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Monetary policy according to a German lawyer

This is from Bloomberg:

European Central Bank Executive Board member Sabine Lautenschlaeger said quantitative easing isn’t the right policy choice for the euro area currently, hardening a split among officials over the right response to slowing inflation.

“A consideration of the costs and benefits, and the opportunities and risks, of a broad purchase program of government bonds does not give a positive outcome,” Lautenschlaeger, a former Bundesbank vice president, said at an event in Berlin today. “There are very few shared competencies in fiscal policy. As long as this is the case, the ECB’s purchase of government securities is inevitably linked to a serious incentive problem.”

Lautenschlaeger’s comments signal she’s become ECB President Mario Draghi’s highest-ranking opponent in the debate over introducing QE to the euro area. They echo the position of Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, who has said QE diverts attention from the need for governments to make structural adjustments to their economies.

“Long-term interest rates on Spanish and Italian (GBTPGR10) government bonds, for example, are already lower than those from the U.S. or the U.K.,” Lautenschlaeger said. “It is therefore questionable whether we should ‘depress’ interest rates for the securities class even further.”

First of all, it is very clear that Frau Lautenschlaeger thinks that quantitative easing – an expansion of the money base – is some kind of credit policy. It is not. Let me quote myself:

I have noticed that there generally is a problem for a lot of people to differentiate between monetary easing and bailouts. Often when one argues for monetary easing the reply is “we should stop bailing out banks and countries and if we do it we will just create an even bigger bubble”. The problem here is that Market Monetarists certainly do not favour bailouts – we favour nominal stability.

I think that at the core of the problem is that people have a very hard time figuring out what monetary policy is. Most people – including I believe most central bankers – think that credit policy is monetary policy. Just take the Federal Reserve’s attempt to distort relative prices in the financial markets in connection with QE2 or the ECB’s OMT program where the purpose is to support the price of government bonds in certain South European countries without increasing the euro zone money base. Hence, the primary purpose of these policies is not to increase nominal GDP or stabilise NGDP growth, but rather to change market prices. That is not monetary policy. That is credit policy and worse – it is in fact bailouts.

As the ECB’s OMT and Fed’s QE2 to a large extent have been focused on changing relative prices in the financial markets they can rightly be – and should be – criticized for leading to moral hazard. When the ECB artificially keeps for example Spanish government bond yields from increasing above a certain level then the ECB clearly is encouraging excessive risk taking. Spanish bond yields have been rising during theGreat Recession because investors rightly have been fearing a Spanish government default. This is an entirely rational reaction by investors to a sharp deterioration of the outlook for the Spanish economy. Obviously if the ECB curb the rise in Spanish bond yields the ECB are telling investors to disregard these credit risks. This clearly is moral hazard.

The problem here is that a monetary authority – the ECB – is engaged in something that is not monetary policy, but people will not surprisingly think of what a central bank do as monetary policy, but the ECB’s attempts to distort relative prices in the financial markets have very little to do with monetary policy as it do not lead to a change in the money base or to a change in the expectation for future changes in the money base.

That is not to say that the ECB’s credit policies do not have monetary impact. They likely have. Hence, it is clear that the so-called OMT has reduced financial distress in the euro zone, which likely have increased the money-multiplier and money-velocity in the euro zone, but it has also (significantly?) increased moral hazard problems. So the paradox here is that the ECB really has done very little to ease monetary policy, but a lot to increase moral hazard problems.

I can hence certainly understand if Frau Lautenschlaeger would object to credit policies to bailout nations or banks, but an expansion of the money base to curb deflationary pressures and to stabilise nominal spending growth has nothing to do with bailouts. It is just the proper policy response to a deflationary crisis – by the way caused by the ECB itself.

Second, Frau Lautenschlaeger is clearly making the common bond yield fallacy when you claim monetary policy already is easy because nominal bond yields are low. She of course should know that rates and yields are low in the euro exactly because monetary policy is extremely tight and there market expectations are for continued very low growth and inflation.

Furthermore, I am puzzled why she would make a reference to bond yields in specific countries. Monetary policy certainly is not about targeting bond yields and certainly not about targeting bond yields in individual countries in a monetary union.

Listening to some ECB official brings memories of French central bankers in the 1930s or Japanese central bankers in the 1990s. The outcome unfortunately is the same deflationary mess – and as a consequence rising debt problems.

 

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Bloomberg repeats the bond yield fallacy (Milton Friedman is spinning in his grave)

This is from Bloomberg:

A series of unprecedented stimulus measures by the ECB to stave off deflation in the 18-nation currency bloc have sent bond yields to record lows and pushed stock valuations higher. “

Unprecedented stimulus measures? Say what? Since ECB chief Mario Draghi promised to save the euro at any cost in 2012 monetary policy has been tightened and not eased.

