A simple monetary policy rule to end the euro crisis

It is extremely depressing. After about half year of calm in Europe – mostly due to the efforts of the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan – European policy makers have once again messed up and the euro crisis is back on top of the headlines in the financial markets. It is time for the ECB to finally take bold actions and end this crisis once and for all. And no I don’t suggest anymore bailouts or odd credit policies and new weird policy instruments. I have a much simpler suggestion and I am pretty sure it would end the crisis very fast.

My suggestion is that the ECB immediately issues the following statement:

“Effective today the ECB will start to undertake monetary operations to ensure that euro zone M3 growth will average 10% every year until the euro zone output gap has been closed. The ECB will allow inflation to temporarily overshoot the normal 2% inflation. The ECB has decided to undertake these measures as a failure to do so would seriously threatens price stability in the euro zone – given the present growth rate of M3 deflation is a substantial risk – and to ensure financial and economic stability in Europe. A failure to fight the deflationary risks would endanger the survival of the euro.

The ECB will from now on every month announce an operational target for the purchase of a GDP weighted basket of euro zone 2-year government bonds. The purpose of the operations will not be to support any single euro zone government, but to ensure a M3 growth rate that is comparable with long-term price stability. The present growth rate of M3 is deflationary and it is therefore of the highest importance that M3 growth is increased significantly until the deflationary risks have been substantially reduced.

The announced measures are completely within the ECB’s mandate and obligations to ensure price stability and financial stability in the euro zone as spelled out in the Maastricht Treaty.”

The ECB used to have a M3 reference rate. It is time to reintroduce it. In fact it is needed more than ever. So Mario Draghi what are you waiting for? And no you don’t have to ask the Bundesbank for permission.

PS See here to see why the M3 growth target should be 10%.

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Slovenia is not Cyprus, but Slovenia is the second ‘S’ in PIIGS(S)

We used to think that the trouble countries in the euro zone were what has been called the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) and then suddenly Cyprus comes along and blow up. So now everybody is looking for the ‘next Cyprus’ rather than the next Spain or Greece.

So now all eyes are turning to Slovenia as it is again and again has being mentioned as the ‘next Cyprus’. I would, however, strongly argue that Slovenia is not Cyprus. That might sound good. Unfortunately it is not Slovenia, which is the ‘outlier’ – it is Cyprus.

I think it is really simple – the countries in the euro zone which are in the biggest trouble – risk of sovereign default and potential banking crisis – are the countries that have seen the largest drop in nominal GDP since 2008. The graph below illustrates this very well. It shows the relationship between the change in NGDP from 2007 to 2012 and the change in public debt ratios (debt/NGDP) in the same period. Surprise, surprise the countries that have seen the biggest increase debt ratios happen to be the PIIGS and those are also the countries that have seen the biggest drop in NGDP during the same crisis.

DebtNGDPeurozone

But notice Cyprus. Cyprus hasn’t really seen a major drop in NGDP and the increase in the debt ratio is not alarming. Cyprus is the ‘outlier’ – despite of banking crisis and a potential sovereign debt default the economy has been holding up pretty well (so far!). Cyprus is in trouble not because of the Cypriot economy as such, but because of a few banks’ exposure to Greek sovereign debt (this is likely a result of moral hazard). That is the story Cyprus, but it is not the story of Slovenia.

It is therefore wrong to say that Slovenia is Cyprus. Unfortunately it might be worse – Slovenia is the second ‘S’ in PIIGSS.

PS For those who are unable to differentiate between Slovenia and Slovakia – you have no reason to worry about Slovakia. The country is doing remarkably well.

Ernest Hemingway and Rüdiger Dornbusch on Cyprus

Here is Ernest Hemingway:

“How did you go bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

Or rather this is how Rüdiger Dornbusch used to discribe the ‘stages’ of a crisis:

“The crisis takes a much longer time coming than you think, and then it happens much faster than you would have thought.”

