‘Googlenomics’ predicts sharp rise in US unemployment

It is no secret that I am quite fascinated by the the idea that social media data might be very useful as early/leading indicators of macroeconomic variables. Said in another way I think that social media activity can be seen as a form of prediction markets.

So recently I have been tracking what Google Trends is saying about the development in searches for different terms that might give an indication about whether we are heading for a recession in the US economy.

Lets start with the world ‘recession’.

Recession Google Trend

The picture is not dramatic and the Google searches for ‘Recession’ clearly is much lower than at the onset of the Great Recession in 2007-8. That said, there has recently been a relatively clear pick up in the ‘recession indicator’ that could indicate that ‘Google searchers’ are increasingly beginning to worry about the US economy entering a recession.

How about the labour market? This is Google searches for ‘Unemployment’.

Unemployment Google trends

This is much more alarming – there has been a very steep rise in Google searches for ‘Unemployment’. In fact the rise is more steep than it was in 2008. This certainly is an indication of a very sharp deterioration of US labour market conditions right now.

The question then is whether Google searches have any prediction power and here the evidence is quite clear that, that is indeed the case. At least that is the conclusion in a recent paper – The Predictive Power of Google Searches in Forecasting Unemployment – by Francesco D’Amuri and Juri Marcucci.

The evidence is in – the Fed should re-start QE rather than hike rates

Janet Yellen’s Federal Reserve have been extremely eager to say that inflation would soon rise due to the continued decline in unemployment and has essentially ignored all monetary and market indicators, which for a long time have indicated that monetary conditions should not be tightened as fast as the Fed has signaled.

That in my view is the main reason why US economic activity now is slowing significantly in and paradoxically that will now very likely push up unemployment. In fact if we trust the signals from Google searches then we are in for a significant deterioration in labour market conditions in the US very soon.

So while the Yellen-Fed seems to ignore monetary indicators at least the fact that unemployment might soon shoot up again should tell the Fed that it is time to dramatically change course.

In fact it now seems more likely that we will have a new round of Quantitative Easing in the next couple of quarters rather than more rate hikes. Or at least that is what the Fed should do to avoid another recession.

PS have a look at a couple of other Google searches as well: ‘jobs’, ‘loan+default’, ‘economic crisis’, ‘bear market’

PPS I seriously thought that Janet Yellen was well-aware of the dangers of repeating the mistakes of 1937. Apparently I was wrong.

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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.

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Draghi’s golden oppurtunity – building the perfect firewall

The ECB’s large scale quantitative easing programme already has had some success – initially inflation expectations increased, European stock markets performed nicely and the euro has continued to weaken. This overall means that this effectively is monetary easing and that we should expect it to help nominal spending growth in the euro zone accelerate and thereby also should be expected to curb deflationary pressures.

However, ECB Mario Draghi should certainly not declare victory already. Hence, inflation expectations on all relevant time horizons remains way below the ECB’s official 2% inflation target. In fact we are now again seeing inflation expectations declining on the back of renewed concerns over possible “Grexit” and renewed geopolitical tensions in Ukraine.

Draghi has – I believe rightly – been completely frank recently that the ECB has failed to ensure nominal stability and that policy action therefore is needed. However, Draghi needs to become even clearer on his and the ECB’s commitment to stabilise inflation expectations near 2%.

A golden opportunity

Obviously Mario Draghi cannot be happy that inflation expectations once again are on the decline, but he could and should also see this as an opportunity to tell the markets about his clear commitment to ensuring nominal stability.

I think the most straightforward way of doing this is directly targeting market inflation expectations. That would imply that the ECB would implement a Robert Hetzel style strategy (see here) where the ECB simply would buy inflation linked government bonds (linkers) until markets expectations are exactly 2% on all relevant time horizons.

The ECB has already announced that its new QE programme will include purchases of linkers so why not become even more clear how this actually will be done.

A simple strategy would simply be to announce that in the first month of QE the ECB would buy linkers worth EUR 5bn out of the total EUR 60bn monthly asset purchase, but also that this amount will be doubled every month as long as market inflation expectations are below 2% – to 10bn in month 2, to 20bn in month 3 and 40bn in month 4 and then thereafter every month the ECB would buy linkers worth EUR 60bn.

Given the European linkers market is fairly small I have no doubt that inflation expectations very fast would hit 2% – maybe already before the ECB would buy any linkers. In that regard it should be noted that in the same way as a central bank always weaken its currency it can also always hit a given inflation expectations target through purchases of linkers. Draghi needs to remind the markets about that by actually buying linkers.

That I believe would be a very effective way to demonstrate the ECB’s commitment to hitting its inflation target, but it would also be a very effective ‘firewall’ against potential shocks from shocks from for example the Russian crisis or a Grexit.

An very effective firewall   

I have in an earlier blog post suggested that the ECB should “build” such a firewall. Here is what I had to say on the issue back in May 2012:

A number of European countries issue inflation-linked bonds. From these bonds we can extract market expectations for inflation. These bonds provide the ECB with a potential very strong instrument to fight deflationary risks. My suggestion is simply that the ECB announces a minimum price for these bonds so the implicit inflation expectation extracted from the bonds would never drop below 1.95% (“close to 2%”) on all maturities. This would effectively be a put on inflation.