Take any measure you can think of – the money base have dropped 30-40%, there is basically no growth in M3, the same can be said for nominal GDP growth, we soon will have deflation in most euro zone countries, the euro is 10-15% stronger in effective terms, inflation expectations have dropped to all time lows (in the period of the euro) and real interest rates are significantly higher.

That is not monetary easing – it is significant monetary tightening and this is exactly what the European bond market is telling us. Bond yields are low because monetary policy is tight (and growth and inflation expectations therefore are very low) not because it is easy – Milton Friedman taught us that long ago. Too bad so few economists – and even fewer economic reporters – understand this simple fact.

If you think that bond yields are low because of monetary easing why is it that US bond yields are higher than in the euro zone? Has the Fed done less easing than the ECB?

The bond yield fallacy unfortunately is widespread not only among Bloomberg reporter, but also among European policy makers. But let me say it again – European monetary policy is extremely tight – it is not easy and I would hope that financial reporter would report that rather than continuing to report fallacies.

HT Petar Sisko

PS If you want to use nominal interest rates as a measure of monetary policy tightness then you at least should compare it to a policy rule like the Taylor rule or any other measure of the a neutral nominal interest rate. I am not sure what the Talyor rule would say about level of nominal interest rates we should have in Europe, but -3-4% would probably be a good guess. So interest rates are probably 300-400bp too higher in the euro zone. That is insanely tight monetary policy.

PPS I am writing this without consulting the data so everything is from the top of my head. And now I really need to take care of the kids…sorry for the typos.

The story of a remarkably stable US NGDP trend

Today revised US GDP numbers for Q3 were released. While most commentators focused on the better than expected real GDP numbers I am on the other hand mostly impressed by just how stable the development in nominal GDP is. Just take a look at the graph below.

US NGDP 4 pct trend

I have earlier argued that the development in NGDP looks as if the Federal Reserve has had a 4% NGDP level target since Q3 2009. In fact at no time since 2009 has the actual level of NGDP diverged more than 1% from the 4% trend started in Q3 2009 and right now we are basically exactly on the 4% trend line. This is remarkable especially because the Fed never has made any official commitment to this target.

With market expectations fully aligned to with this trend and US unemployment probably quite close to the structural level of unemployment I see no reason why the Fed should not announce this – a 4% NGDP level target – as its official target.

PS I might join the hawks soon – if the trend in NGDP growth over the last couple of quarters continues in the coming quarter then we will move above the 4% NGDP trend and in that sense there is an argument for tighter monetary conditions.

PPS I am not arguing that monetary policy was appropriate back in 2009 or 2010. In fact I believe that monetary policy was far too tight, but after six years of real adjustments it is time to let bygones-be-bygones and I don’t think there would be anything to gain from a stepping up of monetary easing at the present time.

Asymmetrical shocks in a currency union, the Crime of 1873 and the of a guy called Sven Persson

I have never been particularly interested in genealogy, however, that has changed after my dad recently sent me a picture of Sven Persson. Sven Persson was my great-great grandfather.

I had seen the picture before and I knew that I have Swedish family roots – Sven was born in Hjärsås, Skåne, Sweden on July 26 1861 – but I have not really thought much about it before, but seeing the picture of Sven (and his family) again triggered something in me probably because I realized that the story of Sven is closely related to some key historical economic and monetary events in Scandinavia and indeed in the world.

Sven og familie

I must admit that I have not done a lot of research (yet) into Sven’s story, but I know enough to tell the story of the economic realities he lived under and I believe his life to a very large extent was shaped by these events. In this post I will try to tell that story – in the light of economic and monetary events in the world and Scandinavia during the years Sven lived.

Sven – The typical immigrant from Skåne (Scania) 

I think what triggered me to look into Sven’s story was his immigrant background and particularly the fact that I pretty fast realized that Sven likely came to Denmark in the early 1880s. I already knew that during that period a lot of Swedes came to Denmark to work.

In fact in the early 1880s nearly 10% of the population in Copenhagen where Swedish. So while many Danes today would say that the level of immigration to Denmark is unprecedented in size that is not really true. 130 years ago the story was much the same as today and the discussions about immigration was quite similar – the Swedes are stealing the jobs from Danes, they push down salaries and they are more criminal than Danes. Not much have changed in that sense regarding the debate over immigration.

So why did Sven come to Denmark? Well, we of course don’t know, but if Sven was a normal Skåning (a inhabitant of Skåne in Southern Sweden) then he would have come for economic reasons.

Research (see here) done on Swedish emigration to USA during the 1880s shows that both “pull” and “push” factors were important for the decision of Swedes to emigrate to the US. Hence, Swedes both ran away from poverty in Sweden and for economic opportunities in the US. It hard not to believe that the same factors motivated Swedes – including my great-great grandfather – who emigrated to Denmark in the 1880s.

