Guest post: Central bankers should watch the Eurovision (by Jens Pedersen)

Guest post: Central bankers should watch the Eurovision

By Jens Pedersen

Congratulations Emmelie de Forest with the 2013 Eurovision song contest first place. You have made all of Denmark very proud!! Denmark normally does not win anything, so this is really big for us! (note the irony…)

However, I regret to say that I did not watch the competition yesterday. Not that I do not like a good song contest or that I am not a patriot rooting for my country.  The reason that I did not watch the song contest was simply that the bookmakers had Denmark as a heavy favourite to win and history shows that the bookmakers are rarely wrong in their Eurovision predictions. Bookmakers have correctly predicted four out of last five Eurovision winners. Hence, the results were pretty much given before hand, which really takes away all of the excitement.

I do, however, hope that every central banker out there watched the Eurovision song contest yesterday. It serves a great example that looking at market expectations is the best way of predicting the outcome of an uncertain event.  If markets can predict the winner of the Eurovision they should also come pretty close at predicting the future rate of inflation, real and nominal GDP growth, the rate of unemployment etc. Hence, the first thing central banks should do on Monday is to set up prediction markets for key economic variables. This will be a great help in guiding future monetary policy decisions.

The monetary transmission mechanism in a ‘perfect world’

I fundamentally think that what really sets Market Monetarism aside from other macroeconomic schools it how we see the monetary transmission mechanism. I this blog post I will try to describe how I think the monetary transmission mechanism would look like in a ‘perfect world’ and how in such a perfect world the central bank basically would do nothing at all and changes in monetary conditions would be nearly 100% determined by market forces.

Futures based NGDP level targeting – the perfect world

No monetary regime is perfect, but I think the regime that get closest to perfection (leaving out Free Banking) is a regime where the central bank targets the nominal GDP level and implement this target with the use of an NGDP-linked bond.

How would this work? Well imagine that the government – lets say the US government – issues bonds linked to the NGDP level. So if the market expectation for the future NGDP level increases the price of the bond increased (and yields drop) and similarly if the NGDP expectation drops the bond price will decline.

Now imagine that the central bank announces that it will always buy or sell these bonds to ensure that the expected NGDP level is equal to the targeted NGDP level.

Then lets now imagine that the price of the bond rise is reflecting expectations for a higher NGDP level. If the expected NGDP level increases above the targeted NGDP level then the central bank will “automatically” go out and sell NGDP-linked bonds until the price is pushed down so the expected NGDP level is equal to the targeted level. This means that the central bank will automatically reduce the money base by a similar amount as the amount of bond selling. The drop in the money base obviously in itself will contribute to pushing back the NGDP level to the targeted level.

It don’t take a genius to see that the mechanism here is very similar to a fixed exchange rate policy, but the outcome of the policy is just much better than what you would get under a fixed exchange rate policy.

And similarly to under a fixed exchange rate regime the money base is endogenous in the sense that it is changed automatically to hit the NGDP target. There is no discretion at all.

Changes in money demand will do most of the job  

It is not only the supply of money, which will be endogenous in a perfect world – so will the demand for money be. In fact it is very likely that most of the adjustments in this world will happen through changes in money demand rather than through changes in the money base.

The reason for this is that if the NGDP targeting policy is credible then investors and consumers will adjust the demand for money to ‘pre-empt’ future changes in monetary policy.

Hence, let imagine a situation where NGDP growth for some reason start to slow down. This initially pushes market expectations for future NGDP below the targeted level. However, this will only be short-lived as forward-looking investors will realise that the central bank will start buying NGDP-linked bonds and hence increase the money base. As investors realise this they will expect the value of money to go down and as forward-looking investors they will re-allocate their portfolios – buying assets that go up in value when NGDP increases and selling assets that go down in value when this happens.

Assets that go up in value when NGDP expectations increase includes shares, real estate and of course NGDP-linked bond and also the national currency, while regular bonds will drop in value when NGDP expectations increase.

This is key to the monetary transmission mechanism in the ‘perfect world’ – it is all about consumers and investors anticipating the central bank’s future actions and the impact this is having on portfolio reallocation.

Similarly there is also an impact on macroeconomic variables due to this portfolio reallocation. Hence, if NGDP drops below the targeted level then rational consumers and investors will realise that the central bank will ease monetary policy to bring NGDP back on track. That would mean that the value of cash should be expected to decline relative to other assets. As a consequence consumers and investors will reduce their cash holdings – and instead increase consumption and investment. Similarly as monetary easing is expected this will tend to weaken the national currency, which will boost exports. Hence, the “NGDP anchor” will have a stabilizing impact on the macro economy.

Therefore, if the central bank’s NGDP targeting regime is credible it will effectively be the market mechanism that automatically through a portfolio reallocation mechanism will ensure that NGDP continuously tend to return the targeted NGDP level.

We can see in the ‘perfect world’ the money base would likely not change much and probably be closed the ideal of a ‘frozen money base’ and the continuously adjustment in monetary conditions would happens by changes in the money demand and hence in money-velocity.

It should also be noted that the way I describe the transmission mechanism above interest rates play no particularly important role and the only thing we can say is that interest rates and bond yields will tend to move up and down with NGDP expectations. However, the interest rate is not the policy instrument and interest rate is just one of many prices that adjust to changes in NGDP expectations.

The Great Moderation was close to the ‘perfect world’

The discussion above might seem somewhat like science fiction, but in fact I believe the way I describe the transmission mechanism above is very similarly to how the transmission mechanism actually was working during the Great Moderation from the mid-1980s to 2007/8 particularly in the US.