How would the inflation put work?

Imagine that we are in a situation where the implicit inflation expectation is exactly 1.95%. Now disaster strikes. Greece leaves the euro, a major Southern Europe bank collapses or a euro zone country defaults. As a consequence money demand spikes, people are redrawing money from the banks and are hoarding cash. The effect of course will be a sharp drop in money velocity. As velocity drops (for a given money supply) nominal (and real) GDP and prices will also drop sharply (remember MV=PY).

As velocity drops inflation expectations would drop and as consequence the price of the inflation-linked bond would drop below ECB’s minimum price. However, given the ECB’s commitment to keep inflation expectations above 1.95% it would have either directly to buy inflation linked bonds or by increasing inflation expectations by doing other forms of open market operations. The consequences would be that the ECB would increase the money base to counteract the drop in velocity. Hence, whatever “accident” would hit the euro zone a deflationary shock would be avoided as the money supply automatically would be increased in response to the drop in velocity. QE would be automatic – no reason for discretionary decisions. In fact the ECB would be able completely abandon ad hoc policies to counteract different kinds of financial distress.

This would mean that even if a major European bank where to collapse M*V would basically be kept constant as would inflation expectations and as a consequence this would seriously reduce the risk of spill-over from one “accident” to another. The same would of course be the case if Greece would leave the euro.

When I wrote all this in 2012 it seemed somewhat far-fetted that the ECB could implement such a policy. However, things have luckily changed. The ECB is now actually doing QE, Mario Draghi clearly seems to understand there needs to be a focus on market inflation expectations (rather than present inflation) and the ECB’s QE programme seems to be quasi-open-ended (but still not open-ended enough). Therefore, building a linkers-based ‘firewall’ would only be a natural part of what the ECB officially now has set out to do.

So now I am just waiting forward to the next positive surprise from Mario Draghi…

PS I would have been a lot more happy if the ECB would target 4% NGDP growth (level targeting) rather than 2% or at least make up for the failed policies over the past 6-7 years by overshooting the 2% inflation target for a couple of years, but a strict commitment to build a firewall against velocity-shocks and keeping inflation expectations close to 2% as suggested above would be much better than what we have had until recently.

PPS A firewall as suggested above should make a Grexit much less risky in terms of the risk of contagion and should hence be a good argument to gain the support from the Bundesbank for the idea (ok, that is just totally unrealistic…)

Related blog posts:

Bob Hetzel’s great idea
Kuroda still needs to work on communication
Mr. Kuroda please ‘peg’ inflation expectations to 2% now

‘Draghi’s framework’ – a step in the right direction

It is no secret that I for years have been very critical about the ECB’s conduct of monetary policy. In fact I strongly believe that the mess we in Europe still are in mostly is due to monetary policy failure (even though I certainly do not deny Europe’s massive structural problems).

However, I do think that the ECB – and particularly ECB chief Mario Draghi – deserves some credit for the policy measures introduced today.

It is certainly not perfect, but neither is Fed or Bank of Japan policy, but for the first time since the beginning of the Great Recession soon seven years ago the ECB is in my view taking a major step in the right direction. It will not solve all of Europe’s problems – far from it – but I believe this will be quite helpful in curbing the strong deflationary pressures in the European economy.

The glass is half-full rather than half-empty

Below I will highlight a number of the things that I think is positive about today’s policy announcement.

1) The ECB’s nominal target has been made more clear

One thing that the Market Monetarists again and again have stressed is that central banks should be clear about their nominal targets. Even though I like other Market Monetarists prefer NGDP targeting I think that it should be welcomed that Mario Draghi and the ECB today was a lot clearer on the inflation target than ever before.

Furthermore, Draghi for the first time clearly acknowledged that the ECB was not living up to its commitment to ensure price stability interpreted as close to 2% inflation. By doing so Draghi quite clearly signaled that future possible changes in the amount of QE will dependent on the outlook for hitting the inflation target.

2) Draghi speaks in terms of market expectations

It was also notable that Draghi at the press conference following the monetary policy announcement again and again referred to the markets’ inflation expectations and he stressed that since market expectations for inflation are below 2% the ECB does not fulfil its target. That to me is quite a Market Monetarist – it is about ‘targeting the forecast’ more than anything else. At the time the ECB’s own forecasts played a much less prominent role in Draghi’s presentation. That I consider to be quite positive.

3) The ECB is using the right instrument

A major positive is that the ECB now finally seems to be focusing on the right instrument. The only mentioning of ‘interest rates’ was basically the announcement that the policy rates had been kept unchanged.

Furthermore, there was no talk about ‘credit policy’ and attempts to distort relative prices in the European fixed income markets.

Instead it was straight-forward about money base control. That I consider to be very positive. Now we have to hope that the ECB will continue to focus on money base growth rather than on interest rates. Furthermore, by focusing on money base growth (quantitative easing) the ECB signals clearly to the markets that there are no institutional or legal restrictions on the ECB’s ability/possibility to create money. That will make it significantly easier for the markets to trust the ECB to be committed to ensuring nominal stability.

