“Monetary Policy, Financial Stability, and the Distribution of Risk”

I have recently been giving a lot of attention to the work of David Eagle and his Arrow-Debreu based analysis of monetary policy rules. This is because I think David’s work provides a microfoundation for Market Monetarism and adds new dimensions to the discussion about NGDP targeting – particularly in regard to financial stability.

I have now come across a paper that is using a similar model as David’s model. However, this might be a slightly more interesting for the conspiratorial types as this paper is written by a Federal Reserve economist – Evan F. Koeing of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Here is that abstract of Koeing’s paper “Monetary Policy, Financial Stability, and the Distribution of Risk”:

“In an economy in which debt obligations are fixed in nominal terms, but there are otherwise no nominal rigidities, a monetary policy that targets inflation inefficiently concentrates risk, tending to increase the financial distress that accompanies adverse real shocks. Nominal- income targeting spreads risk more evenly across borrowers and lenders, reproducing the equilibrium that one would observe if there were perfect capital markets. Empirically, inflation surprises have no independent influence on measures of financial strain once one controls for shocks to nominal GDP.”

This paper obviously is highly relevant and as the euro crisis just keeps getting worse day-by-day we can always hope that some influential European policy makers read this paper.

After all the euro crisis is mostly a monetary crisis rather than a fiscal crisis – which David Beckworth forcefully demonstrates in a recent comment.

HT Arash Molavi Vasséi

“Global Banking Glut and Loan Risk Premium”

David Levey has sent me a new paper by Princeton University economics professor Hyun Song Shin on “Global Banking Glut and Loan Risk Premium“. I have unfortunately not had the time to read the paper yet, but it looks quite interesting and I would like to share it with my readers.

Here is the abstract:

“European global banks intermediating US dollar funds are important in influencing credit conditions in the United States. US dollar-denominated assets of banks outside the US are comparable in size to the total assets of the US commercial bank sector, but the large gross cross-border positions are masked by the netting out of the gross assets and liabilities. As a consequence, current account imbalances do not reflect the influence of gross capital flows on US financial conditions. This paper pieces together evidence from a global flow of funds analysis, and develops a theoretical model linking global banks and US loan risk premiums. The culprit for the easy credit conditions in the United States up to 2007 may have been the “Global Banking Glut” rather than the “Global Savings Glut””

Overall, I think the global financial linkages are extremely important in understanding how the Great Recession has played out and Hyun Song Shin’s paper could help us understand these linkages. I am personally very interested in the impact of the European banking sector’s demand for dollar.

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PS While the European crisis continues relentlessly it is hard to find anything positive of cheer you up. However, my colleague Antero Atilla – who long ago has realised that I am obsessed with monetary policy suggested a more fun youtube link today…have a look – it is all about money!

PPS The European crisis, business traveling and a bad flu is likely to keep me a bit away from blogging in the coming days.

Insufficient powers of (European) central banks

Here is Ben Bernanke and Harold James (1991) on “Insufficient powers of (European) central banks”:

“An important institutional feature of  the interwar gold standard is that, for a majority of the important continental European central banks, open market operations were not permitted or were severely restricted. This limitation on central bank powers was usually the result of the stabilization programs of the early and mid 1920s. By prohibiting central banks from holding or dealing in significant quantities of government securities, and thus making monetization of deficits more difficult, the architects of the stabilizations hoped to prevent future inflation. This forced the central banks to rely on discount policy (the terms at which they would make loans to commercial banks) as the principal means of affecting the domestic money supply. However, in a number of countries the major commercial banks borrowed very infrequently from the central banks, implying that except in crisis periods the central bank’s control over the money supply might be quite weak.”

I wonder whether Ben Bernanke is having the same unpleasant feeling of déjà vu as I am having and what he plans to do about – because apparently nobody in Europe studied economic history.