Effectively the Fed during this period targeted 5-5½% NGDP growth and that “target” was highly credible – even though it was never precisely defined. Furthermore, the NGDP “target” was not implemented by utilizing NGDP-linked bonds and officially the fed’s used the fed funds target rate to implement monetary policy. However, the reality was that it was the market that determined what level of interest rates that was necessary to hit the “target”.

Hence, only very rarely did the fed surprised the market expectation for changes in the fed fund target rate during that period. Furthermore, it was basically a portfolio reallocation mechanism that ensured NGDP stability – not changes in the fed funds target rate. So when NGDP was above ‘target’ investors would expect monetary tightening – that would cause market interest rates rise, stock prices to drop and the dollar to strengthen as future monetary tightening was priced in. In this process the demand for money would also increase and hence the velocity of money would decline.

So the real achievement of monetary policy in the US during the Great Moderation was effectively to create a credible NGDP targeting regime where monetary policy basically was market determined. The problem of course was, however, that this was never acknowledged and equally problematic was the reliance on the fed funds target as the key monetary policy instrument. This of course turned out to be catastrophic defects in the system in 2008.

In 2008 it was very clear that NGDP expectations were declining – stock prices was declining, bond yields dropped, the dollar strengthened and money velocity declined. Had there been a futures based NGDP targeting regime in place this would likely have lead to the price of NGDP linked-bonds to drop already in 2006 as US property prices peaked. As the fed would have pledged to keep NGDP expectations on track this would have led to an automatic increase in the money base as the fed would have been buying NGDP-linked bonds. That would have sent a clear signal to consumers and investors that the fed would not let the NGDP level drop below target for long. As a consequence we would not have seen the massive increase in money demand we saw and even if it that had happened the supply of money would have been completely elastic and the supply of dollars would have risen one-to-one with the increase in money demand. There would hence have been no monetary contraction at all.

Instead the system ‘broke down’ as the fed funds target rate effectively hit the Zero Lower Bound (ZLB) and the fed effectively became unable to ease monetary policy with its preferred monetary policy instrument – the fed funds target rate. Obviously in the ‘perfect world’ there is no ZLB problem. Monetary policy can always – and will always – be eased if NGDP expectations drop below the targeted NGDP level.

Fiscal consolidation in the ‘perfect world’

In the ‘perfect world’ the fiscal multiplier will always be zero. To understand this try to imagine the following situation. The US government announces that government spending will be cut by 10% of GDP next year. It is pretty obvious that the initial impact of this would for aggregate demand to drop. Hence, the expectation for next year’s NGDP level would drop.

However, if NGDP expectations drop below the targeted level the fed would automatically expand the money base to ‘offset’ the shock to NGDP expectations. The fed would likely have to do very little ‘offsetting’ as the market would probably do most of the work. Hence, as the fiscal tightening is announced this would be an implicit signal to the market that the fed would ease monetary policy. The expectation of monetary easing obviously would lead to a weakening of the dollar and push up stock prices and property prices. As a consequence most of the ‘offsetting’ of the fiscal tightening would be market determined.

We should therefore, expect money demand to drop and velocity increase in response to an announcement of fiscal tightening. As an aside it should be noticed at this is the opposite of what would be the case in a paleo-keynesian world. Here a tightening of monetary policy would lead to a drop in money-velocity. I plan to return to this issue in a future post.

The important point here is that in the ‘perfect world’ there is no room or reason for using fiscal policy for cyclical purposes. As a consequence the there are no argument as consolidating fiscal policy is long-term considerations necessitate this.

Market Monetarism is not about ‘stimulus’ and QE, but above rules

I think my conclusion above clearly demonstrates what is the ‘core’ of Market Monetarist thinking. So while Market Monetarism often wrongly is equated with ‘monetary stimulus’ and advocacy of ‘quantitative easing’ the fact is that this really has nothing to do with Market Monetarism. Instead what we are arguing is that monetary policy should be ‘market determined’ by the use of targeting the price of NGDP-linked bonds. In such a world there would be no ‘stimulus’ in the sense that there would be no need for discretionary changes in monetary policy. Monetary conditions would change completely automatically to always ensure NGDP stability. As a consequence monetary conditions would likely mostly change through changes in money demand rather than through changes in the money base. Therefore we can hardly talk about ‘QE’ in such a regime.

So why have Market Monetarists then seemly supported quantitative easing in for example the US. Well, the point is first and foremost that the fed’s monetary policy regime over the past five years have not been entirely credible – we are getting closer, but we are very far away from the ‘perfect world’. Hence, the fed needs to undertake quantitative easing to demonstrate first of all that it can indeed ease monetary policy even with interest rates basically at zero. Secondly since monetary policy is not credible (countercyclical) changes in money demand will not happen automatically so the fed will instead have to change the money base.

Obviously these measures would not be necessary if the US Treasury issue NGDP-linked bonds and the fed at the same time announced an NGDP level target and utilized the NGDP-linked bonds to hit this target. If such a system were credibly announced then it would be very hard to argue for ‘monetary stimulus’ and quantitative easing in the discretionary sense.

It might be that the discussion above is pure fantasy and it is pretty clear that we are very, very far away from such a monetary policy regime anywhere, but I nonetheless think that the discussion illustrates how important it is for monetary policy to be rule based rather than to be conducted in a discretionary fashion. Both the Bank of Japan and the Federal Reserve have within the last six months moved (a little) closer to the ‘perfect world’ in the sense that their policies have become a lot more rule based than used to be the case and there is no doubt that the policies are ‘working’. Especially in the case of Japan it seems clear that ‘automatic’ adjustments in money demand is going to play a very key role in achieve BoJ’s 2% inflation target. Hence, it is likely that it will not be the expansion of the money base that will do it for BoJ, but rather the likely sharp increase in money-velocity that will ensure that BoJ’s hits its target.

