The end of the Trump rally?

I generally don’t think I can beat the market, however, right now there is something, which worries me and that is that the “Trump rally” in the US stock market could be about to end.

It seems to me that what US stock market investors are really focusing on is the potential for deregulation and tax cuts (and infrastructure investments). And we might of course get that and deregulation and tax cuts and certainly should be welcomed news both for the US economy and the US stock markets.

But if you get supply side reforms then it will be because of the Republican majority in the House and the Senate (might) want this – not because of Trump. Trump continues to pay lip service to these ideas, but he has certainly not be consistent. There is nothing in Trump’s past that tell us that he is a “free market guy”.

Where he has been consistent – even very consistent – is on his protectionist message and his China bashing. Presently the markets are ignoring this and that might not be the wrong thing to do, but I must say Trump’s 35% tariff talk scares scares me a lot and so does his persistent attempt to “pick a fight” with China.

Another factor, which could spell the end of the “Trump rally” is that not only will the Federal Reserve hike interest rates next week, but the FOMC could also send a more hawkish signal than presently being priced by the market.

In this regard I would particularly focus on inflation expectations, which essentially have stopped rising since 5-year/5-year breakeven inflation expectations broke above 2% a couple of weeks ago. Meanwhile the US stock markets generally has continued to trade (moderately) higher. To me that there seems to be a bit of a disconnect.

skaermbillede-2016-12-06-kl-15-48-13

Hence, investors expected some Trumpflation as long as (medium-term) inflation expectation, where below 2%, but from here on investors are likely to increasingly think that there will be full monetary offset of any “fiscal stimulus” from the Trump administration.

So did I just say that the “Trump rally” might soon come to an end? I don’t know and I am not giving investment advice here, but…

John Allison just endorsed NGDP targeting

On Monday Donald Trump met with John Allison the former CEO of the BB&T and former CEO of the libertarian think tank The Cato Institute.

It has been suggested that Allison might be in the running to become new US Treasury Secretary.

Allison is widely known to be an staunch advocate of deregulation of the banking sector and in favour of a rule-based monetary policy. Many had taken his support for a rule-based monetary policy to mean that he favours a gold standard.

However, Allison ultimately would like to see a Free Banking system in the US, but also acknowledges that that is not realistic anytime soon. Instead watch what he says on this interview on Fox & Friends.

“We need discipline, we need somekind of rule, I like the Taylor rule, I like some kind of GDP indexing rule…”

There you go – John Allison who might become next US Treasury Secretary just endorsed Nominal GDP targeting.
Further than that Allison obviously strongly supports scaling back Dodd-Frank. Something I also strongly believe in.
So concluding, if John Allison supports NGDP targeting and significant deregulation of the financial sector I would  – for what it is worth -endorse him as US Treasury Secretary anytime and it certainly helps that I know that he would be strongly against any protectionist measures presently being discussed by the Trump camp.
HT George Selgin.

PS If I had been John Taylor I might chosen the title “John Allison just endorsed the Taylor rule” and that would have been equally correct. The point is that we now have a potential future US Treasury secretary who is open-minded and well-informed enough to serious be thinking about NGDP targeting. That is good enough for me.

Highland Capital's Tom Stemberg Speaks On Economy At The National Press Club

The Trump-Yellen policy mix is the perfect excuse for Trump’s protectionism

It is hard to find any good economic arguments for protectionism. Economists have known this at least since Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations in 1776. That, however, has not stopped president-elect Donald Trump putting forward his protectionist agenda.

At the core of Trump’s protectionist thinking is the idea that trade is essentially a zero sum game. Contrary to conventional economic thinking, which sees trade as mutual beneficial Trump talks about trade in terms of winners and losers. This means that Trump essentially has a Mercantilist ideology, where the wealth of a nation can be measured on how much the country exports relative to its imports.

Therefore, we should expect the Trump administration to pay particularly attention to the US trade deficit and if the trade deficit grows Trump is likely to blame countries like Mexico and China for that.

The Yellen-Trump policy mix will cause the trade deficit to balloon

The paradox is that Trump’s own policies – particularly the announced major tax cuts and large government infrastructure investments – combined with the Federal Reserve’s likely response to the fiscal expansion (higher interest rates) in itself is likely to cause the US trade deficit to balloon.

Hence, a fiscal expansion will cause domestic demand to pick up, which in turn will increase imports. Furthermore, we have already seen the dollar rally on the back of the election Donald Trump as markets are pricing in more aggressive interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve to curb the “Trumpflationary” pressures.

The strengthening of the dollar will further erode US competitiveness and further add to the worsening the US trade balance.

Add to that, that the strengthen of the dollar and the fears of US protectionist policies already have caused most Emerging Markets currencies – including the Chinese renminbi and the Mexican peso – to weaken against the US dollar.