4) The programme is fairly well ‘calibrated’

One can clearly debate what is the “right number” in terms of the necessary quantitative easing necessary to take the euro zone out of the deflationary mess. I have earlier argued that the ECB essentially should target 10% M3 growth in a number of years to undo past monetary policy sins (see here, here and here.)

The programme announced by the ECB – essentially 60bn euros QE per months until September 2016 is not in any way big enough to undo past sins, however, it is nonetheless sizable.

In fact if we assume that the trend in M3 growth we have seen during 2014 is maintained during 2015-16 and we add 60bn euros extra to that every single month until September 2016 then the pick-up in M3 growth will be substantial. In fact already by the end of this year M3 growth could hit 10% and remain at 8-9% all through 2016.

This is of course is under an assumption that there is no decline in the money-multiplier. I believe that is a fair assumption. In fact one can easily argue that it is likely that the money-multiplier will likely increase in response to the ECB money base expansion.

Hence, even though we will not close the ‘gap’ from past mistakes it looks likes ECB’s QE programme could provide quite substantial monetary stimulus and likely large enough to significantly lift nominal GDP growth during 2015 and 2016, which in turn likely will bring euro inflation back in line with the ECB’s 2% inflation target.

That said, the ECB has essentially failed to hit its inflation target since 2008 (leaving out negative supply shocks) and one can therefore argue that even 10% M3 growth will not be enough to lift inflation to 2% given the markets’ lack of trust in ECB’s willingness to do everything to provide nominal stability. Therefore, commitment on the ECB’s part to continue some form of QE also after September 2016 therefore might be necessary (more on that below.)

5) The programme is quasi-open-ended

Given the considerations above it is also very important that the ECB QE programme apparently is of a quasi-open-ended nature. So while the ECB plans for the program to end in September 2016 it should be noted that the ECB in its statements today said that the programme will run until “at least” September 2016. Hence, this is likely a signal that the programme could and will be extended if needed to meet the ECB’s 2% inflation target.

The quasi-open-ended nature of the programme opens the door for the ECB to communicate in terms of two dimensions – how long the programme will run and the monthly growth rate of the money base. That in turn could potentially – if we make a very optimistic assessment – bring us to a situation where the ECB becomes focused on money base control rather than interest rate targeting.

So overall the more I digest the details in the ECB new QE programme the more upbeat I have become about it. That is not to say that the program is perfect – far from it, but it is nonetheless in my view the biggest and most positive step undertaken by the ECB since crisis hit in 2008.

Things can still go badly wrong – and we are not out of the crisis yet

There is a lots of things that can go wrong – there is for example a clear risk that massive German resistance against the programme will undermine the credibility of the programme or that the ECB now thinks everything is fine and that no more work on the programme is needed. Therefore, to ensure success the ECB needs to work on the details of the QE programme in the coming weeks and months.

In the coming days I will try to write a couple of blog posts where I will try to come with recommendations on how to improve the ‘Draghi framework’. Particularly I will stress that the ECB needs to move closer to a purely rule-based framework rather than a discretionary framework. We are still someway away from that.

PS The markets’ judgement of the ECB’s new QE programme has been positive – European (and US) stocks are up, inflation expectations are up and the euro is weaker on the day. However, the markets’ reaction is significantly smaller than one could have hoped for given the scale of the programme. This illustrates just how big problems the ECB still has with its credibility. It will take time and hard work from the ECB to change that perception – seeing is believing.

PPS I was very happy today to see that the ECB did not just introduce yet another acronym for some new useless credit policies.

End Europe’s deflationary mess with a 4% nominal GDP (level) target

From the onset of the Great Recession in 2008 the ECB has been more afraid of doing “too much” rather than too little. The ECB has been obsessing about fiscal policy being too easy in the euro zone and about that too easy monetary policy would create bubbles. As a consequence the ECB was overly eager to hike interest rates in 2011 – way ahead of the Federal Reserve started to talk about monetary tightening.

The paradox is that the ECB now is in a situation where nobody can imagine that interest rates should be hiked anytime soon exactly because the ECB’s über tight monetary stance has created a deflationary situation in the euro zone. As a consequence the ECB under the leadership (to the extent the Bundesbank allows it…) of Mario Draghi is trying to come up with all kind of measures to fight the deflationary pressures. Unfortunately the ECB doesn’t seem to understand that what is needed is open-ended quantitative easing with proper targets to change the situation.

Contrary to the situation in Europe the financial markets are increasing pricing in that a rate hike from the Federal Reserve is moving closer and the Fed will be done doing quantitative easing soon. Hence, the paradox is that the Fed is “normalizing” monetary policy much before the ECB is expected to do so – exactly because the Fed has been much less reluctant expanding the money base than the ECB.

The tragic difference between monetary policy in the US and Europe is very visible when we look at the difference in the development in nominal GDP in the euro zone and the US as the graph below shows.

