US capital spending and a lesson in the monetary transmission mechanism

This is from Bloomberg.com:

Companies in the U.S. are beginning to empty their deep pockets and boost capital spending as they look past the specter of sequestration and global growth risks.

Orders for capital goods excluding aircraft and military equipment — an indicator of future business investment — increased 1.5 percent in May, a third consecutive advance and the longest streak since October 2011. Chief executive officers are more optimistic about the economy, based on the Business Roundtable’s quarterly outlook index, which rose to 84.3 in the second quarter, the highest in a year.

Spending on information technology is up 4 percent this year compared with 2 percent last year, according to the median in asurvey of 203 businesses by Computer Economics, a research company in Irvine, California.

…Such increases are set to bolster the U.S. expansion between now and year-end as companies unleash cash from their record-high balance sheets amid a brighter economic outlook. Job gains that beat expectations in June have helped firm market projections of a September start for the Federal Reserve to begin reducing its unprecedented $85 billion in monthly asset purchases, indicating confidence that growth is sustainable without record levels of monetary stimulus.

This is exactly what Market Monetarists said would happen if the Federal Reserve eased monetary policy within a rule based framework. This in my view is a pretty clear demonstration of how the monetary transmission mechanism works.

This is how I in 2011 explained it would work:

Lets assume that the economy is in “bad equilibrium”. For some reason money velocity has collapsed, which continues to put downward pressures on inflation and growth and therefore on NGDP. Then enters a new credible central bank governor and he announces the following:

“I will ensure that a “good equilibrium” is re-established. That means that I will ‘print’ whatever amount of money is needed so to make up for the drop in velocity we have seen. I will not stop the expansion of the money base before market participants again forecasts nominal GDP to have returned to it’s old trend path. Thereafter I will conduct monetary policy in such a fashion so NGDP is maintained on a 5% growth path.”

Lets assume that this new central bank governor is credible and market participants believe him. Lets call him Ben Volcker.

By issuing this statement the credible Ben Volcker will likely set in motion the following process:

1) Consumers who have been hoarding cash because they where expecting no and very slow growth in the nominal income will immediately reduce there holding of cash and increase private consumption.
2) Companies that have been hoarding cash will start investing – there is no reason to hoard cash when the economy will be growing again.
3) Banks will realise that there is no reason to continue aggressive deleveraging and they will expect much better returns on lending out money to companies and households. It certainly no longer will be paying off to put money into reserves with the central bank. Lending growth will accelerate as the “money multiplier” increases sharply.
4) Investors in the stock market knows that in the long run stock prices track nominal GDP so a promise of a sharp increase in NGDP will make stocks much more attractive. Furthermore, with a 5% path growth rule for NGDP investors will expect a much less volatile earnings and dividend flow from companies. That will reduce the “risk premium” on equities, which further will push up stock prices. With higher stock prices companies will invest more and consumers will consume more.

I think that is exactly what is now happening in the US economy. The fed’s de facto announcement back in September last year of the Bernanke-Evans rule is moving the US economy from a “bad equilibrium” to a “good equilibrium”.

Hence, it is not only in the increase in the money base, which is lifting the US economy out of the crisis, but also a marked shift in expectations among US investors and consumers. It is the Chuck Norris effect. At least that is what the survey mentioned above indicates.

Furthermore, this is a clear demonstration of the Sumner Critique – the fiscal multiplier will be zero if the fed follows a clear nominal target. Hence, any fiscal tightening will be offset by monetary easing and/or expected monetary easing. So while fiscal policy contracts investments and private consumption is expanding.

I am still puzzled that it took the fed four years to figure this out and I should say that the Chuck Norris effect could have been much more powerful had the Federal Reserve been a lot more clear about its objectives. Now investors and consumers are still to a large extent guessing what the fed is targeting. Had the fed announced an NGDP level target then I am sure we would have seen an even stronger recovery in US capital spending.

The Turkish demonstrations – and the usefulness of the AS/AD framework

Peter Dorman has a blog post that have gotten quite a bit of attention in the blogosphere on the AS-AD model and why he thinks it is not a useful framework. This is Peter:

“Introductory textbooks are supposed to give you simplified versions of the models that professionals use in their own work.  The blogosphere is a realm where people from a range of backgrounds discuss current issues often using simplified concepts so everyone can be on the same page.

But while the dominant framework used in introductory macro textbooks is aggregate supply—aggregate demand (AS-AD), it is almost never mentioned in the econ blogs.  My guess is that anyone who tried to make an argument about current macropolicy using an AS-AD diagram would just invite snickers.  This is not true on the micro side, where it’s perfectly normal to make an argument with a standard issue, partial equilibrium supply and demand diagram.  What’s going on here?”

I am somewhat surprised by Peter’s statement that the AS-AD framework is never mentioned on the econ blogs. That could indicate that Peter has never read my blog (no offense taken – I never read Peter’s blog before either). My regular readers would of course know that I am quite fund of using the AS-AD framework to illustrate my arguments. Other Market Monetarists – particularly Nick Rowe and Scott Sumner are doing the same thing quite regularly. See Nick’s discussion of Peter’s post here.