So if you want to listen to the advice of these two gentlemen then you shouldn’t expect the Cyprus crisis to hit its climax this week, but if it does it will happen very fast. Or maybe they where not talking about Cyprus, but about Spain, Italy or Greece…

HT Matt O’Brien

Join the Global Monetary Policy Network (GMPN)

Since I started blogging back in October 2011 I have been so lucky to get in contact with a large number of economists others with interest in monetary policy issues. That has been very rewarding and I want to thank everybody that are reading and commenting on my blog. You make it more inspiring for me to blog.

However, I would like to get in contact with even more ‘monetary nerds’ around the world and I would also love to help facilitate contacts between others with similar interests.

I am therefore setting up a Global Monetary Policy Network (GMPN). GMPN is not a club or an association, but more like a database of ‘monetary nerds’ around the world.

I therefore welcome all of you to drop me a mail about your own interests in monetary policy, monetary theory and monetary history. Let me know about your background and why you are interested in monetary issues. So are you interested in monetary policy or monetary history – or financial and banking regulation for that matter?

I will not make any of the information public, but I hope to be able to bring ‘monetary nerds’ from around the world together.

So if you for example are a PhD student from Sweden who would like to research mobile banking in Africa I might be able to bring you in contact with an Kenyan economics professor or are you a central banker in Europe that would like to learn about banking resolution in New Zealand then I might have a contact for you.

You might also be a journalist who is interested in getting into contact with monetary experts around the world.

So in that sense I see GMPN as a possibility to build a database of interesting people. There are no conditions for joining the network and it is obviously for free. Economics professor, students, journalists and policy makers are all very welcome.

Finally it is certainly no condition that you are a Market Monetarist or think NGDP targeting is a great idea. The only condition is that you have an interest in monetary issues and is willing to share some information about yourself with me.

To join GMPN just drop me a mail at lacsen@gmail.com

For those of you I already know I also welcome you to drop me a mail – so I can update my “data” on you and your interests.

The Cyprus ‘deposit grab’ sparks a rally in Bitcoins

Nowhere is the fears sparked by EU’s ‘deposit grab’ in Cyprus more visible than in the price of Bitcoins. Take a look at this graph.

Cyprus Bitcoin

Chuck Norris beats Wolfgang Schäuble

So far it is has been a remarkable week in the global financial markets. The ’deposit grab’ in Cyprus undoubtedly has shocked international investors and confidence in the ability of euro zone policy makers has dropped to an all-time low.

Despite of the ‘Cyprus shock’ global stock markets continue to climb higher – yes, yes we have seen a little more volatility, but the overall picture is that of a continued global stock market rally. That is surely remarkable when one takes into account the scale of the policy blunder committed by the EU in Cyprus and the likely long-lasting damage done to the confidence in EU policy makers.

I therefore think it is fair to conclude that so far Chuck Norris has beaten German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Or said, in another way the Chuck Norris effect has been at work all week and that has clearly been a key reason why we have not (yet?) seen global-wide or even European-wide contagion from the disaster in Cyprus.

Just to remind my readers – the Chuck Norris effect of course is the effect that monetary policy not only works through expanding the money base, but also through guiding expectations.

When I early this week expressed my worries (or rather mostly my anger) over the EU’s handling of the situation in Cyprus a fixed income trader who is a colleague of mine comforted me by saying “Lars, you have now for half a year been saying that the Fed and the Bank of Japan are more or less doing the right thing so shouldn’t we expect the Fed and BoJ to offset any shock from the euro zone?” (I am paraphrasing a little – after all we were talking on a trading floor)

The message from the trader was clear. Yes, the EU is making a mess of things, but with the Bernanke-Evans rule in place and the Bank of Japan’s newfound commitment to a 2% inflation target we should expect that any shock from the euro zone to the US and Japanese economies would be ‘offset’ by the Fed and the BoJ by stepping up quantitative easing.