NGDP EZ US

The story is very simple – while both the euro zone and the US were equally hard hit in 2008 and the recovery was similar in 2009-10 everything went badly wrong when the ECB prematurely started to hike interest rates in 2011. As a result NGDP has more or less flat-lined since 2011. This is the reason we are now seeing outright deflation in more and more euro zone countries and inflation expectations have dropped below 2% on most relevant time horizons.

While the Fed certainly also have failed in many ways and monetary policy still is far from perfect in the US the Fed has at least been able to (re)create a considerable degree of nominal stability – best illustrated by the fact that US NGDP basically has followed a straight line since mid-2009 growing an average of 4% per year. This I believe effectively is the Fed’s new target – 4% NGDP level targeting starting in Q2 of 2009.

The ECB should undo the mistakes of 2011 and copy the Fed

I believe it is about time the ECB fully recognizes the mistakes of the past – particularly the two catastrophic “Trichet hikes” of 2011. A way forward could be for the ECB to use the performance of the Fed over the last couple of years as a benchmark. After all the Fed has re-created a considerable level of nominal stability and this with out in any having created the kind of runaway inflation so feared in Frankfurt (by both central banks in the city).

So here is my suggestion. The ECB’s major failure started in April 2011 –  so let that be our starting point. And now lets assume that we want a 4% NGDP path starting at that time. With 2% potential real GDP growth in the euro zone this should over the cycle give us 2% euro zone inflation.

The graph below illustrate the difference between this hypothetical 4% path and the actual level of euro zone NGDP.

EZ NGDP path 4pct

The difference between the 4% path and the actual NGDP level is presently around 7.5%. The only way to close this gap is by doing aggressive and open-ended quantitative easing.

My suggestion would be that the ECB tomorrow should announce the it will close ‘the gap’ as fast as possible by doing open-ended QE until the gap has been closed. Lets pick a number – lets say the ECB did EUR 200bn QE per month starting tomorrow and that the ECB at the same time would announce that it every month would monitor whether the gap was closing or not. This of course would necessitate more than 4% NGDP growth to close the gap – so if for example expected NGDP growth dropped below for example 6-8% then the ECB would further step up QE in steps of EUR 50bn per month. In this regard it is important to remember that it would take as much as 8% yearly NGDP growth to close the gap in two years.

Such policy would course be a very powerful signal to the markets and we would likely get the reaction very fast. First of all the euro would weaken sharply and euro equity prices would shoot up. Furthermore, inflation expectations – particularly near-term inflation expectations would shoot up. This in itself would have a dramatic impact on nominal demand in the European economy and it would in my opinion be possible to close the NGDP gap in two years. When the gap is closed the ECB would just continue to target 4% NGDP growth and start “tapering” and then gradual rate hikes in the exact same way the Fed has done. But first we need to see some action from the ECB.

So Draghi what are you waiting for? Just announce it!

PS some would argue that the ECB is not allowed to do QE at all. I believe that is nonsense. Of course the ECB is allowed to issue money – after all if a central bank cannot issue money what is it then doing? The ECB might of course not be allowed to buy government bonds, but then the ECB could just buy something else. Buy covered bonds, buy equities, buy commodities etc. It is not about what to buy – it is about increasing the money base permanently and stick to the plan.

PPS Yes, yes I fully realize that my suggestion is completely unrealistic in terms of the ECB actually doing it, but not doing something like what I have suggested will condemn the euro zone to Japan-style deflationary pressures and constantly returning banking and public finances problems. Not to mention the risk of nasty political forces becoming more and more popular in Europe.

15 years too late: Reviving Japan (the ECB should watch and learn)

After 15 years of deflationary policies the Bank of Japan now clearly is changing course. That should be clear to everybody after today’s policy announcement from the Bank of Japan. I don’t have a lot of writing here other than I will say this is extremely good news. Good for Japan and good for the global economy and what the BoJ is doing is nearly textbook style monetary easing. The only minus is that the BOJ is targeting inflation and not the NGDP level, but anyway I am pretty convinced this will work and work soon.

Anyway lets pay tribute to Milton Friedman. This is Uncle Milty in 1998 in his article “Reviving Japan”:

The surest road to a healthy economic recovery is to increase the rate of monetary growth, to shift from tight money to easier money, to a rate of monetary growth closer to that which prevailed in the golden 1980s but without again overdoing it. That would make much-needed financial and economic reforms far easier to achieve.

Defenders of the Bank of Japan will say, “How? The bank has already cut its discount rate to 0.5 percent. What more can it do to increase the quantity of money?”

The answer is straightforward: The Bank of Japan can buy government bonds on the open market, paying for them with either currency or deposits at the Bank of Japan, what economists call high-powered money. Most of the proceeds will end up in commercial banks, adding to their reserves and enabling them to expand their liabilities by loans and open market purchases. But whether they do so or not, the money supply will increase.

There is no limit to the extent to which the Bank of Japan can increase the money supply if it wishes to do so. Higher monetary growth will have the same effect as always. After a year or so, the economy will expand more rapidly; output will grow, and after another delay, inflation will increase moderately. A return to the conditions of the late 1980s would rejuvenate Japan and help shore up the rest of Asia.