The purpose of this post, however, is not really to discuss Peter’s critique of the AS-AD framework, but rather to show the usefulness of the framework with a example from today’s financial news flow. Furthermore, I will do a Market Monetarist ‘spin’ on the AS-AD framework. Hence, I will stress the importance of monetary policy rules and what financial markets tell us about AD and AS shocks.

The Istanbul demonstrations as an AS shock 

Over the weekend we have seen large street protests in Istanbul in Turkey. The demonstrations are the largest demonstrations ever against the ruling AKP party and Prime Minister Erdogan. Mr. Erdogan has been in power for a decade.

The demonstrations today triggered a 10% drop in the Istanbul stock exchange so there is no doubt that investors think that these demonstrations and the political ramifications of the demonstrations will have a profound negative economic impact.

I believe a core insight of Market Monetarist thinking is that financial markets are very useful indicators about monetary policy shocks. Hence, we for example argue that if the US dollar is depreciating, market inflation expectations are rising and the US stock market is rallying then it is a very clear indication that US monetary conditions are getting easier.

While the focus of Market Monetarists have not been as much on supply shocks as on monetary policy shocks (AD shocks) it is equal possible to ‘deduct’ AS shocks from financial markets. I believe that today’s market action in the Turkish markets are a pretty good indication of exactly that – the combination of lower stock prices, higher bond yields (higher risk premium and/or higher inflation expectations) and a weaker lira tells the story that investors see the demonstrations as a negative supply shock. It is less clear whether the shock is a long-term or a short-term shock.

A short-run AS shock – mostly about disruption of production

My preferred textbook version of the AS-AD model is a model similar to the one Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok use in their great textbook Modern Principles of Economics where the model is expressed in growth rates (real GDP growth and inflation) rather than in levels.

It is obvious that the demonstrations and unrest in Istanbul are likely to lead to disruptions in production – roads are closed down, damages to infrastructure, some workers are not coming to work and even some lines of communication might be negatively impacted by the unrest. Compared to the entire Turkish economy the impact these effects is likely quite small, but it is nonetheless a negative supply shock. These shocks are, however, also likely to be temporary – short-term – rather than permanent. Hence, this is a short-run AS shock. I have illustrated that in the graph below.

AS AD SRAS shock

This is the well-known illustration of a negative short-run supply shock – inflation increases (from P to P’) and real GDP growth declines (from Y to Y’).

This might very well be what we will see in Turkey in the very short run – even though I believe these effects are likely to be quite small in size.

However, note that we here assume a “constant” AD curve.

Peter Dorman is rightly critical about this assumption in his blog post:

“…try the AD assumption that, even as the price level and real output in the economy go up or down, the money supply remains fixed.”

Peter is of course right that the implicit assumption is that the money supply (or money base) is constant. The standard IS/LM model suffers from the same problem. A fact that have led me to suggest an alternative ISLM model – the so-called IS/LM+ model in which the central bank’s monetary policy rule is taken into account.

Obviously no analysis of macroeconomic shocks should ignore the monetary policy reaction to different shocks. This is obviously something Market Monetarists have stressed again and again when it for example comes to fiscal shocks like the ‘fiscal cliff’ in the US. In the case of Turkey we should therefore take into account that the Turkish central bank (TCMB) officially is targeting 5% inflation.

Therefore if the TCMB was targeting headline inflation in a very rigid way (ECB style) it would have to react to the increase in inflation by tightening monetary policy (reducing the money base/supply) until inflation was back at the target. In the graph above that would mean that the AD curve would shift to the left until inflation would have been brought down back to 5%. The result obviously would be a further drop in real GDP growth.

In reality I believe that the TCMB would be very unlikely to react to such a short run supply. In fact the TCMB has recently cut interest rates despite the fact that inflation continue to run slightly above the inflation target of 5%. Numbers released today show Turkish headline inflation was at 6.6% in May.

In fact I believe that one with some justification can think of Turkish monetary policy as a “flexible NGDP growth targeting” (with horrible communication) where the TCMB effectively is targeting around 10% yearly NGDP growth. Interestingly enough in the Cowen-Tabarrok version of the AS-AD model that would mean that the TCMB would effectively keep the AD curve “unchanged” as the AD curve in reality is based in the equation of exchange (MV=PY).

The demonstrations could reduce long-term growth – its all about ‘regime uncertainty’

While the Istanbul demonstrations clearly can be seen as a short-run supply shock that is probably not what the markets are really reacting to. Instead it is much more likely the the markets are reacting to fears that the ultimate outcome of the demonstrations could lead to lower long-run real GDP growth.

Cowen and Tabarrok basically think of long-run growth within a Solow growth model. Hence, there are overall three drivers of growth in the long run – labour forces growth, an increase in the capital stock and higher total factor productivity (TFP – think of that as “knowledge”/technology).

I believe that the most relevant channel for affecting long-run growth in the case of the demonstrations is the impact on investments in Turkey which likely will influence both the size of the capital stock and TFP negatively.