The perfect excuse

Donald Trump has already said he wants the US Treasury Department to brand China a currency manipulator because he believes that China is keeping the renminbi artificial weak against the dollar to gain an “unfair” trade advantage against the US.

And soon he will have the “evidence” – the US trade deficit is ballooning, Chinese exports to the US are picking up steam and the renminbi continues to weaken. However, any economist would of course know that, that is not a result of China’s currency policies, but rather a direct consequence of Trumponomics more specifically the planed fiscal expansion, but Trump is unlikely to listen to that.

There is a clear echo from the 1980s here. Reagan’s tax cuts and the increase in military spending also caused a ‘double deficit’ – a larger budget deficit and a ballooning trade deficit and even though Reagan was certainly not a protectionist in the same way as Trump is he nonetheless bowed to domestic political pressures and to the pressures American exporters and during his time in offices and numerous import quotas and tariffs were implemented mainly to curb US imports from Japan. Unfortunately, it looks like Trump is very eager to copies these failed policies.

Finally, it should be noted that in 1985 we got the so-called Plaza Accord, which essentially forced the Japanese to allow the yen to strengthen dramatically (and the dollar to weaken). The Plaza Accord undoubtedly was a contributing factor to Japan’s deflationary crisis, which essentially have lasted to this day. One can only fear that a new Plaza Accord, which will strengthen the renminbi and cause the Chinese economy to fall into crisis is Trump’s wet dream.

 

Donald Trump will replace Janet Yellen with a DOVE in 2018

Some have suggested that when Janet Yellen’s term as Federal Reserve chair expires in 2018 then Donald Trump will try to replace her with a more “hawkish” chairman. Some even has suggested that he could try to re-introduce the gold standard and appoint the king of monetary policy rules John Taylor as new Fed chairman.

I, however, believe that is completely wrong. Donald Trump doesn’t care about the Gold Standard (luckily) and certainly he does not care about a rule-based monetary policy.

The fact is that Trump’s entire policy agenda is inflationary. On the supply side his anti-immigration stance will push up US labour cost and this protectionist agenda will push up import prices.

On the demand side his call for underfunded tax cuts and massive government infrastructure investments also increase inflationary pressures.

So if unchecked (should write un-offset by the Fed?) Trump’s economic policy agenda will push inflation up. However, Trump does not – yet – control monetary policy and if the Federal Reserve is serious about it’s 2% inflation target it sooner or later will have to offset the Trumpflationary policies by hiking interest rates potentially aggressively and allow the dollar to strengthen significantly.

I have argued (see here and here) that initially the Federal Reserve will welcome a “fiscal boost” to support aggregate demand as the Fed for some odd reason is not willing to use monetary policy to hit the 2% inflation target. However, the alliance between the Trump administration and the Federal Reserve could be short-lived if inflation expectations really start to take off.

So in a situation where the Fed moves to hike interest rates more aggressively – for example in the second half of 2017 or in early 2018 it will become clear even to Trump that the Fed is “undermining” his promise of doubling US growth and “create millions of jobs”.

That could very well create a conflict between the Fed and the Trump administration and it is very likely that Trump will accuse Yellen of have too tight a monetary policy. Furthermore, with mid-term elections due in 2018 the Republicans in the Senate and the House are unlikely to be cheering for a “growth killing” tightening of monetary policy.

As I have repeated on the social media over the last couple days – the GOP is (deflationary) “Austrians” when they are in opposition and (inflationary) “Keynesians” when they are in power – they never really favour monetarist and rule-based policies.

After all it was Richard Nixon who famously said “we are all keynesians now” – or rather this is how Milton Friedman interpreted what Nixon said.

Nixon of course had the utterly failed Fed chair Arthur Burns (see more on Burns and Nixon here) to do the dirty work of easing monetary policy when monetary policy already was far too easing.

If Trump reminds me of any US president it is Nixon. So why should we believe Trump would replace Janet Yellen with John Taylor when he can find his own Arthur Burns to help him support his agenda with overly easy monetary policy ahead of the 2020 presidential elections?

If this hypothesis just has a small probability of being right then the market certainly is right is to price in higher inflation during a Trump presidency. I certainly hope I am totally wrong.

PS for a discussion of Nixon and Burns’ relationship seen Burton Abrams very good (and scary) paper How Richard Nixon Pressured Arthur Burns: Evidence From the Nixon Tapes.

PPS Paul Krugman once called for Ben Bernanke to show up for a FOMC press conference in a Hawaii shirt to signal that he would be “irresponsible” and thereby push inflation expectations up and lift interest rates from the ZLB. Maybe Trump is that Hawaiian shirt.