This is what the Danish economic historian Richard Willerslev has to say about number of Swedish immigrants to Denmark (my translation from Danish, cf. page 228):

After some years of stagnation the immigration to Denmark once again picked up and remained steady at a very high level from the mid-1870s and toward 1890.

Now compare that with the relative development in real GDP in Denmark and Sweden.

Sweden Denmark relative GDP 1870

(S0urce: Angus Maddison’s “Dynamic Forces in Capitalist Development”)

It is fairly easy to see that there was a sharp relative decline in the level of  Swedish real GDP compared to Denmark. This of course coincides with the sharp increase in Swedish immigration to Denmark. Sweden’s relative decline came to an end in 1882-1883 – coinciding with the stagnation in the Swedish emigration levels (at a high level).

So what I about Sven? I am not entirely sure when Sven emigrated to Denmark, but public records show that he left his native city of Hjärsås in 1880. The public record I have found on Sven is that he married the Dane Bertine Kirstine Frederiksen on November 14 1890. Hence, we can conclude that Sven came to Denmark between 1880 and 1890 and most likely in the early 1880s.

This makes Sven into a very “average” immigrant. He was in his early twenties and an unskilled labourer with a poor background (his farther Per Jeppsson was an unskilled farm worker).

Currency union and the asymmetrical shock to the Swedish economy after 1873

So how do we explain Sweden’s relative decline compared to Denmark in mid-1870s? We need two explanations – one for the absolute decline in real GDP growth and one for the relative decline in real GDP.

Around 1871-73 a massive transformation of the global monetary system started and the process that lasted only a few years meant the end of bimetalism as a monetary standard and the total global domination of the gold standard. A number of factors contributed to ending bimetalism and establishing the gold standard’s global dominance.

Milton Friedman has pointed to the U.S. Coinage Act of 1873 as the major contributing factor of this transformation of the global monetary system (See here). This was the so-called Crime of 1873. There was a similar European – or a German-French – Crime of 1873 driven by among other things the German decision to introduce the gold standard in 1871.

No matter what the explanation is for the triumph of the gold standard over bimetalism in the early 1870s the result was a global deflationary shock as demand for gold spiked. That kicked of what has come to be known as the worldwide Long Depression normally said to have lasted from 1873 to 1879.

The graph above clearly shows that Sweden was hit by the Long Depression, which coincided with a sharp increase in Swedish emigration to Denmark.

1873 also happen to be the year the Scandinavian Currency Union was established between Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The SCU was based on the gold standard. Prior to that the three Scandinavian countries had been on different bimetalistic standards.

The fact that a wide difference in growth between Denmark and Sweden emerged in the second half of the 1870s can be interpreted as an asymmetrical shock and I believe that it is this asymmetrical shock – growth was higher in Denmark than in Sweden – that fundamentally caused my great-great grandfather Sven and thousands of other Swedes to emigrate to Denmark during the 1870s and 1880s. The size of the asymmetrical shock in my view also shows that the SCU was indeed not an optimal currency area. Had it been then Sven likely would never have come to Denmark.

I have not spend much time studying the reasons for this asymmetrical shock, but I overall have three hypotheses that might explain the differences in growth.

First, the Danish krone might have been undervalued at the unset of the currency union, while the Swedish krona might have been overvalued.

Second, sectoral differences might have played a role – with the Swedish agricultural and mining sector being harder hit by the global deflationary shock than the dominant Danish economic sectors. This also includes the relative importance of the UK and German economies for the economies of Denmark and Sweden.

And finally the third explanation might be differences in fiscal policy. Denmark undertook major railway and defense investments in those years. I should stress this is hypotheses.

I would obviously appreciate comments from my readers on these hypotheses and links to relevant research.

The Great Depression and the death of Sven

I don’t know much about the life of Sven in Denmark. But he got married and he (likely) got four children. He likely continued to work as an unskilled worker in Denmark, where he died at the unset of the Great Depression on October 4 1929.

So we can say that my great-great grandfather was brought to Denmark because of a depression and he lived in Denmark until the unset of another depression.

Monetary policy failure surely can have great impact on the life of people – including on the decision to live in one or the other country. My family heritage is proof of that.

PS if you want to have a look at my very incomplete family tree please have a look here.

Great, Greater, Greatest – Three Finnish Depressions

Brad DeLong has suggested that we rename the Great Recession the GreatER Depression in Europe as the crisis in terms of real GDP lose now is bigger in Europe than it was it during the Great Depression.

Surely it is a very simplified measure just to look at the development in the level of real GDP and surely the present socio-economic situation in Europe cannot be compared directly to the economic hardship during the 1930s. That said, I do believe that there are important lessons to be learned by comparing the two periods.

In my post from Friday – Italy’s Greater Depression – Eerie memories of the 1930s – I inspired by the recent political unrest in Italy compared the development in real GDP in Italy during the recent crisis with the development in the 1920s and 1930s.