Broadly speaking I think Robert Higgs concept of “Regime Uncertainty” comes in handy here.  This is Higgs:

“The hypothesis is a variant of an old idea: the willingness of businesspeople to invest requires a sufficiently healthy state of “business confidence,”  … To narrow the concept of business confidence, I adopt the interpretation that businesspeople may be more or less “uncertain about the regime,” by which I mean, distressed that investors’ private property rights in their capital and the income it yields will be attenuated further by government action. Such attenuations can arise from many sources, ranging from simple tax-rate increases to the imposition of new kinds of taxes to outright confiscation of private property. Many intermediate threats can arise from various sorts of regulation, for instance, of securities markets, labor markets, and product markets. In any event, the security of private property rights rests not so much on the letter of the law as on the character of the government that enforces, or threatens, presumptive rights.”

I think this is pretty telling about the fears that investors might have about the situation in Turkey. It might be that the Turkish government is not loved by investors, but investors are clearly uncertain about what would follow if the demonstrations led to “regime change” in Turkey and a new government. Furthermore, the main opposition party – the CHP – is hardly seen as reformist.

And even if the AKP does remain in power the increased public disconnect could lead to ‘disruptions of production’ (broadly speaking) again and again in the future.  Furthermore, the government hard-handed reaction to the demonstrations might also “complicate” Turkey’s relationship to both the EU and the US – something which likely also will weigh on foreign direct investments into Turkey.

Hence, regime uncertainty therefore is likely to reduce the long-run growth in the Turkish economy. Obviously it is hard to estimate the scale such effects, but at least judging from the sharp drop in the Turkish stock market today the negative long-run supply shock is sizable.

I have illustrated such a negative long-run supply shock in the graph below.

LRAS shock

The result is the same as in the short-run model – a negative supply shock reduces real GDP growth and increases inflation.

However, I would stress that the TCMB would likely not in the long run accept a permanent higher rate of inflation and as a result the TCMB therefore sooner or later would have to tighten monetary policy to push down inflation (by shifting the AD curve to the left). This also illustrates that the demonstrations is likely to become a headache for the TCMB management.

Is the ‘tourism multiplier’ zero? 

Above I have primarily described the Istanbul demonstrations as a negative supply shock. However, some might argue that this is also going to lead to a negative demand shock.

Hence, Turkey very year has millions of tourists coming to the country and some them will likely stay away this year as a consequence of the unrest. In the Cowen- Tabarrok formulation of the AD curve a negative shock to tourism would effectively be a negative shock to money velocity. This obviously would shift the AD curve to the left – as illustrated in the graph below.

AD shock

Hence, we initially get a drop in both inflation and real GDP growth as the AD curve shifts left.

However, we should never forget to think about the central bank’s reaction to a negative AD shock. Hence, whether the TCMB is targeting inflation or some kind of NGDP growth target it would “automatically” react to the drop in aggregate demand by easing monetary policy.

In the case the TCMB is targeting inflation it would ease monetary policy until the AD curve has shifted back and the inflation rate is back at the inflation target.

This effectively means that a negative shock to Turkish tourism should not be expected to have an negative impact on aggregate demand in Turkey for long. This effectively is a variation of the Sumner Critique – this time, however, it is not the budget multiplier, which is zero, but rather the ‘tourism multiplier’.

Hence, from a macroeconomic perspective the demonstrations are unlikely to have any major negative impact on aggregate demand as we would expect the TCMB to offset any such negative shock by easing monetary policy.

That, however, does not mean that a negative shock to tourism will not impact the Turkish financial markets. Hence, there will be a change in the composition of aggregate demand – less tourism “exports” and more domestic demand. This likely is bad news for the Turkish lira.

Mission accomplished – we can use the AS-AD framework to analysis the ‘real world’

I hope that my discussion above have demonstrated that the AS-AD framework can be a very useful tool when analyzing real world problems – such as the present public unrest in Turkey. Obviously Peter Dorman is right – we should know the limitations of the AS-AD model and we should particularly be aware what kind of monetary policy reaction there will be to different shocks. But if we take that into account I believe the textbook (the Cowen-Tabarrok textbook) version of the AS-AD model is a quite useful tool. In fact it is a tool that I use every single day both when I produce research in my day-job or talk to clients about such ‘events’ as the Turkish demonstrations.

Furthermore, I would add that I could have done the same kind of analysis in a DSGE framework, but I doubt that my readers would have enjoyed looking at a lot of equations and a DSGE model would likely have reveal little more about the real world than the version of the AS-AD model I have presented above.

PS Please also take a look at this paper in which I discuss the politics and economics of the present Turkish crisis.

PPS Paul Krugman, Nick Rowe and Mark Thoma also comment on the usefulness of the AS-AD framework.

The OECD understands the Sumner Critique – Europe’s problem is monetary

This is from OECD’s Economic Outlook report published earlier today:

In the euro area, the area-wide fiscal consolidation (measured as an improvement in the underlying primary budget balance) of just over 4% of GDP between 2009 and 2013 was similar to that in the United States over the same period. This casts doubts about the role of fiscal tightening in explaining the comparatively weak performance of the euro area.