Finally, I would argue that my discussion above also demonstrates why a proper NGDP level targeting regime is a true free market alternative as the system relies heavy on market forces for the implementation of monetary policy and is strictly rule base.

Russia’s slowdown – another domestic demand story

Today I am in to Moscow to do a presentation on the Russian economy. It will be yet another chance to tell one of my pet-stories and that is that growth in nominal GDP in Russia is basically determined by the price of oil measured in rubles. Furthermore, I will stress that changes in the oil price feeds through to the Russian economy not primarily through net exports, but through domestic demand. This is what I earlier have termed the petro-monetary transmission mechanism.

The Russian economy is slowing – it is mostly monetary

In the last couple of quarters the Russian economy has been slowing. This is a direct result of a monetary contraction caused by lower Russian export prices (measured in rubles). Hence, even though the ruble has been “soft” it has not weakened nearly as much as the drop in oil prices and this effectively is causing a tightening of Russian monetary conditions.

oil price rub

This is how the petro-monetary transmission mechanism works. What happens is that when the oil price drops it puts downward pressure on the ruble. If the Russian central bank had been following what I have called Export Price Norm the ruble would have weakened in parallel with the drop in the oil price.

However, the Russian central bank is not allowing the ruble to weaken enough to keep the price of oil measured in rubles stable and as a consequence we effectively are seeing a drop in the Russian foreign exchange reserves (compared to what otherwise would have happened). There of course is a direct (nearly) one-to-one link between the decline in the FX reserve and the decline in the Russian money base. Hence, due to the managed float of the ruble – rather than a freely floating RUB (and a clear nominal target) – we are getting an “automatic”, but unnecessary, tightening of monetary conditions.

This means that there is a fairly close correlation between changes in oil prices measured in rubles and the growth of nominal GDP. The graph below illustrates this quite well.

NGDP russia oil price

I should of course stress that the slowdown in NGDP growth not necessarily a problem. Unemployment has continued to decline in Russia since 2010 and is now at fairly low levels, while inflation recently have been picking up to around 7%. Hence, it is hard to argue that there is a massive demand side problem in Russia. Yes, both nominal and real GDP is slowing, but it is certainly not catastrophic and I strongly believe that the Russian central bank should target 5-8% NGDP growth rather than 20 or 30% NGDP growth (which is what we saw prior to the crisis erupting in 2008-9). In that sense the gradual tightening of monetary conditions we have seen over the last 2 years might have been warranted. The problem, however, is that the Russian central banks is not very clear on want it wants to achieve with its policies.

It is all about domestic demand rather than net exports

Many would instinctively, but wrongly, conclude that the recent drop in oil prices is a drop in net exports and that is the reason for the slowdown in economic activity. However, that is far from right. In fact net export growth has remained fairly stable with Russian exports and imports growing more or less by the same rate. Hence, there has basically been only a small negative impact on GDP growth from the development in net exports.

What of course is happening is that even though export growth has slowed so has import growth as a result of a fairly sharp slowdown in domestic demand – particularly investment growth.

In that sense the present slowdown is quite similar to the massive collapse in economic activity in 2008-9. The difference is of course that what we are seeing now is not a collapse, but simply a slowdown in growth, but the mechanism is the same – monetary conditions have become tighter as the ruble has not weakened enough to “accommodate” the drop in the oil price.

It should be noted that the ruble today is significantly more freely floating than prior and during the 2008-9 crisis. As a result the ruble has moved much more in sync with the oil price than was the case in 2008-9. So while the oil price has gradually declined since the highs of 2011 the ruble has also weakened moderately against the US dollar in this period. However, the net result has nonetheless been that the price of oil measured in ruble has declined by 25-30% since the peak in 2011. Furthermore, the drop in the oil price measured in rubles has further accelerated since March. As a consequence we are likely to see the slowdown in economic activity continue towards the end of the year.

Overall I believe that the  gradual and moderate tightening of monetary conditions in 2010-12 was warranted. However, it is also clear that what we have see in the last couple of months likely is an excessive tightening of monetary conditions.

 The Export Price Norm is still the best solution for Russia

I have earlier argued that the Russian central bank should implement a variation of what I have termed an Export Price Norm (EPN) and what Jeff Frankel calls Peg-the-Export-Price (PEP) to ensure a stable growth rate in nominal GDP.

I think simplest way of doing this would be to include the oil price in the basket of currencies that the Russian central bank is now shadowing (dollars and euros). Hence, I believe that if the Russian central bank announced that it would shadow a basket of 20% oil prices and 40% dollars and 40% euros to ensure stable NGDP growth for example 7% and allowed for a +/-15% fluctuation band around the basket then I believe that you would get a monetary regime that automatically and without policy discretion would provide tremendous nominal stability and fairly low inflation (2-4%). In such a regime most of the changes in monetary policy would be implemented by market forces. Hence, if the oil price dropped the ruble would automatically be depreciated and equally important if the NGDP growth slowed due to other factors – for example a fiscal tightening or financial distress – then the ruble would automatically weak relative to the basket within the fluctuation band. Obviously there might be – rare – occasions where the “mid-point” of the fluctuation band could be changed and market participants should obviously be made aware that the purpose of the regime is not exchange rate stability but nominal stability. In such a set-up the central bank’s policy instrument would be the level for the mid-point for the fluctuation band around the basket.

Alternatively the Russian central bank could also opt for a completely freely floating exchange rate with NGDP targeting or flexible inflation targeting. I, however, would be skeptical about such solution as the domestic Russian financial markets are still quite illiquid and underdeveloped which complicates the conduct of monetary policy. Furthermore, an EPN solution would actually be more rule based than a freely floating ruble regime as a freely floating ruble regime would necessitate regular changes in for example the interest rate (or the money base) to be announced by the central bank. That opens the door for monetary policy to become unnecessarily discretionary.

