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

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

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

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

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


Chuck Norris beats Wolfgang Schäuble

So far it is has been a remarkable week in the global financial markets. The ’deposit grab’ in Cyprus undoubtedly has shocked international investors and confidence in the ability of euro zone policy makers has dropped to an all-time low.

Despite of the ‘Cyprus shock’ global stock markets continue to climb higher – yes, yes we have seen a little more volatility, but the overall picture is that of a continued global stock market rally. That is surely remarkable when one takes into account the scale of the policy blunder committed by the EU in Cyprus and the likely long-lasting damage done to the confidence in EU policy makers.

I therefore think it is fair to conclude that so far Chuck Norris has beaten German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Or said, in another way the Chuck Norris effect has been at work all week and that has clearly been a key reason why we have not (yet?) seen global-wide or even European-wide contagion from the disaster in Cyprus.

Just to remind my readers – the Chuck Norris effect of course is the effect that monetary policy not only works through expanding the money base, but also through guiding expectations.

When I early this week expressed my worries (or rather mostly my anger) over the EU’s handling of the situation in Cyprus a fixed income trader who is a colleague of mine comforted me by saying “Lars, you have now for half a year been saying that the Fed and the Bank of Japan are more or less doing the right thing so shouldn’t we expect the Fed and BoJ to offset any shock from the euro zone?” (I am paraphrasing a little – after all we were talking on a trading floor)

The message from the trader was clear. Yes, the EU is making a mess of things, but with the Bernanke-Evans rule in place and the Bank of Japan’s newfound commitment to a 2% inflation target we should expect that any shock from the euro zone to the US and Japanese economies would be ‘offset’ by the Fed and the BoJ by stepping up quantitative easing.

The logic is basically is that if an European shock pushes up US unemployment up we should expect the Fed to do even more QE and if that same shock leads to a strengthening of the yen (that mostly happens when global risk aversion increases) then the BoJ would also do more QE to try to meet its 2% inflation target. Said in another way any increase in demand for US dollar and yen is likely to be met by an increase in the supply of dollars and yen. In that sense the money base is ‘elastic’ in a similar sense as it would be under NGDP targeting. It is less perfect, but it nonetheless seems to be working – at least for now.

The fact that markets now expect the supply of dollars and yens to be at least quasi-elastic in itself means that the markets are not starting to hoard dollars and yen despite the ‘Cyprus shock’. This is the Chuck Norris effect at work – the central banks doesn’t have to do anything else that to reaffirm their commitment to their targets. This is exactly what the Federal Reserve did yesterday and what the new governor of Bank of Japan Kuroda is expected to do later today at his first press conference.

So there is no doubt – Chuck Norris won the first round against Wolfgang Schäuble and other EU policy makers. Thank god for that.


Fed NGDP targeting would greatly increase global financial stability

Just when we thought that the worst was over and that the world was on the way safely out of the crisis a new shock hit. Not surprisingly it is once again a shock from the euro zone. This time the badly executed bailout (and bail-in) of Cyprus. This post, however, is not about Cyprus, but rather on importance of the US monetary policy setting on global financial stability, but the case of Cyprus provides a reminder of the present global financial fragility and what role monetary policy plays in this.

Lets look at two different hypothetical US monetary policy settings. First what we could call an ‘adaptive’ monetary policy rule and second on a strict NGDP targeting rule.

‘Adaptive’ monetary policy – a recipe for disaster 

By an adaptive monetary policy I mean a policy where the central bank will allow ‘outside’ factors to determine or at least greatly influence US monetary conditions and hence the Fed would not offset shocks to money velocity.

Hence, lets for example imagine that a sovereign default in an euro zone country shocks investors, who run for cover and starts buying ‘safe assets’. Among other things that would be the US dollar. This would obviously be similarly to what happened in the Autumn of 2008 then US monetary policy became ‘adaptive’ when interest rates effectively hit zero. As a consequence the US dollar rallied strongly. The ill-timed interest rates hikes from the ECB in 2011 had exactly the same impact – a run for safe assets caused the dollar to rally.