The logic is basically is that if an European shock pushes up US unemployment up we should expect the Fed to do even more QE and if that same shock leads to a strengthening of the yen (that mostly happens when global risk aversion increases) then the BoJ would also do more QE to try to meet its 2% inflation target. Said in another way any increase in demand for US dollar and yen is likely to be met by an increase in the supply of dollars and yen. In that sense the money base is ‘elastic’ in a similar sense as it would be under NGDP targeting. It is less perfect, but it nonetheless seems to be working – at least for now.

The fact that markets now expect the supply of dollars and yens to be at least quasi-elastic in itself means that the markets are not starting to hoard dollars and yen despite the ‘Cyprus shock’. This is the Chuck Norris effect at work – the central banks doesn’t have to do anything else that to reaffirm their commitment to their targets. This is exactly what the Federal Reserve did yesterday and what the new governor of Bank of Japan Kuroda is expected to do later today at his first press conference.

So there is no doubt – Chuck Norris won the first round against Wolfgang Schäuble and other EU policy makers. Thank god for that.

 

This is not a book – “Markets Matter, Money Matters”

Since I started my blog back in October 2011 I written more than 550 blog posts. I have now collected a few of them. It is certainly not a book. It is completely unedited and I haven’t thought much about the structure – you can choose to see it as a random collection of blog posts. But have a look at the non-book Markets Matter, Money Matters. I hope to be able to update it from time to time. God knows what it will turn into…

Fed NGDP targeting would greatly increase global financial stability

Just when we thought that the worst was over and that the world was on the way safely out of the crisis a new shock hit. Not surprisingly it is once again a shock from the euro zone. This time the badly executed bailout (and bail-in) of Cyprus. This post, however, is not about Cyprus, but rather on importance of the US monetary policy setting on global financial stability, but the case of Cyprus provides a reminder of the present global financial fragility and what role monetary policy plays in this.

Lets look at two different hypothetical US monetary policy settings. First what we could call an ‘adaptive’ monetary policy rule and second on a strict NGDP targeting rule.

‘Adaptive’ monetary policy – a recipe for disaster 

By an adaptive monetary policy I mean a policy where the central bank will allow ‘outside’ factors to determine or at least greatly influence US monetary conditions and hence the Fed would not offset shocks to money velocity.

Hence, lets for example imagine that a sovereign default in an euro zone country shocks investors, who run for cover and starts buying ‘safe assets’. Among other things that would be the US dollar. This would obviously be similarly to what happened in the Autumn of 2008 then US monetary policy became ‘adaptive’ when interest rates effectively hit zero. As a consequence the US dollar rallied strongly. The ill-timed interest rates hikes from the ECB in 2011 had exactly the same impact – a run for safe assets caused the dollar to rally.

In that sense under an ‘adaptive’ monetary policy the Fed is effective allowing external financial shocks to become a tightening of US monetary conditions. The consequence every time that this is happening is not only a negative shock to US economic activity, but also increased financial distress – as in 2008 and 2011.

As the Fed is a ‘global monetary superpower’ a tightening of US monetary conditions by default leads to a tightening of global monetary conditions due to the dollar’s role as an international reserve currency and due to the fact that many central banks around the world are either pegging their currencies to the dollar or at least are ‘shadowing’ US monetary policy.

In that sense a negative financial shock from Europe will be ‘escalated’ as the fed conducts monetary policy in an adaptive way and fails to offset negative velocity shocks.

This also means that under an ‘adaptive’ policy regime the risk of contagion from one country’s crisis to another is greatly increased. This obviously is what we saw in 2008-9.

NGDP targeting greatly increases global financial stability

If the Fed on the other hand pursues a strict NGDP level targeting regime the story is very different.

Lets again take the case of an European sovereign default. The shock again – initially – makes investors run for safe assets. That is causing the US dollar to strengthen, which is pushing down US money velocity (money demand is increasing relative to the money supply). However, as the Fed is operating a strict NGDP targeting regime it would ‘automatically’ offset the decrease in velocity by increasing the money base (and indirectly the money supply) to keep NGDP expectations ‘on track’. Under a futures based NGDP targeting regime this would be completely automatic and ‘market determined’.