This is what the BoJ announced today:

Under this guideline, the monetary base — whose amount outstanding was 138 trillion yen at end-2012 — is expected to reach 200 trillion yen at end-2013 and 270 trillion yen at end-2014.

The monthly flow of JGB (Japanese Government Bonds) purchases is expected to become 7+ trillion yen on a gross basis.

The Bank will achieve the price stability target of 2 percent in terms of the year-on-year rate of change in the consumer price index (CPI) at the earliest possible time, with a time horizon of about two years. In order to do so, it will enter a new phase of monetary easing both in terms of quantity and quality. It will double the monetary base and the amounts outstanding of Japanese government bonds (JGBs) as well as exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in two years, and more than double the average remaining maturity of JGB purchases.

After 15 years the BoJ is finally listening to Friedman’s advice and I am sure it will do a lot to revive the Japanese economy. In fact the BoJ is doing more than listening to Milton Friedman. The BoJ is also listening to the Market Monetarist message of using the Chuck Norris Effect by guiding market expectations. Good work Kuroda.

And finally a message to ECB boss Mario Draghi. If you want to end the euro crisis just copy-paste today’s BoJ statement. You have the same inflation target anyway. It is not really that hard to do.

Friedman’s Japanese lessons for the ECB

I often ask myself what Milton Friedman would have said about the present crisis and what he would have recommended. I know what the Friedmanite model in my head is telling me, but I don’t know what Milton Friedman actually would have said had he been alive today.

I might confess that when I hear (former?) monetarists like Allan Meltzer argue that Friedman would have said that we were facing huge inflationary risks then I get some doubts about my convictions – not about whether Meltzer is right or not about the perceived inflationary risks (he is of course very wrong), but about whether Milton Friedman would have been on the side of the Market Monetarists and called for monetary easing in the euro zone and the US.

However, today I got an idea about how to “test” indirectly what Friedman would have said. My idea is that there are economies that in the past were similar to the euro zone and the US economies of today and Friedman of course had a view on these economies. Japan naturally comes to mind.

This is what Friedman said about Japan in December 1997:

“Defenders of the Bank of Japan will say, “How? The bank has already cut its discount rate to 0.5 percent. What more can it do to increase the quantity of money?”

The answer is straightforward: The Bank of Japan can buy government bonds on the open market, paying for them with either currency or deposits at the Bank of Japan, what economists call high-powered money. Most of the proceeds will end up in commercial banks, adding to their reserves and enabling them to expand their liabilities by loans and open market purchases. But whether they do so or not, the money supply will increase.

There is no limit to the extent to which the Bank of Japan can increase the money supply if it wishes to do so. Higher monetary growth will have the same effect as always. After a year or so, the economy will expand more rapidly; output will grow, and after another delay, inflation will increase moderately. A return to the conditions of the late 1980s would rejuvenate Japan and help shore up the rest of Asia.”

So Friedman was basically telling the Bank of Japan to do quantitative easing – print money to buy government bonds (not to “bail out” the government, but to increase the money base).

What were the economic conditions of Japan at that time? The graph below illustrates this. I am looking at numbers for Q3 1997 (which would have been the data available when Friedman recommended QE to BoJ) and I am looking at things the central bank can influence (or rather can determine) according to traditional monetarist thinking: nominal GDP growth, inflation and money supply growth. The blue bars are the Japanese numbers.

Now compare the Japanese numbers with the similar data for the euro zone today (Q1 2012). The euro zone numbers are the red bars.

Isn’t striking how similar the numbers are? Inflation around 2-2.5%, nominal GDP growth of 1-1.5% and broad money growth around 3%. That was the story in Japan in 1997 and that is the story in the euro zone today.

Obviously there are many differences between Japan in 1997 and the euro zone today (unemployment is for example much higher in the euro zone today than it was in Japan in 1997), but judging alone from factors under the direct control of the central bank – NGDP, inflation and the money supply – Japan 1997 and the euro zone 2012 are very similar.

Therefore, I think it is pretty obvious. If Friedman had been alive today then his analysis would have been similar to his analysis of Japan in 1997 and his conclusion would have been the same: Monetary policy in the euro zone is far too tight and the ECB needs to do QE to “rejuvenate” the European economy. Any other view would have been terribly inconsistent and I would not like to think that Friedman could be so inconsistent. Allan Meltzer could be, but not Milton Friedman.

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* Broad money is M2 for Japan and M3 for the euro zone.

Related posts:

Meltzer’s transformation
Allan Meltzer’s great advice for the Federal Reserve
Failed monetary policy – (another) one graph version
Jens Weidmann, do you remember the second pillar?

John Williams understands the Chuck Norris effect

Here is ft.com quoting John Williams president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco:

“If the Fed launched another round of quantitative easing, Mr Williams suggested that buying mortgage-backed securities rather than Treasuries would have a stronger effect on financial conditions. “There’s a lot more you can buy without interfering with market function and you maybe get a little more bang for the buck,” he said.

He added that there would also be benefits in having an open-ended programme of QE, where the ultimate amount of purchases was not fixed in advance like the $600bn “QE2” programme launched in November 2010 but rather adjusted according to economic conditions.