The OECD is of course completely right. The fiscal tightening in the US and the in euro zone have been more or less of the same magnitude over the last four years. So don’t blame ‘austerity’ for the euro zone’s lackluster performance.

The real difference between the euro zone and the US is of course monetary. The central bank can always offset the impact of fiscal tightening on aggregate demand. The fed has shown that, while the ECB has failed to do so. Rather the ECB continues to keep monetary conditions insanely tight. Aggregate demand is weak in the euro zone because the ECB wants it to be weak.

The ECB has failed. It is as simple as that and the OECD understands that.

HT Jens Pedersen

“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.

The ultimate sign of recovery – no reason to freak out about higher bond yields

This is from CNBC.com:

U.S. Treasurys prices eased for a second day after jobless claims data suggested solid improvement in the labor market, while stocks’ gains undermined the appeal of lower-risk government debt.

The Treasury Department auctioned $13 billion of reopened 30-year bonds on Thursday at a high yield of 3.248 percent. The bid-to-cover ratio, an indicator of demand, was 2.43, the lowest level since August.

In the when-issued market, considered a proxy for where the bonds will price at auction, 30-year bonds were yielding about 3.24 percent. The auction followed solid demand in the sales of $21 billion of reopened 10-year notes on Wednesday and $32 billion of three-year notes on Tuesday.

US bond yields continue to inch higher. To me that is the ultimate sign that easier monetary conditions is pushing up nominal GDP (and very likely also real GDP).

But I am afraid that we will soon hear somebody warn us that higher bond yields will kill the recovery. But we of course know that when bond yields and equity prices are rising in parallel then it is normally a very good sign of higher aggregate demand and that is of course exactly what we need.

So if we avoid the biggest fallacy in economics and ask why bond yields are rising then we should find a lot of comfort in the fact that US stock prices are rising as well.

And finally there is some Keynesians out there that can explain to me why global stock prices continue to inch up, bond yields are rising and the US consumer seems completely unaffected despite of the fiscal cliff (I told you so!) and the sequester. Market Monetarists of course have an answer – it is monetary policy dominance – monetary policy can always offset any impact on aggregate demand from a fiscal shock. It is very simple – and is the positive spin on the Sumner Critique. (Here is a model textbook Keynesian should be able to understand).

PS yes you got it right – I am very optimistic both on the markets and on the recovery at least in the US (I have been optimistic for a while – see here and here). My only two fears are that the ECB once again will do something stupid or that we will have a repeat of the mistakes of 19367-37 – premature monetary tightening from the fed. Italian politics is, however, not keeping me awake at night.

Update: I wrote above my worry was the ECB. I should have said the EU/IMF. The terms for the EU/IMF bail out of Cyprus scare me quite a bit. So much for the rule of law…

2008 was a large negative demand shock – also in Canada

Scott Sumner has a follow-up post on Nick Rowe’s post about whether a supply shock or a demand shock caused the Canadian recession in 2008-9. Both Nick and Scott seem to think that the recession in some way was caused by a supply shock.

I must admit that I really don’t understand what Scott and Nick are saying. It is pretty clear to me that the shock in 2008-9 was negative aggregate demand shock.

Lets start with the textbook version of a negative aggregate demand (AD) shock). Here is how a negative demand shock looks in AS/AD model (the growth rate version):

Demand shock

So what happened in Canada? Here is a look at inflation measured by headline CPI and by the price deflator for final domestic sales.

CAD inflation

Both measures of inflation were running higher than the Bank of Canada’s official 2% inflation target when the crisis hit in the autumn of 2008.

However, it is pretty clear that inflation slowed sharply and dropped well-below the 2% inflation target in 2009 as the Canadian economy went into recession (real GDP contracted). It is hard to say that this is anything other than a rather large negative AD shock.

Obvioulsy inflation increased above 2% in 2011, but we all know that a major negative supply shock hit in 2011 as global oil prices spiked. In the case of Canada this in fact is both a negative supply shock and a positive demand shock (remember Canada is an oil exporter). That said, the rise in inflation was certainly not dramatic and since 2012 inflation has once again dropped well-below 2% indicating that monetary policy in Canada has become overly tight given the BoC’s 2% inflation target.

I might add that different measures of inflation expectations (both survey and market data) are telling the exact same story. Inflation and inflation expectations eased significantly in 2008-9 and once again in 2012.  

And we can tell the same story if we look at the price level. The graph below compares the two measures of prices (CPI and the final domestic demand deflator) with an 2% price path starting in Q3 2008.

Canada Price Level

Again the picture is clear. The price level – for both measures – are lower than a hypothetical 2% price level path – indicating that Mark Carney and his colleagues in the Bank of Canada have kept monetary conditions too tight over the past 4-5 years – maybe because of a preoccupation with the risk of “bubbles”. Mark Carney might be talking about NGDP level targeting, but he is certainly also speaking quite a bit about “macroprudential indicators” (modern central bank lingo for bubble risk).

