Category Archive for: International Finance [Return to Main]

Friday, July 03, 2015

Paul Krugman: Europe’s Many Economic Disasters

Was the creation of the euro a mistake? Should it be eliminated?:

Europe’s Many Economic Disasters, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times:  ... Why are there so many economic disasters in Europe? Actually, what’s striking at this point is how much the origin stories of European crises differ. Yes, the Greek government borrowed too much. But the Spanish government didn’t — Spain’s story is all about private lending and a housing bubble. And Finland’s story doesn’t involve debt at all. It is, instead, about weak demand for forest products, still a major national export, and the stumbles of Finnish manufacturing, in particular of its erstwhile national champion Nokia.
What all of these economies have in common, however, is that by joining the eurozone they put themselves into an economic straitjacket. ...
Does this mean that creating the euro was a mistake? Well, yes. But that’s not the same as saying that it should be eliminated now that it exists. The urgent thing now is to loosen that straitjacket. This would involve action on multiple fronts...
But there are many European officials and politicians who are opposed to anything and everything that might make the euro workable, who still believe that all would be well if everyone exhibited sufficient discipline. And that’s why there is even more at stake in Sunday’s Greek referendum than most observers realize.
One of the great risks if the Greek public votes yes — that is, votes to accept the demands of the creditors, and hence repudiates the Greek government’s position and probably brings the government down — is that it will empower and encourage the architects of European failure. The creditors will have demonstrated their strength, their ability to humiliate anyone who challenges demands for austerity without end. And they will continue to claim that imposing mass unemployment is the only responsible course of action.
What if Greece votes no? This will lead to scary, unknown terrain. Greece might well leave the euro, which would be hugely disruptive in the short run. But it will also offer Greece itself a chance for real recovery. And it will serve as a salutary shock to the complacency of Europe’s elites.
Or to put it a bit differently, it’s reasonable to fear the consequences of a “no” vote, because nobody knows what would come next. But you should be even more afraid of the consequences of a “yes,” because in that case we do know what comes next — more austerity, more disasters and eventually a crisis much worse than anything we’ve seen so far.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

'Path to Grexit Tragedy Paved by Political Incompetence'

Barry Eichengreen:

Path to Grexit tragedy paved by political incompetence: Since our last episode, the crisis in Greece has escalated further. Negotiations between the government and its creditors collapsed over the weekend, and restrictions on bank withdrawals will now follow.
The next step is for the government to issue the equivalent of IOUs to pay salaries and pensions. The country is seemingly on the slippery slope to exiting the euro.
Many of us doubted that it would come to this. In particular, I doubted that it would come to this.
Nearly a decade ago, I analyzed scenarios for a country leaving the eurozone. I concluded that this was exceedingly unlikely to happen. The probability of a Grexit, or any Otherexit, I confidently asserted, was vanishingly small.
My friend and UC Berkeley colleague Brad DeLong regularly reminds us of the need to “mark our views to market.” So where did this prediction go wrong?
Why a euro exit didn’t make sense
My analysis was based on a comparison of economic costs and benefits of a country exiting the euro. The costs, I concluded, would be severe and heavily front-loaded.
Raising the possibility, however remote, of exit from the euro would ignite a bank run in said country. The authorities would be forced to shutter the financial system. Economic activity would grind to a halt. Losing access to not just their savings but also imported petrol, medicines and foodstuffs, angry citizens would take to the streets.
Not only would any subsequent benefits, by comparison, be delayed, but they would be disappointingly small.
With the government printing money to finance its spending, inflation would accelerate, and any improvement in export competitiveness due to depreciation of the newly reintroduced national currency would prove ephemeral.
In Greece’s case, moreover, there is the problem that the country’s leading export, refined petroleum, is priced in dollars and relies on imported oil, which is also priced in dollars. So much for the advantages of a depreciated currency.
Agricultural exports for their part will take several harvests to ramp up. And attracting more tourists won’t be easy against a drumbeat of political unrest.
What went wrong?
How did Greece end up in this pickle? Some say that the specter of a bank run was no longer a deterrent to exit once that bank run started anyway due to the deep depression into which the Greek economy had sunk.
But what is remarkable is how the so-called bank run remained a jog – it was still perfectly manageable until the Greek government called its referendum on the terms of the bail out deal offered by international creditors, negotiations broke down and exit became a real possibility.
Nonperforming loans — ones that are in default or close to it — were already rising, to be sure, but the banks still had all the liquidity they needed. The European Central Bank supported the Greek banking system with emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) right up to the very end of June. Only when Greece stopped negotiating did the Central Bank stop increasing ELA. And only then did a full-fledged bank run break out.
So I stand by the economic argument. Where I need to mark my views to market, however, is for underestimating the role of politics. In particular, I underestimated the extent of political incompetence – not just of the Greek government but even more so of its creditors.
In January Syriza had run on a platform of no more spending cuts or tax increases but also of keeping the euro. It should have anticipated that some compromise would be needed to square this circle. In the event, that realization was strangely late in coming.
And Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his government should have had the courage of its convictions. If it was unwilling to accept the creditors’ final offer, then it should have stated its refusal, pure and simple. If it preferred to continue negotiating, then it should have continued negotiating. The decision to call a referendum in midstream only heightened uncertainty. It was a transparent effort to evade responsibility. It was the action of leaders more interested in retaining office than in minimizing the cost to the country of the crisis.
A hard lesson learned
Still, this incompetence pales in comparison with that of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF.
The three institutions opposed debt restructuring in 2010 when the crisis still could have been resolved at low cost. They continued to resist it in 2015, when a debt write-down was the obvious concession to Mr Tsipras & Company. The cost would have been small. Pretending instead that Greece’s debts could be repaid hardly enhanced their credibility.
Instead, the creditors first calculated the size of the primary budget surpluses that Greece would have to run in order to hypothetically repay its debt. They then required the government to raise taxes and cut spending sufficiently to produce those surpluses.
They ignored the fact that, in so doing, they consigned the country to an even deeper depression. By privileging their own balance sheets, they got the Greek government and the outcome they deserved.
The implication is clear. Never underestimate the ability of politicians to do the wrong thing. I will try to remember next time.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Fed Watch: Events Continue to Conspire Against the Fed

Tim Duy:

Events Continue to Conspire Against the Fed, by Tim Duy: Federal Reserve policymakers just can't catch a break lately. Riding on the back of strong data in the second half of last year, they were positioning themselves to declare victory and begin the process of policy normalization, AKA "raising interest rates." Then the bottom fell out. Data in the first half of the year turned sloppy. Although policymakers on average - and Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen in particular - could reasonably believe the underlying momentum of the economy had not changed, that the data reflected largely temporary factors, the case for a rate hike by mid-year evaporated all the same. The risk of being wrong was simply more than they were willing to bear in the absence of clear inflation pressures.

The story was clearly shifting by the end of June. Key data on jobs and the consumer firmed as expected, raising the possibility that September was in play. Salvation from ZIRP, finally. Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell called it a coin toss. Via Bloomberg:

Speaking at a Wall Street Journal event in Washington Tuesday, Powell said he forecast stronger growth than in the first half of 2015, growth in the labor market and a “greater basis for confidence” in inflation returning to 2 percent.

“If those things are realized, I feel that it is time, it will be time, potentially as soon as September,” he said. “I don’t think the odds are 100 percent. I think they’re probably in the 50-50 range that we will realize those conditions, but that’s my forecast.”

Earlier, San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams said he expected two rate hikes this year. Via Reuters:

"Definitely my own forecast would be having us raise rates two times this year, but that would depend on the data," San Francisco Fed President John Williams told reporters at the bank's headquarters.

Rate increases of a quarter percentage point each would be reasonable, he said, with little point in making rate increases any smaller.

Given that we have basically written off the possibility of a rate hike in October (Fed not positioning for a rate hike every meeting and no one expects October for a first hike in the absence of the press conference), that leaves September and December for hikes.

Over the weekend, New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley also raised the possibility of September in an interview with the Financial Times:

A Federal Reserve interest-rate hike will be “very much in play” at the central bank’s September meeting if the recent strengthening of the US economy continues, according to one of America’s top central bankers.

William Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said recent evidence of accelerating wage gains, improving incomes, and growing household spending had alleviated some of his concerns about the sustainability of momentum in America’s jobs market.

Former Federal Reserve Governor Laurence Meyer expects Yellen to also be comfortable with two rate hikes in 2015 by the time September rolls around. Via Bloomberg:

"We expect the incoming data between now and the September meeting to help ease concerns about the growth outlook, prompting Chair Yellen and a majority of the FOMC to see two hikes this year as appropriate," Meyer said in a note to clients.

No, September was not a sure bet, but you could see how the data evolved to get you there. But then came Greece. Greece - will it never end? Financial markets were roiled as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras abandoned the latest round of bailout negotiations with the EU, IMF, and ECB and instead pursued a national referendum on the last version of the bailout proposal. Most of you know the story from that point on - run on Greek banks, the ECB ends further ELA extensions, a bank holiday is declared, likely missing a payment to the IMF etc., etc.

At this juncture, everything in Greece is now in flux. Greece will be holding a referendum on a deal that apparently no longer exists, so it is not clear what negotiations would happen even if it passes. Moreover, it seems likely that the economic damage that will occur in the next week or longer will almost certainly require an even bigger give on the part of Greece's creditors. Is that going to happen? There is no exit plan to force Greece out of the Euro. What if Greece refuses to leave? How does Europe respond to a growing humanitarian crisis Greece as the economy collapsed? This could drag on and on and on.