The graph in that blog post showed two things. First, Italy’s real GDP lose in the recent crisis has been bigger than during 1930s and second that monetary easing (a 41% devaluation) brought Italy out of the crisis in 1936.

I have been asked if I could do a similar graph on Finland. I have done so – but I have also added the a third Finnish “Depression” and that is the crisis in the early 1990s related to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Nordic banking crisis. The graph below shows the three periods.

Three Finnish Depressions

(Sources: Angus Maddison’s “Dynamic Forces in Capitalist Development” and IMF, 2014 is IMF forecast)

The difference between monetary tightening and monetary easing

The most interesting story in the graph undoubtedly is the difference in the monetary response during the 1930s and during the present crisis.

In October 1931 the Finnish government decided to follow the example of the other Nordic countries and the UK and give up (or officially suspend) the gold standard.

The economic impact was significant and is very clearly illustrate in the graph (look at the blue line from year 2-3).

We have nearly imitate take off. I am not claiming the devaluation was the only driver of this economic recovery, but it surely looks like monetary easing played a very significant part in the Finnish economic recovery from 1931-32.

Contrary to this during the recent crisis we obviously saw a monetary policy response in 2009 from the ECB – remember Finland is now a euro zone country – which helped start a moderate recovery. However, that recovery really never took off and was ended abruptly in 2011 (year 3 in the graph) when the ECB decided to hike interest rate twice.

So here is the paradox – in 1931 two years into the crisis and with a real GDP lose of around 5% compared to 1929 the Finnish government decided to implement significant monetary easing by devaluing the Markka.

In 2011 three  years into the present crisis and a similar output lose as in 1931 the ECB decided to hike interest rates! Hence, the policy response was exactly the opposite of what the Nordic countries (and Britain) did in 1931.

The difference between monetary easing and monetary tightening is very clear in the graph. After 1931 the Finnish economy recovered nicely, while the Finnish economy has fallen deeper into crisis after the ECB’s rate hikes in 2011 (lately “helped” by the Ukrainian-Russian crisis).

Just to make it clear – I am not claiming that the only thing import here is monetary policy (even though I think it nearly is) and surely structural factors (for example the “disappearance” of Nokia in recent years and serious labour market problems) and maybe also fiscal policy (for example higher defense spending in the late-1930s) played role, but I think it is hard to get around the fact that the devaluation of 1931 did a lot of good for the Finnish economy, while the ECB 2011’s rate hikes have hit the Finnish economy harder than is normally acknowledged (particularly in Finland).

Finland: The present crisis is The Greatest Depression

Concluding, in terms of real GDP lose the present crisis is a GreatER Depression than the Great Depression of the 1930s. However, it is not just greater – in fact it is the GreatEST Depression and the output lose now is bigger than during the otherwise very long and deep crisis of the 1990s.

The policy conclusions should be clear…

PS this is what the New York Times wrote on October 13 1931) about the Finnish decision to suspend the gold standard:

“The decision of taken under dramatic circumstances…foreign rates of exchange immediately soared about 25 per cent”

And the impact on the Finnish economy was correctly “forecasted” in the article:

“In commercial circles it is expected that the suspension (of the gold standard) will greatly stimulate industries and exports.”

HT Vladimir

Related post:
Currency union and asymmetrical supply shocks – the case of Finland

Mussolini’s great monetary policy failure

Benito Mussolini is known for having been a horrible warmongering fascist dictator. However, he was also responsible for a major failed monetary experiment – the so-called Battle of the Lira.

Hence, in 1926 Mussolini announced a major revaluation of the Italian Lira as part of his general plan to revive the greatness of Italy.

This is how the Battle of the Lira was described in the New York Times in August 1927:

“It is just one year since Premier Mussolini, speaking at Pesaro, delivered that oration, destined to remain famous in the annals of modern Italian history, in which he announced his intention to revalue the lira.

‘We shall never inflict upon our wonderful Italian people, which for four years has been working with ascetic discipline and is ready for even greater sacrifieces, the moral shame and economic catastrophe of failure of the lira,’ he declared.

Looking back upon the last year, one must admit that Primier Mussolini has more than kept his word. In August 1926, the average exchange rate was 30 1/2 lira to the dollar. By October it had already dropped to 27 …the lira steadily continued its descent till in May (1927) it reached 18 to the the dollar, where it has remained ever since”

Hence, Mussolini engineered a nearly 70% revaluation of the lira in less than one year. Not surprisingly the economic impact was not positive. This how that is described in the same New York Times article:

“But the result has not been obtained without servere…jolts affecting all classes of citizens.

…Revaluation has led to a period of general stagnation and lack of enterprise in industry, for the gold value of money has increased automatically while the revaluation process was in progress and people preferred to leave their money in banks to rising it in ventures of any kind.