In that sense under an ‘adaptive’ monetary policy the Fed is effective allowing external financial shocks to become a tightening of US monetary conditions. The consequence every time that this is happening is not only a negative shock to US economic activity, but also increased financial distress – as in 2008 and 2011.

As the Fed is a ‘global monetary superpower’ a tightening of US monetary conditions by default leads to a tightening of global monetary conditions due to the dollar’s role as an international reserve currency and due to the fact that many central banks around the world are either pegging their currencies to the dollar or at least are ‘shadowing’ US monetary policy.

In that sense a negative financial shock from Europe will be ‘escalated’ as the fed conducts monetary policy in an adaptive way and fails to offset negative velocity shocks.

This also means that under an ‘adaptive’ policy regime the risk of contagion from one country’s crisis to another is greatly increased. This obviously is what we saw in 2008-9.

NGDP targeting greatly increases global financial stability

If the Fed on the other hand pursues a strict NGDP level targeting regime the story is very different.

Lets again take the case of an European sovereign default. The shock again – initially – makes investors run for safe assets. That is causing the US dollar to strengthen, which is pushing down US money velocity (money demand is increasing relative to the money supply). However, as the Fed is operating a strict NGDP targeting regime it would ‘automatically’ offset the decrease in velocity by increasing the money base (and indirectly the money supply) to keep NGDP expectations ‘on track’. Under a futures based NGDP targeting regime this would be completely automatic and ‘market determined’.

Hence, a financial shock from an euro zone sovereign default would leave no major impact on US NGDP and therefore likely not on US prices and real economic activity as Fed policy automatically would counteract the shock to US money-velocity. As a consequence there would be no reason to expect any major negative impact on for example the overall performance of US stock markets. Furthermore, as a ‘global monetary policy’ the automatic increase in the US money base would curb the strengthening of the dollar and hence curb the tightening of global monetary conditions, which great would reduce the global financial fallout from the euro zone sovereign default.

Finally and most importantly the financial markets would under a system of a credible Fed NGDP target figure all this out on their own. That would mean that investors would not necessarily run for safe assets in the event of an euro zone country defaulting – or some other major financial shock happening – as investors would know that the supply of the dollar effectively would be ‘elastic’. Any increase in dollar demand would be meet by a one-to-one increase in the dollar supply (an increase in the US money base). Hence, the likelihood of a ‘global financial panic’ (for lack of a better term) is massively reduced as investors will not be lead to fear that we will ‘run out of dollar’ – as was the case in 2008.

The Bernanke-Evans rule improves global financial stability, but is far from enough

We all know that the Fed is not operating an NGDP targeting regime today. However, since September last year the Fed clearly has moved closer to a rule based monetary policy in the form of the Bernanke-Evans rule. The BE rule effective mean that the Fed has committed itself to offset any shock that would increase US unemployment by stepping up quantitative easing. That at least partially is a commitment to offset negative shocks to money-velocity. However, the problem is that the fed policy is still unclear and there is certainly still a large element of ‘adaptive’ policy (discretionary policy) in the way the fed is conducting monetary policy.  Hence, the markets cannot be sure that the Fed will actually fully offset negative velocity-shocks due to for example an euro zone sovereign default. But at least this is much better than what we had before – when Fed policy was high discretionary.

Furthermore, I think there is reason to be happy that the Bank of Japan now also have moved decisively towards a more rule based monetary policy in the form of a 2% inflation targeting (an NGDP targeting obviously would have been better). For the past 15 year the BoJ has been the ‘model’ for adaptive monetary policy, but that hopefully is now changing and as the yen also is an international reserve currency the yen tends to strengthen when investors are looking for safe assets. With a more strict inflation target the BoJ should, however, be expected to a large extent to offset the strengthening of the yen as a stronger yen is push down Japanese inflation.

Therefore, the recent changes of monetary policy rules in the US and Japan likely is very good news for global financial stability. However, the new regimes are still untested and is still not fully trusted by the markets. That means that investors can still not be fully convinced that a sovereign default in a minor euro zone country will not cause global financial distress.