Russia’s biggest problems are not monetary

It is correct that Market Monetarists seem to be obsessed with talking about monetary policy, but in the case of Russia I would also argue that even though there is a significant need for monetary policy reform monetary policy is not Russia’s biggest problem. In fact I believe the conduction of monetary policy has improved greatly in the last couple of years.

Russia’s biggest problem is structural. The country is struggling with massive overregulation, lack of competition and widespread corruption. There are very esay solutions to this: Deregulation and privatization. Every sane economist would tell you that, but the political reality in Russia means that reforms are painfully slow. In fact if anything corruption seems to have become even more widespread over the past decade.

Russian policy makers need to deal with these issues if they want to boost real GDP growth over the medium term. The Russian central bank can ensure nominal stability but it can do little else to increase real GDP growth. That is a case for the Russian government. On that I am unfortunately not too optimistic, but hope I will be proven wrong.

Ease of doing business russia

PS My story that the drop in oil prices measured in ruble is about domestic demand rather than export growth is of course very similar to the point I have been making about Japanese monetary stimulus. Monetary easing in Japan might be weakening the currency, but it is not about lifting exports, but about boosting domestic demand. That be the way seem to be exactly what is happening in the Japan. See for example this story from Bloomberg from earlier today.

Lower (supply) inflation is NOT a reason to ease US monetary policy

Here are two news stories from today:

U.S. import prices fell in April due to a drop in oil costs, a positive sign for household finances that also pointed to benign inflation pressures.

Import prices slipped 0.5 percent last month, the biggest decline since December, the Labor Department said on Tuesday. March’s data was revised to show a 0.2 percent decline instead of the previously reported 0.5 percent drop.”

And the second one:

“U.S. producer prices recorded their largest drop in three years in April while a reading of manufacturing in New York indicated contraction.

Producer prices slid as gasoline and food costs tumbled, pointing to weak inflation pressures that should give the Federal Reserve latitude to keep monetary policy very accommodative.”

Now some might of course think that this would make Market Monetarists scream for the Federal Reserve to step up monetary easing. However, that would be extremely wrong. There are certainly good reasons for the fed to ease monetary policy, but a drop in inflation caused by a positive supply shock – lower import prices – is certainly not one of them.

At the core of Market Monetarist thinking is that central banks should not react to supply shock – positive or negative. Hence, we are arguing that central banks should target the level of nominal GDP – not inflation.

Therefore, imagine that the fed indeed was targeting the the NGDP level and NGDP was “on track” and a positive supply shock hit. Then the fed would maintain monetary conditions completely unchanged – keeping NGDP on track – and allowed the positive supply shock to feed through to lower inflation (and higher real GDP). This is benign inflation and as such very welcomed as it do not reflect a deflationary and recessionary demand shock. Furthermore, some Market Monetarists like David Beckworth and myself also believe that monetary easing in response to positive supply shocks risks leading to economic misallocation and what Austrian economists call relative inflation.

Lower (supply) inflation is no reason for more QE
…but the fed needs to focus on defining its target

One can certainly argue that NGDP growth is too weak to catch up with the pre-crisis NGDP trend, but on the other hand it is also pretty clear that US NGDP growth is fairly robust. So instead of stepping up quantitative easing in response to lower import prices the fed instead should focus on becoming much more clear on what it wants to achieve. Hence, there is still considerable uncertainty about what the fed really wants to achieve.

Therefore, the fed should become more clear on its target. Preferably of course the fed should adopt an NGDP level target and decide whether the present growth rate of the money base is strong enough to achieve that or not. Regarding that I don’t think that the present policy with a not clearly defined target and the present growth rate of the money base is enough to return NGDP to the pre-crisis trend, but it is nonetheless likely to keep NGDP growing 4-5% and that is likely enough to maintain the present speed of recovery in real GDP and the US labour market. I think that is far too unambitious, but it is certainly better than what we are seeing in Europe.

The paradox – the positive supply shock is “pushing” central banks to do the right thing for the wrong reasons

The paradox, however, is that the recent drop in global commodity prices have pushed down headline inflation around the world and central banks have over the last couple of weeks been responding by cutting interest rates. Hence, Central banks in the eurozone, India, Australia, South Korea, Poland and Israel have all cut rates in recent weeks. While there certainly is very good reasons for monetary easing in nearly all of these countries it a paradox that these central banks now seem to have been “shocked” into easing monetary policy in response to a positive supply shock rather than in response to weak demand growth.

It would clearly be wrong to criticize these central banks for doing the right thing – easing monetary policy – but I also believe that it is important to stress that had monetary policy in these countries been “right” then these central banks would likely have been making a policy mistakes by easing monetary policy at the moment.

In that regard it is of course also important that central banks’ (apparent mental) inability to differentiate between supply and demand shocks often has lead central banks to tight monetary policy in response to negative supply. The ECB’s catastrophic rate hikes in 2011 is a very good example of this. Paradoxically we might be happy at the moment that the ECB’s tendency to react to supply shocks might push the ECB into stepping up monetary easing.

Finally I should stress that the recent decline in inflation globally is certainly not only caused by a positive supply. In fact I have long argued that we are likely heading for deflation in the euro zone due to excessively tight monetary policy. So my discussion above should mostly be seen as an attempt to stress the need for understanding the difference between demand and supply for the conduct of monetary policy. Unfortunately many central bankers seem unable to understand these important difference.

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Update: Market Monetarists think alike – I just realized that Marcus Nunes did a post yesterday that made the exact same argument as me.

We told you so – the two graph version

The Market Monetarist “textbook” will tell you two things:

1) The Friedman yield dictum: Credible monetary easing will push up bond yields as the market price in higher NGDP growth and higher inflation

2) The Sumner Critique: The fiscal multiplier is zero when the central bank in some way targets aggregate demand (inflation targeting, price level targeting NGDP targeting etc.)