As would be reasonably expected, the jump in risk sank equities across the globe, in the process stripping away US stock gains for 2015. Not that there was much to give - it only took a little over 2% on the SP500. Yields on Treasuries sank in a safe-haven bid, and market participants pushed Federal Reserve rate hike expectations out beyond 2015.

At this moment, there is obviously little to confirm that 2015 is off the table. To be sure, we know the Fed is watching the situation closely. Back to the FT and Dudley:

That said, Mr Dudley warned that the financial market implications of a Greek exit from the euro could be graver than many investors seemed to believe, because it would set a “huge precedent” indicating that euro membership was reversible.

People “underestimate all the different channels in terms of how contagion works”, the central banker said. “We saw that in the financial crisis. People did not anticipate that the Lehman failure was going to affect the economy and financial markets to the degree that it did.”

At the risk of being guilty of underestimating contagion, I am optimistic that the ring fencing around Greece will hold. This will be a political disaster for Europe, and a humanitarian disaster for Greece, but I expect will ultimately prove to have limited impact beyond those borders.

Famous last words.

Of course, even if that is correct, we don't know it to be correct, and thus the Fed will again proceed cautiously, just like they did in the face of the weak first quarter. Hence, all else equal, pushing out the timing of the first hike is reasonable. September, though, is a long ways off, and plenty can happen between now and then. So what will the Fed be watching?

First is the data, as they have emphasized again and again. We have three labor reports between now and September, beginning this week. Strong monthly gains coupled with falling unemployment rates and further evidence of wage growth would go a long way to supporting a rate hike. All would give the Fed the faith that inflation will soon be heading toward target. This is especially the case if recent consumer spending and housing numbers hold and if business investment picks up. And it would be further helpful if the global economy did not sink under the weight of Greece. Essentially, the Fed wants to be confident that the first quarter was a fluke and thus the economy is in fact fairly resilient.

Second is the financial fallout from Greece. Mostly, they will be carefully watching to see if the Greece crisis impacts domestic credit markets and banking. Do interest rate spreads widen? Do lenders tighten underwriting conditions? Does interbank lending proceed without impediments? If they see conditions emerge like this, I would expect them to match market expectations and just stay out of the rate hike business until the fallout from Greece is clear. This likely holds even in the face of solid US data. There will (or at least should) recognize that periods of substantial unrest in credit markets are not the time to be raising rates.

Bottom Line: The Fed was already approaching the first rate hike cautiously, wary of even dipping their toes in the water. The crisis in Greece will make them even more cautious. Like their response to the first quarter data, until they see a clear path, they will be on the sidelines. That said, given the plethora of warnings not to underestimate the global impact of the crisis in Greece, one should be watching the opposite side of the story. Solid data and limited Greece impact would leave December at a minimum, and even September, in play.

Stiglitz: Troika has 'Kind of Criminal Responsibility'

From Time:

Joseph Stiglitz to Greece’s Creditors: Abandon Austerity Or Face Global Fallout: ... “They have criminal responsibility,” he says of the so-called troika of financial institutions that bailed out the Greek economy in 2010, namely the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. “It’s a kind of criminal responsibility for causing a major recession,” Stiglitz tells TIME in a phone interview.
Along with a growing number of the world’s most influential economists, Stiglitz has begun to urge the troika to forgive Greece’s debt – estimated to be worth close to $300 billion in bailouts – and to offer the stimulus money that two successive Greek governments have been requesting.
Failure to do so, Stiglitz argues, would not only worsen the recession in Greece – already deeper and more prolonged than the Great Depression in the U.S. – it would also wreck the credibility of Europe’s common currency, the euro, and put the global economy at risk of contagion. ...

Paul Krugman: Greece Over the Brink

Just say no:

Greece Over the Brink, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: It has been obvious for some time that the creation of the euro was a terrible mistake. Europe never had the preconditions for a successful single currency....
Leaving a currency union is, however, a much harder and more frightening decision than never entering in the first place...
But the situation in Greece has now reached what looks like a point of no return. Banks are temporarily closed and the government has imposed capital controls... It seems highly likely that the government will soon have to start paying pensions and wages in scrip, in effect creating a parallel currency. And next week the country will hold a referendum on whether to accept the demands of the “troika” ... for yet more austerity.
Greece should vote “no,” and the Greek government should be ready, if necessary, to leave the euro.
To understand why I say this, you need to realize that most ... of what you’ve heard about Greek profligacy and irresponsibility is false. Yes, the Greek government was spending beyond its means in the late 2000s. But ... all the austerity measures ... been more than enough to eliminate the original deficit and turn it into a large surplus.
So why didn’t this happen? Because the Greek economy collapsed, largely as a result of those very austerity measures, dragging revenues down with it.
And this collapse, in turn, had a lot to do with the euro, which trapped Greece in an economic straitjacket. Cases of successful austerity ... typically involve large currency devaluations... But Greece, without its own currency, didn’t have that option. ...
It’s easy to get lost in the details, but the essential point now is that Greece has been presented with a take-it-or-leave-it offer that is effectively indistinguishable from the policies of the past five years. ...
Don’t be taken in by claims that troika officials are just technocrats explaining to the ignorant Greeks what must be done. These supposed technocrats are in fact fantasists who have disregarded everything we know about macroeconomics, and have been wrong every step of the way. This isn’t about analysis, it’s about power — the power of the creditors to pull the plug on the Greek economy, which persists as long as euro exit is considered unthinkable.
So it’s time to put an end to this unthinkability. Otherwise Greece will face endless austerity, and a depression with no hint of an end.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

'Former Finance Minister of Cyprus on the Greek Crisis'

Branko Milanovic:

Former Finance Minister of Cyprus on the Greek crisis: While on vacations in Greece, I had a chance today (Sunday 28 June) to have a long discussion with Michael Sarris who was Cypriot Minister of Finance between 2005 and 2008 when the Euro was introduced in Cyprus and then again Minister of Finance during the March 2013 crisis when Cyprus faced negotiations with “the institutions” very similar to those faced today by Greece.  Very few people in the world have as informed and first-hand knowledge of the situation as Michael Sarris does. Here are my questions and his answers. ...

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Greece: It’s the Politics, Stupid!

Gloomy European Economist Francesco Saraceno:

It’s the Politics, Stupid!: I have been silent on Greece, because scores of excellent economists from all sides commented at length...
But last week has transformed in certainty what had been a fear since the beginning. The troika, backed by the quasi totality of EU governments, were not interested in finding a solution that would allow Greece to recover while embarking in a fiscally sustainable path. No, they were interested in a complete and public defeat of the “radical” Greek government. ...
What happened...? Well, contrary to what is heard in European circles, most of the concessions came from the Greek government. On retirement age, on the size of budget surplus (yes, the Greek government gave up its intention to stop austerity, and just obtained to soften it), on VAT, on privatizations, we are today much closer to the Troika initial positions than to the initial Greek position. Much closer.
The point that the Greek government made repeatedly is that some reforms, like improving the tax collection capacity, actually demanded an increase of resources, and hence of public spending. Reforms need to be disconnected from austerity, to maximize their chance to work.  Syriza, precisely like the Papandreou government in 2010 asked for time and possibly money. It got neither.
Tsipras had only two red lines it would and it could not cross: Trying to increase taxes on the rich (most notably large coroporations), and not agreeing to further cuts to low pensions. if he crossed those lines, he would become virtually indistinguishable from Samaras and from the policies that led Greece to be a broken State.
What the past week made clear is that this, and only this was the objective of the creditors. This has been since the beginning about politics. Creditors cannot afford that an alternative to policies followed since 2010 in Greece and in the rest of the Eurozone materializes.
Austerity and structural reforms need to be the only way to go. Otherwise people could start asking questions; a risk you don’t want to run a few months before Spanish elections. Syriza needed to be made an example. You cannot  survive in Europe, if you don’t embrace the Brussels-Berlin Consensus. Tsipras, like Papandreou, was left with the only option too ask for the Greek people’s opinion, because there has been no negotiation, just a huge smoke screen. Those of us who were discussing pros and cons of the different options on the table, well, we were wasting our time.
And if Greece needs to go down to prove it, so be it. If we transform the euro in a club in which countries come and go, so be it.
The darkest moment for the EU.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

'Breaking Greece'

Paul Krugman:

Breaking Greece: I’ve been staying fairly quiet on Greece... But given reports from the negotiations in Brussels, something must be said...
This ought to be a negotiation about targets for the primary surplus, and then about debt relief that heads off endless future crises. And the Greek government has agreed to what are actually fairly high surplus targets, especially given the fact that the budget would be in huge primary surplus if the economy weren’t so depressed. But the creditors keep rejecting Greek proposals on the grounds that they rely too much on taxes and not enough on spending cuts. So we’re still in the business of dictating domestic policy.
The supposed reason for the rejection of a tax-based response is that it will hurt growth. The obvious response is, are you kidding us? The people who utterly failed to see the damage austerity would do — see the chart, which compares the projections in the 2010 standby agreement with reality — are now lecturing others on growth? Furthermore, the growth concerns are all supply-side, in an economy surely operating at least 20 percent below capacity. ...
At this point it’s time to stop talking about “Graccident”; if Grexit happens it will be because the creditors, or at least the IMF, wanted it to happen.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

'Thinking About the All Too Thinkable'

Paul Krugman:

