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Yet another year of asymmetrical monetary policy – revisiting the Weidmann rule

Nearly a year ago – January 2 – I wrote a blog post on what I termed the Weidmann rule. In the blog post I argued that the ECB is basically following a rule – named after Bundesbank boss Jens Weidmann – which is asymmetrical. The ECB will tighten monetary conditions in the event of a positive aggregate demand (velocity) shock, but will not ease in the event of a negative demand (velocity) shock to the euro zone economy.

This means that the ECB monetary policy set-up basically ensures that we are in a classical world when demand is picking (the budget multiplier is zero), but is in a basically keynesian world when we have negative demand shocks (the budget multiplier is positive). The world is not “naturally” keynesian, but the ECB’s policy regime makes the euro zone economy is essentially 50% keynesian.

A year ago I argued that the Weidman rule would be deflationary. Hence, “if we assume the shocks to aggregate demand are equally distributed between positive and negative demand shocks the consequence will be that we over time will see the difference between nominal GDP in the US and the euro become larger and larger exactly because the fed has a symmetrical monetary policy rule (the Evans rule), while the ECB has a asymmetrical monetary policy rule (the Weidmann rule).”

This is of course exactly what we have seen over the past year – US NGDP remains on its 4% path, while euro zone has averaged less than 1% over the past year and the gap between US and euro zone NGDP is therefore growing larger and larger.

Add to that that euro zone has seen as least two negative demand shocks in 2014. First of all and likely most important the Russian (Ukrainian) crisis, which is likely to lead to a double-digit contraction in Russian real GDP in 2015 and second renewed concerns over the political situation in Greece and other Southern European countries (particularly separatist worries in Spain). These shocks are so far not major shocks and with a proper monetary policy set-up would like have very limited impact on the European economy. However, we do not have a proper monetary policy set-up and therefore every even smaller negative demand shock will just push Europe deeper and deeper into a deflationary spiral.

It is correct that the ECB has done a bit to offset these shocks – which in quantity theoretical context essentially are negative velocity shocks – by cutting interest rates and indicated that we will get some sort of quantitative easing in 2015.

However, with the euro zone money base basically still contracting, M3 growth being lacklustre, inflation expectations declining and NGDP growth being very weak it is hard to argue that the ECB has done a lot. In fact it has not really done anything to even offset the negative velocity/demand shocks we have seen in 2015.

Therefore, we unfortunately have to conclude that the Weidmann rule still the name of the game in Frankfurt and all indications are that the Bundesbank remains strongly opposed to any quantitative easing.

What the ECB needs to do is of course to once and for all to demonstrate that it will indeed offset any shock to velocity – both negative and positive to ensure nominal stability. A 4% NGDP target rule would do the job (see here) and would be fully within ECB’s mandate.

PS These days Jens Weidmann is arguing that things will be a lot better in the euro zone because the drop in oil prices is a positive demand shock (yes, this is basically what he is saying) and that monetary easing therefore is not needed. In 2011 the Bundesbank of course was eager to see interest rate hikes in response to increased oil prices because the risk of “second-round effects” (horrible expression!). It is hard to get any better illustration of the just how asymmetrical the Bundesbank’s preferred monetary policy rule is.

PPS Tim Worstall has an excellent post on Jens Weidmann and the Bundesbank here.

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Merry Christmas

Dear friends and readers,

Christmas is family time – also in the Christensen family so this will be a short post.

I just want to thank all my loyal readers and followers for following and commenting on my blog (and following me on Twitter and Facebook).

It gives me lots of joy writing my blog and it is getting me in contact with interesting people from all over the world. I am grateful for that. For those of you who are celebrating Christmas these days I wish you a Merry Christmas.

See you all soon!

PS I have the same wish-list as George Selgin (just replace George’s “Bitdollar” protocol with a NGDP futures market and add a wish number 11 that I want the ECB to do this)

Christmas_tree

The hawks should start advocating NGDP targeting to avoid embarrassment

Over the past six years the “hawks” among UK and US central bankers have been proven wrong. They have continued to argue that a spike in inflation was just around the corner because monetary policy was “high accommodative”. Obviously Market Monetarists have continued to argue that monetary policy has not been easy, but rather to tight in the US and the UK – at least until 2012-13.