“Make America Keynesian Again”

Today I was asked to do an interview with a Danish radio station about Donald Trump and about whether one could say anything positive about him or rather about his economic agenda. I declined to do the interview. I frankly speaking has nothing positive to say about Trump.

To me Donald Trump is an absolutely vile person and and his views on immigration and trade are completely the opposite of mine. However, I have also in the run up to the election in presentations and comments stressed that the presidential election from an overall financial market perspective would not be a big deal and judging from the market reaction today this indeed seems to be the case.

Reading the markets

But what exactly are the markets telling us today about the economic consequences of a Trump presidency combined with the fact that GOP now has the majority in both the House and the Senate?

First, of all we should concluded that the markets are fairly relaxed about the outcome of the election. This to me is an indication that Trump really will never be able (or seriously want to) implement many of the bizarre “promises” on trade and immigration he made during the election campaign.

Second the markets certainly do not expect the outcome of the election to cause a US recession or a global economic crisis. After all US stock markets are in fact trading in positive territory today. We get the same message from the currency markets where the dollar is little changed over the past 24 hours.

The Republican Keynesians

However, there is one market where we have seen a significant reaction to the outcome of the election and that is in the bond market. Just take a look at the graphs below.

image004

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The first graph is the yield on 10-year Treasury bonds and the second graph is 2-year yields.

We see that the 10-yield has increased around 10bp overnight. This certainly is a significant reaction, but it is equally notable that 2-yields in fact is slightly down.

What this is telling me is that more than anything else the markets expect Trump to be an old-school Keynesian. We know that Trump has already promised to increase Federal spending on infrastructure and he has of course also promised major tax cuts. With the Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate he should be able to deliver on some of these promises.

In fact there would be nothing unusual about having a Republican president who is also a “keynesian” (yes, I know he has no clue about what that is). In fact historically public spending has grown faster under Republican administrations than under Democrat administrations. Just take a look at the graphs below.

Since the Second World War public spending has grown by around a quarter of a percent per year faster when the president has been Republican than when there has been a Democrat president.

The picture is even more clear when we look at Federal government investments:

…and on the budget deficit:

So based on history we can certainly say that Republican presidents tend to be less fiscally conservative than Democrat presidents and judging from the action in the bond markets today there is little reason to believe that Trump should be any different from former Republican presidents.

And what will Trump spend money on? There is little doubt what the markets think – infrastructure! This is from Trump’s victory speech:

We are going to fix our inner cities, and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” he said. “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.

And see what effect that kind of speech had on copper prices today:

image002

Keynesian president + Keynesian Fed chair = No monetary offset

So it seems like the markets expect Trump to push for an expansionary fiscal policy agenda and this is visible in the bond market. However, it is also notable that it is only long-term bond yields, which have increased while 2-year yields haven’t increased overnight.

That tells me that the markets do not expect the Federal Reserve to (fully) offset the impact on nominal demand from a more expansionary fiscal policy.

This effectively means that an easier fiscal policy stance will cause monetary conditions to be eased. The reason is that if fiscal policy is eased then that will push up the equilibrium interest rate level. If the Fed does not hike interest rates to reflect this then it will automatically ease monetary policy by keeping the fed funds rate below the equilibrium interest rate.

This of course is the standard result in a New Keynesian model when interest rates are at the Zero Lower Bound (see for example here).

Does this mean that the so-called Sumner Critique does not apply? According to the Sumner Critique an easing of fiscal policy will not have (net) impact on aggregate demand if the central bank has an inflation target (or a nominal GDP) as the central bank will act to offset any impact on aggregate demand from a easier fiscal policy.

However, the Sumner Critique does not necessarily apply if the central bank’s inflation target is not credible and/or central bank is not willing to “enforce” it. And this seems relevant to the present situation. Hence, US core inflation continue to be below the Fed’s inflation target so one can certainly argue that there is room for an increase in aggregate demand without the Federal Reserve having to tighten monetary conditions.

Obviously the Fed could have done this on it own by for example not signaling a rate hike in December or signaling that it would re-introduce quantitative easing if inflation once again started to trend downwards.

However, the Fed clearly has “mental” problems with this. It is clear that most key Fed policy makers are worried about the consequences of keeping interest rates “low for longer” and more QE clearly seems to be a no-go.

In other words the Fed has put itself in a situation where further monetary easing is off the table and this is of course the reason why a number of Fed officials in the last couple of months have called for old-school keynesian fiscal stimulus.

It all seems to have started in August. This is Janet Yellen at the Jackson Hole symposium on August 26:

Beyond monetary policy, fiscal policy has traditionally played an important role in dealing with severe economic downturns. A wide range of possible fiscal policy tools and approaches could enhance the cyclical stability of the economy.25 For example, steps could be taken to increase the effectiveness of the automatic stabilizers, and some economists have proposed that greater fiscal support could be usefully provided to state and local governments during recessions. As always, it would be important to ensure that any fiscal policy changes did not compromise long-run fiscal sustainability.