Thinking About the All Too Thinkable: The path toward non-Grexit — toward Greece and its creditors reaching a deal that keeps it in the euro — is getting narrower, although it’s not yet completely closed. ...
At this point quite a few people on the creditor/Troika side of the negotiations seem almost to welcome the prospect. But this is bizarre in terms of their underlying interests. Yes, the lives of the officials would become easier, for a while, because they wouldn’t have to deal with Syriza. But from the point of view of the creditors, Grexit would be a pure negative. They would almost surely receive less in payments than they would under any deal that keeps Greece in, and the proof that the euro is in fact reversible would grease the rails for future crises, even if the ECB is able to contain this one.
And as Martin Wolf points out, Greece will still be there, and will still need dealing with.
The Greeks, on the other hand, should feel conflicted. There would probably be a lot of financial chaos in the immediate aftermath of euro exit. And maybe the apocalyptic warning from the Bank of Greece that devaluation would push the nation back into the Third World is right, although I’d like to know about the model and historical examples that would justify this claim. But absent that kind of implosion, a devalued currency should eventually produce an export-led recovery — I understand the cynicism one hears, but demand curves do slope downwards even in Greece.
The point is that nobody should be casual or confident here. But the creditors should actually be even more worried than the Greeks about a potential exit that has no upside for the rest of Europe.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

'Why Currency Manipulation Matters'

Joseph E. Gagnon:

Why Currency Manipulation Matters: Currency manipulation (CM) by foreign countries has become a major part of the debate over Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) in Congress. Lawmakers opposed to TPA have charged that China’s efforts to keep the value of its currency down in order to expand exports contributed to US job losses since the turn of the century. Previously, Fred Bergsten and I raised the possibility of including currency chapters in trade agreements as one of several possible strategies for countering CM. This post, however, focuses exclusively on the costs of CM to the US economy.
Some observers describe the cost of CM entirely in terms of jobs lost for US workers; others dispute the notion that CM has any effect on US employment. But the truth is more complicated than these simple nostrums.
Economic circumstances determine whether CM has any effect on total employment. In the recent past [when the economy was in a deep recession], CM held down US employment to a major extent. In the near future [when the economy has fully recovered], CM probably will have a negligible effect on employment.
However, CM imposes costs on the US economy even when we are at full employment. These costs are roughly comparable in magnitude to all of the gains that are projected from trade agreements with Asia-Pacific countries. ...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

IMF profile of Hélène Rey

From a much longer IMF profile of Hélène Rey, professor of economics at the London Business School:

... Among her most influential work is the research she did with Gourinchas when she was at Princeton on the role of the United States in a globalized financial system. Blanchard says it “changed the discussion on the current account deficit in the United States.”
Before the recent global financial crisis, when economists and politicians were concerned about the ballooning U.S. current account deficit, Gourinchas and Rey showed that the U.S. position was not as bad as it looked because of the country’s role as the center of the international financial system.
“Although the U.S. was running a big trade deficit, economists were not taking into account the large amounts the U.S. was earning on the financial side from capital gains and changes in the value of the dollar,” Gourinchas told F&D.
“For example, almost all U.S. foreign liabilities are in dollars, whereas approximately 70 percent of U.S. foreign assets are in other currencies. So a 10 percent depreciation of the dollar increases the value of foreign assets and represents a transfer of about 5.9 percent of U.S. GDP from the rest of the world to the United States. For comparison, the trade deficit on goods and services in 2004 was 5.3 percent of GDP. So these capital gains can be very large.”
As Gourinchas and Rey (2005) pointed out, a depreciation of the U.S. dollar has two beneficial effects on the external position of the United States. It helps boost net exports and increases the dollar value of U.S. assets.
Gourinchas and Rey said that the U.S. position at the center of the system gave it what they called an “exorbitant privilege”... The exorbitant privilege, Rey and Gourinchas explained, came about because the United States could borrow at a discount on world financial markets and get high yields on its external assets. They tracked how the United States had gradually taken on riskier overseas investments.
“Then we pushed these ideas further, by pointing out that the key role of the United States makes it also look very much like an insurer for the rest of the world,” Rey explains. ...
Gourinchas said Washington has become more like the world’s venture capitalist since the 1990s. “During the whole period, U.S. assets have shifted more and more out of long-term bank loans toward foreign direct investment (FDI) and, since the 1990s, toward FDI and equity. At the same time, its liabilities have remained dominated by bank loans, trade credit, and debt—that is, low-yield safe assets.
“Hence, the U.S. balance sheet resembled increasingly one of a venture capitalist with high-return risky investments on the asset side. Furthermore, its leverage ratio has increased sizably over time.”
Rey says they expanded on this research during the global financial crisis, finding that the United States had reversed its role by channeling resources to the rest of the world through its external portfolio—on a large scale. “Our estimate is 13 to 14 percent of U.S. GDP in 2008 alone. So that was very significant.”
The United States was providing “some sort of global insurance to the world economy and the rest of the world—earning the equivalent of an insurance premium in good times and paying out in bad times. And that’s exactly what we see in the data.”
“While the United States enjoys an exorbitant privilege on one side,” says Rey, “it also, as global insurer, has an exorbitant duty in time of crisis on the other.”

Sunday, May 03, 2015

'US External Debt: A Curious Case'

Should we be worried about the U.S. net international investment position (the difference between US assets abroad and foreign claims on the US)? Paul Krugman says it's "actually a symptom of US relative strength":

As Tim Taylor notes, the U.S. net international investment position ... has moved substantially deeper into the red in recent years...
But why? You might be tempted to say that it’s obvious: we’ve been running big budget deficits, borrowing the money from foreigners, so of course our debt to those foreigners is surging. But that story implicitly requires a surge in the trade deficit (or more precisely the current account deficit, which includes investment income), which hasn’t happened. ...
So it’s not about borrowing vast sums abroad... But what is it? ... The big move is a sharp rise in the value of foreign holdings of US equity, not matched by any comparable rise in US holdings of foreign equity. What’s that about?
The answer, I believe, is that we’re looking at the differential performance of stock markets. ... So the value of foreign holdings of US equities ... has surged along with the Obama stock market, while US holdings abroad have seen no comparable boost.
And this means that the plunge in the U.S. international investment position, far from showing weakness, is actually a symptom of US relative strength, reflected in strong stock prices.
I think I’m right about this, although happy to hear alternative stories.

Monday, April 06, 2015

'Time US Leadership Woke Up To the New Economic Era'

Larry Summers:

Time US leadership woke up to new economic era: This past month may be remembered as the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system. ... This failure of strategy and tactics was a long time coming, and it should lead to a comprehensive review of the US approach to global economics. ...
Largely because of resistance from the right, the US stands alone in the world in failing to approve the International Monetary Fund governance reforms that Washington itself pushed for in 2009. ...
Meanwhile, pressures from the left have led to pervasive restrictions on infrastructure projects financed through existing development banks, which consequently have receded as funders, even as many developing countries now see infrastructure finance as their principle external funding need.
With US commitments unhonoured and US-backed policies blocking the kinds of finance other countries want to provide or receive through the existing institutions, the way was clear for China to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. There is room for argument about the tactical approach that should have been taken once the initiative was put forward. But the larger question now is one of strategy. ...
What is crucial is that the events of the past month will be seen by future historians not as the end of an era, but as a salutary wake up call.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

'Germany's Trade Surplus is a Problem'

Ben Bernanke:

Germany's trade surplus is a problem: ...in recent years China has been working to reduce its dependence on exports and its trade surplus has declined accordingly. The distinction of having the largest trade surplus, both in absolute terms and relative to GDP, is shifting to Germany. ...

In a slow-growing world that is short aggregate demand, Germany’s trade surplus is a problem. Several other members of the euro zone are in deep recession,... and ... their fiscal situations don’t allow them to raise spending or cut taxes... Despite signs of recovery in the United States, growth is also generally slow outside the euro zone. The fact that Germany is selling so much more than it is buying redirects demand from its neighbors (as well as from other countries around the world), reducing output and employment outside Germany at a time at which monetary policy in many countries is reaching its limits.

Persistent imbalances within the euro zone are also unhealthy, as they lead to financial imbalances as well as to unbalanced growth. ...

Systems of fixed exchange rates, like the euro union or the gold standard, have historically suffered from the fact that countries with balance of payments deficits come under severe pressure to adjust, while countries with surpluses face no corresponding pressure. ...

Germany has little control over the value of the common currency, but it has several policy tools at its disposal to reduce its surplus—tools that, rather than involving sacrifice, would make most Germans better off. Here are three examples.

  1. Investment in public infrastructure. ...
  2. Raising the wages of German workers. ...
  3. Germany could increase domestic spending through targeted reforms, including for example increased tax incentives for private domestic investment; the removal of barriers to new housing construction; reforms in the retail and services sectors; and a review of financial regulations that may bias German banks to invest abroad rather than at home.

Seeking a better balance of trade should not prevent Germany from supporting the European Central Bank’s efforts to hit its inflation target...

...global imbalances are not only a Chinese and American issue.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Paul Krugman: Strength Is Weakness

Is the rising value of the dollar good news?:

Strength Is Weakness, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: We’ve been warned over and over that the Federal Reserve, in its effort to improve the economy, is “debasing” the dollar..., the Fed’s critics keep insisting that easy-money policies will lead to a plunging dollar. Reality, however, keeps declining to oblige. Far from heading downstairs to debasement, the dollar has soared through the roof. ... Hooray for the strong dollar!
Or not. ... Currency markets ... always grade countries on a curve. The United States isn’t exactly booming, but it looks great compared with Europe... Markets have responded to those poor prospects by pushing interest rates incredibly low. In fact, many European bonds are now offering negative interest rates.
This remarkable situation makes even those low, low U.S. returns look attractive by comparison. So capital is heading our way, driving the euro down and the dollar up.
Who wins from this market move? Europe: a weaker euro makes European industry more competitive against rivals, boosting both exports and firms that compete with imports, and the effect is to mitigate the euroslump. Who loses? We do, as our industry loses competitiveness, not just in European markets, but in countries where our exports compete with theirs. ...
In effect, then, Europe is managing to export some of its stagnation to the rest of us. ... And the effects may be quite large. ...
One thing that worries me is that I’m not at all sure that policy makers have fully taken the implications of a rising dollar into account. The Fed, still eager to raise interest rates despite low inflation and stagnant wages, seems to me to be too sanguine about the economic drag. ...
Oh, and one more thing: a lot of businesses around the world have borrowed heavily in dollars, which means that a rising dollar may create a whole new set of debt crises. Just what the global economy needed.
Is there a policy moral to all this? One thing is that it’s really important for all of us that Mario Draghi at the European Central Bank and associates succeed in steering Europe away from a deflationary trap; the euro is their currency, but it turns out to be our problem. Mainly, though, this is another reason for the Fed to fight the urge to pretend that the crisis is over. Don’t raise rates until you see the whites of inflation’s eyes!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fed Watch: Will the Dollar Impact US Growth?