Unemployment is twice as high as it was in this month last year and greater than it has been at any time since 1924. Average quotations on stock exchanges have fallen 40 per cent. Wholesale prices have fallen about 30 per cent, but retail prices lag far behind and show a decrease of less than 15 per cent…

…Despite these somewhat depressing indications, the Government is convinced that the benefits of revaluation will ultimately far outweigh the drawbacks. The official opinion, indeed, is that now that the whole country has become adjusted to the new value of the lira, a rapid improvement will be expirienced.”

That of course never happened. Instead the Italian economy was hit by yet another shock in 1929 when the global crisis hit.

Finally in 1934 Mussolini decided to give up the gold standard and in October 1936 the lira was devalued by 41%.

What role Mussolini’s failed monetary policy played in his domestic policies and particularly in the foreign policy “adventures” – his war against Abyssinia in 1935-36 and his decision to ally himself with Hitler and Nazi-Germany in WWII – I don’t know, but there is nothing like war to take away the attention from failed economic policies.

Or as it was expressed in an article in New York Times in April 1935 at the start on Mussolini war against Abyssinia (but before the 1936 devaluation):

Behind each new political move in Europe, which expresses itself in the mobilization of larger armies, may generally be found an economic cause.

The article also touches on another key issue – the fact that (über) tight monetary policy historically has led to protectionist measures and that the logical consequence of such protectionist measures often is war:

The foreign trade of Italy is, figuratively, “shot to pieces.” The decrees against imports , the unwillingness to do business except where equal valued are exchanged by a foreign nation and the high rate of the lira have produced an alarming situation for a country that today under unobstructed movements of goods, would have an unfavorable trade balance.

One of the major efforts of Mussolini has been to place Italy on a self-supporting basis. Much has been done in this direction. As Italy is poor in natural resources that enter into processes of manufacture, the handicaps to attaining self-sufficiency are not easy to surmount.”

It is too bad today’s European policy makers didn’t study any economic history.

—-

Related blog posts:

“If goods don’t cross borders, armies will” – the case of Russia
Denmark and Norway were the PIIGS of the Scandinavian Currency Union

And posts on the early 1930s:

1931:
The Tragic year: 1931
Germany 1931, Argentina 2001 – Greece 2011?
Brüning (1931) and Papandreou (2011)
Lorenzo on Tooze – and a bit on 1931
“Meantime people wrangle about fiscal remedies”
“Incredible Europeans” have learned nothing from history
The Hoover (Merkel/Sarkozy) Moratorium
80 years on – here we go again…
“Our Monetary ills Laid to Puritanism”
Monetary policy and banking crisis – lessons from the Great Depression

1932:
“The gold standard remains the best available monetary mechanism”
Hjalmar Schacht’s echo – it all feels a lot more like 1932 than 1923
Greek and French political news slipped into the financial section
Political news kept slipping into the financial section – European style
November 1932: Hitler, FDR and European central bankers
Please listen to Nicholas Craft!
Needed: Rooseveltian Resolve
Gold, France and book recommendations
“…political news kept slipping into the financial section”
Gideon Gono, a time machine and the liquidity trap
France caused the Great Depression – who caused the Great Recession?

1933:
Who did most for the US stock market? FDR or Bernanke?
“The Bacon Standard” (the PIG PEG) would have saved Denmark from the Great Depression
Remember the mistakes of 1937? A lesson for today’s policy makers
I am blaming Murray Rothbard for my writer’s block
Irving Fisher and the New Normal

 

Italy’s Greater Depression – Eerie memories of the 1930s

This is from the Telegraph:

Italy was hit by strikes, violent demonstrations and protests against refugees on Friday as anger and frustration towards soaring unemployment and the enduring economic crisis exploded onto the streets.

Riot police clashed with protesters, students and unionists in Milan and Padua, in the north of the country, while in Rome a group of demonstrators scaled the Colosseum to protest against the labour reforms proposed by the government of Matteo Renzi, the 39-year-old prime minister.

Eggs and fire crackers were hurled at the economy ministry.

On the gritty, long-neglected outskirts of Rome there was continuing tension outside a centre for refugees, which was repeatedly attacked by local residents during the week.

Locals had hurled stones, flares and other missiles at the migrant centre, smashing windows, setting fire to dumpster rubbish bins and fighting running battles with riot police during several nights of violence.

They demanded that the facility be closed down and claimed that the refugees from Africa and Asia were dirty, anti-social and violent.

Some protesters, with suspected links to the extreme Right, yelled “Viva Il Duce” or Long Live Mussolini, calling the migrants “b*******”, “animals” and “filthy Arabs”.

…A group of 36 teenage migrants had to be evacuated from the centre in Tor Sapienza, a working-class suburb, on Thursday night after the authorities said the area was no longer safe for them.

The sense of chaos in the country was heightened by transport strikes, which disrupted buses, trams, trains and even flights at Rome’s Fiumicino airport. Demonstrations also took place in Turin, Naples and Genoa.