Finally, and most ambitiously, as a society we should explore ways to raise productivity growth. Stronger productivity growth would tend to raise the average level of interest rates and therefore would provide the Federal Reserve with greater scope to ease monetary policy in the event of a recession. But more importantly, stronger productivity growth would enhance Americans’ living standards. Though outside the narrow field of monetary policy, many possibilities in this arena are worth considering, including improving our educational system and investing more in worker training; promoting capital investment and research spending, both private and public; and looking for ways to reduce regulatory burdens while protecting important economic, financial, and social goals.

“Promoting capital investment” of course means government infrastructure spending.

Since August we have heard this again and again from Fed officials. This is Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer at the New York Economic Club on October 17:

Some combination of more encouragement for private investment, improved public infrastructure, better education, and more effective regulation is likely to promote faster growth of productivity and living standards.

Said in another way – the Fed chair and the Vice chairman are both old-school keynesians and now we will have a keynesian in the White House as well.

The consequence is that if we get massive government infrastructure investments then that will push up the equilibrium interest rate, which will allow the Fed to hike interest rates (which they for some reason so desperately want to) without really tightening monetary conditions if interest rates are increased slower than the increase in the equilibrium rate.

This means that we de facto could have a keynesian alliance between the Trump administration and the Federal Reserve, which would mean that will get both monetary and fiscal easing in 2017 and this might be what the markets now are realizing.

Just take a look at what have happened in 5-year/5-year inflation expectations over the paste 24 hours:

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Over the past 24 hours long-term inflation expectations hence have increased by nearly a quarter of a percentage point.

Hence, Donald Trump just eased US monetary conditions significantly by pushing down the difference between the Fed fund target rate and the equilibrium rate. Paul Krugman should love Donald Trump.

The Sumner Critique strikes back – A future conflict between the Fed and Trump?

Obviously this is only possible because the Federal Reserve has not been willing to ensure nominal stability by clearly defining its nominal target and has been overly eager to increase interest rates, but I do think that this keynesian stimulus implemented could increase aggregate demand in 2017 and likely push core inflation above 2%.

But if this happens then the keynesian alliance between the Federal Reserve and Trump Administration might very well get tested. Hence, if fiscal-monetary easing push unemployment below the natural rate of unemployment and inflation (and inflation expectations) start to accelerate above 2% then the Federal Reserve sooner or later will have to act and tighten monetary conditions, which could be setting the US economy up for a boom-bust scenario with the economy initially booming one-two years and then the Fed will kill the boom by hiking interest rates aggressively.

Knowing Trump’s temperament and persona that could cause a conflict between the Fed and the Trump administration.

This is of course pure speculation, but even though the Trump administration and the Fed for now seem to favouring the same policy mix – aggressive fiscal easing and gradual rate hikes (slower than the increase the in equilibrium rate) it is unlike that this kind of old-school keynesian stop-go policies will end well.

2017 – a year of inflation?

Given these factors and others I for the first time since 2008 think that we could see inflation increase more significantly in 2017 in the US. This is of course what we to some extent want, but I am concerned that we are getting higher inflation not because the Federal Reserve has moved towards a more rule-based monetary policy framework, which ensure nominal stability, but because we are moving back towards old-school keynesian stop-go demand “management”.

PS I apologize to serious (New) Keynesians about using the term “keynesian” here. I here use the term as to refer to the kind demand management policy, which so failed during the 1970s. They where inspired by Keynesian economic think and was as such keynesian. However, that is not say that present day keynesians would necessarily agree with these policies.

PPS See also my comment over at Geopolitical Intelligence Service on why the US is “Still the Greatest”– also after Trump has become president.

Update: Read my follow-up post here.

The cost of the Sino-US FX deal: Surging money market rates (in Hong Kong)

This is from Financial Times’ FT Fast this morning:

A key lending rate between Hong Kong banks jumped to its highest level since February, potentially making it more expensive to short the renminbi.

The overnight CNH-Hong Kong Interbank Offer Rate (Hibor), a daily benchmark for offshore renminbi interbank lending, jumped to 5.446 per cent on Thursday – its highest level since February 19 – from 1.56767 per cent yesterday, write Peter Wells and Hudson Lockett.

Hong Kong banks do not rely on Hibor to anywhere near the same degree that global banks rely on Libor, the more famous US-dollar counterpart that is a crucial benchmark for loans that global lenders rely on for trillions of dollars of funding each day.

As such, the spike in CNH-Hibor has little practical impact on the banks themselves, but it has recently been viewed as more of a deterrent to speculators betting on CNH, the offshore renminbi.