Concluding, it is very clear that the Canadian economy was hit by a large negative demand shock in 2008 and initially the BoC has kept monetary policy overly tight and the recent tightening of monetary conditions certainly also looks problematic.

Once again it is monetary policy failure and it is certainly not a negative supply shock, which is to blame for the Canadian recession and sub-trend growth since 2008. Needless to say NGDP tells the exact same story. I should add that the size of this “monetary policy failure” is fairly small compared to for example for example what we have seen in the euro zone.

Reminding Scott about the Sumner Critique

Given the very clear evidence of a negative demand shock I find this comment from Scott somewhat puzzling:

Let’s suppose that the BOC had been targeting NGDP in 2008, when global trade fell off a cliff.  How would the Canadian economy have been affected?  Many would see the drop in global trade as a demand shock hitting Canada, as there would have been less demand for Canadian exports.  In fact, it would be an adverse supply shock.  Even if the BOC had been targeting NGDP, output would have probably fallen.  Factories in Ontario making transmissions for cars assembled in Ohio would have seen a drop in orders for transmissions.  That’s a real shock.  No (plausible) amount of price flexibility would move those transmissions during a recession.  If the assembly plant in Ohio stopped building cars, then they don’t want Canadian transmissions.  If the US stops building houses, then we don’t want Canadian lumber.  That’s a real shock to Canada, i.e. an AS shock.

I simply don’t understand Scott’s argument. A negative shock to exports obviously is a negative demand shock. From the perspective of nominal spending a negative shock to exports is a negative shock to money-velocity in the exact same way as a tightening of fiscal policy. Therefore, if the BoC had been targeting NGDP (it actually also goes for inflation targeting) the Sumner Critique would apply – the BoC would offset any negative shock to exports by easing monetary policy (increasing M to offset the drop in V). As a consequence domestic demand would rise and offset the drop in exports. And this obviously applies even if prices are sticky. Yes, the production of transmissions in Ontario drops, but that is offset by an increase in construction of apartments in Vancouver.

However, the point is that the BoC failed to offset the shock to exports and as a consequence prices have been growing slower than implied by BoC’s official inflation target.

There is absolutly nothing special about Canada – its monetary policy failure – the failure is just (a lot) smaller than in the euro zone or the US.

PS I could also have used the GDP deflator as well in my examples above. The story is the same. In fact it is worse! The GDP deflator dropped by more than 4% during 2009. The primary reason for the massive drop in the GDP deflator is that the price of oil measured in Canadian dollars dropped sharply in 2008-9. As drop in the oil price obviously is a negative demand shock as Canada is a oil exporter. The story in that sense is completely the same as what happened to the Russian economy in 2008-9. Had the BoC had followed a variation of an “Export Price Norm” as the Reserve Bank of Australia is doing then the negative shock would likely have been much smaller as was the case in Australia.

GDP deflator Canada

PPS JP Irving also comments on the Canadian story.

It’s Frankfurt that should be your worry – not Rome

This week investors have been spooked by the election outcome in Italy, but frankly speaking is there anything new in that shady characters are doing well in an Italian election? Is there anything new in a hung parliament in Italy? Nope, judging from post-WWII Italian political history this is completely normal. Ok, Italian public finances is a mess, but again that not really news either.

So if all this is ‘business-as-usual’ why are investors suddenly so worried? My explanation would be that investors are not really worrying about what is going on in Rome, but rather about what is going on in Frankfurt.

Last year I argued that the ECB had introduced ‘political outcomes’ in its reaction function:

This particularly is the case in the euro zone where the ECB now openly is “sharing” the central bank’s view on all kind of policy matters – such as fiscal policy, bank regulation, “structural reforms” and even matters of closer European political integration. Furthermore, the ECB has quite openly said that it will make monetary policy decisions conditional on the “right” policies being implemented. It is for example clear that the ECB have indicated that it will not ease monetary policy (enough) unless the Greek government and the Spanish government will “deliver” on certain fiscal targets. So if Spanish fiscal policy is not “tight enough” for the liking of the ECB the ECB will not force down NGDP in the euro zone and as a result increase the funding problems of countries such as Spain. The ECB is open about this. The ECB call it to use “market forces” to convince governments to implement fiscal tightening. It of course has nothing to do with market forces. It is rather about manipulating market expectations to achieve a certain political outcome.

Said in another way the ECB has basically announced that it does not only have an inflation target, but also that certain political outcomes is part of its reaction function. This obviously mean that forward looking financial markets increasingly will act on political news as political news will have an impact of future monetary policy decisions from the ECB.

And this is really what concerns investors. The logic is that a ‘bad’ political outcome in Italy will lead the ECB to become more hawkish and effectively tighten monetary conditions by signaling that the ECB is not happy about the ‘outcome’ in Italy and therefore will not ease monetary policy going forward even if economic conditions would dictate that. This is exactly what happened in 2011-12 in the euro zone, where the political ‘outcomes’ in Greece, Italy and Spain clearly caused the ECB to become more hawkish.