 

 

 

“Fed greatly destabilized the U.S. economy”

As the European crisis just gets worse and worse I am reminded by what a clever man once said – he is that clever man Ben Bernanke in 2004:

“Some important lessons emerge from the story. One lesson is that ideas are critical. The gold standard orthodoxy, the adherence of some Federal Reserve policymakers to the liquidationist thesis, and the incorrect view that low nominal interest rates necessarily signaled monetary ease, all led policymakers astray, with disastrous consequences. We should not underestimate the need for careful research and analysis in guiding policy. Another lesson is that central banks and other governmental agencies have an important responsibility to maintain financial stability. The banking crises of the 1930s, both in the United States and abroad, were a significant source of output declines, both through their effects on money supplies and on credit supplies. Finally, perhaps the most important lesson of all is that price stability should be a key objective of monetary policy. By allowing persistent declines in the money supply and in the price level, the Federal Reserve of the late 1920s and 1930s greatly destabilized the U.S. economy and, through the workings of the gold standard, the economies of many other nations as well.”

I wonder what he is thinking of his colleagues in the ECB and about his own responsibilities today.

The Tragic year: 1931

Benjamin Anderson termed 1931 the “the tragic year” – these are some of the events in that tragic year: 

  1. One of Europe’s largest banks with large exposure to Central and Eastern Europe gets into serious trouble (It is of course Austria’s largest bank Österiechishe Kredit Anstalt – and it of course collapsed)
  2. Europe’s Sovereign debt crisis is threatening financial stability and currency collapse (It’s the Germans that are to blame – they can’t pay their war debts)
  3. Major international banks push for a big country to save the sinners (The US banks ask US president Hoover to help ease the pain on Germany)
  4. Debt restructuring (The Hoover moratorium gives Germany a bit of relief – the US banks are happy to begin with)
  5. Monetary policy keeps deflationary pressures on (The French central bank keeps hoarding gold)
  6. An insane commitment to a failed monetary system (the gold standard mentality keeps the commitment to the gold standard despite the fact that it is killing Europe)
  7. Some countries have had enough and give up the monetary standard (The UK leaves the gold standard – the Scandinavian countries follows suit – and recover fast from the Great Depression)
  8. Technocracy is popular and it suggested that indebted nations should be run by technocrats (The so-called Technocracy Movement became increasingly popular in German)

And here we are 80 years on…do you see any similarities? I wonder what 2012 will bring – in 1932 10 countries (or so…) defaulted…

Germany 1931, Argentina 2001 – Greece 2011?

The events that we are seeing in Greece these days are undoubtedly events that economic historians will study for many years to come. But the similarities to historical crises are striking. I have already in previous posts reminded my readers of the stark similarities with the European – especially the German – debt crisis in 1931. However, one can undoubtedly also learn a lot from studying the Argentine crisis of 2001-2002 and the eventual Argentine default in 2002.

What this crises have in common is the combination of rigid monetary regimes (the gold standard, a currency board and the euro), serious fiscal austerity measures that ultimately leads to the downfall of the government and an international society that is desperately trying to solve the problem, but ultimately see domestic political events makes a rescue impossible – whether it was the Hoover administration and BIS in 1931, the IMF in 2001 or the EU (Germany/France) in 2011. The historical similarities are truly scary.

I have no clue how things will play out in Greece, but Germany 1931 and Argentina 2001 does not give much hope for optimism, but we can at least prepare ourselves for how things might play out by studying history.

I can recommend having a look at this timeline for how the Argentine crisis played out. You can start on page 3 – the Autumn of 2001. This is more or less where we are in Greece today.

80 years ago – history keeps repeating itself

Scott Sumner has a excellent post on events 80 years ago and the comparison with the situation today.

I share Scott’s view of the dismal situation 80 years ago and today.

See my posts on the issue from last week here and here.

The “China Bluff”

Nick Rowe has a short comment on the news that EU’s rescue fund the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) will try to tempt China to put money into the rescue fund by issuing bonds in Euros.

It is hard to disagree with Nicks’ comment: “The whole Eurozone problem is that each Eurozone country was issuing bonds in what was effectively a foreign currency, and so it lacked an effective lender of last resort. Now, if the Telegraph is correct, the Eurozone as a whole is planning to repeat the mistake, and become just like Greece.”

But that is not really what I want to comment on, but rather Nick’s comment reminded me about what we could call the “China bluff”. Since 2008 every time a bank or a country gets into serious trouble and is on the brink of collapse a CEO or Finance Minister or even a Prime Minister will say that some wealthy investor will soon throw money into the “project”. Most often these promises of “new money” coming in turn out to be far fetched fantasies.