Tim Duy:

Will the Dollar Impact US Growth?, by Tim Duy: A quick one while I wait for my flight at National. Scott Sumner argues that the strong dollar will not impact US growth. In response to a Washington Post story, he writes:

This is wrong, one should never reason from a price change. There are 4 primary reasons why the dollar might get stronger:

1. Tighter money in the US (falling NGDP growth expectations.)
2. Stronger economic growth in the US.
3. Weaker growth overseas.
4. Easier money overseas.

In my view the major factor at work today is easier money overseas. For instance, the ECB has recently raised its growth forecasts for 2015 and 2016, partly in response to the easier money policy adopted by the ECB (and perhaps partly due to lower oil prices—but again, that’s only bullish if the falling oil prices are due to more supply, not less demand–see below.) That sort of policy shift in Europe is probably expansionary for the US.

The initial point is correct - arguing from a price change is a risky proposition. Go to the underlying factors. But I think the next paragraph is a bit questionable. I think that the policy shift in Europe does reduce tail risk for the global economy, and is therefore a positive for the US economy (I suspect the Fed thinks so as well). But it reduces tail risk because ECB policy is supporting not one but two positive economic shocks - both falling oil and a rising falling Euro. And, all else equal, a rising falling euro means a stronger dollar, which means a negative for the US economy. Tail risk for Europe is reduced at a cost for the US economy (a cost that the Federal Reserve and US Treasury both seem willing to endure).

That said, all this means is that Sumner is right, you can't reason from a price change, but reasoning in a general equilibrium framework is very, very hard. Sumner gets closer here, but still I think falls short:

However NGDP growth forecasts in the Hypermind market have trended slightly lower in the past couple of months. Unfortunately, this market is still much too small and illiquid to draw any strong conclusions. Things will improve when the iPredict futures market is also up and running, and even more when the Fed creates and subsidizes a NGDP prediction market. But that’s still a few years away. Nonetheless, let’s assume Hypermind is correct. Then perhaps money in the US has gotten slightly tighter, and perhaps this will cause growth to slow a bit. But in that case the cause of the slower growth would be tighter money, not a stronger dollar.

So let's try to close the circle - not only can't you reason from a price change, but also you need to pay attention to the entire constellation of prices. If ECB policy - and, by extension, the falling euro - was a net positive for the US economy, shouldn't we expect higher long US interest rates? But long US rates continue to hover around 2%, which seems crazy given the Fed's stated intention to start raising rates. Consider, however, that the stronger dollar does in fact represent tighter monetary conditions, but long interest rates are falling, which acts as a counterbalance by loosening financial conditions. Essentially, markets are anticipating that the stronger dollar saps US growth, but the Fed will respond with a slower pace of policy normalization, which acts in the opposite direction. So the stronger dollar does negatively impact growth, but market participants expect a monetary offset.

Hence - and I think Sumner would agree with this - the ball is in the Federal Reserve's court. The stronger dollar is a negative for the US economy, while the expected impact on monetary policy is a positive. The net impact is neutral. You should anticipate a stronger domestic economy offset by a larger trade deficit.

That is, of course, assuming the Federal Reserve takes sufficient note of the rising dollar, and its impact on inflation, by lowering the expected path of short term interest rates. And perhaps this is exactly what is revealed in next week's Summary of Economic Projections. Look for the possibility next week that the Fed is both hawkish - by opening the door for a June hike - and dovish - by lowering the median rate projections in the dot plot.

Update: I see Paul Krugman is lamenting the possibility that some FOMC members interpret falling interest rates as reason to tighten policy more aggressively - a view primarily outlined by New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley. My read of the bond market implies that market participants expect the opposite - the Fed needs to accept additional financial accommodation. That said, Dudley's stance clearly opens the door to the possibility of the Fed running an excessively tight policy stance, which wouldn't happen if they took their inflation target seriously.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

'No Guarantees, No Trade!'

Friederike Niepmann and Tim Schmidt-Eisenlohr of the NY Fed's Liberty Street Economics blog:

 No Guarantees, No Trade!: World trade fell 20 percent relative to world GDP in 2008 and 2009. Since then, there has been much debate about the role of trade finance in the Great Trade Collapse. Distress in the financial sector can have a strong impact on international trade because exporters require additional working capital and rely on specific financial products, in particular letters of credit, to cope with risks when selling abroad. In this post, which is based on a recent Staff Report, we shed new light on the link between finance and trade, showing that changes in banks’ supply of letters of credit have economically significant effects on firms’ export behavior. Our research suggests that trade finance helps explain the drop in exports in 2008–2009, especially to smaller and poorer markets. ...

Friday, February 27, 2015

Paul Krugman: What Greece Won

How well did Greece do?:

What Greece Won, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Last week, after much drama, the new Greek government reached a deal with its creditors. ... So how did it go?
Well, if you were to believe many of the news reports and opinion pieces of the past few days, you’d think that it was a disaster... Some factions within Syriza apparently think so, too. But it wasn’t. ... Greece came out of the negotiations pretty well, although the big fights are still to come. ...
To make sense of what happened, you need to understand that the main issue of contention involves just one number: the size of the Greek primary surplus, the difference between government revenues and government expenditures not counting interest on the debt. The primary surplus measures the resources that Greece is actually transferring to its creditors. ...
Syriza has always been clear that it intends to keep running a modest primary surplus. If you are angry that the negotiations didn’t make room for a full reversal of austerity, a turn toward Keynesian fiscal stimulus, you weren’t paying attention.
The question instead was whether Greece would be forced to impose still more austerity. The previous Greek government had agreed to a program under which the primary surplus would triple over the next few years, at immense cost to the nation...
Why would any government agree to such a thing? Fear ... that the creditors would cut off their cash flow or, worse yet, implode their banking system if they balked at ever-harsher budget cuts.
So did the current Greek government back down and agree to aim for those economy-busting surpluses? No, it didn’t. In fact, Greece won new flexibility for this year, and the language about future surpluses was obscure. ... And the creditors ... made financing available to carry Greece through the next few months. ...
Why, then, all the negative reporting..., nothing that just happened justifies the pervasive rhetoric of failure. Actually, my sense is that we’re seeing an unholy alliance here between left-leaning writers with unrealistic expectations and the business press, which likes the story of Greek debacle because that’s what is supposed to happen to uppity debtors. But there was no debacle. Provisionally, at least, Greece seems to have ended the cycle of ever-more-savage austerity..., the first real debtor revolt against austerity is off to a decent start, even if nobody believes it. What’s the Greek for “Keep calm and carry on”?

Monday, February 23, 2015

'If China Stops Manipulation, Its Currency Will Depreciate'

Jeff Frankel:

If China Stops Manipulation, Its Currency Will Depreciate: A rare issue on which the two parties in the US Congress agree is the problem of “currency manipulation,” especially on the part of China. Perhaps spurred by the 2014 appreciation of the dollar and the first signs of a resulting loss of American net exports, Congress is once again considering legislation to attack currencies that are seen as unfairly undervalued. The proposed measures include the threat of countervailing duties against imports from offending countries, although that would be inconsistent with international trading rules.
Even if one accepts the possibility of identifying a currency that is manipulated, however, China no longer qualifies. Under recent conditions, if China allowed its currency to float freely, without intervention, the renminbi would more likely depreciate against the dollar than appreciate. US producers would then find it harder to compete on international markets, not easier. ...

Dean Baker tweets:

this assumes that only flows affect currency values and not stocks. The fact China holds close to $4tr in reserves likely matters

Sunday, February 22, 2015

'Greece Did OK'

How did Greece do? Paul Krugman says:

Greece Did OK: Now that the dust has settled a bit, we can look calmly at the deal — if it really is a deal that survives through tomorrow, which some people doubt. And it’s increasingly clear that Greece came out in significantly better shape, at least for now.
The main action, always, involves the Greek primary surplus — how much more will they need to raise in revenue than they can spend on things other than interest? The question these past few days would be whether the Greeks would be forced into agreeing to aim for very high primary surpluses under the threat of being pushed into immediate crisis. And they weren’t. ...
Right now, Greece has avoided a credit cutoff, and worse yet an ECB move to pull the plug on its banks, and it has done so while getting the 2015 primary surplus target effectively waived.
The next step will come four months from now, when Greece makes its serious pitch for lower surpluses in future years. We don’t know how that will go. But nothing that just happened weakens the Greek position in that future round. ...
So Greece has won relaxed conditions for this year, and breathing room in the run-up to the bigger fight ahead. Could be worse.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Paul Krugman: Weimar on the Aegean

The lesson of Weimar Germany is different than many people think:

Weimar on the Aegean, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Try to talk about the policies we need in a depressed world economy, and someone is sure to counter with the specter of Weimar Germany, supposedly an object lesson in the dangers of budget deficits and monetary expansion. But the history of Germany after World War I is almost always cited in a curiously selective way. We hear endlessly about the hyperinflation of 1923, when people carted around wheelbarrows full of cash, but we never hear about the much more relevant deflation of the early 1930s, as the government of Chancellor Brüning — having learned the wrong lessons — tried to defend Germany’s peg to gold with tight money and harsh austerity.
And what about what happened before the hyperinflation, when the victorious Allies tried to force Germany to pay huge reparations? ... In the end, and inevitably, the actual sums collected from Germany fell far short of Allied demands. But the attempt to levy tribute... — incredibly, France actually invaded and occupied the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland, in an effort to extract payment — crippled German democracy and poisoned relations with its neighbors.
Which brings us to the confrontation between Greece and its creditors. ... Greece cannot pay its debts in full. Austerity has devastated its economy as thoroughly as military defeat devastated Germany...
Despite this catastrophe, Greece is making payments to its creditors ... of around 1.5 percent of G.D.P. And the new Greek government is willing to keep running that surplus. What it is not willing to do is meet creditor demands that it triple the surplus..., cuts have already driven Greece into a deep depression...
What would happen if Greece were simply to refuse to pay? Well, 21st-century European nations don’t use their armies as bill collectors. But there are other forms of coercion. We now know that in 2010 the European Central Bank threatened, in effect, to collapse the Irish banking system unless Dublin agreed to an International Monetary Fund program.
The threat of something similar hangs implicitly over Greece, although my hope is that the central bank ... wouldn’t go along.
In any case, European creditors should realize that flexibility — giving Greece a chance to recover — is in their own interests. They may not like the new leftist government, but it’s a duly elected government whose leaders are ... sincerely committed to democratic ideals. Europe could do a lot worse — and if the creditors are vengeful, it will.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Paul Krugman: A Game of Chicken

Europe is playing a dangerous game:

A Game of Chicken, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: On Wednesday, the European Central Bank announced that it would no longer accept Greek government debt as collateral for loans. This move, it turns out, was more symbolic than substantive. Still, the moment of truth is clearly approaching.
And it’s a moment of truth not just for Greece, but for the whole of Europe — and, in particular, for the central bank, which may soon have to decide whom it really works for.
Basically, the current situation may be summarized with the following... Germany is demanding that Greece keep trying to pay its debts in full by imposing incredibly harsh austerity. The implied threat if Greece refuses is that the central bank will cut off the support it gives to Greek banks, which is what Wednesday’s move sounded like but wasn’t. And that would wreak havoc with Greece’s already terrible economy.
Yet pulling the plug on Greece would pose enormous risks, not just to Europe’s economy, but to the whole European project... What we’re looking at here is, in short, a very dangerous confrontation. ..., how much more can Greece take? Clearly, it can’t pay the debt in full; that’s obvious to anyone who has done the math.
Unfortunately, German politicians have never explained the math to their constituents. Instead, they’ve taken the lazy path: moralizing about the irresponsibility of borrowers, declaring that debts must and will be paid in full, playing into stereotypes about shiftless southern Europeans. And now that the Greek electorate has finally declared that it can take no more, German officials just keep repeating the same old lines. ...
Furthermore, there’s still reason to hope that the European Central Bank will refuse to play along.
On Wednesday, the central bank made an announcement that sounded like severe punishment for Greece, but wasn’t, because it left the really important channel of support for Greek banks (Emergency Liquidity Assistance — don’t ask) in place. So it was more of a wake-up call than anything else, and arguably it was as much a wake-up call for Germany as it was for Greece.
And what if the Germans don’t wake up? In that case we can hope that the central bank takes a stand and declares that its proper role is to do all it can to safeguard Europe’s economy and democratic institutions — not to act as Germany’s debt collector. As I said, we’re rapidly approaching a moment of truth.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

US/Euro Foreign Exchange Rate

“A strong dollar has always been a good thing for the United States,” Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew declared not long ago, a position that he has restated frequently.

In 2011, Timothy F. Geithner, then the Treasury secretary, said, “A strong dollar will always be in the interest of the United States.”

But is it really a good thing — for the United States and the global economy?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Tale of Two Pegs

Paul Krugman on the independence of central banks from the concerns of "hard-money types":

A Tale of Two Pegs: I’m still in Hong Kong, and ... by the numbers Switzerland’s monetary situation pre-collapse and Hong Kong’s now look remarkably similar. ... So is the Hong Kong dollar at risk of a franc-like event?
No, it isn’t. There’s not a hint of pressure to drop the currency board. Why is Hong Kong different?
The answer, I’d argue, is that the institutional setup and history of Hong Kong plays very differently with hard-money ideologues than the Swiss peg did... Swiss currency intervention looked to the usual suspects like activist monetary policy, runaway expansion of the central bank’s balance sheet, “printing money” to debase the currency even if the goal was to keep it from getting stronger. Meanwhile, Hong Kong has a currency board, which is the next best thing to the gold standard, so maintaining the peg — through the very same mechanisms Switzerland was using! — became a demonstration of stern Victorian monetary virtue. Hence no chorus demanding that the peg be abandoned.
Remember, there was no forcing event in Switzerland; as far as the finances go, the SNB could have maintained the peg forever. It was the nagging from hard-money types that led to the debacle. Meanwhile, Hong Kong has managed to wrap the very same policy in libertarian clothes, and there’s no problem.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Paul Krugman: Francs, Fear and Folly

 A lesson to be learned:

Francs, Fear and Folly, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...On Thursday the Swiss National Bank, the equivalent of the Federal Reserve, shocked the financial world with a double whammy, simultaneously abandoning its policy of pegging the Swiss franc to the euro and cutting the interest rate it pays on bank reserves to minus, that’s right, minus 0.75 percent. Market turmoil ensued.
And you should feel a shiver of fear, even if you don’t have any direct financial stake in the value of the franc. For Switzerland’s monetary travails illustrate in miniature just how hard it is to fight the deflationary vortex now dragging down much of the world economy. ...
If you ask me, the Swiss just made a big mistake. But frankly — francly? — the fate of Switzerland isn’t the important issue. What’s important, instead, is the demonstration of just how hard it is to fight the deflationary forces that are now afflicting much of the world — not just Europe and Japan, but quite possibly China too. And while America has had a pretty good run the past few quarters, it would be foolish to assume that we’re immune.
What this says is that you really, really shouldn’t let yourself get too close to deflation — you might fall in, and then it’s extremely hard to get out. This is one reason that slashing government spending in a depressed economy is such a bad idea: It’s not just the immediate cost in lost jobs, but the increased risk of getting caught in a deflationary trap.
It’s also a reason to be very cautious about raising interest rates when you have low inflation, even if you don’t think deflation is imminent. Right now serious people — the same serious people who decided, wrongly, that 2010 was the year we should pivot from jobs to deficits — seem to be arriving at a consensus that the Fed should start hiking very soon. But why? There’s no sign of accelerating inflation in the actual data, and market indicators of expected inflation are plunging, suggesting that investors see deflationary risk even if the Fed doesn’t.
And I share that market concern. If the U.S. recovery weakens, either through contagion from troubles abroad or because our own fundamentals aren’t as strong as we think, tightening monetary policy could all too easily prove to be an act of utter folly.
So let’s learn from the Swiss. They’ve been careful; they’ve maintained sound money for generations. And now they’re paying the price.

More here.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

'Switzerland’s One-Day, 18 Percent Currency Rise'

Neil Irwin:

Economic Lessons From Switzerland’s One-Day, 18 Percent Currency Rise: ...It is not every day that the currency of an advanced, economically important country rises by double-digit percentages against the currencies of other such countries within mere hours. But that is what happened to the Swiss franc on Thursday. It is up 18 percent against the euro as of Thursday morning, and at one point was up 39 percent. Currency strategists were searching for any analogue in modern history for a similarly abrupt move in major Western currency and coming up empty.
The Swiss move offers interesting lessons about the oddly precarious state of the global economy, but first it’s worth working through what exactly the Swiss National Bank has done. ...

Friday, December 19, 2014

Paul Krugman: Putin’s Bubble Bursts

The Russian economy is in trouble:

Putin’s Bubble Bursts, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: If you’re the type who finds macho posturing impressive, Vladimir Putin is your kind of guy. Sure enough, many American conservatives seem to have an embarrassing crush on the swaggering strongman. “That is what you call a leader,” enthused Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, after Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine without debate or deliberation.
But Mr. Putin never had the resources to back his swagger. Russia has an economy roughly the same size as Brazil’s. And, as we’re now seeing, it’s highly vulnerable to financial crisis...
For those who haven’t been keeping track: The ruble has been sliding gradually since August, when Mr. Putin openly committed Russian troops to the conflict in Ukraine. A few weeks ago, however, the slide turned into a plunge. Extreme measures ... have done no more than stabilize the ruble far below its previous level. And all indications are that the Russian economy is heading for a nasty recession.
The proximate cause of Russia’s difficulties is, of course, the global plunge in oil prices... And this was bound to inflict serious damage on an economy that ... doesn’t have much besides oil that the rest of the world wants; the sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine conflict have added to the damage. ...
Putin’s Russia is an extreme version of crony capitalism, indeed, a kleptocracy in which loyalists get to skim off vast sums for their personal use. It all looked sustainable as long as oil prices stayed high. But now the bubble has burst, and the very corruption that sustained the Putin regime has left Russia in dire straits.
How does it end? The standard response ... is an International Monetary Fund program that includes emergency loans and forbearance from creditors in return for reform. Obviously that’s not going to happen here, and Russia will try to muddle through on its own, among other things with rules to prevent capital from fleeing the country — a classic case of locking the barn door after the oligarch is gone.
It’s quite a comedown for Mr. Putin. And his swaggering strongman act helped set the stage for the disaster. A more open, accountable regime — one that wouldn’t have impressed Mr. Giuliani so much — would have been less corrupt, would probably have run up less debt, and would have been better placed to ride out falling oil prices. Macho posturing, it turns out, makes for bad economies.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