Here are two graphs that will tell you that we are right.

We start 10-year Japanese bond yields. Look at the spike in yields since Bank of Japan governor Kuroda announced his new measures to achieve the BoJ’s new 2% inflation target. This is exactly what Market Monetarists have been saying all along – a credible easing of monetary policy will push up NGDP growth expectations and hence push up bond yields.

Kuroda shock

And if you are getting nervous about either the rise in yields “killing the recovery” or threathening debt sustainability in Japan let me just say that one never should reason for a (one!) price change. The increase in yields exactly reflect the expectation of a recovery rather than the other way around. Regarding debt sustainability remember that the rise in yields reflects that monetary easing is increasing NGDP. Hence, debt ratios in Japan will likely decrease rather than increase even if yields are rising.

On to the next graph. The Keynesian fiscalists have been screaming about the risks of the fiscal cliff sending the US economy back into recession. On the other hand than the Market Monetarist position has been clear – monetary policy dominates fiscal policy if the Federal Reserve in anyway targets aggregate demand. The Bernanke-Evans rule is doing exactly that. That is why Market Monetarists like myself has been fairly upbeat about the outlook for the US economy since September when the BE rule was announced.

US macroeconomic data now seem to confirm the MM position. Take a look at US retail sales.

US retail sales

I find it very hard to spot any negative effect of the fiscal cliff, but it is pretty clear that the Bernanke-Evans rule has boosted retail sales in the US.

Since the begining to the crisis Market Monetarists have been arguing that monetary policy is highly potent even if interest rates are close to zero. I think the evidence now is very clear and it shows that we have been right. I wonder whether the ECB will start to listen soon…

Update: David Beckworth tells essentially the same story as me on the Market Monetarist bias of US macrodata.

Bennett McCallum told “my” Kuroda story a decade ago

From to time I will make an argument and then later realize that it really wasn’t my own independently thought out argument, but rather a “reproduction” of something I once read. Often it would be Milton Friedman who has been my inspiration, however, Friedman is certainly not my only inspiration.

Another economist who undoubtedly have had quite a bit of an influence on my thinking is Bennett McCallum and guess what – it turns out that the argument that I was making in my latest post on the “Kuroda recovery” is very similar to the type of argument Bennett made in a number of papers around a decade ago about how to get Japan out of the deflationary trap. Bennett has kindly pointed this out to me. I know Bennett’s work on Japan quite well, but when I was writing my post yesterday I didn’t realize how close my thinking was to Bennett’s arguments.

I therefore think it is appropriate to touch on some of Bennett’s main conclusions and how they relate to the situation in Japan today.

I my previous post I argued that easing of monetary policy in Japan would primarily work through an increase in domestic demand – contrary to the general perception that monetary easing would primarily boost exports through a depreciation of the yen. Bennett told the exact same story a decade ago in his paper “Japanese Monetary Policy, 1991–2001” (and a number of other papers).

While I used general historical observations to make my argument Bennett in his 2003 paper uses a formal model. His model is a variation of an open economy DSGE model calibrated for the Japanese economy originally developed with Edward Nelson.

In his paper Bennett simulates a shock to inflation expectations – from -1% inflation to +1% inflation. Hence, this is not very different from the actual shock we are presently seeing in Japan. However, while the “Kuroda-shock” is a direct shock to the money base in Bennett’s example the exchange rate is used as the policy instrument.  However, this is not really important for the results in the model (as far as I can see at least…).

In Bennett’s model the Bank of Japan is buying foreign assets to weaken the yen to increase inflation expectations. According to the general perception this should lead to an marked improvement Japanese net exports. However, take a look at what conclusion Bennett reaches:

The variable on whose response we shall focus is the home country’s— i.e., Japan’s—net export balance in real terms….we see that the upward jump in the target inflation rate (π), which occurs in period 1, does indeed induce an exchange-rate depreciation rate that remains positive for over two years. Inflation, not surprisingly, rises and stays above its initial value for over two years, then oscillates and settles down at a new steady state rate of 0.005 (in relation to its starting value). Quite surprisingly, p responds more strongly than s so the real exchange rate appreciates. As expected, however, real output rises strongly for two years.

Most importantly, the real (Japanese) export balance is so affected by the two-year increase in real output that it turns negative and stays negative for almost two years.

Hence, Bennett’s simulations shows the same result as i postulated in my previous post – that monetary easing even if it leads to a substantial weakening of the yen will primarily boost domestic demand. In fact it is likely that after a few quarters the boost to domestic demand will lead to higher import growth than export growth and hence the net impact on the Japanese trade balance is likely to be negative.

Said, in another way there is no beggar-thy-neighbor-effect. In fact is anything monetary easing in Japan is likely to boost exports to Japan rather than the opposite.

I am sure that Bennett’s papers also in the future will inspire me to write blog posts on different topics as anybody who follow my blog knows it has done in the past – even when I don’t realize myself to begin with. Until then I suggest to my readers that you take a look at Bennett’s 2003 paper. It will teach you quite a bit about what is happening in Japan a decade after Bennett wrote the paper.

The Kuroda recovery will be about domestic demand and not about exports

There has been a lot of focus on the fact that USD/JPY has now broken above 100 and that the slide in the yen is going to have a positive impact on Japanese exports. In fact it seems like most commentators and economists think that the easing of monetary policy we have seen in Japan is about the exchange rate and the impact on Japanese “competitiveness”. I think this focus is completely wrong.

While I strongly believe that the policies being undertaken by the Bank of Japan at the moment is likely to significantly boost Japanese nominal GDP growth – and likely also real GDP in the near-term – I doubt that the main contribution to growth will come from exports. Instead I believe that we are likely to see is a boost to domestic demand and that will be the main driver of growth. Yes, we are likely to see an improvement in Japanese export growth, but it is not really the most important channel for how monetary easing works.