On January 12, CNH-Hibor hit 66.815 per cent, the highest level since the benchmark was introduced in 2013, amid heavy speculation the People’s Bank of China, acting through state-owned banks, was soaking up liquidity to make the cost of shorting the renminbi more prohibitive as the currency came under pressure from speculators.

Ahead of this month’s G20 summit Commerzbank analyst Hao Zhou was among those predicting the PBoC would hold the line at Rmb6.7 against the dollar for a number of reasons, including a desire to facilitate special drawing rights (SDR) operations set to begin on October 1. However, he noted that “of course, politics tops the agenda again, especially as China is keen to show its ability to manage the whole economy and financial markets although the country still faces strong capital outflows.”

The central bank today weakened the currency’s midpoint fix for the first time since the end of G20, a move in line with analyst predictions that efforts to shore up the renminbi’s value would dissipate when the summit was over.

A spike in Hibor would track with a scenario in which the central bank either intervened itself or had mainland banks sop up liquidity on its behalf. It also has other options – as Commerzbank’s Zhou noted late last month: “We also expect that China’s central bank will allow the local banks to trade CNH in September, in order to narrow the CNY-CNH spread.”

This happens after China and the US over the weekend agreed to “refrain from competitive devaluations and not target exchange rates for competitive purposes”.

As my loyal readers know I am very critical about this deal (see my post on that topic here) as I believe that it is an attempt to quasi fix global exchange rates to avoid ‘currency war’ effectively limits the possibility for monetary easing – both in the US and China.

Ending China’s crawling devaluation will be bad news 

Since the Federal Reserve in December hiked the fed funds target rate the People Bank of China effective has tried to decouple Chinese monetary policy from US monetary policy by allowing a crawling devaluation of the Renminbi.

rmb-crawling-devaluation

This in my view has played a positive role in offsetting the negative impact of the Fed’s foolish attempt to tighten US monetary conditions.

However, the Sino-US ‘currency peace’ deal limits the PBoC’s possibility of continuing this policy and this is why HIBOR rates are now surging. This obviously is bad news for the Chinese economy – in fact it is bad news for the global economy and markets.

China does not need tighter monetary conditions. Chinese monetary conditions in my view is still quasi-deflationary and if the PBoC abandons its unannounced crawling devaluation policy it will cause a excessive tightening of Chinese monetary conditions, which could push back the Chinese economy towards recession.

It is too bad that policy makers from the ‘Global Monetary Superpowers’ believe that limiting currency flexibility is the right policy. Instead they should embrace floating exchange rates and instead focus on avoiding the biggest risk to the global economy – deflation.

 

 

In a deflationary world at the ZLB we need ‘competitive devaluations’

Sunday we got some bad news, which many wrongly will see as good news – this is from Reuters:

China and the United States on Sunday committed anew to refrain from competitive currency devaluations, and China said it would continue an orderly transition to a market-oriented exchange rate for the yuan CNY=CFXS.

…Both countries said they would “refrain from competitive devaluations and not target exchange rates for competitive purposes”, the fact sheet said.

Meanwhile, China would “continue an orderly transition to a market-determined exchange rate, enhancing two-way flexibility. China stresses that there is no basis for a sustained depreciation of the RMB (yuan). Both sides recognize the importance of clear policy communication.”

There is really nothing to celebrate here. The fact is that in a world where the largest and most important central banks in the world – including the Federal Reserve – continue to undershoot their inflation targets and where deflation remains a real threat any attempt – including using the exchange rate channel – to increase inflation expectations should be welcomed.

This of course is particularly important in a world where the ‘natural interest rate’ likely is quite close to zero and where policy rates are stuck very close to the Zero Lower Bound (ZLB). In such a world the exchange rate can be a highly useful instrument to curb deflationary pressures – as forcefully argued by for example Lars E. O. Svensson and Bennett McCallum.

In fact by agreeing not to use the exchange rate as a channel for easing monetary conditions the two most important ‘monetary superpowers’ in the world are sending a signal to the world that they are in fact not fully committed to fight deflationary pressures. That certainly is bad news – particularly because especially the Fed seems bewildered about conducting monetary policy in the present environment.

Furthermore, I am concerned that the Japanese government is in on this deal – at least indirectly – and that is why the Bank of Japan over the last couple of quarters seems to have allowed the yen to get significantly stronger, which effective has undermined BoJ chief Kuroda’s effort to hit BoJ’s 2% inflation target.

A couple of months ago we also got a very strong signal from ECB chief Mario Draghi that “competitive devaluations” should be avoided. Therefore there seems to be a broad consensus among the ‘Global Monetary Superpowers’ that currency fluctuation should be limited and that the exchange rate channel should not be used to fight devaluation pressures.