Unemployment among young people in Italy is around 42 per cent, prompting tens of thousands to emigrate in search of better opportunities, with Britain the top destination. The overall jobless rate is 12 per cent.

Mr Renzi’s attempts to reform the country’s labour laws, making it easier for firms to dismiss lazy or inefficient employees, are bitterly opposed by the unions.

The ongoing recession has also exacerbated racial tensions, with some Italians blaming refugees and immigrants for their economic woes.

It is hard not to be reminded of the kind of political and social chaos that we saw in Europe in the 1930s and it is hard not to think that the extremely weak Italian economy is the key catalyst for Italy’s political and social unrest.

By many measures the Italian economy of today is worse than the Italian economy of the 1930s. One can say – as Brad DeLong has suggested – that this is a Greater Depression than the Great Depression.

Just take a look at the development in real GDP over the past 10 years and during the 1925-1936-period.

crisis Italy

If you wonder why Italian GDP took a large jump in 1936 (year +6) it should be enough to be reminded that that was the year that the Italian lira was sharply devalued.

Today Italy don’t have the lira and everybody knows who I blame for the deep crisis in the Italian economy.

It is sad that so few European policy makers understand the monetary causes of this crisis and it is tragic that the longer the ECB takes to act the more political and social unrest we will face in Europe.

PS I do not mean to suggest that Italy do not have structural problems. Italy has massive structural problems, but the core reason for the Greater Depression is monetary policy failure. Don’t blame Renzi or the immigrants – blame the Italian in Frankfurt.

 

Turning the Russian petro-monetary transmission mechanism upside-down

Big news out of Moscow today – not about the renewed escalation of military fighting in Eastern Ukraine, but rather about Russian monetary policy. Hence, today the Russian central bank (CBR) under the leadership of  Elvira Nabiullina effectively let the ruble float freely.

The CBR has increasing allowed the ruble to float more and more freely since 2008-9 within a bigger and bigger trading range. The Ukrainian crisis, negative Emerging Markets sentiments and falling oil prices have put the ruble under significant weakening pressures most of the year and even though the CBR generally has allowed for a significant weakening of the Russian currency it has also tried to slow the ruble’s slide by hiking interest rates and by intervening in the FX market. However, it has increasingly become clear that cost of the “defense” of the ruble was not worth the fight. So today the CBR finally announced that it would effectively float the ruble.

It should be no surprise to anybody who is reading my blog that I generally think that freely floating exchange rates is preferable to fixed exchange rate regimes and I therefore certainly also welcome CBR’s decision to finally float the ruble and I think CBR governor Elvira Nabiullina deserves a lot of praise for having push this decision through (whether or not her hand was forced by market pressures or not). Anybody familiar with Russian economic-policy decision making will know that this decision has not been a straightforward decision to make.

Elvira has turned the petro-monetary transmission mechanism upside-down

The purpose of this blog post is not necessarily to specifically discuss the change in the monetary policy set-up, but rather to use these changes to discuss how such changes impact the monetary transmission mechanism and how it changes the causality between money, markets and the economy in general.

Lets first start out with how the transmission mechanism looks like in a commodity exporting economy like Russia with a fixed (or quasi fixed) exchange rate like in Russia prior to 2008-9.

When the Russian ruble was fixed against the US dollar changes in the oil price was completely central to the monetary transmission – and that is why I have earlier called it the petro-monetary transmission mechanism. I have earlier explained how this works:

If we are in a pegged exchange rate regime and the price of oil increases by lets say 10% then the ruble will tend to strengthen as currency inflows increase. However, with a fully pegged exchange rate the CBR will intervene to keep the ruble pegged. In other words the central bank will sell ruble and buy foreign currency and thereby increase the currency reserve and the money supply (to be totally correct the money base). Remembering that MV=PY so an increase in the money supply (M) will increase nominal GDP (PY) and this likely will also increase real GDP at least in the short run as prices and wages are sticky.

So in a pegged exchange rate set-up causality runs from higher oil prices to higher money supply growth and then on to nominal GDP and real GDP and then likely also higher inflation. Furthermore, if the economic agents are forward-looking they will realize this and as they know higher oil prices will mean higher inflation they will reduce money demand pushing up money velocity (V) which in itself will push up NGDP and RGDP (and prices).

This effectively means that in such a set-up the CBR will have given up monetary sovereignty and instead will “import” monetary policy via the oil price and the exchange rate. In reality this also means that the global monetary superpower (the Fed and PBoC) – which to a large extent determines the global demand for oil indirectly will determine Russian monetary conditions.

Lets take the case of the People’s Bank of China (PBoC). If the PBoC ease monetary policy – increase monetary supply growth – then it will increase Chinese demand for oil and push up oil prices. Higher oil prices will push up currency inflows into Russia and will cause appreciation pressure on the ruble. If the ruble is pegged then the CBR will have to intervene to keep the ruble from strengthening. Currency intervention of course is the same as sell ruble and buying foreign currency, which equals an increase in the Russian money base/supply. This will push up Russian nominal GDP growth.