'The Ruble and the Textbooks'

Paul Krugman:

The Ruble and the Textbooks: OK, this is a bit funny: This morning Tim Duy addresses the woes of the ruble, which is in free fall despite a big rate hike, and declares that it “appears really quite textbook”. Meanwhile Matthew Yglesias says that what Russia is doing is “the textbook approach to handling a currency crisis”, and speculates about why it isn’t working.
I’m with Duy here; not sure if it’s actually in any textbook, but as I explained yesterday, for aficionados of emerging-market currency crises this is all quite familiar. ... When you have big balance-sheet problems involving foreign-currency debt, an interest-rate hike that tries to discourage capital flight damages the economy, and hence those same balance sheets, from another direction, and it’s common, even standard, for the effort to fail. Most notably, tight-money policies were really really unsuccessful during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-8, on which you can read my take here. ...
So Russia isn’t that unusual a story, except for the nukes.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

'Why the Eurozone Suffers from a Germany Problem'

Simon Wren-Lewis:

Why the Eurozone suffers from a Germany problem: When, almost a year ago, Paul Krugman wrote six posts within three days laying into the stance of Germany on the Eurozone’s macroeconomic problems, even I thought that maybe this was a bit too strong, although there was nothing in what he wrote that I disagreed with. Yet as Germany’s stance proved unyielding in the face of the Eurozone’s continued woes, I found myself a couple of months ago doing much the same thing (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)...

I’m not going to review the macroeconomics here. I’m going to take it as read that

1) ECB monetary policy has been far too timid since the Great Recession began, in part because of the influence of its German members.
2) This combined with austerity led to the second Eurozone recession, and austerity continues to be a drag on demand. The leading proponent of that austerity is Germany.
3) Pretty well everyone outside Germany agrees that a Eurozone fiscal stimulus in the form of additional public investment, together with Quantitative Easing (QE) in the form of government debt purchases by the ECB, are required to help quickly end this second recession (see, for example, Guntram Wolff), and the main obstacle to both is the German government.

The question I want to raise is why Germany appears so successful in blocking or delaying these measures. ...

The Eurozone’s current problem arises because one country - Germany - allowed nominal wage growth well below the Eurozone average, which undercut everyone else.... Within a currency union, this is a beggar my neighbour policy.

In other words, as Simon Tilford suggests, Germany is viewed by many in the Eurozone as a model to follow, rather than as a source for their current problems. ... Of course ... Germany may well have many features which other countries might well want to emulate, like high levels of productivity, but the reason why it’s national interest is not currently aligned with other union members is because its inflation rate was too low from 2000 to 2007. That in itself was not a virtue...

It may well come down to the position taken by countries like the Netherlands. They have suffered as much as France... As Giulio Mazzolini and Ashoka Mody note, “For the Netherlands …. less austerity would have been unambiguously better.” Yet until now, politicians in the Netherlands (and the central bank) appear to have taken the German line that this medicine is for their own good. If they can eat a bit of humble pie and support a kind of ‘grand bargain’ that would see fiscal expansion rather than contraction in the Eurozone as a whole, and a comprehensive QE programme by the ECB, then maybe some real progress can be made. Ultimately this is not the Eurozone’s Germany problem, but a problem created by the macroeconomic vision that German policymakers espouse.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

'Making the Case for Keynes'

Peter Temin and David Vines have a new book:

Making the case for Keynes, by Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office: In 1919, when the victors of World War I were concluding their settlement against Germany — in the form of the Treaty of Versailles — one of the leading British representatives at the negotiations angrily resigned his position, believing the debt imposed on the losers would be too harsh. The official, John Maynard Keynes, argued that because Britain had benefitted from export-driven growth, forcing the Germans to spend their money paying back debt rather than buying British products would be counterproductive for everyone, and slow global growth.
Keynes’ argument, outlined in his popular 1919 book, “The Economic Consequences of the Peace,” proved prescient. But Keynes is not primarily regarded as a theorist of international economics: His most influential work, “The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money,” published in 1936, uses the framework of a single country with a closed economy. From that model, Keynes arrived at his famous conclusion that government spending can reduce unemployment by boosting aggregate demand.
But in reality, says Peter Temin, an MIT economic historian, Keynes’ conclusions about demand and employment were long intertwined with his examination of international trade; Keynes was thinking globally, even when modeling locally.
“Keynes was interested in the world economy, not just in a single national economy,” Temin says. Now he is co-author of a new book on the subject, “Keynes: Useful Economics for the World Economy,” written with David Vines, a professor of economics at Oxford University, published this month by MIT Press.
In their book, Temin and Vines make the case that Keynesian deficit spending by governments is necessary to reignite the levels of growth that Europe and the world had come to expect prior to the economic downturn of 2008. But in a historical reversal, they believe that today’s Germany is being unduly harsh toward the debtor states of Europe, forcing other countries to pay off debts made worse by the 2008 crash — and, in turn, preventing them from spending productively, slowing growth and inhibiting a larger continental recovery.
“If you have secular [long-term] stagnation, what you need is expansionary fiscal policy,” says Temin, who is the Elisha Gray II Professor Emeritus of Economics at MIT.
Additional government spending is distinctly not the approach that Europe (and, to a lesser extent, the U.S.) has pursued over the last six years, as political leaders have imposed a wide range of spending cuts — the pursuit of “austerity” as a response to hard times. But Temin thinks it is time for the terms of the spending debate to shift.  
“The hope David and I have is that our simple little book might change people’s minds,” Temin says.
“Sticky” wages were the sticking point
In an effort to do so, the authors outline an intellectual trajectory for Keynes in which he was highly concerned with international, trade-based growth from the early stages of his career until his death in 1946, and in which the single-country policy framework of his “General Theory” was a necessary simplification that actually fits neatly with this global vision.
As Temin and Vines see it, Keynes, from early in his career, and certainly by 1919, had developed an explanation of growth in which technical progress leads to greater productive capacity. This leads businesses in advanced countries to search for international markets in which to sell products; encourages foreign lending of capital; and, eventually, produces greater growth by other countries as well.
“Clearly, Keynes knew that domestic prosperity was critically determined by external conditions,” Temin and Vines write.
Yet as they see it, Keynes had to overcome a crucial sticking point in his thought: As late as 1930, when Keynes served on a major British commission investigating the economy, he was still using an older, neoclassical idea in which all markets reached a sort of equilibrium. 
This notion implies that when jobs were relatively scarce, wages would decline to the point where more people would be employed. Yet this doesn’t quite seem to happen: As economists now recognize, and as Keynes came to realize, wages could be “sticky,” and remain at set levels, for various psychological or political reasons. In order to arrive at the conclusions of the “General Theory,” then, Keynes had to drop the assumption that wages would fluctuate greatly.
“The issue for Keynes was that he knew that if prices were flexible, then if all prices [including wages] could change, then you eventually get back to full employment,” Temin says. “So in order to avoid that, he assumed away all price changes.”
But if wages will not drop, how can we increase employment? For Keynes, the answer was that the whole economy had to grow: There needed to be an increase in aggregate demand, one of the famous conclusions of the “General Theory.” And if private employers cannot or will not spend more money on workers, Keynes thought, then the government should step in and spend.
“Keynes is very common-sense,” Temin says, in “that if you put people to work building roads and bridges, then those people spend money, and that promotes aggregate demand.”
Today, opponents of Keynes argue that such public spending will offset private-sector spending without changing overall demand. But Temin contends that private-sector spending “won’t be offset if those people were going to be unemployed, and would not be spending anything. Given jobs, he notes, “They would spend money, because now they would have money.”
Keynes’ interest in international trade and international economics never vanished, as Temin and Vines see it. Indeed, in the late stages of World War II, Keynes was busy working out proposals that could spur postwar growth within this same intellectual framework — and the International Monetary Fund is one outgrowth of this effort.
History repeating?
“Keynes: Useful Economics for the World Economy” has received advance praise from some prominent scholars. ... Nonetheless, Temin is guarded about the prospect of changing the contemporary austerity paradigm.
“I can’t predict what policy is going to do in the next couple of years,” Temin says. And in the meantime, he thinks, history may be repeating itself, as debtor countries are unable to make capital investments while paying off debt.
Germany has “decided that they are not willing to take any of the capital loss that happened during the crisis,” Temin adds. “The [other] European countries don’t have the resources to pay off these bonds. They’ve had to cut their spending to get the resources to pay off the bonds. If you read the press, you know this hasn’t been working very well.”

Monday, September 08, 2014

Paul Krugman: Scots, What the Heck?