This in my view is extremely ill-advised and in this regard it should be noted that monetary easing if it leads to a weakening of the currency is not a beggar-thy-neighbour policy as it often wrongly is argued (see my arguments about this here).

Rather it could be a very effective way of increase inflationary expectations and that is exactly what we need now in a situation where central banks are struggling to figure out how to conduct monetary policy when interest rates are close the ZLB.

See some of my earlier posts on ‘currency war’/’competitive devaluations’ here:

Bernanke knows why ‘currency war’ is good news – US lawmakers don’t

‘The Myth of Currency War’

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

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

The exchange rate fallacy: Currency war or a race to save the global economy?

Is monetary easing (devaluation) a hostile act?

Fiscal devaluation – a terrible idea that will never work

Mises was clueless about the effects of devaluation

Exchange rates and monetary policy – it’s not about competitiveness: Some Argentine lessons

The luck of the ‘Scandies’

 

It is time for BoE to make the 4% NGDP target official

While I do not want to overestimate the effects of Brexit on the UK economy it is clear that last week’s Brexit vote has significantly increased “regime uncertainty” in the UK.

As I earlier have suggested such a spike in regime uncertainty is essentially a negative supply shock, which could turn into a negative demand shock if interest rates are close the the Zero Lower Bound and the central bank is reluctant to undertake quantitative easing.

In the near-term it seems like the biggest risk is not the increase in regime uncertainty itself, but rather the second order effect in the form of a monetary shock (increased money demand and a drop in the natural interest rate below the ZLB).

Furthermore, from a monetary policy perspective there is nothing the central bank – in the case of the UK the Bank of England – can do about a negative supply other than making sure that the nominal interest rate is equal to the natural interest rate.

Therefore, the monetary response to the ‘Brexit shock’ should basically be to ensure that there is not an additional shock from tightening monetary conditions.

So far the signals from the markets have been encouraging 

One of the reasons that I am not overly worried about near to medium-term effects on the UK economy is the signal we are getting from the financial markets – the UK stock markets (denominated in local currency) has fully recovered from the initial shock, market inflation expectations have actually increased and there are no signs of distress in the UK money markets.

That strongly indicates that the initial demand shock is likely to have been more than offset already by an expectation of monetary easing from the Bank of England. Something that BoE governor Mark Carney yesterday confirmed would be the case.

These expectations obviously are reflected in the fact that the pound has dropped sharply and the market now is price in deeper interest rate cuts than before the ‘Brexit shock’.

Looking at the sharp drop in the pound and the increase in the inflation expectations tells us that there has in fact been a negative supply shock. The opposite would have been the case if the shock primarily had been a negative monetary shock (tightening of monetary conditions) – then the pound should have strengthened and inflation should have dropped.

Well done Carney, but lets make it official – BoE should target 4% NGDP growth

So while there might be uncertainty about how big the negative supply shock will be, the market action over the past week strongly indicates that Bank of England is fairly credible and that the markets broadly speaking expect the BoE to ensuring nominal stability.

Hence, so far the Bank of England has done a good job – or rather because BoE was credible before the Brexit shock hit the nominal effects have been rather limited.

But it is not given that BoE automatically will maintain its credibility going forward and I therefore would suggest that the BoE should strengthen its credibility by introducing a 4% Nominal GDP level target (NGDPLT). It would of course be best if the UK government changed BoE’s mandate, but alternatively the BoE could just announce that such target also would ensure the 2% inflation target over the medium term.

In fact there would really not be anything revolutionary about a 4% NGDP level target given what the BoE already has been doing for sometime.

Just take a look at the graph below.

NGDP UK

I have earlier suggested that the Federal Reserve de facto since mid-2009 has followed a 4% NGDP level target (even though Yellen seems to have messed that up somewhat).

It seems like the BoE has followed exactly the same rule.  In fact from early 2010 it looks like the BoE – knowingly or unknowingly – has kept NGDP on a rather narrow 4% growth path. This is of course the kind of policy rule Market Monetarists like Scott Sumner, David Beckworth, Marcus Nunes and myself would have suggested.

In fact back in 2011 Scott authored a report – The Case for NGDP Targeting – for the Adam Smith Institute that recommend that the Bank of England should introduce a NGDP level target. Judging from the actual development in UK NGDP the BoE effectively already at that time had started targeting NGDP.

At that time there was also some debate that the UK government should change BoE’s mandate. That unfortunately never happened, but before he was appointed BoE governor expressed some sympathy for the idea.