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”

I don’t care who becomes BoJ governor – I want better monetary policy rules

UPDATE: I have edited my post significantly – I misread what Scott really said. That is the result of writing blog posts very early in the morning after sleeping too little. Sorry Scott…

Scott Sumner has a blog post on who might become the next governor of Bank of Japan. Scott ends his post with the following comment:

Naturally I favor the least dovish of the three.

Note that Scott is saying “least dovish” (I missed “least” in my original post). But don’t we want a the most dovish BoJ governor? No, we want the most principled governor – or rather the governor most committed to a rule based monetary policy.

The debate over doves versus hawks is a debate among people who fundamentally think about monetary policy in a discretionary fashion. Market Monetarism is exactly the opposite. We are strongly against discretion in monetary policy (and fiscal policy for that matter).

The important thing is not who is BoJ governor – the important thing is that there are good institutions – good rules. As I have argued before – what we really want is a monetary constitution in spirit of Jim Buchanan. In that sense the BoJ governor should be replaced – as Milton Friedman suggested – by a ‘computer’ and not by the most ‘dovish’ candidate.

Market Monetarists would have been “hawks” in the 1970s in the sense that we would have argued that for example US monetary policy was far too easy and we are ‘doves’ now. But that is really a mistaken way to think about the issue. If we favour for example a 5% NGDP level target for the US today – then we would have been doves in 1974 or 1981. That would make us more or less dovish/hawkish at different times, but that debate is for people who favours discretionary monetary policies – not for Market Monetarists.

If we just want a ‘dovish’ BoJ governor then we should advocate that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gives Zimbabwean central bank governor Gideon Gono a call. He knows all about monetary easing – and so do the central bank governors of Venezuela and Argentina. But we all know that these people are ludicrously bad central bankers.  In similar fashion Janet Yellen would not be the Market Monetarist candidate for the Federal Reserve chairman just because she tends to favour monetary easing – in fact it seems like Yellen always favours monetary easing. In fact you should be very suspicious of the views of policy makers who will always be hawks or doves.


The reason that Mark Carney is a good choice for new Bank of England governor is exactly that he is not ‘dovish’ or ‘hawkish’, but that he tend to stress the need for a rule based monetary policy. That said, the important thing is not Mark Carney, but rather whether the UK government is serious about introducing NGDP level targeting or not.

Monetary policy is not primarily about having the right people for the job, but rather about having the best institutions. Obviously you want to have the best people for the job, but ultimately even Scott Sumner would be a horrible Fed governor if his mandate was wrong.

If the BoJ had a rule based monetary policy and used for example NGDP futures to conduct monetary policy then it wouldn’t matter who becomes BoJ governor – because the policy would be the same no matter what. We cannot rely on central bankers to do the ‘right thing’. Central bankers only do the right thing by chance. We need to tie their hands with a monetary constitution – with strong rules.

Related posts:

Forget about “hawks” and “doves” – what we need is a “monetary constitution”
NGDP targeting is not about ”stimulus”
NGDP targeting is not a Keynesian business cycle policy
Be right for the right reasons
Monetary policy can’t fix all problems
Boettke’s important Political Economy questions for Market Monetarists
NGDP level targeting – the true Free Market alternative
Lets concentrate on the policy framework
Boettke and Smith on why we are wasting our time
Scott Sumner and the Case against Currency Monopoly…or how to privatize the Fed
NGDP level targeting – the true Free Market alternative (we try again)


Don’t tell me the ‘currency war’ is bad for European exports – the one graph version

It is said that Europe is the biggest “victim” in what is said to be an international ‘currency war’ (it is really no war at all, but global monetary easing) as the euro has strengthened significantly on the back of the Federal Reserve and Bank of Japan having stepped up monetary easing.

However, the euro zone is no victim – to claim so is to reason from a price change as Scott Sumner would say. The price here of course is the euro exchange rate. The ‘currency war worriers’ claim that the strengthening is a disaster for European exports. What they of course forget is to ask is why the euro has strengthened.