Hence, a financial shock from an euro zone sovereign default would leave no major impact on US NGDP and therefore likely not on US prices and real economic activity as Fed policy automatically would counteract the shock to US money-velocity. As a consequence there would be no reason to expect any major negative impact on for example the overall performance of US stock markets. Furthermore, as a ‘global monetary policy’ the automatic increase in the US money base would curb the strengthening of the dollar and hence curb the tightening of global monetary conditions, which great would reduce the global financial fallout from the euro zone sovereign default.

Finally and most importantly the financial markets would under a system of a credible Fed NGDP target figure all this out on their own. That would mean that investors would not necessarily run for safe assets in the event of an euro zone country defaulting – or some other major financial shock happening – as investors would know that the supply of the dollar effectively would be ‘elastic’. Any increase in dollar demand would be meet by a one-to-one increase in the dollar supply (an increase in the US money base). Hence, the likelihood of a ‘global financial panic’ (for lack of a better term) is massively reduced as investors will not be lead to fear that we will ‘run out of dollar’ – as was the case in 2008.

The Bernanke-Evans rule improves global financial stability, but is far from enough

We all know that the Fed is not operating an NGDP targeting regime today. However, since September last year the Fed clearly has moved closer to a rule based monetary policy in the form of the Bernanke-Evans rule. The BE rule effective mean that the Fed has committed itself to offset any shock that would increase US unemployment by stepping up quantitative easing. That at least partially is a commitment to offset negative shocks to money-velocity. However, the problem is that the fed policy is still unclear and there is certainly still a large element of ‘adaptive’ policy (discretionary policy) in the way the fed is conducting monetary policy.  Hence, the markets cannot be sure that the Fed will actually fully offset negative velocity-shocks due to for example an euro zone sovereign default. But at least this is much better than what we had before – when Fed policy was high discretionary.

Furthermore, I think there is reason to be happy that the Bank of Japan now also have moved decisively towards a more rule based monetary policy in the form of a 2% inflation targeting (an NGDP targeting obviously would have been better). For the past 15 year the BoJ has been the ‘model’ for adaptive monetary policy, but that hopefully is now changing and as the yen also is an international reserve currency the yen tends to strengthen when investors are looking for safe assets. With a more strict inflation target the BoJ should, however, be expected to a large extent to offset the strengthening of the yen as a stronger yen is push down Japanese inflation.

Therefore, the recent changes of monetary policy rules in the US and Japan likely is very good news for global financial stability. However, the new regimes are still untested and is still not fully trusted by the markets. That means that investors can still not be fully convinced that a sovereign default in a minor euro zone country will not cause global financial distress.

Cyprus, bailouts and NGDP targeting

Cyprus has received a bailout from the EU and the IMF. I don’t want to waste my readers’ time on my views on this issue, but I think that Ed Conway got it more or less right. This is from Ed’s blog:

Back in 1941, with the memory of the Great Depression still weighing heavy, an American wrote into the Federal Reserve with an idea. “Would it not be feasible,” the member of the public asked, “to impose a Federal tax on the deposit of funds in bank checking accounts?”

The reply from the Fed was polite but succinct: while there’s no doubt a tax on bank deposits would have “the advantage of administrative simplicity”, it is “not in accord with one of the fundamental principles of taxation in a democracy, namely, that taxes should be imposed in accordance with ability to pay”.

And that, when it comes down to it, is the most scandalous and worrying aspect of the overnight decision to impose a one-off levy on all bank deposits in Cyprus. There is no doubt the country is in big trouble: it was heading for a potential default and is in desperate need of another bail-out. However, trying to recoup some of the cash directly from bank deposits is a step across the financial Rubicon. Even in the depths of the euro crisis, none of the troubled countries had, until now, gone so far as to confiscate bank deposits. As the Fed said all those years ago, doing so involves arbitrary charges on those least equipped to afford them.