“The main benefit from my point of view is it will get the markets to stop focusing on the terminal date [when a programme of purchases ends] and also focusing on, ‘Oh, are they going to do QE3?’” he said. Instead, markets would adjust their expectation of Fed purchases as economic conditions changed.”

Williams is talking about open-ended QE. This is exactly what Market Monetarists have been recommending. The Fed needs to focus on the target and  not on how much QE to do to achieve a given target. Let the market do the lifting – we call it the Chuck Norris effect!
HT Matt O’Brien

The “Dajeeps” Critique and why I am skeptical about QE3

Dajeeps is a frequent commentator on this blog and the other Market Monetarist blogs. Dajeeps also writes her own blog. Dajeeps’s latest post – The Implications of the Sumner Critique to the current Monetary Policy Framework – is rather insightful and highly relevant to the present discussion about whether the Federal Reserve should implement another round of quantitative easing (QE3).

Here is Dajeeps:

“How I came to understand the meaning of the Sumner Critique was in applying it to the question of whether the Fed should embark on another round of QE. I agree with the opponents of more QE, although violently so, because under the current policy framework, the size, duration or promises that might come with it do not matter at all. It will be counteracted as soon as the forecast of expectations breach the 2% core PCE ceiling, if it not before. But in ensuring that policy doesn’t overshoot, which it must do in order to improve economic circumstances, the Fed must sell some assets at a loss or it needs some exogenous negative shock to destroy someone else’s assets. In other words, it has no issue with destroying privately held assets in a mini-nominal shock to bring inflation expectations back down to the 48 month average of 1.1% (that *could be* the Fed-action-free rate) and avoid taking losses on its own assets.”

Said in another way – the Fed’s biggest enemy is itself. If another round of quantitative easing (QE3) would work then it likely would push US inflation above the quasi-official inflation target of 2%. However, the Fed has also “promised” the market that it ensure that it will fulfill this target. Hence, if the inflation target is credible then any attempt by the Fed to push inflation above this target will likely meet a lot of headwind from the markets as the markets will start to price in a tightening of monetary policy once the policy starts to work. We could call this the Dajeeps Critique.

I strongly agree with the Dajeeps Critique and for the same reason I am quite skeptical about the prospects for QE3. Contrary to Dajeeps I do not oppose QE3. In fact I think that monetary easing is badly needed in the US (and even more in the euro zone), but I also think that QE3 comes with some very serious risks. No, I do not fear hyperinflation, but I fear that QE3 will not be successful exactly because the Fed’s insistence on targeting inflation (rather than the price LEVEL or the NGDP LEVEL) could seriously hamper the impact of QE3. Furthermore, I fear that another badly executed round of quantitative easing will further undermine the public and political support for monetary easing – and for NGDP targeting as many wrongly seem to see NGDP targeting as monetary easing.

Skeptical about QE3, but I would support it anyway 

While I am skeptical about QE3 because I fear that Fed would once again do it in the wrong I would nonetheless vote for another round of QE if I was on the FOMC. But I must admit I don’t have high hopes it would help a lot if it would be implemented without a significant change in the way the Fed communicates about monetary policy.

A proper target would be much better

At the core of the problems with QE in the way the Fed (and the Bank of England) has been doing it is that it is highly discretionary in nature. It would be much better that we did not have these discussions about what discretionary changes in policy the Fed should implement. If the Fed had a proper target – a NGDP level target or a price level target – then there would be no discussion about what to expect from the Fed and even better if the policy had been implemented within the framework of a futures based NGDP level target as Scott Sumner has suggested then the money base would automatically be increased or decreased when market expectations for future level of nominal GDP changed.

For these reasons I think it makes more sense arguing in favour of a proper monetary target (NGDP level targeting) and a proper operational framework for the Fed than to waste a lot of time arguing about whether or not the Fed should implement QE3 or not. Monetary easing is badly needed both in the US and the euro zone, but discretionary changes in the present policy framework is likely to only have short-term impact. We could do so much better.

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Related posts:

Steve Horwitz on why he oppose QE3. I disagree with Steve on his arguments and is not opposing QE3, but I understand why he is skeptical

David Glasner on why Steve is wrong opposing QE3. I agree with David’s critique of Steve’s views.

My own post on why NGDP level targeting is the true Free Market alternative – we will only convince our fellow free marketeers if we focus on the policy framework rather than discretionary policy changes such as QE3.

My post on QE in the UK. In my post I among other things discuss why Bank of England’s inflation target has undermined the bank’s attempt to increase nominal spending. This should be a lesson for the Federal Reserve when it hopefully implements QE3.

See also my old post on QE without a proper framework in the UK.