The continued very low inflation continues to be an embarrassment for the hawks and looking into 2015-16 there are no indication that inflation is about to pick-up either in the US or in the UK.

That said, there might actually be good reasons for turning more hawkish right now – nominal GDP growth continues to pick up in both the UK and the US (I will ignore the euro zone in this blog post…)

The sharp drop in oil prices in recent months is likely to further push down headline inflation in the coming months. Central bankers should obviously completely ignore any drop in inflation caused by a positive supply shock, but with most hawks completely obsessed with inflation targeting a hawkish stance will become harder and harder to justify from an inflation targeting perspective exactly at the time when it actually might become more justified than at any time before in the past six years.

I would personally not be surprised if we get close to deflation in both the UK and the US in 2015 and maybe also in 2016 if we don’t get a rebound in oil prices, but I would also think that there is a pretty good chance that we could get 4-5% or maybe even higher nominal GDP growth in both the UK and US in 2015-16. And that would be a strong argument for a tighter monetary stance.

Hence, if strict inflation targeters would follow their own logic then they would be advocating monetary easing in 2015-16 in both Britain and the US, while those of us who are more focused on NGDP growth will likely see an increasing need for monetary tightening in 2015-16.

As a consequence if you are an old hawk who “feels” that there is a need for monetary tightening then you better stop looking at present inflation and instead start to focusing on expected NGDP growth.

But of course the idea that you are hawkish or dovish is in itself an idiotic idea. You should never be hawkish or dovish as that in itself means that you are likely advocating some sort of discretionary monetary policy. What should concern you should be the rules of the game – the monetary policy regime.

Importing monetary tightening – the case of Belarus

Everybody has been following events in the Russian markets this week, but fewer have kept an eye on Russia’s smaller neighbour Belarus, but the small country is seeing some serious contagion from Russia.

With the Belarusian rouble effectively pegged to the US dollar and the Russian rouble in a free fall speculation has been mounting in Belarus that the Belarusian rouble (BYR) could be devalued.

And then on Friday Belarusian central bank reacted to these pressures and hiked its key policy rate to 50%! Furthermore, the authorities tightened currency controls by imposing a 30 per cent tax on buying foreign currency.

Nothing is of course forcing the Belarusian authorities to do this other than the desire to keep the BYR pegged to the dollar. That commitment now means that we will get a very significant tightening of monetary conditions in Belarus and as nearly always when such a tightenning happens you will get a sharp drop in economic activity. Once again it seems like the Belarusian authorities are importing a crisis from Russia.

I am not saying that I am advocating a Belarusian devaluation, but it is also clear that given the huge dependence on Russia it is hard for Belarus to maintain a peg to the US dollar when the Russian rouble is in a free fall.

It looks like 2015 will be an “interesting” year for Belarus – we will have presidential elections in November 2015.

Collegial advice among Russian central bankers

Former Soviet central bank governor Victor Gerashchenko about present-day CBR governor Elvira Nabiullina:

“If I were in her position, I would ask for a gun, and shoot myself.”

PS I can only imagine just how bad things would have been if Gerashchenko – who Jeff Sach once called “the worst central banker in the world” – still was in charge at the CBR.

PPS I got the story from “Russia Insider”.

The high cost of currency (rouble) stability

This is from Reuters today:

“The Russian currency has opened higher Thursday, continuing its recovery from the biggest intraday drop since 1998 default on so-called ‘Black Tuesday’. The dollar was down 65 kopeks at the opening on the Moscow Exchange, while on the stock market, the dollar-denominated RTS index was up 6.5 percent. That’s was hours before President Vladimir Putin commenced his much-anticipated Q&A marathon, in which he’s expected to face tough economic questions about the ruble and turmoil in the financial markets. ….On Wednesday, the ruble jumped 6 percent against the US dollar to finish trading at 60.51 against the Greenback. On ‘Black Tuesday’ the ruble dipped to as low as 80 rubles against the US dollar and hit a threshold of 100 against the euro.”