The euro is stronger not because of monetary tightening in the euro zone, but because of monetary easing everywhere else. Easier monetary policies in the US and Japan obviously boost domestic demand in those countries and with it also imports. Higher American and Japanese import growth is certainly good news for European exports and that likely is much more important than the lose of “competitiveness” resulting from the stronger euro.

But have a look at European exporters think. The graph below is the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for euro zone new export orders. The graph is clear – optimism is spiking! The boost from improved Japanese and American growth prospects is clearly what is on the mind of European exporters rather than the strong euro.

PMIexport euro zone

The New York Times joins the ‘currency war worriers’ – that is a mistake

It is very frustrating to follow the ongoing discussion of ‘currency war’. Unfortunately the prevailing view is that the world is heading for a ‘currency war’ in the form of ‘competitive devaluations’ that will only lead to misery for everybody. I have again, again and again stressed that when large parts of the world is caught in a low-growth quasi-deflationary trap then a competition to print more money is exactly what the world needs. ‘Currency war’ is a complete misnomer. What we are talking about is global monetary easing.

Now the New York Times has joined the discussion with a pretty horrible editorial on ‘currency war’.

This is from the editorial:

If all countries were to competitively devalue their currencies, the result would be a downward spiral that would benefit no one, but could lead to high inflation. Certainly in Europe, altering exchange rates is not the answer; reviving economies will require giving up on austerity, which is choking demand and investment.

It is just frustrating to hear this argument again and again. Monetary easing is not a negative or a zero sum game. In a quasi-deflationary world monetary easing is a positive sum game. The New York Times claims that “competitive devaluations” will lead to increased inflation.

Well, lets start with stating the fact a that the New York Times seems to miss – both the Bretton Woods and the gold standard are dead. We – luckily – live in a world of (mostly) freely floating exchange rates. Hence, nobody is “devaluing” their currencies. What is happening is that some currencies like the Japanese yen are depreciating on the back of monetary easing. The New York Times – and French president Hollande and Bundesbank chief Weidmann for that matter – also fails to notice that the yen is depreciating because the Bank of Japan is implementing the exact same monetary target as the ECB has – a 2% inflation target. After 15 years of failure the BoJ is finally trying to get Japan out of a low-growth deflationary trap. How that can be a hostile act is impossible for me to comprehend.

Second, the New York Times obviously got it right that if we have an international “competition” to print more money then inflation will increase. But isn’t that exactly what we want in a quasi-deflationary world? Can we really blame the BoJ for printing more money after 15 years of deflation? Can we blame the Fed for doing the same thing when US unemployment is running at nearly 8% and there are no real inflationary pressures in the US economy? On the other hand we should blame the ECB for not doing the same thing with the euro zone economy moving closer and closer to deflation and with unemployment in Europe continuing to rise.

When the New York Times joins the “currency war worriers” then the newspaper effectively is arguing in favour of a return to internationally managed exchange rates – either in the form of a gold standard or a Bretton Woods style system. Both systems ended in disaster.

The best international monetary system remains a system where countries are free to pursue their own domestic monetary objectives. Where every country is free to succeed or fail. A system of internationally coordinated monetary policy is doomed to fail and end in disaster as was the case with both the gold standard and Bretton Woods – not to mentioned the ill-faited attempts to coordinate monetary policy through the Plaza and Louvre Accords.

The New York Times and other ‘currency war worriers’ seem to think that if countries are free to pursue their own domestic monetary policy objectives then it will not only lead to ‘currency war’, but also to ‘trade war’. Trade war obviously would be disastrous. However, the experiences from the 1930s clearly show that those countries that remained committed to international monetary policy coordination in the form of staying on the gold standard suffered the biggest output lose  and the biggest rise in unemployment. But more importantly these countries were also much more likely to implement protectionist measures – that is the clear conclusion from research conducted by for example Barry Eichengreen and Douglas Irwin.

‘Currency war’ is what we need to get the global economy out of the crisis and monetary easing is much preferable to the populist alternative – protectionism and ‘deflationism’.

HT William Bruce.

Update: It seems like Paul Krugman – who of course blogs at the New York Times – disagrees with the editors of the New York Times.

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.