Spain provides a "cautionary tale" for the Scots:

Scots, What the Heck?, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Next week Scotland will hold a referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom. And polling suggests that support for independence has surged..., largely because pro-independence campaigners have managed to reduce the “fear factor” — that is, concern about the economic risks of going it alone. At this point the outcome looks like a tossup.
Well, I have a message for the Scots: Be afraid, be very afraid. The risks of going it alone are huge. You may think that Scotland can become another Canada, but it’s all too likely that it would end up becoming Spain without the sunshine.
Comparing Scotland with Canada seems, at first, pretty reasonable. After all, Canada, like Scotland, is a relatively small economy that does most of its trade with a much larger neighbor. ... And what the Canadian example shows is that this can work. ...
But Canada has its own currency... An independent Scotland wouldn’t. ..: The Scottish independence movement has been very clear that it intends to keep the pound as the national currency. And the combination of political independence with a shared currency is a recipe for disaster. Which is where the cautionary tale of Spain comes in.
If Spain and the other countries that gave up their own currencies to adopt the euro were part of a true federal system..., the recent economic history of Spain would have looked a lot like that of Florida. Both economies experienced a huge housing boom between 2000 and 2007. Both saw that boom turn into a spectacular bust. Both suffered a sharp downturn...
Then, however, the paths diverged. In Florida’s case, most of the fiscal burden of the slump fell not on the local government but on Washington... In effect, Florida received large-scale aid in its time of distress.
Spain, by contrast, bore all the costs of the housing bust on its own. The result ... was a horrific depression... And it wasn’t just Spain, it was all of southern Europe and more. ...
In short, everything that has happened in Europe since 2009 or so has demonstrated that sharing a currency without sharing a government is very dangerous...
I find it mind-boggling that Scotland would consider going down this path after all that has happened in the last few years. If Scottish voters really believe that it’s safe to become a country without a currency, they have been badly misled.

Friday, September 05, 2014

'The British Export Bubble of 1810 and Pegged versus Floating Exchange Rates'

James Narron, David Skeie, and Don Morgan in the NY Fed's Liberty Street Economics blog:

Crisis Chronicles: The British Export Bubble of 1810 and Pegged versus Floating Exchange Rates: In the early 1800s, Napoleon’s plan to defeat Britain was to destroy its ability to trade. The plan, however, was initially foiled. After Britain helped the Portuguese government flee Napoleon in 1807, the Portuguese returned the favor by opening Brazil to British exports—a move that caused trade to boom. In addition, Britain was able to circumvent Napoleon’s continental blockade by means of a North Sea route through the Baltics, which provided continental Europe with a conduit for commodities from the Americas. But when Britain’s trade via the North Sea was interrupted in 1810, the boom ended in crisis. In this edition of Crisis Chronicles, we explore the British Export Bubble of 1810 and ask whether pegged or floating exchange rates are better for an economy. ...

Monday, August 18, 2014

'To RMB or not to RMB? Lessons from Currency History'

Cecchetti & Schoenholtz:

To RMB or not to RMB? Lessons from Currency History: China is the world’s largest trader and (on a purchasing power parity basis) is about to surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy (see chart). China already accounts for about 10% of global trade in goods and services, and over 15% of global economic activity. ...
So, as China takes its place as the biggest economy on the globe, will its currency, the renminbi (RMB), become the most widely used international currency as well? Will the RMB supplant the U.S. dollar as the leading reserve currency held by central bankers and others, or as the safe-haven currency in financial crises? ...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Stiglitz Interview

Joseph Stiglitz Hails New BRICS Bank Challenging U.S.-Dominated World Bank & IMF

Transcript - Part 1

Joseph Stiglitz on TPP, Cracking Down on Corporate Tax Dodgers

Transcript - Part 2

Saturday, March 01, 2014

'Whither the Euro?'

Kevin O'Rourke:

Whither the Euro?, by Kevin O’Rourke: The euro area economy is in a terrible mess.
In December 2013 euro area GDP was still 3 percent lower than in the first quarter of 2008, in stark contrast with the United States, where GDP was 6 percent higher. GDP was 8 percent below its precrisis level in Ireland, 9 percent below in Italy, and 12 percent below in Greece. Euro area unemployment exceeds 12 percent—and is about 16 percent in Portugal, 17 percent in Cyprus, and 27 percent in Spain and Greece.
Europeans are so used to these numbers that they no longer find them shocking, which is profoundly disturbing. These are not minor details, blemishing an otherwise impeccable record, but evidence of a dismal policy failure.
The euro is a bad idea, which was pointed out two decades ago when the currency was being devised. The currency area is too large and diverse—and given the need for periodic real exchange rate adjustments, the anti-inflation mandate of the European Central Bank (ECB) is too restrictive. Labor mobility between member countries is too limited to make migration from bust to boom regions a viable adjustment option. And there are virtually no fiscal mechanisms to transfer resources across regions in the event of shocks that hit parts of the currency area harder than others. ...[more]...

Friday, January 31, 2014

Paul Krugman: Talking Troubled Turkey

Do "we now have a world economy destined to seesaw between bubbles and depression"?:

Talking Troubled Turkey, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: O.K., who ordered that? With everything else going on, the last thing we needed was a new economic crisis in a country already racked by political turmoil. True, the direct global spillovers from Turkey, with its Los Angeles-sized economy, won’t be large. But we’re hearing that dreaded word “contagion”...
It is, in many ways, a familiar story. But that’s part of what makes it so disturbing: Why do we keep having these crises? And here’s the thing: The intervals between crises seem to be getting shorter, and the fallout from each crisis seems to be worse than the last. What’s going on?...
You may or may not have heard that there’s a big debate among economists about whether we face "secular stagnation"..., a situation in which the amount people want to save exceeds the volume of investments worth making.
When that’s true, you have one of two outcomes. If investors are being cautious and prudent, we are collectively, in effect, trying to spend less than our income,... the result is a persistent slump.
Alternatively, flailing investors — frustrated by low returns and desperate for yield — can delude themselves, pouring money into ill-conceived projects, be they subprime lending or capital flows to emerging markets. This can boost the economy for a while, but eventually investors face reality, the money dries up and pain follows.
If this is a good description of our situation, and I believe it is, we now have a world economy destined to seesaw between bubbles and depression. ...
The larger point is that Turkey isn’t really the problem; neither are South Africa, Russia, Hungary, India, and whoever else is getting hit right now. The real problem is that the world’s wealthy economies — the United States, the euro area... — have failed to deal with their own underlying weaknesses. Most obviously, faced with a private sector that wants to save too much and invest too little, we have pursued austerity policies that deepen the forces of depression. Worse yet, all indications are that, by allowing unemployment to fester, we’re depressing our long-run as well as short-run growth prospects, which will depress private investment even more. ...
So Turkey seems to be in serious trouble — and China, a vastly bigger player, is looking a bit shaky, too. But what makes these troubles scary is the underlying weakness of Western economies, a weakness made much worse by really, really bad policies.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

'The Potential Effects of QE on Gross Financial Flows to Developing Countries'

Jamus Jerome Lim (World Bank), Sanket Mohapatra (World Bank), and Marc Stocker (World Bank), at econbrowser:

Guest Contribution: "Understanding the Potential Effects of QE on Gross Financial Flows to Developing Countries": In late November 2008, the Federal Reserve announced the first of a series of unconventional monetary policies---quantitative easing (QE)---which, by the beginning of 2014, had swelled its balance sheet to an unprecedented $4 trillion. Although QE was primarily designed to stimulate the U.S. economy, the program was far from innocuous for developing countries; faced with near-zero returns in the U.S. and other high-income countries (many of which were pursuing unconventional monetary policies of their own), financial capital began searching for alternative sources of yield, for which emerging economies were well-poised to offer.
In a background paper written for the thematic chapter of the recently-released Global Economic Prospects, we probe the question of whether QE had an effect on gross financial flows to developing countries. ...
Our baseline estimates place the lower bound of the effect of QE at around 3 percent of gross financial inflows, for the average developing economy. ... Overall, the effects of unconventional monetary policy, insofar as its impact on gross financial inflows, appears to be measurable and nontrivial. However, to the extent that QE appears to operate primarily via portfolio inflows to the largest emerging markets (rather than FDI), the broader benefits of QE for development finance are more likely to be second-order (relaxing financing constraints for firms able to access bond markets, enhancing liquidity in developing-country financial markets, and promoting overall financial development), and may also be more exposed to the risk of sudden reversals.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

'Is the Euro Crisis Over?'

Paul Krugman:

So is the euro crisis over? No — it’s not over until the debt dynamics sing, or perhaps until the debt dynamics sing a duet with internal devaluation. We have yet to see any of the crisis countries reach a point where falling relative wages are generating a clear export-led recovery, or in which austerity is actually paying off in falling debt burdens.
But as a europessimist, I do have to admit that it’s now possible to see how this could work. The cost — economic, human, and political — will be huge. And the whole thing could still break down. But the ECB’s willingness to step up and do its job has given Europe some breathing room.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Paul Krugman: The Money Trap

Is the euro holding Europe together or pulling it apart?:

The Money Trap, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ... Not long ago, European officials were declaring that the Continent had turned the corner... But now ... the specter of deflation looms over much of Europe ... and last week the E.C.B. cut interest rates..., but the E.C.B.’s action will surely make, at best, a marginal difference. Still, it was a move in the right direction.
Yet the move was hugely controversial... And the controversy took an ominous form, at least for anyone who remembers Europe’s terrible history. For arguments over European monetary policy aren’t just a battle of ideas; increasingly, they sound like a battle of nations, too.
For example, who voted against the rate cut? Both German members of the E.C.B. board, joined by the leaders of the Dutch and Austrian central banks. Who, outside the E.C.B., was harshest in criticizing the action? German economists, who made a point not just of attacking the substance of the bank’s action but of emphasizing the nationality of Mario Draghi, the bank’s president, who is Italian. ...
What’s scary here is the way this is turning into the Teutons versus the Latins, with the euro — which was supposed to bring Europe together — pulling it apart instead.
What’s going on? Some of it is national stereotyping: the German public is eternally vigilant against the prospect that those lazy southern Europeans are going to make off with its hard-earned money. But there’s also a real issue here. Germans just hate inflation, but if the E.C.B. succeeds in getting average European inflation back up to around 2 percent, it will push inflation in Germany — which is booming even as other European nations suffer Depression-like levels of unemployment — substantially higher than that, maybe to 3 percent or more.
This may sound bad, but it’s how the euro is supposed to work. In fact, it’s the way it has to work. If you’re going to share a currency with other countries, sometimes you’re going to have above-average inflation. ...
The truly sad thing is that, as I said, the euro was supposed to bring Europe together, in ways both substantive and symbolic. It was supposed to encourage closer economic ties, even as it fostered a sense of shared identity. What we’re getting instead, however, is a climate of anger and disdain on the part of both creditors and debtors. And the end is still nowhere in sight.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Paul Krugman: Those Depressing Germans