So after a terrible start to the week the Russian rouble has stabilised over the past two days. However, the (temporary?) stabilisation of the rouble has not been for free. Far from it in fact. Just take a look at this story from ft.com also from today:

Russian banks are getting cautious about lending each other money, with the interest rate on three-month interbank loans hitting its highest since at least 2005. The three-month “mosprime” interbank lending rate has soared to 28.3 per cent, which is its highest since it hit its financial crisis peak of 27.6 in January 2009. The rate is also sharply higher than it reached on Wednesday – the day after the Central Bank of Russia hiked interest rates to 17 per cent to stem a plunge in the rouble – when it closed at 22.33. Stresses have been building in Russian economy because of Western sanctions and a sharp fall in the oil price But another reason for the mosprime spike is that Russian banks are unsure about the state of each other’s businesses. Russian bank customers have been rushing to withdraw their roubles out of their bank accounts and convert them to dollars or euros.

Hence, the rouble might have stabilised, but monetary conditions have been tightened dramatically. So the question is whether the benefits of a (more) stable rouble outweigh the costs of tighter monetary conditions?

We might get the answer by looking that the graph below. The consequence of higher interest rates in 2008-9 was a 10% contraction in real GDP. This week’s spike in money market rates is even bigger (and steeper) than the spike in rates in 2008-9. Is there any good reason why we should not expect a similar contraction in real GDP this time? I think not… MosPrime 3m RGDP

PS obviously I would be the first to acknowledge that money market rates is not the entire story about monetary contraction and money market rates are only used for illustrative purposes here. There are also some differences between 2008-9 and now, but it should nonetheless be noted that the recent drop in oil prices is similar to what we saw in 2008-9.

Commodity prices, currencies and monetary policy

It has been a busy year for me – it has especially been the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, which has kept me busy. However, I thought that this week would be fairly calm – I didn’t have any traveling planned, not a lot a meetings scheduled and I had not expected to be too busy.

However, things turned out very differently thanks to the spectacular collapse of the Russian rouble and a massive rate hike from the Russian central bank. After 15 years in the financial markets this is absolutely up there among the wildest things I have ever experienced.

So frankly speaking I am a bit tired and not really up to the task of writing a major blog post. However, I have a lot on my mind nonetheless so I want share a bit of that anyway.

First, in relationship to what have played out in the Russian markets recently I must say that I actually have been impressed with the Russian central bank. Yes, Monday’s 650bp rate hike in my clearly is a major policy mistake and the decision has brought more uncertainty and more financial distress rather than stability and the rate hike will just send the already badly damaged Russian economy into a even deeper recession.

But one have to see the actions of the Russian central bank in the light of political pressures the central bank is under and that is the reason I am impressed. Russian monetary policy is far from great, but other Emerging Markets central banks would probably have made significantly worse decisions in a similar political and financial environment.

Second, while Market Monetarists advocate NGDP level targeting we have been less outspoken on our support for (N)GDP-linked bonds (in fact I am not sure the other MM bloggers like NGDP linked bonds as much as I do). However, I think the logic of market monetarism also implies that we should be advocating that governments should issue bonds linked to nominal GDP.

This would not only be a useful tools for monitoring market expectations for NGDP growth, but equally it would be helpful in “synchronizing” fiscal policy with monetary policy in the sense that fiscal policy would be automatically eased then the NGDP target is undershot and tightened when the target is overshot. This would also be helpful for countries where monetary policy is in different ways restricted for example by a fixed exchange rate regime.

Third, the Russia crisis “story” and the topic of NGDP-linked bonds can be combined to a discussion of whether the Russian government should issue government bonds linked to oil prices – so when oil prices decline then debt servicing costs also decline.

Just imagine what that would have done to reduce Russian default worries in the present situation. And this of course is linked to my favourite monetary framework for commodity exporters – the Export Price Norm. Hence, had all Russian government debt been linked to oil prices and had the rouble been pegged to a basket of US dollar (80%) and oil prices (20%) then I believe there would have been a much less spectacular crisis in Russia right now.