The problems with introducing political outcomes into the monetary reaction function are obvious – or as I wrote last year:

Imaging a central bank say that it will triple the money supply if candidate A wins the presidential elections (due to his very sound fiscal policy ideas), but will cut in halve the money supply if candidate B wins (because he is a irresponsible bastard). This will automatically ensure that the opinion polls will determine monetary policy. If the opinion polls shows that candidate A will win then that will effectively be monetary easing as the market will start to price in future monetary policy easing. Hence, by announce that political outcomes is part of its reaction function will politics will make monetary policy endogenous. The ECB of course is operating a less extreme version of this set-up. Hence, it is for example very clear that the ECB’s monetary policy decisions in the coming months will dependent on the outcome of the Greek elections and on the Spanish government’s fiscal policy decisions.

The problem of course is that politics is highly unpredictable and as a result monetary policy becomes highly unpredictable and financial market volatility therefore is likely to increase dramatically. This of course is what has happened over the past year in Europe.

Furthermore, the political outcome also crucially dependents on the economic outcome. It is for example pretty clear that you would not have neo-nazis and Stalinists in the Greek parliament if the economy were doing well. Hence, there is a feedback from monetary policy to politics and back to monetary policy. This makes for a highly volatile financial environment.  In fact it is hard to see how you can achieve any form of financial or economic stability if central banks instead of targeting only nominal variables start to target political outcomes.

Therefore investors are likely to watch comments from the ECB on the Italian elections as closely as the daily political show in Rome. However, there might be reasons to be less worried now than in 2011-12. The reason is not Europe, but rather what has been happening with US and Japanese monetary policy since August-September last year.

Hence, with the Fed effective operating the Bernanke-Evans rule and the Bank of Japan having introduced a 2% inflation target these two central banks effective have promised to offset any negative spill-over to aggregate demand from the euro zone to the US and the Japanese economy (this is basically the international financial version of the Sumner Critique – there is no global spill-over if the central banks have proper nominal targets).

Hence, if Italian political jitters spark financial jitters that threaten to push up US unemployment then the Fed will “automatically” step up monetary easing to offset the shock and investors should full well understand that. Hence, the Bernanke-Evans rule and the BoJ’s new inflation target are effective backstops that reduces the risk of spill-over from Italy to the global markets and the global economy.

However, investors obviously still worry about the possible reaction from the ECB. If the ECB – and European policy makers in general – uses political events in Italy to tighten monetary conditions then we are likely to see more unrest in the European markets. Hence, the ECB can end market worries over Italy today by simply stating that the ECB naturally will act to offset any spill-over from Italy to the wider European markets that threatens nominal stability in the euro zone.

Related posts:
News of Berlusconi once again slipped into the financial section
Spanish and Italian political news slipped into the financial section
Greek and French political news slipped into the financial section
Political news kept slipping into the financial section – European style
“…political news kept slipping into the financial section”

Brad DeLong on the Sumner Critique and why the fiscal multiplier is zero

This is Brad DeLong:

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.

What Brad of course here is expressing is the so-called Sumner Critique – that is the fiscal multiplier will always be zero if the central bank directly or indirectly targets aggregate demand either as a result of an inflation target, an NGDP level target or for that matter a Bernanke-Evans style monetary rule.

Brad has a nice little model to illustrate his point. In some ways Brad’s model is similar to Nick Rowe’s game theoretical discussion of what Brad calls “full fiscal offset” (see my earlier post on the topic here). My simpler IS/LM+ model illustrates the same point (have a look at the model here).

Brad, however, thinks that the fiscal multiplier is positive at the Zero Lower Bound (ZLB):

… this argument breaks down at the zero nominal lower bound. At the zero lower bound the central bank does care only about inflation and unemployment. It cares as well about the magnitude of the non-standard monetary policy measures it must take in order to achieve its net monetary policy impetus value m.

This argument is somewhat harder for me to get. The Zero Lower Bound only exists as a mental construction in the heads of central bankers. Central banks can always ease monetary policy – even if interest rates are close to zero. That is exactly what the Fed and the Bank of Japan are doing at the moment.

Furthermore, it might of course be right that “real world” central banks prefer not to use other instruments rather than interest rates and therefore prefer the government to “push” aggregate demand (hence that is why Brad argues that the “instrument” should enter into the utility function of the central  bank). However, that would still be monetary policy (rather than fiscal policy) as government spending would only impact aggregate demand/NGDP because the central bank chose not to offset the increase in government spending. If the central bank on the other hand used for example a money base rule or McCallum’s MC rule where the policy instrument is a combination of the exchange rate and interest rates then the central bank would not pay any attention to the ZLB.

PS I find it “interesting” to read the comment section on Brad’s blog. It is clear that some of the more ideologically inclined Keynesians have a very hard time accepting the fact that the fiscal multiplier might be zero. (yes, I similarly have a very hard time accepting arguments that it might be positive so I am no saint…)

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This one is pretty funny (HT Daniel Brackins)

krugman astroid

Jeff Cox is puzzled – maybe because he never asked anybody about monetary policy

This is CNBC’s Jeff Cox:

Investors who fled in fear over potentially massive tax increases associated with the “fiscal cliff” have barely broken a sweat over corresponding spending cuts that are only two weeks away.