The weaker yen is an indicator of monetary easing – but not the main driver of growth

I think that the way we should think about the weaker yen is as a indicator for monetary easing. Hence, when we seeing the yen weakeN, Japanese stock markets rallying and inflation expectations rise at the same time then it is pretty safe to assume that monetary conditions are indeed becoming easier. Of course the first we can conclude is that this shows that there is no “liquidity trap”. The central bank can always ease monetary policy – also when interest rates are zero or close to zero. The Bank of Japan is proving that at the moment.

Two things are happening at the moment in the Japan. One, the money base is increasing dramatically. Second and maybe more important money-velocity is picking up significantly.

Velocity is of course picking up because money demand in Japan is dropping as a consequence of households, companies and institutional investors expect the value of the cash they are holding to decline as inflation is likely to pick up. The drop in the yen is a very good indicator of that.

And what do you do when you reduce the demand for money? Well, you spend it, you invest it. This is likely to be what will have happen in Japan in the coming months and quarters – private consumption growth will pick-up, business investments will go up, construction activity will accelerate. So it is no wonder that equity analysts feel more optimistic about Japanese companies’ earnings.

Hence, the Bank of Japan (and the rest of us) should celebrate the sharp drop in the yen as it is an indicator of a sharp increase in money-velocity and not because it is helping Japanese “competitiveness”.

The focus on competitiveness is completely misplaced

I have in numerous earlier posts argued that when a country is going through a “devaluation” as a consequence of monetary easing the important thing is not competitiveness, but the impact on domestic demand.

I have for example earlier demonstrated that Swedish growth outpaced Danish growth in 2009-10 not because the Swedish krona depreciated strongly against the Danish krone (which is pegged to the euro), but because the Swedish Riksbank was able to ease monetary policy, while the Danish central bank effectively tightened monetary conditions due to the Danish fixed exchange rate policy. As a consequence domestic demand did much better in Sweden in 2009-10 than in Denmark, while – surprise, surprise – Swedish and Danish exports more or less grew at the same pace in 2009-10 (See graphs below).

Similarly I have earlier shown that when Argentina gave up its currency board regime in 2002 the major boost to growth did not primarly come from exports, but rather from domestic demand. Let me repeat a quote from Mark Weisbrot’s and Luis Sandoval’s 2007-paper on “Argentina’s economic recovery”:

“However, relatively little of Argentina’s growth over the last five years (2002-2007) is a result of exports or of the favorable prices of Argentina’s exports on world markets. This must be emphasized because the contrary is widely believed, and this mistaken assumption has often been used to dismiss the success or importance of the recovery, or to cast it as an unsustainable “commodity export boom…

During this period (The first six months following the devaluation in 2002) exports grew at a 6.7 percent annual rate and accounted for 71.3 percent of GDP growth. Imports dropped by more than 28 percent and therefore accounted for 167.8 percent of GDP growth during this period. Thus net exports (exports minus imports) accounted for 239.1 percent of GDP growth during the first six months of the recovery. This was countered mainly by declining consumption, with private consumption falling at a 5.0 percent annual rate.

But exports did not play a major role in the rest of the recovery after the first six months. The next phase of the recovery, from the third quarter of 2002 to the second quarter of 2004, was driven by private consumption and investment, with investment growing at a 41.1 percent annual rate during this period. Growth during the third phase of the recovery – the three years ending with the second half of this year – was also driven mainly by private consumption and investment… However, in this phase exports did contribute more than in the previous period, accounting for about 16.2 percent of growth; although imports grew faster, resulting in a negative contribution for net exports. Over the entire recovery through the first half of this year, exports accounted for about 13.6 percent of economic growth, and net exports (exports minus imports) contributed a negative 10.9 percent.

The economy reached its pre-recession level of real GDP in the first quarter of 2005. As of the second quarter this year, GDP was 20.8 percent higher than this previous peak. Since the beginning of the recovery, real (inflation-adjusted) GDP has grown by 50.9 percent, averaging 8.2 percent annually. All this is worth noting partly because Argentina’s rapid expansion is still sometimes dismissed as little more than a rebound from a deep recession.

…the fastest growing sectors of the economy were construction, which increased by 162.7 percent during the recovery; transport, storage and communications (73.4 percent); manufacturing (64.4 percent); and wholesale and retail trade and repair services (62.7 percent).

The impact of this rapid and sustained growth can be seen in the labor market and in household poverty rates… Unemployment fell from 21.5 percent in the first half of 2002 to 9.6 percent for the first half of 2007. The employment-to-population ratio rose from 32.8 percent to 43.4 percent during the same period. And the household poverty rate fell from 41.4 percent in the first half of 2002 to 16.3 percent in the first half of 2007. These are very large changes in unemployment, employment, and poverty rates.”

And if we want to go further back in history we can look at what happened in the US after FDR gave up the gold standard in 1933. Here the story was the same – it was domestic demand and not net exports which was the driver of the sharp recovery in growth during 1933.

These examples in my view clearly shows that the focus on the “competitiveness channel” is completely misplaced and the ongoing pick-up in Japanese growth is likely to be mostly about domestic demand rather than about exports.

Finally if anybody still worry about “currency war” they might want to rethink how they see the impact of monetary easing. When the Bank of Japan is easing monetary policy it is likely to have a much bigger positive impact on domestic demand than on Japanese exports. In fact I would not be surprised if the Japanese trade balance will worsen as a consequence of Kuroda’s heroic efforts to get Japan out of the deflationary trap.

HT Jonathan Cast

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PS Scott Sumner also comments on Japan.