Don’t ever tell me again that monetary policy does not work! Chuck Norris visits Japan

I continue to be completely puzzled that somebody would think that central banks somehow have run out of ammunition and that monetary policy is impotent. The developments in the global financial markets since August-September last year clearly tell you that monetary policy is extremely potent – also when interest rates are at the Zero Lower Bound.

Just take a look at this story from Japan today:

Japanese shares rose, with the Nikkei 225 Stock Average heading for the highest close since September 2008, as the yen fell after Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said he will step down ahead of schedule.

…The Nikkei 225 gained 3 percent to 11,377.53 as of 12:38 p.m. in Tokyo, heading for the highest close since Sept. 29, 2008, two weeks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Volume today was 48 percent above the 30-day average. The broader Topix Index advanced 2.8 percent to 966.03, with eight stocks rising for each that fell.

…The Topix has surged 34 percent since elections were announced on Nov. 14 on optimism a new government will push for aggressive stimulus. The gauge is trading at 1.14 times book value, compared with 2.1 for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and 1.45 for the Stoxx Europe 600 Index.

(Update: Nikkei is actually up 4%!)

And from another story:

The yen slid to its weakest level in almost three years against the dollar and euro on speculation Japan’s government will hasten the selection of a new central bank chief to take further steps to end deflation.

Japan’s currency added to yesterday’s biggest drop versus the euro in more than a week after Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said he will step down on March 19, almost three weeks before his term is due to end. Demand for the 17- nation euro was supported on prospects the European Central Bank will refrain from easing monetary policy tomorrow. The Australian dollar slid after data showed the nation’s retail sales unexpectedly fell in December.

Financial markets are the best indicators of the monetary policy stance we have – a surging Japanese stock market and much weaker yen is a very strong indication that Japanese monetary conditions are getting decisively easier. Easier monetary conditions mean higher Japanese nominal GDP – just wait and see.

The market action in the Japanese markets this morning is yet another extremely clear demonstration of the Chuck Norris effect – that monetary policy does not only work through “printing money”, but also through expectations. As Scott Sumner likes to say – monetary policy works with long and variable leads. Said in another way a new Bank of Japan governor has not even been appointed but he is already easing monetary conditions in Japan as Mark Carney is in the UK.

And to all you Keynesian fiscalists out there I challenge you to find me one single example of “optimism” about “fiscal stimulus” having moved any major stock market by 4% in a day!

What we are seeing now in the US, Japan and likely soon in the UK is the kind of Rooseveltian Resolve that brought the US economy out of the Great Depression in 1933 after Roosevelt went off the gold standard and trust me – monetary policy does work! In the 1930s the “gold bloc” countries failed to understand that – today it is the ECB – but luckily for Europeans the US and Japan are leading the charge and is pulling us out of this crisis. That is what the global stock markets have been celebrating since August-September. It is really simple.

The ZLB – not the BoJ – should worry the BoK

The continued sharp weakening of the Japanese yen is beginning to worry policy makers (and commentators) in South East Asian and that is especially the case in South Korea. Just see this comment from Andy Mukherjee over at Reuters Breakingviews:

Japan’s weak yen policy could be South Korea’s biggest economic enemy this year. The strengthening won, which has risen 23 percent against the yen in the past six months, was partly to blame for the country’s anaemic GDP growth in the fourth quarter. It’s also putting the squeeze on manufacturers like Hyundai. Lower interest rates could help to ease the pressure.

An appreciating currency is a big dilemma for South Korea’s central bank. Investors are betting the Bank of Korea’s policy interest rate of 2.75 percent, which it last reduced in October, will remain unchanged as the incoming government of President Park Geun-hye boosts public spending in an attempt to revive growth.

But the wait-and-watch approach is risky because it could engender expectations that the central bank is not particularly worried about the country’s exports losing some of their price competitiveness.

With the likes of Hyundai and Samsung competing directly against Japan’s Honda and Sony, a cheaper yen will undermine the profitability of Korean exporters. The surprise 6 percent drop in Hyundai Motor Co’s net profit in the final quarter of 2012 underscores the risk. And now that the Bank of Japan has agreed to support Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan by printing 13 trillion yen ($145 billion) in new money every month starting in January 2014, the yen could weaken further.