The so-called sequestration of $110 billion a year in discretionary spending will happen March 1 if Congress does not come to an agreement.

With little indication that Washington is anywhere near a compromise similar to the one that avoided the full brunt of the fiscal cliff, markets could be expected to be in full panic mode.

But the post-cliff rally has shown no signs of letting up and the topic has gained little traction around Wall Street.

It is clear that Jeff never read any Market Monetarist blogs. If he had he would have known that monetary policy always overrules fiscal policy – there is monetary policy dominance and therefore financial markets should not be worried about a sizable fiscal tightening.

With the Bernanke-Evans rule the Fed has committed itself to continuing and escalating – if necessary – monetary easing until there is a substantial improvement of US labour market conditions – essentially this is a commitment to increasing aggregate demand. Hence, the Fed is also committed to counteract any negative impact on aggregate demand from a potential tightening of fiscal policy.

I have explained earlier that there is no reason to fear the fiscal cliff as long as there is a ‘monetary backstop’ in the form of the Bernanke-Evans rule:

Even if the fiscal cliff would be a negative shock to private consumption and public spending it is certainly not given that that would lead to a drop in overall aggregate demand. As I have discussed in earlier posts if the central bank targets NGDP or inflation for that matter then the central bank tries to counteract any negative demand shock (for example a fiscal tightening) by a similarly sized monetary expansion.

Even if we assume that we are in a textbook style IS/LM world with sticky prices and where the money demand is interest rate sensitive the budget multiplier will be zero if the central bank follows a rule to stabilize aggregate demand/NGDP.

As I have shown in an earlier post the LM curve becomes vertical if the monetary policy rule targets a certain level of unemployment or aggregate demand. This is exactly what the Bernanke-Evans rule implies. Effectively that means that if the fiscal cliff were to push up unemployment then the Fed would simply step up quantitative easing to force back down unemployment again.

Obviously the Fed’s actual conduct of monetary policy is much less “automatic” and rule-following than I here imply, but it is pretty certain that a 3, 4 or 5% of GDP tightening of fiscal policy in the US would trigger a very strong counter-reaction from the Federal Reserve and I strongly believe that the Fed would be able to counteract any negative shock to aggregate demand by easing monetary policy. This of course is the so-called Sumner Critique.

So Jeff the reason the markets are so relaxed about the so-called sequestration might very well be that the Fed has regained some credibility that it actually is controlling aggregate demand/NGDP. I know it is hard to understand that it is not important what is going on in the US Congress, but the markets really don’t care as long as the Fed is doing its job.

The root of most fallacies in economics: Forgetting to ask WHY prices change

Even though I am a Dane and work for a Danish bank I tend to not follow the Danish media too much – after all my field of work is international economics. But I can’t completely avoid reading Danish newspapers. My greatest frustration when I read the financial section of Danish newspapers undoubtedly is the tendency to reason from different price changes – for example changes in the price of oil or changes in bond yields – without discussing the courses of the price change.

The best example undoubtedly is changes in (mortgage) bond yields. Denmark has been a “safe haven” in the financial markets so when the euro crisis escalated in 2011 Danish bond yields dropped dramatically and short-term government bond yields even turned negative. That typically triggered the following type of headline in Danish newspapers: “Danish homeowners benefit from the euro crisis” or “The euro crisis is good news for the Danish economy”.

However, I doubt that any Danish homeowner felt especially happy about the euro crisis. Yes, bond yields did drop and that cut the interest rate payments for homeowners with floating rate mortgages. However, bond yields dropped for a reason – a sharp deterioration of the growth outlook in the euro zone due to the ECB’s two unwarranted interest rate hikes in 2011. As Denmark has a pegged exchange rate to the euro Denmark “imported” the ECB’s monetary tightening and with it also the prospects for lower growth. For the homeowner that means a higher probability of becoming unemployed and a prospect of seeing his or her property value go down as the Danish economy contracted. In that environment lower bond yields are of little consolation.

Hence, the Danish financial journalists failed to ask the crucial question why bond yields dropped. Or said in another way they failed to listen to the advice of Scott Sumner who always tells us not to reason from a price change.

This is what Scott has to say on the issue:

My suggestion is that people should never reason from a price change, but always start one step earlier—what caused the price to change.  If oil prices fall because Saudi Arabia increases production, then that is bullish news.  If oil prices fall because of falling AD in Europe, that might be expansionary for the US.  But if oil prices are falling because the euro crisis is increasing the demand for dollars and lowering AD worldwide; confirmed by falls in commodity prices, US equity prices, and TIPS spreads, then that is bearish news.

I totally agree. When we see a price change – for example oil prices or bond yields – we should ask ourselves why prices are changing if we want to know what macroeconomic impact the price change will have. It is really about figuring out whether the price change is caused by demand or supply shocks.