PPS An important non-competitiveness impact of the weaker yen is that it is telling consumers and investors that inflation is likely to increase. Again the important thing is the signal about monetary policy, which is rather more important than the impact on competitiveness.

Monetary policy works just fine – Exhibit 14743: The case of Japanese earnings

The graph below shows the ratio of upward to downward revisions of equity analysts’ earnings forecasts in different countries. I stole the graph from Walter Kurtz at Sober Look. Walter himself got the data from Merrill Lynch.

Just take a look in the spike in upward earnings revisions (relative to downward revision) for Japanese companies after Haruhiko Kuroda was nominated for new Bank of Japan governor back in February and he later announced his aggressive plan for hitting the newly introduced 2% inflation target.

This is yet another very strong prove that monetary policy can be extremely powerful. The graph also shows the importance of the Chuck Norris effect – monetary policy is to a large extent about expectations or as Scott Sumner would say: Monetary Policy works with long and variable leads – or rather I believe that the leads are not very long and not very variable if the central bank gets the communication right and I believe that the BoJ is getting the communication just right so you are seeing a fairly strong and nearly imitate impact of the announced monetary easing.

PS As there tend to be a quite strong positive correlation between earning growth and nominal GDP growth I think we can safely say that the sharp increase in earnings expectations in Japan to a large extent reflects a marked upward shift in NGDP growth expectations.

“Grim23” on fiscal policy versus monetary policy in Australia

By a complete accident I found a online debate about fiscal policy versus monetary policy in Australia. One of the commentators – “Grim23” – surely is a convinced Market Monetarist. I thought what he is writing is so good that I want to reproduce it here on my blog – I hope he won’t mind…

Here is Grim23 going back and forth with somebody – I don’t care who the other guy is and this is only Grim23’s (unedited) comments:

…How can fiscal stimulus boost demand when the central bank is targeting inflation? If interest rates are above zero, the central bank should have no problem hitting its inflation target. if they fall to zero, there is a case for fiscal stimulus, but monetary policy would still be effective.

Monetary policy in the US, UK and Europe has been extremely tight since mid 2008. Australia had much more effective monetary policy than Britain during the crisis. Fiscal policy has nothing to do with it. Every serious new keyensian macroeconomist will tell you that if interest rates are above zero the fiscal multiplier is zero.

…If you admit that monetary policy was effective, then by definition fiscal policy is ineffective and wasteful. If monetary policy can hit its target of 2-3% trend inflation, what’s the point of fiscal stimulus?

While we are quoting people, how about prominent Keyensian economist Brad Delong:

“Here is the point: an optimizing central bank that cares only about inflation and unemployment because it does not find itself at the zero nominal lower bound and does not fear engaging in nonstandard monetary policy will engage in full fiscal offset: it will take care to make sure that if fiscal policy becomes more stimulative then it will make monetary policy less stimulative by the same amount.”

Tim Harcourt did not take the monetary offset into account. In fact few studies take it into account when they really should.

…Ultimately the point is that because fiscal stimulus boosts aggregate demand, inflation must also rise as well as GDP. If the RBA is targeting inflation (or preferably nominal GDP) then any fiscal stimulus is cancelled out by monetary policy, leaving a “fiscal multiplier” of zero.

…1. You agree with Brad Delong’s quote which means you admit that an inflation targeting central bank will engage in full monetary offset. That means that the fiscal multiplier is zero.

2. In terms of “saving Australia from recession”, inflation and unemployment are the only outcomes that matter. If you agree with the Brad Delong quote, I can’t see how you can still claim that fiscal stimulus boosted aggregate demand and saved the economy.

I would say that most of the countries hit are in the Eurozone, so big fiscal stimulus in one country would work, because each country doesn’t have its own monetary policy. Also, most central banks weren’t brave enough to do unconventional stimulus when interest rates hit zero, so fiscal stimulus would have had some effect, as central banks were no longer really “aiming” to hit a target. Thats why there was some correlation

If you want some links, then the best blog for this is The Money Illusion.

Here’s a post on monetary offset. Read point 6 in particular. Fiscal austerity is deeper in the US than the Eurozone, but monetary policy is easier. US is growing faster. Money wins. http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=21008

Here’s a couple of posts about Australia, talking about the stable growth rate of NGDP. Australia has a much higher trend growth rate than other countries, which put us in a better position to start with.

http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=12985
http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=20684

Ultimately tight monetary policy causes slow NGDP growth, not financial crises or fiscal austerity, and only easy money can support faster NGDP growth, not fiscal stimulus.

Yes, fiscal stimulus can “work”, but only because the central bank allowd it to. Do you really think the RBA would let Australia fall into recession? Particularly when they started off from a much better position than other central banks, with interest rates not even close to zero here. Monetary stimulus would have done the job anyway, without any waste or extra debt. That’s why fiscal policy never “saved” us.

Here’s some more posts discussing fiscal stimulus and monetary policy in general:

http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=874
http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=2512
http://www.themoneyillusion.com/?p=5776

Fiscal stimulus in unnecessary. Money always wins

…Your argument simply isn’t consistant with standard macro theory; the fiscal multiplier is zero under inflation targeting. Even keynesians like paul krugman, brad delong, michael woodford, ben bernanke, greg mankiw, frederik mischkin and christie romer will attest to that if interest rates are positive.

In Australia interest rates never got close to zero.

You argument does not support recent events, with no correlation between “austerity” and economic growth. Nor have you refuted any of the arguments made in the links.

While Australia recovered quite quickly, other nations have done better since. Germany is one example, where the fiscal stimulus was average but growth has been faster than Australia’s since 2010.

