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.