The euro strength is not necessarily bad news – more on the currency war that is not a war

A very good example of this general fallacy of forgetting to ask why prices are changing is the ongoing discussion of the “currency war”. From the perspective of some European policy makers – for example the French president Hollande – the Bank of Japan’s recent significant stepping up of monetary easing is bad news for the euro zone as it has led to a strengthening of the euro against most other major currencies in the world. The reasoning is that a stronger euro is hurting European “competitiveness” and hence will hurt European exports and therefore lower European growth.

This of course is a complete fallacy. Even ignoring the fact that the ECB can counteract any negative impact on European aggregate demand (the Sumner critique also applies for exports) we can see that this is a fallacy. What the “currency war worriers” fail to do is to ask why the euro is strengthening.

The euro is of course strengthening not because the ECB has tightened monetary policy but because the Bank of Japan and the Federal Reserve have stepped up monetary easing.

With the Fed and the BoJ significantly stepping up monetary easing the growth prospects for the largest and the third largest economies in the world have greatly improved. That surely is good news for European exporters. Yes, European exporters might have seen a slight erosion of their competitiveness, but I am pretty sure that they happily will accept that if they are told that Japanese and US aggregate demand – and hence imports – will accelerate strongly.

Instead of just looking at the euro rate European policy makers should consult more than one price (the euro rate) and look at other financial market prices – for example European stock prices. European stock prices have in fact increased significantly since August-September when the markets started to price in more aggressive monetary easing from the Fed and the BoJ. Or look at bond yields in the so-called PIIGS countries – they have dropped significantly. Both stock prices and bond yields in Europe hence are indicating that the outlook for the European economy is improving rather than deteriorating.

The oil price fallacy – growth is not bad news, but war in the Middle East is

A very common fallacy is to cry wolf when oil prices are rising – particularly in the US. The worst version of this fallacy is claiming that Federal Reserve monetary easing will be undermined by rising oil prices.

This of course is complete rubbish. If the Fed is easing monetary policy it will increase aggregate demand/NGDP and likely also NGDP in a lot of other countries in the world that directly or indirectly is shadowing Fed policy. Hence, with global NGDP rising the demand for commodities is rising – the global AD curve is shifting to the right. That is good news for growth – not bad news.

Said another way when the AD curve is shifting to the right – we are moving along the AS curve rather than moving the AS curve. That should never be a concern from a growth perspective. However, if oil prices are rising not because of the Fed or the actions of other central banks – for example because of fears of war in the Middle East then we have to be concerned from a growth perspective. This kind of thing of course is what happened in 2011 where the two major supply shocks – the Japanese tsunami and the revolutions in Northern Africa – pushed up oil prices.

At the time the ECB of course committed a fallacy by reasoning from one price change – the rise in European HICP inflation. The ECB unfortunately concluded that monetary policy was too easy as HICP inflation increased. Had the ECB instead asked why inflation was increasing then we would likely have avoided the rate hikes – and hence the escalation of the euro crisis. The AD curve (which the ECB effectively controls) had not shifted to the right in the euro area. Instead it was the AS curve that had shifted to the left. The ECB’s failure to ask why prices were rising nearly caused the collapse of the euro.

The money supply fallacy – the fallacy committed by traditional monetarists 

Traditional monetarists saw the money supply as the best and most reliable indicator of the development in prices (P) and nominal spending (PY). Market Monetarists do not disagree that there is a crucial link between money and prices/nominal spending. However, traditional monetarists tend(ed) to always see the quantity of money as being determined by the supply of money and often disregarded changes in the demand for money. That made perfectly good sense for example in the 1970s where the easy monetary policies were the main driver of the money supply in most industrialized countries, but that was not the case during the Great Moderation, where the money supply became “endogenous” due to a rule-based monetary policies or during the Great Recession where money demand spiked in particularly the US.

Hence, where traditional monetarists often fail – Allan Meltzer is probably the best example today – is that they forget to ask why the quantity of money is changing. Yes, the US money base exploded in 2008 – something that worried Meltzer a great deal – but so did the demand for base money. In fact the supply of base money failed to increase enough to counteract the explosion in demand for US money base, which effectively was a massive tightening of US monetary conditions.

So while Market Monetarists like myself certainly think money is extremely important we are skeptical about using the money supply as a singular indicator of the stance of monetary policy. Therefore, if we analyse money supply data we should constantly ask ourselves why the money supply is changing – is it really the supply of money increasing or is it the demand for money that is increasing? The best way to do that is to look at market data. If market expectations for inflation are going up, stock markets are rallying, the yield curve is steepening and global commodity prices are increasing then it is pretty reasonable to assume global monetary conditions are getting easier – whether or not the money supply is increasing or decreasing.

Finally I should say that my friends Bob Hetzel and David Laidler would object to this characterization of traditional monetarism. They would say that of course one should look at the balance between money demand and money supply to assess whether monetary conditions are easy or tight. And I would agree – traditional monetarists knew that very well, however, I would also argue that even Milton Friedman from time to time forgot it and became overly focused on money supply growth.

And finally I happily will admit committing that fallacy very often and I still remain committed to studying money supply data – after all being a Market Monetarist means that you still are 95% old-school traditional monetarist at least in my book.

PS maybe the root of all bad econometrics is the also forgetting to ask WHY prices change.

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