There is still not sufficient evidence that Australia would not be in the same position were it not for the fiscal stimulus. I find it hard to believe that the RBA would have let Australia fall into recession without fiscal stimulus, nor do i doubt that it had the means to stabilise nominal GDP growth, especially with the fortunate position of positive interest rates.

I think the fact that we were the only country with interest rates which never went below zero is just as persuasive as your argument about the relative size of the stimulus. I think it is more persuasive given the wider context and evidence. I think your mistake is assuming that correlation implies causation.

…As you should know, there is no meaningful difference between 0.5% and zero percent benchmark rate.

If famous nobel prize winning economists can talk about the federal reserve having a “zero rate policy”, then that technical detail should not be important. that just shows how out of touch you are with the sophisticated macro debates going on at the moment.

The point is rates can go no further in countries other than poland and australia. I have provided you with plenty of reasons why your figures don’t support your clsim of the effects of fiscal stimulus. In your reply you dont even mention the links, or reply to all of my criticism. Either you didn’t read them, or you can’t refute them. But they explain Australia’s and Poland superior performance without reference to fiscal stimulus. I suggest if you want to learn a little macro, you should read them. What i am saying is not controversial, every single new keyensian economist and every market monetarist will tell you the same thing!

As for Germany, the world bank data said it grew faster in 2010 and 11. My links are sound.

I have no clue who Grim23 is, but he is good good and he can write a guest post on this topic for my blog any time he wants.

PS Grim23 unfortunately didn’t quote this post on Australian monetary policy why it was the “Export Price Norm” that really has kept Australia out of recession.

PPS I believe that RBA recently has allowed monetary conditions to become too tight and the sharp slowdown in NGDP growth over the past year is somewhat worrying.

Remembering the “Market” in Market Monetarism

A couple of days ago the young and talented George Mason University economist Alex Salter wrote the following statement on his Facebook account:

I wish market monetarists would put relatively more emphasis on the “market” bit.

I agree with Alex as I believe that one of the main points of Market Monetarism is that not only do money matters, but it equally important that markets matter. Hence, it is no coincidence that the slogan of my blog ismarkets matter, money matters” and it was after all me who coined the phrase Market Monetarism.

Paul Krugman used to call Scott Sumner a quasi-monetarist, but I always thought that that missed an important point about Scott’s views (and my own views) and that of course is the “market” bit. In fact Alex’s statement reminded me of a blog post that I wrote back in January 2012 on exactly this topic.

This is from my post “Don’t forget the “Market” in Market Monetarism”:

As traditional monetarists Market Monetarists see money as being at the centre of macroeconomic discussion. To us both inflation and recessions are monetary phenomena. If central banks print too much money we get inflation and if they print to little money we get recession or even depression.

This is often at the centre of the arguments made by Market Monetarists. However, we are exactly Market Monetarists because we have a broader view of monetary policy than traditional monetarists. We deeply believe in markets as the best “information system” – also about the stance of monetary policy. Even though we certainly do not disregard the value of studying monetary supply numbers we believe that the best indicator(s) of monetary policy stance is market pricing in currency markets, commodity markets, fixed income markets and equity markets. Hence, we believe in a Market Approach to monetary policy in the tradition of for example of “Manley” Johnson and Robert Keheler.

Interestingly enough Alex himself has just recently put out a new working paper – “There a Self-Enforcing Monetary Constitution?” –
that makes the exact same point. This is the abstract from Alex’s paper:

This paper uses insights from monetary theory and constitutional political economy to discover what a self-enforcing monetary constitution — one whose rules did not require external enforcement — would look like. I argue that a desirable monetary constitution (a) institutionalizes an environment conducive to economic calculation via an unhampered price mechanism and (b) enables agents acting within the system to uphold the rule even in the presence of deviations from ideal knowledge and incentive assumptions. I show two radical alternatives to current monetary institutions — a version of NGDP targeting that relies on market implementation of monetary policy and free banking — meet these requirements, and thus represent self-enforcing monetary constitutions. I ultimately conclude that the maintenance of a stable monetary framework necessitates branching out from monetary theory narrowly conceived and considering insights from political economy, and constitutional political economy in particular.

I very much like Alex’s constitutional spin on the monetary policy issue. I strongly agree that the biggest problem in the conduct of monetary policy – basically everywhere in the world – is the lack of a clear rule based framework for the monetary system and equally agree that NGDP targeting with “market implication” and Free Banking fulfill the requirement for a monetary constitution. Or as I put it in my 2012 post:

In fact we want to take out both the “central” and “banking” out of central banking and ideally replace monetary policy makers with the power of the market. Scott Sumner has suggested that the central banks should use NGDP futures in the conduct of monetary policy. In Scott’s set-up monetary policy ideally becomes “endogenous”. I on my part have suggested the use of prediction markets in the conduct of monetary policy.

…Even though Market Monetarists do not necessarily advocate Free Banking there is no doubt that Market Monetarist theory is closely related to the thinking of Free Banking theorist such as George Selgin and I have early argued that NGDP level targeting could be see as an “privatisation strategy”. A less ambitious interpretation of Market Monetarism is certainly also possible, but no matter what Market Monetarists stress the importance of markets – both in analysing monetary policy and in the conduct monetary policy.

Hence, Alex and I are in fundamental agreement, but I also want to acknowledge that we – the Market Monetarists – from time to time are more (too?) focused on the need to ease monetary policy – in the present situation in the US or the euro zone – than to talk about “market implementation” of monetary policy.

There are numerous reasons for this, but the key reason is probably one of political realism, but there is also a serious risk in letting “political realism” dictate the agenda. Therefore, I think we should listen to Alex’s advice and try to stress the “market” bit in Market Monetarism a bit more. Afterall, we have made serious inroads in the global monetary policy debate in regard to NGDP level targeting – why should we not be able to make the same kind of progress when it comes to “market implementation” of monetary policy?

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