There is nothing wrong with Andy’s observations as such. It is obvious that Korean and Japanese eletronic and cars producers are major competitors in the global markets and Korean exporters are likely suffering relative to Japanese exporters. That said Andy’s comments smells of currency war-rhetoric, which always worries me.

In that regard I will make two observations. First, the aggressive change in monetary stance from the Bank of Japan is likely to give a major boost to the second (or third) largest economy in the world and is therefore likely to be good news for the global economy and particularly for the Asian economies. That certainly will help Korean exporters. Second – as I have argued in the case of Mexico – no country is forced to import monetary easing or tightening. Hence, the Bank of Korea (BoK) is completely free to conduct monetary policy in way to serve the interest of the Korean economy. If the BoK don’t like the strengthening of the won it can simply counteract it with monetary easing in the form of interest rate cuts, quantitative easing or intervention in the currency markets. Hence, in my view the BoK can alway “neutralize” any impact on the Korean economy from the strengthening of the won.

Disregarding “currency war” monetary easing is nonetheless warranted

The continued strengthening of the won obviously is a sign that Korean monetary conditions are tightening and judging from recent economic data the tightening of monetary conditions certainly is not welcomed news – rather monetary easing is warranted. However, the reason is not really the performane of Korean exports – in fact the Korean export performance has been quite strong in recent years and export growth actually remains fairly high. Contrary to this domestic demand has been slowing and especially investment growth is weak.

So once again I think it is useful to see the currency as an indicator of monetary policy “tightness” rather than a cause of the problems in itself. The strengthening of the won is a clear sign that Korean monetary conditions are getting tighter. But the worry is not really on the export side of the economy – even though I readily admit that Korean exporters are suffering at the moment – but the real worry is the slowing domestic demand. The graph below illustrates that.

korea exconsinv

Obviously central banks should  not concern themselves with the composition of growth , but that of course do not mean that the BoK should worry at all.

As Andy notes:

With inflation slowing to just 1.4 percent in December, much lower than the central bank’s target range of 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent, the monetary authority certainly has the scope to reduce interest rates. The Bank of Korea should grab the lacklustre GDP figures as an opportunity to give the economy another monetary boost.

So judging from BoK’s own inflation target monetary easing seems warranted. The story is the same if we take a look at the ultimate Market Monetarist benchmark – the development in nominal GDP in South Korea.

NGDP korea

The graph is pretty clear – the BoK more or less managed to bring back NGDP to the pre-crisis trend level 2009-10, but since 2011 NGDP has been “softening”, which clearly indicates that monetary easing is needed.

Beware of the Zero Lower Bound!

With the BoK’s key policy interest rate at 2.75% there is still room for use it’s “normal” monetary policy instrument to ease monetary policy. That said, in an environment where the won is strengthening significantly the BoK first needs to “neutralize” the effect of this strengthening with rate cuts and then additionally needs to ease “on top” of that to push NGDP back on track.

That could in a negative scenario easily bring the BoK’s key policy rate down close to zero. Just imagine a new escalation of the euro crisis or a new financial shock of some kind.

In such a scenario the BoK would be unable to ease monetary policy further through interest rate cuts as interest rates effective would hit the the zero lower bound (ZLB).

While we are someway away from the ZLB in Korea it is also clear that the risk of hitting it should not be ignored. In fact I believe that the zero lower bound should be a bigger worry for the BoK than the BoJ’s monetary easing.

Luckily the BoK can do something about it. The most simple thing to do is simply to pre-announce what policy instrument it will resort to in the event that interest rates where to get too close to zero. A possibility is simply to state that if interest rates hit zero then the BoK will switch to a Singapore style monetary policy, where the central bank conduct monetary policy through the exchange rate channel.

A pre-announcement of this sort would likely avoid bringing the BoK in a situation where it actually would have to intervene in the FX market as the markets expectations of FX intervention would on it own lead to a weakening of the won. This effectively would be what I have called McCallum’s MC rule.

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