“The impact of QE on the UK economy — some supportive monetarist arithmetic”

Over the last 1-2 decades so-called DSGE (dynamic stochastic general equilibrium) models have become the dominate research tool for central banks around the world. These models certainly have some advantages, but it is notable that these models generally are models without money. Yes, that is right the favourite models of central bankers are not telling them anything about money and the impact of money on the economy. That is not necessarily a major problem when everything is on track and interest rates are well above zero. However, in the present environment with interest rates close to zero in many countries these models become completely worthless in assessing monetary policy.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised this week when I discovered a relatively new working paper – “The impact of QE on the UK economy — some supportive monetarist arithmetic” from the Bank of England (BoE) in which the authors Jonathan Bridges and Ryland Thomas estimate what they call a “broad” monetarist model and use their model(s) to evaluate the impact on the UK economy of BoE’s quantitative easing over the past four years. Here is the paper’s abstract:

“This paper uses a simple money demand and supply framework to estimate the impact of quantitative easing (QE) on asset prices and nominal spending. We use standard money accounting to try to establish the impact of asset purchases on broad money holdings. We show that the initial impact of £200 billion of asset purchases on the money supply was partially offset by other ‘shocks’ to the money supply. Some of these offsets may have been the indirect result of QE. Our central case estimate is that QE boosted the broad money supply by £122 billion or 8%. We apply our estimates of the impact of QE on the money supply to a set of ‘monetarist’ econometric models that articulate the extent to which asset prices and spending need to adjust to make the demand for money consistent with the increased broad money supply associated with QE. Our preferred, central case estimate is that an 8% increase in money holdings may have pushed down on yields by an average of around 150 basis points in 2010 and increased asset values by approximately 20%. This in turn would have had a peak impact on output of 2% by the start of 2011, with an impact on inflation of 1 percentage point around a year later. These estimates are necessarily uncertain and we show the sensitivity of our results to different assumptions about the size of the shock to the money supply and the nature of the transmission mechanism.”

I draw a number of conclusions from the paper. First, the authors clearly show that monetary policy is highly potent. An increase in the money supply via QE will increase nominal GDP and in the short-run also real GDP. Second, the paper has a very good discussion of the monetary transmission mechanism stressing that monetary policy does not primarily work through the central bank’s key policy rate, but rather through changes in a number of asset prices.

The authors’ discussion of the transmission mechanism and the empirical results also clearly refute that money and other assets are perfect substitutes. Therefore, unlike what for example has been suggested by Steven Williamson open market operations will impact nominal income.

I particularly find the discussion of the so-called buffer stock theory of money interesting. The Buffer stock theory, which was developed by among others David Laidler, has had a particularly large impact on British monetarists and in general Bridges and Thomas seem to write in what Tim Congdon has called the British monetarist tradition which stresses the interaction between credit and money more than traditional US monetarists do. British monetarists like Tim Congdon, Gordon Pepper and Patrick Minford – as do Bridges and Thomas – also traditionally have stressed the importance of broad money more than narrow money.

Furthermore, Bridges and Thomas also stress the so-called “hot-potato” effect in monetary policy, something often stressed by Market Monetarists like Nick Rowe and myself for that matter. Here is Bridges and Thomas:

“A further key distinction is the difference between the individual agent’s or sector’s attempt to reduce its money holdings and the adjustment of the economy in the aggregate. An individual can only reduce his surplus liquidity by passing that liquidity on to someone else. This is the genesis of ‘hot potato’ effects where money gets passed on among agents until ultimately the transactions underlying the transfers of deposits lead to sufficient changes in asset prices and/or nominal spending that the demand for money is made equal to supply.”

Even though I think the paper is extremely interesting and clearly confirms some key monetarist positions I must say that I miss a discussion of certain topics. I would particularly stress three topics.

1) A discussion of the property market in the UK monetary transmission mechanism. Traditionally UK monetarists have stressed the importance of the UK property market in the transmission of monetary policy shocks. Bridges and Thomas discuss the importance of the equity market, but the property market is absent in their models. I believe that that likely leads to an underestimation of the potency of UK monetary policy. Furthermore, Bridges and Thomas use the broad FTSE All Shares equity index as an indicator for the stock market. While this obviously makes sense it should also be noted that the FTSE index likely is determined more by global monetary conditions rather than UK monetary conditions. It would therefore be interesting to see how the empirical results would change if a more “local” equity index had been used.

2) The importance of the expectational channel is strongly underestimated. Even though Bridges and Thomas discuss the importance of expectations they do not take that into account in their empirical modeling. There are good reasons for that – the empirical tools are simply not there for doing that well enough. However, it should be stressed that it is not irrelevant under what expectational regime monetary policy operates. The experience from the changes in Swiss monetary and exchange rate policy over the last couple of years clearly shows that the expectational channel is very important. Furthermore, it should be stressed that the empirical results in the paper likely are strongly influenced by the fact that there was significant nominal stability in most of the estimation period. I believe that the failure to fully account for the expectational channel strongly underestimates the potency of UK monetary policy. That said, the BoE has also to a very large degree failed to utilize the expectational channel. Hence, the BoE has maintained and even stressed its inflation target during the “experiments” with QE. Any Market Monetarist would tell you that if you announce monetary easing and at the same time say that it will not increase inflation then the impact of monetary easing is likely to be much smaller than if you for example announced a clear nominal target (preferably an NGDP level target).