Hence, causality runs from the monetary policy of the monetary superpowers – Fed and the PBoC – to Russian monetary policy as long as the CBR pegs or even quasi-peg the ruble. However, the story changes completely when the ruble is floated.

I have also discussed this before:

If we assume that the CBR introduce an inflation target and let the ruble float completely freely and convinces the markets that it don’t care about the level of the ruble then the causality in or model of the Russian economy changes completely.

Now imagine that oil prices rise by 10%. The ruble will tend to strengthen and as the CBR is not intervening in the FX market the ruble will in fact be allow to strengthen. What will that mean for nominal GDP? Nothing – the CBR is targeting inflation so if high oil prices is pushing up aggregate demand in the economy the central bank will counteract that by reducing the money supply so to keep aggregate demand “on track” and thereby ensuring that the central bank hits its inflation target. This is really a version of the Sumner Critique. While the Sumner Critique says that increased government spending will not increase aggregate demand under inflation targeting we are here dealing with a situation, where increased Russian net exports will not increase aggregate demand as the central bank will counteract it by tightening monetary policy. The export multiplier is zero under a floating exchange rate regime with inflation targeting.

Of course if the market participants realize this then the ruble should strengthen even more. Therefore, with a truly freely floating ruble the correlation between the exchange rate and the oil price will be very high. However, the correlation between the oil price and nominal GDP will be very low and nominal GDP will be fully determined by the central bank’s target. This is pretty much similar to Australian monetary policy. In Australia – another commodity exporter – the central bank allows the Aussie dollar to strengthen when commodity prices increases. In fact in Australia there is basically a one-to-one relationship between commodity prices and the Aussie dollar. A 1% increase in commodity prices more or less leads to a 1% strengthening of Aussie dollar – as if the currency was in fact pegged to the commodity price (what Jeff Frankel calls PEP).

Therefore with a truly floating exchange rate there would be little correlation between oil prices and nominal GDP and inflation, but a very strong correlation between oil prices and the currency. This of course is completely the opposite of the pegged exchange rate case, where there is a strong correlation between oil prices and therefore the money supply and nominal GDP.

If today’s announced change in monetary policy set-up in Russia is taken to be credible (it is not necessary) then it would mean the completion of the transformation of the monetary transmission which essentially was started in 2008 – moving from a pegged exchange/manage float regime to a floating exchange rate.

This will also means that the CBR governor Elvira Nabiullina will have ensured full monetary sovereignty – so it will be her rather than the Federal Reserve and the People’s Bank of China, who determines monetary conditions in Russia.

Whether this will be good or bad of course fully dependent on whether Yellen or Nabiullina will conduct the best monetary policy for Russia.

One can of course be highly skeptical about the Russian central bank’s ability to conduct monetary policy in a way to ensure nominal stability – there is certainly not good track record, but given the volatility in oil prices it is in my view also hard believe that a fully pegged exchange rate would bring more nominal stability to the Russian economy than a floating exchange rate combined with a proper nominal target – either an inflation target or better a NGDP level target.

Today Elvira Nabiullina has (hopefully) finalized the gradual transformation from a pegged exchange to a floating exchange rate. It is good news for the Russian economy. It will not save the Russia from a lot of other economic headaches (and there are many!), but it will at least reduce the risk of monetary policy failure.

PS I still believe that the Russian economy is already in recession and will likely fall even deeper into recession in the coming quarters.

 

 

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of global extreme poverty

Today it is 25 years ago the Berlin Wall came down. It has become the symbol of the end of communism and is surely something which should be celebrated.

The end of communism and the end of the Cold War sparked what has become one of the best periods in human history. As communism ended globalization or rather global capitalism took off. While communism stated goal was to eradicate poverty it never succeed in anything else than oppressing billions of people.

On the other hand globalisation has turned out to be a fantastic anti-poverty program as the always brilliant Doug Irwin explains in a new Wall Street Journal oped:

The World Bank reported on Oct. 9 that the share of the world population living in extreme poverty had fallen to 15% in 2011 from 36% in 1990. Earlier this year, the International Labor Office reported that the number of workers in the world earning less than $1.25 a day has fallen to 375 million 2013 from 811 million in 1991.

Such stunning news seems to have escaped public notice, but it means something extraordinary: The past 25 years have witnessed the greatest reduction in global poverty in the history of the world.

To what should this be attributed? Official organizations noting the trend have tended to waffle, but let’s be blunt: The credit goes to the spread of capitalism. Over the past few decades, developing countries have embraced economic-policy reforms that have cleared the way for private enterprise.

