Angolan capital markets and the introduction of an nominal target – such as either an inflation target or an NGDP target. Even though financial markets reforms undoubtedly are warranted I have a hard time seeing that happening fast. Therefore, an alternative option – the introduction of a Export Price Norm (EPN) is – is clearly something the Angolan authorities should consider. What I call EPN Jeff Frankel originally termed Peg-the-Export-Price (PEP).

I have long been a proponent of the Export Price Norm for commodity exporting economies such as Russia, Australia or Angola (or Malaysia for that matter). The idea with EPN is that the commodity exporting economy pegs the currency to the price of the commodity it exports such as oil in the case of Angola. Alternatively the currency should be pegged to a basket of a foreign currency (for example the dollar) and the oil price. The advantage of EPN is that it will combine the advantages of both a floating exchange (an “automatic” adjustment to external shocks) and of a pegged exchange rate (a rule based monetary policy). Furthermore, for a country like Angola where nearly everything that is being produced in the country is exported the EPN will effectively be an quasi-NGDP target as export growth and aggregate demand growth (NGDP growth) will be extremely highly correlated. So by stabilizing the export price in local currency the central bank will effectively be stabilizing aggregate demand and NGDP.

Operationally it would be extremely simple for the Angolan central bank to implement an EPN regime as al it would take would be to target a basket of for example oil and US dollars, which would not be very different operationally than what it is already doing. Without having done the ‘math’ I would imagine that a 20% oil and 80% US dollar basket would be fitting. That would provide a lot of projection against the China shock.

And if it turns out that China is not slowing and oil prices again will rise an EPN will just lead to an ‘automatic’ appreciation of the kwanza and monetary tightening of Angolan monetary conditions and in that way be a very useful tool in avoiding that skyrocketing oil prices and booming inward investments do not lead to the formation of for example property bubbles (many would argue that there already is a huge property bubble in the Angola economy – take a look here).

This is why we need an NGDP futures market

Until recently the global financial markets were on an one-way trip to recovery. Basically since the Federal Reserve in September implicitly announced the Bernanke-Evans rule investors have been betting on an US economic recovery – higher real and nominal GDP growth – and the Bank of Japan’s decisive actions to implement a 2% inflation target also have helped the sentiment. However, the picture has become a lot more confusing in recent weeks as turmoil has returned to the global financial markets.

The key problem is that we do not exactly know why there has been a sharp spike in market volatility. There is a number of competing theories. The most popular theory is that this is all Ben Bernanke’s fault as he has announced the “tapering” of quantitative easing – that according to the critiques has caused markets to price in tighter monetary conditions in the future and that is the reason why bond yields are rising while inflation expectations and stock markets are declining. A competing theory is that the real reason for this is not really Bernanke, but rather monetary tightening in China, which is forcing Chinese investors to liquidate investments – including in US Treasuries. I have a lot of sympathy for the later theory even though I think it is also right that Bernanke’s comments over the past months have been having an negative impact.

So why is it important what is the cause of these market moves? It’s it enough to note that all indications are that we globally are now seeing a contraction in aggregate demand and central banks should respond to that by easing monetary conditions? Yes and no. Yes because it is clear that monetary conditions are indeed getting tighter everywhere. However, no because that was not necessarily clear until last week.

Low inflation expectations is necessarily not a monetary easing

Interestingly enough it seems like everybody have become Market Monetarists recently in the sense that they think that it is the fed that is driving the markets via (bad) communication and the commentators are exactly looking at market indicators monetary conditions – for example market expectations for inflation.

And it is of course the sharp drop in inflation expectations, which is causing a lot of concern and I obviously agree that central banks should keep an very close eye on inflation expectations as an indicator for monetary conditions. HOWEVER, we should never forget that inflation expectations could drop either because of tighter monetary conditions or because of a positive supply shock.

Market Monetarists of course argue that central banks should not respond to supply shocks – positive or negative – and I would in fact argue that the drop in inflation expectations we have seen recently in the US (and other places) is to a large extent driven by a positive supply shock. That is good news for  real GDP growth. That is consistent with higher real bond yields and it not necessarily a problem (David Beckworth has been making that argument here). Hence, if the drop in inflation expectations had instead been primarily caused by tighter US monetary conditions then we should have expected to see the US stock markets plummet and the dollar should have strengthened.

That is of course what we have seen over the past week or so, but not in the month leading up to that. In that period the dollar was actually weakening moderately and the US stock market was holding up fairly well. That to me is an indication that the drop in inflation expectations have not only been about tighter US monetary condition.

Instead I think that we have seen a serious tightening of Chinese monetary condition and that has caused global commodity prices to drop. That is of course a negative demand shock in China, but it is a positive supply shock to the US economy. If that ONLY had been the case then it would be hard to the argument from a Market Monetarist perspective that the Federal Reserve should move to ease monetary conditions further. See my arguments from mid-May against monetary easing in responds to positive supply shocks here.

Avoid the confusion – set up an NGDP futures market

Sometimes it is pretty easy to “read” the markets to get an understanding of what is going on – it is for example pretty clear right now that Chinese monetary conditions are getting a lot tighter, but it is harder to say how much tighter US monetary conditions really have gotten over the past month or so and the bond market is certainly not a good indicator on its own (liquidity/flow effects vs expectational effects).

Hence, what should be the appropriate US monetary response? There is a significant difference between the appropriate respond to what is primarily a supply shock and what is primarily a demand shock. And it is of course not only me who is slightly confused about what is going on in the markets. Policy makers are likely to be at least as confused (likely a lot more…).