In regard to the expectational channel it should also be noted that the markets seem to have anticipated QE from the BoE. As it is noted in the paper the British pound started to depreciate ahead of the BoE initiating the first round of QE. This presents an econometric challenge as one could argue that the start of QE was not the time it was officially started, but rather the point in time when it was being priced into the market. This of course is a key Market Monetarist position – that monetary policy (can) work with long and variable leads. This clearly complicates the empirical analysis and likely also leads to an underestimation of the impact of QE on the exchange rate and hence on the economy in general.

3) The unexplained odd behavior of money-velocity. One of my biggest problems with the empirical results in the paper is the behaviour of money-velocity. Hence, in the paper it is shown that velocity follows a V-shaped pattern following QE. Hence, first velocity drops quite sharply in response to QE and then thereafter velocity rebounds. The authors unfortunately do not really discuss the reasons for this result, which I find hard to reconcile with monetary theory – at least in models with forward-looking agents.

In my view we should expect velocity to increase in connection with the announcement of QE as the expectation of higher inflation will lead to a drop in money demand. So if anything we should expect an inverse V-shaped pattern for velocity following the announcement of QE. This is also quite clearly what we saw in the US in 1933 when Roosevelt gave up the gold standard or in Argentina following the collapse of the currency board in 2002. I believe that Bridges and Thomas’ results are a consequence of failing to appropriately account for the expectational channel in monetary policy.

A simple way to illustrate the expectational channel is by looking at Google searches for “QE” and “Quantitative Easing”. I have done that in Google Insights and it is clear that the expectation (measured by number of Google searches) for QE starts to increase in the autumn of 2008, but really escalates from January 2009 and peaks in March 2009 when the BoE actually initiated QE. It should also be noted that BoE Governor Mervyn King already in January 2009 had hinted quite clearly that the BoE would indeed introduce QE (See here). That said, M4-velocity did continue to drop until the summer of 2009 whereafter velocity rebounded strongly – coinciding with the BoE’s second round of QE.

Despite reservations…

Despite my reservations about parts of Bridges and Thomas’ paper I think it is one of the most insightful papers on QE I have seen from any central bank and I think the paper provides a lot of insight to the monetary transmission mechanism and I think it would be tremendously interesting to see what results a similar empirical study would produce for for example the US economy.

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Related post:

Josh Hendrickson has a great post on his blog The Everyday Economist on the monetary transmission mechanism.

See also my earlier post “Ben Volcker” and the monetary transmission mechanism.

Britmouse just came up with the coolest idea of the year

Our good friend and die hard British market monetarist Britmouse has a new post on his excellent blog Uneconomical. I think it might just be the coolest idea of the year. Here is Britmouse:

“Will the ECB will stand by and let Spain go under?  Spain is a nice country with a fairly large economy.  It’d be a… shame, right?   So if the ECB won’t do anything, I think the UK should act instead.

David Cameron should immediately instruct the Bank of England to print Sterling, exchange it for Euros, and start buying up Spanish government debt.  Spain apparently has about €570bn of debt outstanding, so the Bank could buy, say, all of it.

We all know that the Bank of England balance sheet has no possible effect on the UK economy except when it is used to back changes in Bank Rate.  Right?  So these actions by the Bank can make no difference to, say, the Sterling/Euro exchange rate, and hence no impact on the demand for domestically produced goods and services in the UK.  Right?

Sure, the Bank would take on some credit risk and exchange rate risk.  But they can do all this in the Asset Purchase Facility (used for conventional QE), which already has a indemnity from the Treasury against losses.”

Your reaction will probably be that Britmouse is mad. But you are wrong. He is neither mad nor is he wrong. British NGDP is in decline and the Bank of England need to go back to QE as fast as possible and the best way to do this is through the FX market. Print Sterling and buy foreign currency – this is what Lars E. O. Svensson has called the the foolproof way out of a liquidity trap. And while you are at it buy Spanish government debt for the money. That would surely help curb the euro zone crisis and hence reduce the risk of nasty spill-over to the British economy (furthermore it would teach the ECB as badly needed lesson…). And by the way why do the Federal Reserve not do the same thing?

Obviously this discussion would not be necessary if the ECB would take care of it obligation to ensure nominal stability, but unfortunately the ECB has failed and we are now at a risk of a catastrophic outcome and if the ECB continues to refuse to act other central banks sooner or later are likely to step in.

You can think of Britmouse’ suggestion what you want, but think about it and then you will never again say that monetary policy is out of ammunition.

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Update – this is from a reply below. To get it completely clear what I think…

“Nickikt, no I certainly do not support bailing out either bank or countries. I should of course have wrote that. The reason why I wrote that this is a “cool idea” is that is a fantastic illustration of how the monetary transmission mechanism works and that monetary policy is far form impotent.

So if you ask me the question what I would do if I was on the MPC of Bank of England then I would clearly have voted no to Britmouse’s suggestion. I but I 100% share the frustration that it reflects. That is why I wrote the comment in the way I did.

So again, no I am strongly against bail outs and I fear the consequences in terms of moral hazard. However, Spain’s problems – both in terms of public finances and the banking sector primarily reflects ECB’s tight monetary policy rather than banking or public finance failure. Has there been mistake made in terms and public finances and in terms of the banking sector? Clearly yes, but the main cause of the problems is a disfunctional monetary union and monetary policy failure.”

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