This is what Mark Carney said in 2012 while he was still Bank of Canada governor:

“.. adopting a nominal GDP (NGDP)-level target could in many respects be more powerful than employing thresholds under flexible inflation targeting. This is because doing so would add “history dependence” to monetary policy. Under NGDP targeting, bygones are not bygones and the central bank is compelled to make up for past misses on the path of nominal GDP.

when policy rates are stuck at the zero lower bound, there could be a more favourable case for NGDP targeting. The exceptional nature of the situation, and the magnitude of the gaps involved, could make such a policy more credible and easier to understand.

Shortly after making these remarks Mark Carney became Bank of England governor.

So once again – why not just do it? 1) The BoE has already effectively had a 4% NGDP level target since 2010, 2) Mark Carney already has expressed sympathy for the idea, 3) Interest rates are already close to the Zero Lower Bound in the UK.

Finally, a 4% NGDP target would be the best ‘insurance policy’ against an adverse supply shock causing a new negative demand shock – something particularly important given the heightened regime uncertainty on the back of the Brexit vote.

No matter the outcome of the referendum the BoE should ease monetary conditions 

If we use the 4% NGDP “target” as a benchmark for what the BoE should do in the present situation then it is clear that monetary easing is warranted and that would also have been the case even if the outcome for the referendum had been “Remain”.

Hence, particularly over the past year actual NGDP have fallen somewhat short of the 4% target path indicating that monetary conditions have become too tight.

I see two main reasons for this.

First of all, the BoE has failed to offset the deflationary/contractionary impact from the tightening of monetary conditions in the US on the back of the Federal Reserve becoming increasingly hawkish. This is by the way also what have led the pound to become somewhat overvalued (which also helps add some flavour the why the pound has dropped so much over the past week).

Second, the BoE seems to have postponed taking any significant monetary action ahead of the EU referendum and as a consequence the BoE has fallen behind the curve.

As a consequence it is clear that the BoE needs to cut its key policy to zero and likely also would need to re-start quantitative easing. However, the need for QE would be reduced significantly if a NGDP level target was introduced now.

Furthermore, it should be noted that given the sharp drop in the value of the pound over the past week we are likely to see some pickup in headline inflation over the next couple of month and even though the BoE should not react to this – even under the present flexible inflation target – it could nonetheless create some confusion regarding the outlook for monetary easing. Such confusion and potential mis-communication would be less likely under a NGDP level targeting regime.

Just do it Carney!

There is massive uncertainty about how UK-EU negotiations will turn out and the two major political parties in the UK have seen a total leadership collapse so there is enough to worry about in regard to economic policy in the UK so at least monetary policy should be the force that provides certainty and stability.

A 4% NGDP level target would ensure such stability so I dare you Mark Carney – just do it. The new Chancellor of the Exchequer can always put it into law later. After all it is just making what the Bank of England has been doing since 2010 official!

Three simple changes to the Fed’s policy framework

Frankly speaking I don’t feel like commenting much on the FOMC’s decision today to keep the Fed fund target unchanged – it was as expected, but sadly it is very clear that the Fed has not given up the 1970s style focus on the Phillips curve and on the US labour market rather than focusing on monetary and market indicators. That is just plain depressing.

Anyway, I would rather focus on the policy framework rather than on today’s decision because at the core of why the Fed consistently seems to fail on monetary policy is the weaknesses in the monetary policy framework.

I here will suggest three simple changes in the Fed’s policy framework, which I believe would dramatically improve the quality of US monetary policy.

  1. Introduce a 4% Nominal GDP level target. The focus should be on the expected NGDP level in 18-24 month. A 4% NGDP target would over the medium term also ensure price stability and  “maximum employment”. No other targets are needed.
  2. The Fed should give up doing forecasting on its own. Instead three sources for NGDP expectations should be used: 1) The Fed set-up a prediction market for NGDP in 12 and 24 months. 2) Survey of professional forecasters’ NGDP expectations. 3) The Fed should set-up financial market based models for NGDP expectations.
  3. Give up interest rate targeting (the horrible “dot” forceasts from the FOMC members) and instead use the money base as the monetary policy framework. At each FOMC meeting the FOMC should announce the permanent yearly growth rate of the money base. The money base growth rate should be set to hit the Fed’s 4% NGDP level target. Interest rates should be completely market determined. The Fed should commit itself to only referring to the expected level for NGDP in 18-24 months compared to the targeted level when announcing the money base growth rate. Nothing else should be important for monetary policy.

This would have a number of positive consequences.

First, the policy would be completely rule based contrary to today’s discretion policy.

Second, the policy would be completely transparent and in reality the market would be doing most of the lifting in terms of implementing the NGDP target.

Third, there would never be a Zero-Lower-Bound problem. With money base control monetary policy can always be eased also if interest rates are at the ZLB.

Forth, all the silly talk about bubbles, moral hazard and irrational investors in the stock markets would come to an end. Please stop all the macro prudential nonsense right now. The Fed will never ever be able to spot bubbles and should not try to do it.