And so it will be in Cyprus. If you have anything up to €100,000 in a bank, by the time you next get access to your account on Tuesday (there’s a bank holiday on Monday) some 6.75% of your cash will have disappeared into the Government’s coffers to help keep the country afloat. That goes for everyone, from a pensioner to a small business owner to a millionaire (although Greek depositors get an exception). If you have more than €100,000 the charge is 9.9%.

In exchange, Cypriots will get a share in the relevant bank, equivalent to the value of the tax deduction – although this is unlikely to be of much consolation given the country’s current financial woes.

But why do we continue to debate the terms for bailouts in Europe? Because we got monetary policy terribly wrong. Had we instead had proper monetary policy rules in Europe then we would not have these problems. Let me quote myself on why NGDP targeting has a strict no-bailout clause:

“NGDP targeting would mean that central banks would get out of the business of messing around with credit allocation and NGDP targeting would lead to a strict separation of money and banking. Under NGDP targeting the central bank would only provide liquidity to “the market” against proper collateral and the central bank would not be in the business of saving banks (or governments). There is a strict no-bailout clause in NGDP targeting. However, NGDP targeting would significantly increase macroeconomic stability and as such sharply reduce the risk of banking crisis and sovereign debt crisis. As a result the political pressure for “bail outs” would be equally reduced. Similarly the increased macroeconomic stability will also reduce the perceived “need” for other interventionist measures such as tariffs and capital control. This of course follows the same logic as Milton Friedman’s argument against fixed exchange rates.”

I am not arguing that Cyprus would not have had problems if the ECB had targeted NGDP, but I am arguing that if the ECB had followed a proper monetary policy rule like NGDP targeting then a banking problem or a sovereign debt problem in Cyprus would never had become an issue for the entire euro area.

Update: David Beckworth and Nick Rowe also comment on the Cyprus. As do Frances Coppola  and Felix Salmon.

The ultimate sign of recovery – no reason to freak out about higher bond yields

This is from CNBC.com:

U.S. Treasurys prices eased for a second day after jobless claims data suggested solid improvement in the labor market, while stocks’ gains undermined the appeal of lower-risk government debt.

The Treasury Department auctioned $13 billion of reopened 30-year bonds on Thursday at a high yield of 3.248 percent. The bid-to-cover ratio, an indicator of demand, was 2.43, the lowest level since August.

In the when-issued market, considered a proxy for where the bonds will price at auction, 30-year bonds were yielding about 3.24 percent. The auction followed solid demand in the sales of $21 billion of reopened 10-year notes on Wednesday and $32 billion of three-year notes on Tuesday.

US bond yields continue to inch higher. To me that is the ultimate sign that easier monetary conditions is pushing up nominal GDP (and very likely also real GDP).

But I am afraid that we will soon hear somebody warn us that higher bond yields will kill the recovery. But we of course know that when bond yields and equity prices are rising in parallel then it is normally a very good sign of higher aggregate demand and that is of course exactly what we need.

So if we avoid the biggest fallacy in economics and ask why bond yields are rising then we should find a lot of comfort in the fact that US stock prices are rising as well.

And finally there is some Keynesians out there that can explain to me why global stock prices continue to inch up, bond yields are rising and the US consumer seems completely unaffected despite of the fiscal cliff (I told you so!) and the sequester. Market Monetarists of course have an answer – it is monetary policy dominance – monetary policy can always offset any impact on aggregate demand from a fiscal shock. It is very simple – and is the positive spin on the Sumner Critique. (Here is a model textbook Keynesian should be able to understand).

PS yes you got it right – I am very optimistic both on the markets and on the recovery at least in the US (I have been optimistic for a while – see here and here). My only two fears are that the ECB once again will do something stupid or that we will have a repeat of the mistakes of 19367-37 – premature monetary tightening from the fed. Italian politics is, however, not keeping me awake at night.

Update: I wrote above my worry was the ECB. I should have said the EU/IMF. The terms for the EU/IMF bail out of Cyprus scare me quite a bit. So much for the rule of law…

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