I hope to return to all these topics in the coming weeks, but until then I want to draw my readers’ attention to a recent blog post by my friend “Hishamh” over at Economics Malaysia on the topic of Commodities and Currencies. Here is Hishamh:

There’s quite a bit of gloom in the air these last few weeks. The plunge in oil and other commodity prices, capital pulling out of emerging markets, and currency turmoil, have people getting very worried about growth prospects next year. There doesn’t appear to be a bottom yet on oil prices, and it’s anybody’s guess where all this will end up.

In Malaysia’s case, oil price depreciation and Ringgit depreciation seems like one piling on the other – the latter is making things worse (Malaysians feel relatively poorer), on top of the drop in oil and gas revenues. But conflating the two like this is wrong. The depreciation of the currency is in fact a required and necessary result of the drop in oil prices.

If the Ringgit had stayed where it had been (about MYR3.20-3.30 to the USD), the full drop in oil prices would have been transmitted directly and with full force into the domestic economy. The approximate 8% depreciation of the Ringgit over the past few months partially mitigates that income shock. Since sales of oil (and gas) are denominated in USD terms on the international markets, a cheaper Ringgit partially cushions the revenue drop in local currency terms.

Consider that oil & gas make up about 20% of Malaysian exports; commodities as a whole about a third. That means that the drop in oil prices and the depreciation of the Ringgit have been nearly symmetrical. If anything, the Ringgit hasn’t dropped far enough – my estimate is that it should be at least 3%-5% weaker.

…That suggests the last few months currency action has largely been a USD movement rather than weakness in the MYR.

There’s also the flip side that the lower Ringgit should in theory provide a boost to non-commodity exports. In this case though, I’m a bit leery of depending on this as global demand growth outside the US and UK is pretty weak, and because again this is largely a case of Dollar strength more than Ringgit weakness.

…Some have been interpreting …central bank intervention to support the Ringgit value…My view is a little more nuanced – the drop in reserves is just too small to make that conclusion.

Contrasted with the pegged FX regime of the early ‘00s, reserve movements over the past four years are just too minor to affect the FX market. Rather, what I think is going on here is that BNM is simply trying to ensure that there’s enough USD (and other currency) liquidity in the interbank market to ensure, in their words, “orderly” market conditions.

…The bottom line is that BNM is not and will not be “defending” any level of the Ringgit. And if they’re not willing to spend reserves on it, you can forget the interest rate defense (which doesn’t work anyway).

Said in another way – the Malaysian central bank (BNM) has moved closer to my ideal of an Export Price Norm and that is benefiting the Malaysian economy. This is in fact what I suggested back in 2012 that the BNM should do.

 

H. L. Mencken on the Russian central bank

 H. L. Mencken“For every problem, there’s a simple solution. And it’s wrong.”

See also here – What the Turkish central bank did a year ago the Russian central bank is doing today. Not good.

HT Josh

Political unrest is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon – also in Greece

This is Sara Sjolin at MarketWatch.com:

Greece’s Athex Composite tanked almost 13% Tuesday — the biggest drop for the index on record, according to FactSet. The renewed jitters came after the government, in a surprise move late Monday, said it would bring forward presidential elections to Dec. 17, potentially, setting the scene for snap elections in early 2015.

Here’s why that’s important: Far-left party Syriza currently is leading the early polls and it seems likely they would win a snap election. This is how to think about Syriza:

  • The party has been calling for an end to austerity in Greece
  • Has been campaigning for market-unfriendly measures
  • Is firmly against the international bailout program that helped the country avoid a default during the depths of its financial crisis.

How bad is Greece’s Tuesday collapse? It’s worse than the 9.7% drop the market saw Oct. 24, 2010, at the peak of Greek debt worries. The drop also eclipses the 10% fall Greek markets saw in 1989 during a bout of political turmoil.

…With Greece’s problems once again in the limelight, investors all across Europe. the Stoxx Europe 600 index slumped 2.3%, while Germany’s DAX 30 index fell 2.2% and France’s CAC 40 index  gave up 2.5%.

Greek government bond yields  jumped 75 basis point to 7.90%, according to electronic trading platform Tradeweb.