Fifth,the Fed would stop reacting to supply shocks (positive and negative) and finally six the FOMC could essentially be replaced by a computer as long ago suggested by Milton Friedman.

Will this ever happen? No, there is of course no chance that this will ever happen because that would mean that the FOMC members would have to give up the believe in their own super human abilities and the FOMC would have to give up its discretionary powers. So I guess we might as well prepare ourself for a US recession later this year. It seems incredible, but right now it seems like Janet Yellen’s Fed has repeated the Mistakes of ’37.

PS What I here have suggested is essentially a forward-looking McCallum rule.

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If you want to hear me speak about these topics or other related topics don’t hesitate to contact my speaker agency Specialist Speakers – e-mail: daniel@specialistspeakers.com or roz@specialistspeakers.com.

 

Yellen’s recession and that horrible Phillips Curve

The global stock markets are taking yet another beating today and as I am writing this S&P500 is down nearly 3.5% and the latest round of US macroeconomic data shows relatively sharp slowdown in the US economic activity and more and more commentators and market participants are now openly taking about the risk of a US recession in the coming quarters.

Obviously part of the story is China, but at the core of this is also is the fact that Fed chair Janet Yellen has been overly eager to interest rates despite the fact that monetary and market indicators have not indicated any need to monetary tightening. It is only the defunct Phillips Curve that could led Yellen to draw the conclusion that monetary tightening is needed in the US.

Back in August I wrote:

To Janet Yellen changes in inflation seems to be determined by the amount of slack in the US labour market and if labour market conditions tighten then inflation will rise. This of course is essentially an old-school Phillips curve relationship and a relationship where causality runs from labour market conditions to wage growth and on to inflation.

This means that for the Yellen-fed labour market indicators essentially are as important as they were for former Fed chairman Arthur Burns in the 1970s and that could turn into a real problem for US monetary policy going forward.

…Central banks temporary can impact real variables such as unemployment or real GDP, but it cannot permanently impact these variables. Similarly there might be a short-term correlation between real variables and nominal variables such as a correlation between nominal wage growth (or inflation) and unemployment (or the output gap).

However, inflation or the growth of nominal income is not determined by real factors in the longer-term (and maybe not even in the short-term), but rather than by monetary factors – the balance between demand and supply of money.

The Yellen-fed seems to be questioning Friedman’s fundamental insight. Instead the Yellen-Fed seems to think of inflation/deflation as a result of the amount of “slack” in the economy and the Yellen-fed is therefore preoccupied with measuring this “slack” and this is what now seems to be leading Yellen & Co. to conclude it is time to tighten US monetary conditions.

This is of course the Phillips curve interpretation of the US economy – there has been steady job growth and unemployment is low so inflation most be set to rise no matter what nominal variables are indicating and not matter what market expectations are. Therefore, Yellen (likely) has concluded that a rate hike soon is warranted in the US.

This certainly is unfortunately. Instead of focusing on the labour market Janet Yellen should instead pay a lot more attention to the development in nominal variables and to the expectations about these variables.

…If we look at nominal variables – the price level, NGDP, the money supply and nominal wages – the conclusion is rather clear. The Fed has actually since 2009 delivered a remarkable level of nominal stability in terms of keeping nominal variables very close to the post-2009 trend.

If we want to think about the Bernanke-Fed the Fed had one of the following targets: 1.5% core PCE level targeting, 4% NGDP level targeting, 7% M2-level targeting or 2% wage level targeting at least after the summer of 2009.

However, the Yellen-Fed seems to be focusing on real variables – and particularly labour market variables – instead. This is apparently leading Janet Yellen to conclude that monetary conditions should be tightened.

However, nominal variables are telling a different story – it seems like monetary conditions have become slightly too tight within the past 6-12 months and therefore the Fed needs to communicate that it will not hike interest rates in September if it wants to keep nominal variables on their post-2009 path.

Obviously the Fed cannot necessarily hit more than one nominal variable at the time so the fact that it has kept at least four nominal variables on track in the past 5-6 years is quite remarkable. However, the Fed needs to chose one nominal target and particularly needs to give up the foolish focus on labour market conditions and instead fully commit to a nominal target. My preferred target would certainly be a 4% (or 5%) Nominal GDP level target.

And Chair Yellen, please lay the Phillips curve to rest if you want to avoid sending the US economy into recession in 2016!

Obviously Yellen did not get the memo and now we are exactly risking that recession that I warned about in August.

And no I am not bragging about my ability to forecast. In fact I am doing the exact opposite. In August the markets were telling us that there was no inflationary pressures (and I was only repeating that), but Yellen has all along insisted that the market expectations about inflation were wrong and that the Phillips Curve was right. That might turn out to be a costly mistake.

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