The best way to avoid any confusion is of course to set-up a market for exactly what the central bank is targeting. Hence, for an inflation targeting central bank there is of course inflation-linked bonds. However, that is not really a good guide for monetary policy if you want to avoid responding to supply shocks. Instead what we really need is NGDP-linked bonds. In the case of the US the US Treasury therefore should issue such bonds.

Had we had an US NGDP-linked bond now it would be very easy to see whether or not the markets where indeed pricing in tighter US monetary conditions and whether or not this should be a cause for concern. Furthermore, that would get us away from the constant discussion about whether higher bond yields is an indication of tighter or easier monetary conditions (it can in fact be both).

And finally if the there was an US NGDP-linked government bond then the fed could leave the time of “tapering” complete to the markets (See more on that here).

HT Cthorm

—-

PS Scott Sumner and Evan Soltas have similar discussions

China – my fear is a ”secondary deflation”

China has certainly moved to the very top of the agenda in the financial markets this week and a lot of what is playing out in the Chinese markets is eerily similar to what happened in the US and European markets in 2008.

As in 2008 there is a lot of focus on a bubble being deflated both among commentators and among central bankers. This in my view could lead to very unfortunate policy conclusions. I am particularly afraid that the People Bank of China’s fear of reflating the bubble will lead it to take too long to ease monetary policy – as clearly was the case in the US and Europe in 2008.

China – an “ideal” Hayekian boom-bust?

Market Monetarists are in general very sceptical about the Austrian story of the Great Recession and sceptical about a bubble explanation for the crisis. That, however, do not mean that Market Monetarists outright denies that there can be bubbles. In fact I certainly think that there was many examples of “bubbles” in 2008. However, the real reason for the bust was not overly easy monetary policy, but rather that monetary policy became insanely tight both in the US and the euro zone in 2008.

But how do that compare to the Chinese situation today? I have earlier argued that I don’t believe that easy monetary policy on its own it enough to create a major bubble. We need something more – and that is the existence of moral hazard or rather the implicit or explicit socialization of the cost of risk taking. One can certainty argue that Too-Big-To-Fail has been and still is a major problem in the Western world, but that is even more the case in China, where the banking sector remains under tight government control and where the banks are mostly government owned. Furthermore, the investment decisions in many industries remain under strict government control.

In that sense one can argue that China over the past 4-5 years have had the “ideal” environment – easing money and massive moral hazard problems – for creating a bubble. The result has most likely also been the creation of a bubble. I have no clue have big this bubble is, but I feel pretty certain that the Chinese government run banking system has created serious misallocation of capital and labour in the last 4-5 years. In that sense we have probably been through a Hayekian boom-bust in the Chinese economy.

Fear the secondary deflation rather than a new bubble

The Chinese authorities have been extremely focused on how to deflate what they consider to be a bubble and as a result Chinese monetary and credit policies have been tightened significantly since early 2010 when the PBoC the first time in the post-crisis recovery tightened reserve requirements.

Hence, since 2010 the PBoC has basically tried to “deflate the bubble” by tightening monetary conditions and as a result the Chinese economy has slowed dramatically.

The PBoC obviously has been right to tighten monetary policy, but I have for some time though that the PBoC was overdoing it (see for example my post on “dangerous bubble fears” from last year) and in that regard it is important to remind ourselves of Hayek’s advice on conduct of monetary policy in the “bust” phase of the business cycle.

When Hayek formulated his version of the Austrian business cycle theory in Prices and Production from 1931 he stressed that the monetary authority should let the bubble deflate with out any intervention. However, he later came to regret that he in the 1930s had not been more clear about the risk of what he called the “secondary deflation”. The secondary deflation is a “shock” that can follow the necessary correction of the “bubble” and send the economy into depression.

If we formulate this in Market Monetarist lingo we can say that the central bank should allow nominal GDP to fall back to the targeted level if there has been a “bubble” (NGDP has accelerated above the targeted level). This will ensure an orderly correction in the economy, but if the central bank allows NGDP to drop significantly below the “targeted” level then that will could trigger financial distress and banking crisis. This unfortunately seem to be exactly what we have seen some signs of in the Chinese markets lately.

The graph below shows two alternative hypothetical scenarios. The red line is what I call the “perfect landing” where the NGDP level is brought back on trend gradually and orderly, while the green line is the disorderly collapse in NGDP – the secondary deflation. The PBoC obviously should avoid the later scenario. This is what the ECB and fed failed to do in 2008.

boombust

Reasons why the PBoC might fail

I must admit that my fears of monetary policy failure in China have increased a lot this week, but luckily a secondary deflation can still be avoided if the PBoC moves swiftly to ease monetary conditions. However, I see a number of reasons why the PBoC might fail to do this.

First, there is no doubt that the PBoC is preoccupied with the risk of reflating the bubble rather than with avoiding secondary deflation. This I believe is the key reason why the PBoC has allowed things to get out of hand of the past weeks.

Second, significant monetary easing will necessitate that the PBoC should allow the renminbi to weaken. There might, however, be a number of reasons why the PBoC will be very reluctant to allow that. The primary reason would probably be that the Chinese do not want to be accused of engineering a “competitive deflation”. In that regard it should be noted that it would be catastrophic if the international community – particularly the Americans – opposed renminbi devaluation in a situation where the crisis escalates.

Third, the PBoC might feel uncomfortable with using certain instruments at its disposal for monetary easing. One thing is cut banks’ reserve requirements another thing is to conduct to do outright quantitative easing. We know from other central bank how there is a strong “mental” resentment to do QE.

I strongly hope that the PBoC will avoid remarking the ECB and fed’s mistakes of 2008, but the events of the past week certainly makes me nervous. Monetary policy failure can still be avoid it – how things develop from here on it up to the PBoC to decide.

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