So once again political news slips in to the financial section of the news. As Scott Sumner once expressed it about his studies of the Great Depression:

“And the worst part was the way political news kept slipping into the financial section. Nazis make ominous gains in the 1932 German elections, Spanish Civil War, etc, etc. In the 1930s the readers didn’t know what came next—but I did.”

I must admit that the similarities between the continued euro crisis and the situation during the 1930s worries me a great deal and my regular readers well-know that I to a large extent blame the deepening political troubles in Europe on the deep economic crisis caused mainly by extremely tight monetary conditions in the euro zone.

Just to remind everybody how bad it is in Greece. Take a look graph below comparing the real GDP lose in Austria during Great Depression and Greece during the present crisis (Year 0 is 1929 for Austria and 2008 for Greece.)

I used Austria as a comparison because the country had massive banking crisis (in 1931), had one of the deepest depressions of all of the European economies during the Great Depression and maintained the Gold Standard the longest.

Greece Austria

Given the scale of the crisis in Greece it is hardly surprising that extremist parties like Syriza and Golden Dawn are very popular parties. After all Austria disintegrated politically during the 1930s and eventually ceased to exist as an independent nation in 1938.

Oil prices, inflation and the FT’s good advice for central bankers

This is from the Financial Times’ FT View:

Pity the analyst forecasting today’s global economy. For every signal warning of stagnation there is another glowing green for go. But through this blur of clashing indicators it is possible to discern some consistent themes.

The clearest is weak inflation. The main cause is oversupply in the oil market where prices have fallen by one-third since the summer. With other commodities from cotton and hogs to wheat and soybeans similarly cheap, countries that rely on imported food and fuel have had a welcome boost.

American consumers in particular benefit from cheap fuel, which helps to explain growing momentum in the US economy. Strong jobs numbers on Friday confirmed a growing recovery. These bullish spirits are mirrored on Wall Street where the stock market has rebounded by 10 per cent since the turmoil of October.

But any student of the Great Depression would caution against seeing disinflationary forces in a purely positive light. In Japan and Europe, the persistent downwards trend in inflation is also a reflection of weak incomes. If left unchecked, this threatens to entrench a low-spending, deflationary mindset. Outside of a big slowdown, wage growth in much of the developed world has never been weaker. Even the most ambitious monetary policy can be undermined if pay packets are not growing. Instead of being spent, cash accumulates on the balance sheets of businesses unwilling to invest…

…Monetary policy provides the best key to understanding the variegated global picture. The central banks of the US, UK and Japan all adopted easier policies and were rewarded with an upturn. Given weak wage growth and a lack of fiscal support, such stimulus ought to continue.

Europe is an unhappy exception. Despite German misgivings, low interest rates are no evidence that money is too loose: nominal GDP growth stutters along at less than 3 per cent, a clear sign that the stance is much too tight. In recent years the ECB twice made the mistake of raising rates too soon, and thereby punished Europe with a deeper recession and a worse fiscal crisis. If its president Mario Draghi cannot ease policy further, the consequences will be just as serious.

The welcome boost provided by cheaper oil may help the global economy accelerate over the next year. Even Europe could participate, if only its policy makers would stop confusing the brake with the accelerator.

Do I need to say I agree with 99% of this? Yes, lower oil prices is mostly good news to the extent it reflects a positive supply shock in the oil market and yes if that was the only reason we are seeing deflation spreading then we should not worry.

However, take a look at any indicator of monetary condtions in the euro zone – the collapse in the money base since 2012, meager M3 growth, no NGDP growth, higher real interest rates, a stronger euro (since 2012) and sharply lower inflation expectations – and you should soon realise that the real deflation story in the euro zone is excessively tight monetary policy and the ECB need to do something about that whether oil trades at 40 or 140 dollars/barrel.

PS I don’t think the same story goes for the US. The recent drop in US inflation does not on its own warrant monetary easing. The Fed just needs to keep focused on expected NGDP growth and there is no signs of NGDP growth slowing in the US so I don’t think monetary policy is called for in the US.

PPS For some countries – oil-exporters with pegged exchange rates – lower oil prices is in fact monetary tightening – see here.

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