The Icelandic collapse in 2008 maybe the most stunning example of the “China bluff”. At that time it was not China, but rather Russia that would come to the rescue of Iceland and the Icelandic banking sector. As the entire Icelandic financial system was collapsing suddenly Icelandic officials announced that Russia would step in with a loan to help Iceland and judging from the comments one was led to think that the Russian government already had agreed to a substantial loan to Iceland. However, the whole thing turned out to be a “China bluff” – an attempt by official to turn around market sentiment by promising that a wealthy investor would save the day. We all today know that Iceland had to call in the help of the Nordic countries and the IMF to avoid a default – Russian money was nowhere to be seen.

My recommendation to investors and the like is therefore that every time an embattled bank or nation “promises” money from China, Russia or the Middle East be skeptical…VERY SKEPTICAL. It might just be the China bluff.
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Update: Marcus Nunes also has a comment on the EFSF-China story.

The Hoover (Merkel/Sarkozy) Moratorium

The global stock markets are strongly up today on the latest news from the EU on the deal on Greek debt (and little bit less…). There is no reason to spend a lot of time describing the deal here, but I nonetheless feel it might be a good day to tell a bit about something else – the so-called Hoover Moratorium of 1931.

80 years ago it was not Greece, which was at the centre of attention, but rather Germany. Germany was struggling to pay back war debt and reparations for World War I and Germany was effectively on the brink of default and the Germany economy was in serious trouble – not much unlike today’s Greek situation.

On June 20 1931 US President Hoover issued a statement in which he suggested a moratorium on payments of World War I debts, postponing the initial payments, as well as interest. Hoover’s hope was the moratorium would ease the strains on especially the German economy and thereby in general help the global economy, which of course at that time was deep in depression.

Hoover’s idea was certainly not popular with many US citizens (like today’s German taxpayers who are not to happy to see their taxes being spending in “saving” Greece). However, the plan got most opposition from the French government, which insisted that the German government had to pay it’s debts on time as scheduled.

Despite the negative reception of Hoover’s proposal it went on to gain support from fifteen nations including France by July 6 1931.

An interesting side story on the Hoover Moratorium is why Hoover came up with the idea in the first place. Barry Eichengreen askes this question in his great book on the gold standard and the Great Depression, “Golden Fetters”: “It is unclear whether Hoover was motivated by the need for action to stabilize the international economy or by a desire to protect U.S. banks that had invested heavily in Germany”. Try replace “Hoover” with “Merkel/Sarkozy”, “U.S. banks” with “German/French banks” and “Germany” with “Greece”.

So how did the Hoover Moratorium play out? The initial market reaction July 1931 was very favourable. German stock jumped 25% on the Monday announce the initial announcement of the Hoover Moratorium. Here is how the New York Times described the global market reaction “the swiftest advance during any corresponding period in a generation” (quoted from Clark Johnson’s “Gold, France and the Great Depression”).

However, the party did not last and soon the international market turned down and the Depression continued. Many countries didn’t emerge from the Depression before the end of World War II. Lets hope we are more lucky this time around.

Google Trends: From Greek crisis to euro crisis

I have always found it fascinating how much information the internet is providing “real time” and  I believe that a lot of economic data can and should be “extracted” from data on internet activity. A good example is the development in google searches on the European debt crisis. Here Google Trends is an excellent tool.

We we input “Greek crisis” into Google Trends we get this timeline.

The graph is pretty clear – searches on the “Greek crisis” spikes in early 2010 and then start to ease off in May 2010. But then again from the early part of the Summer this year the “Greek crisis” start to take off again.

Then lets add one more search: “euro crisis”.

Here we compare the number of searches for “euro crisis” and “Greek crisis” respectively.

The picture is clear – there is a very high correlation between “Greek crisis” and “euro crisis”. However, there is more to tell. While “Greek crisis” searches is much higher the “euro crisis” searches in 2010 the picture has now changed.

Greek crisis becoming a euro crisis

Hence, since July the number of searches for “euro crisis” has outpaced the number of searches for “Greek crisis”. Zoom in on 2011 searches here.

Said in another way what Google Trends is telling us is that the Greek crisis has turned into a euro crisis. Is that a surprise? Maybe not, but it is an indication of the systemic risks involved in this terrible crisis.

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