China and India are leading examples. In 1978 China began allowing private agricultural plots, permitted private businesses, and ended the state monopoly on foreign trade. The result has been phenomenal economic growth, higher wages for workers—and a big decline in poverty. For the most part all the government had to do was get out of the way. State-owned enterprises are still a large part of China’s economy, but the much more dynamic and productive private sector has been the driving force for change.

In 1991 India started dismantling the “license raj”—the need for government approval to start a business, expand capacity or even purchase foreign goods like computers and spare parts. Such policies strangled the Indian economy for decades and kept millions in poverty. When the government stopped suffocating business, the Indian economy began to flourish, with faster growth, higher wages and reduced poverty.

…The reduction in world poverty has attracted little attention because it runs against the narrative pushed by those hostile to capitalism…Yet thanks to growth in the developing world, world-wide income inequality—measured across countries and individual people—is falling, not rising, as Branko Milanovic of City University of New York and other researchers have shown.

…Some 260 years ago, (Adam) Smith noted that: “Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.” Very few countries fulfill these simple requirements, but the number has been growing. The result is a dramatic improvement in human well-being around the world, an outcome that is cause for celebration.

Today we celebrate the end of communism, but we also celebrate globalization, capitalism and the near eradication of extreme poverty over the past 25 years.

HT Steve Ambler

PS To me the beginning of the end of communism is not the fall of the Berlin Wall, but rather the so-called roundtable negotiations between the Polish communist government and the Solidarność movement and the first (quasi) free elections in Poland in 1989. This of course does not makes today’s celebrations less important.

 

The massively negative euro zone ‘Divisia Money Gap’

This will not be a long post – I have had a busy week with a three-day roadshow in Poland and it is after all Saturday night – but it will be long enough to yet again point the fingers at the ECB for its deflationary policies.

Earlier this week the Brussels’ based think tank Bruegel published a new data series for the Divisia money supply for the euro zone. I very much welcome Bruegel’s initiative to publish the Divisia numbers as it makes it possible to get an even better understanding of “tightness” of monetary conditions in the euro zone.

Bruegel’s Zsolt Darvas has written an excellent paper – “Does Money Matter in the Euro area? Evidence from a new Divisia Index” – on the data. Here is the abstract:

Standard simple-sum monetary aggregates, like M3, sum up monetary assets that are imperfect substitutes and provide different transaction and investment services. Divisia monetary aggregates, originated from Barnett (1980), are derived from economic aggregation and index number theory and aim to aggregate the money components by considering their transaction service.

No Divisia monetary aggregates are published for the euro area,in contrast to the United Kingdom and United States. We derive and make available a dataset on euro-area Divisia money aggregates for January 2001 – September 2014 using monthly data. We plan to update the dataset in the future.

Using structural vector-auto-regressions (SVAR) we find that Divisia aggregates have a significant impact on output about 1.5 years after a shock and tend also to have an impact on prices and interest rates. The latter result suggests that the European Central Bank reacted to developments in monetary aggregates. Divisia aggregates reacted negatively to unexpected increases in the interest rates. None of these results are significant when we use simple-sum measures of money.

Our findings complement the evidence from US data that Divisia monetary aggregates are useful in assessing the impacts of monetary policy and that they work better in SVAR models than simple-sum measures of money.

The deflationary ‘Divisia Money Gap’

I have used Darvas’ data to calculate a simple ‘Money Gap’ to assess the “tightness” of monetary conditions in the euro zone.

My assumption is that prior to 2008 monetary conditions in the euro zone were “well-calibrated” in the sense that nominal GDP grew at a steady stable rate and inflation was well-anchored around 2%. I have therefore assumed the pre-crisis trend in Bruegel’s Divisia money supply ensures “nominal stability”.

In the pre-crisis years the euro zone Divisia money supply grew by on average just below 8% per year. The ‘Divisia Money Gap’ is the percentage difference between the actual level of the Divisia money supply and the pre-crisis trend in the Divisia money supply.

Divisia Money Gap

The graph above tells two stories.

First, prior to 2008 the ECB kept Divisia money growth ‘on track’. In fact at no time during the pre-crisis years was the Divisia money gap more than +/- 1%. Obviously the ECB was not targeting the Divisia money supply, but nonetheless conducted monetary policy as if it did. This I believe was the reason for the relative success of the euro zone in the first years of the euro’s existence.

Second, starting in Mid-2007 Divisia money supply growth started to slow dramatically and ever since the growth rate of Divisia money has been significantly below the pre-crisis trend leading to “Divisia Money Gap” becoming ever more negative. This of course is a very clear indication of what we already know – since 2007-8 monetary conditions in the euro zone has become increasingly deflationary.

Concluding, this is just more confirmation that monetary policy is far too tight in the euro zone and bold action is needed to ease monetary conditions to pull the euro zone economy out of the present deflationary state.

HT William Barnett

Related posts:
The (Divisia) money trail – a very bullish UK story
 
Divisia Money and “A Subjectivist Approach to the Demand for Money”
 

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