Why won't policymakers "around the world to face up to the nature of our economic problems"?:

Those Depressing Germans, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: German officials are furious at America, and not just because of the business about Angela Merkel’s cellphone. What has them enraged now is one (long) paragraph in a U.S. Treasury report... In that paragraph Treasury argues that Germany’s huge surplus on current account — a broad measure of the trade balance — is harmful, creating “a deflationary bias for the euro area, as well as for the world economy.”
The Germans angrily pronounced this argument “incomprehensible.” “There are no imbalances in Germany which require a correction of our growth-friendly economic and fiscal policy,” declared a spokesman for the nation’s finance ministry.
But Treasury was right, and the German reaction was disturbing. For one thing, it was an indicator of the continuing refusal of policy makers in Germany, in Europe ... and around the world to face up to the nature of our economic problems. For another, it demonstrated Germany’s unfortunate tendency to respond to any criticism of its economic policies with cries of victimization. ...
Five years after the fall of Lehman, the world economy is still depressed, suffering from a persistent shortage of demand. In this environment, a country that runs a trade surplus is, to use the old phrase, beggaring its neighbors. It’s diverting spending away from their goods and services to its own, and thereby taking away jobs. ...
Furthermore,... Germany ... shares a currency with its neighbors, greatly benefiting German exporters, who get to price their goods in a weak euro instead of what would surely have been a soaring Deutsche mark. Yet Germany has failed to deliver on its side of the bargain: To avoid a European depression, it needed to spend more as its neighbors were forced to spend less, and it hasn’t done that.
German officials won’t, of course, accept any of this. They consider their country a shining role model,... and the awkward fact that we can’t all run gigantic trade surpluses simply doesn’t register.
And the thing is, it’s not just the Germans. Germany’s trade surplus is damaging for the same reason cutting food stamps and unemployment benefits in America destroys jobs — and Republican politicians are about as receptive as German officials to anyone who tries to point out their error. In the sixth year of a global economic crisis whose essence is that there isn’t enough spending, many policy makers still don’t get it. And it looks as if they never will.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

'A Very Expensive Tea Party'

Simon Johnson:

A Very Expensive Tea Party, by Simon Johnson, Commentary, NY Times: The recent government shutdown and confrontation over the federal debt ceiling gained the Republicans nothing,... – and may have cost them politically... But it slowed the economy and undermined confidence in public finances in a way that will have a significant negative impact on future budgets of the United States. None of this should make for an appealing strategy, but Tea Party Republicans are giving every indication that they want to do the same thing again early next year. Their more moderate colleagues need to take a firmer hand.
On the political gains from recent tactics, it is hard to find any good news for the Republican side as a whole. ...
The shutdown and debt ceiling brinkmanship did real damage to the economy. ... 
Members of the Tea Party movement express concern about the longer-run federal budget... But their tactics are directly worsening the budget over exactly the time horizon that they say they care about. ...
The major long-term issue the United States faces is rising health-care costs..., but an important part of our projected future deficits is interest costs...
The United States dollar is the world’s primary reserve currency and safe haven; the asset that major investors, such as central banks and big international companies, actually buy is United States Treasury debt. ...
Over a longer period of time, of course, investors get the message: United States Treasury debt is not so safe... Unwittingly and perhaps inadvertently, the Tea Party is helping to fulfill the prophecies of ... Arvind Subramanian, who has long predicted that the renminbi will eclipse the dollar... Speeding up such a transition will directly increase the interest cost of the national debt and exactly run counter to what Tea Party representatives claim they want to do. ...
In the American system,... the ... only force that can rein in Tea Party extremism – and get the nation off the road to fiscal ruin – is resurgence among Republican moderates. Unfortunately, their recent performance has not been impressive.

Monday, October 21, 2013

American Debt, Chinese Anxiety

Menzie Chinn:

American Debt, Chinese Anxiety, by Menzie Chinn, Commentary, NY Times: Last week, the United States once again walked up to the precipice of a debt default, and once again the world wonders why any country, much less the world’s largest economy, would endanger its financial reputation and thus its ability to borrow.
Though a potential global financial crisis was averted at the last minute, one notable development has been a string of warnings by Chinese officials. ...
These statements, unusually blunt coming from the Chinese, show that repeated, avoidable crises threaten the privileged position of the U.S. as issuer of the world’s main reserve currency and (until now) risk-free debt.
It is unlikely that China would provoke a sudden, international financial calamity — for instance, by unloading U.S. Treasury securities and other government debt. Nonetheless, the process of repeated crises and temporary reprieves will only solidify the Chinese government’s determination to diversify its holdings away from dollar-denominated assets. Moreover, these crises provide ammunition to advocates within the Chinese government for expanding the role of the renminbi in international markets. Both of these trends will erode the ability of the United States to issue debt at super-low interest rates, and accelerate the ascent of China’s currency. ...[more]...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

'Do Currency Regimes Matter?'

On the road and out and about today, so -- for now -- just a quick one from Paul Krugman responding to Antonio Fatas (some of Krugman's supporting evidence has been omitted):

Do Currency Regimes Matter?: Antonio Fatas, citing new work by Andy Rose (pdf), suggests that currency regimes don’t really matter — in particular that membership in the euro has not really been a special problem for peripheral countries.
Challenging preconceptions is always good, and this is a serious debate. I am still, however, very much on the other side. I’d argue two points.
First, nominal wage stickiness — the key argument for the virtues of floating exchange rates — is an overwhelmingly demonstrated fact. Rose doesn’t offer reasons why this doesn’t matter; he just offers a reduced-form relationship between currency regimes and economic performance, and fails to find a significant effect. Is this because there really is no effect, or because his tests lack power?
Second, there is the very striking empirical observation that debt levels matter much less for countries with their own currency than for those without. ... Indeed: debt only seems to matter for euro nations.
So I don’t buy the notion that the currency regime is irrelevant. But clearly the Rose results need to be taken seriously, and we have to figure out why he finds what he does.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

'Impatience With I.M.F. Is Growing'

Developing countries are unhappy with the IMF:

Impatience With I.M.F. Is Growing, by Reuters: Emerging market countries complained on Saturday about the plodding progress in giving them more power at the International Monetary Fund. The global lender, after its annual meetings this past weekend, failed to meet a deadline originally self-imposed for 2012 to make historic changes meant to give emerging nations a greater say. ...
The delay on changes first agreed to in 2010 also pushes off even more difficult decisions about how to reform the I.M.F., which is still dominated by the nations that founded the organization after World War II.
The 2010 changes have been held up because the United States, the fund’s biggest and most powerful member, has not ratified them and prospects for action before the end of the year are slim due to gridlock in the U.S. Congress. ...
The next round of voting changes may involve even more give and take, as I.M.F. member countries wrangle over the specifics of an elaborate formula that determines the voting power of each country, how much it must contribute to the Fund and what it can borrow. ...
The I.M.F. said it planned to finalize a formula by January... But ... another deadline is likely to slip by. The revision of the formula is intended to further reflect the rise of China, Brazil and other large emerging market economies...

Joe Stiglitz in 2006:

... As the IMF has increasingly lectured others about the importance of governance, problems in its own political legitimacy have increasingly impaired its efficacy. Granting more voting powers to China and a few other countries that are under represented is a step in the right direction. But even the IMF recognizes that it is only the first step. Critics point out that these changes are unlikely to have much effect on its decisions, and they worry that having granted the most powerful of the underrepresented more voting power, the drive for further reform will weaken.
That would be a shame. The U.S. still is the only country with veto power. The choice of the heads of both the IMF and the World Bank make a mockery of legitimate democratic governance. Neither asks who is most qualified, regardless of race, color, nationality. The American president appoints the head of the World Bank and Europe chooses the head of the IMF. The recent selection of the head of the World Bank highlighted the problems.
The IMF’s new focus on global imbalances is also a step in the right direction. ... The IMF should have long been focusing on such issues—its real mandate—rather than on development and the transition from Communism to the market economy, areas that are clearly not within its core competence, and where its policies were often badly misguided. ...

Friday, September 06, 2013

'The Euro Counterfactual'

Antonio Fatas is "skeptical that we can that quickly conclude that the Euro was a failed experiment and that life without the Euro would have been better":

The Euro counterfactual, by Antonio Fatas: Since the financial crisis started we have heard many commentators telling the Euro countries: "I told you so, this was a very bad idea". The argument is that the Euro area is not an optimal currency area - a jargon used by economists to argue that the costs of having a single currency are larger than its benefits. While until 2008 things have looked fine, the crisis is the real test for the Euro area and it has failed. And it has failed because of what any standard macroeconomics textbook tells you: that once you give up your exchange rate you lose a stabilization tool and when a crisis that is asymmetric in nature comes along you suffer a prolonged crisis as the only way out is to let prices and wages fall (internal devaluation), a painful and inefficient process.
In a recent post, Paul Krugman reminds us once again of these arguments by comparing Ireland during the current crisis to Thailand or Indonesia during the Asian crisis. His argument is that the Asian economies recovered quite fast from their crisis while Ireland has not (and Greece has not even started any recovery). As Kevin O'Rourke puts it, Ireland looks like Thailand without the Baht.
The arguments seem solid and the evidence strong but I am somehow skeptical that we can that quickly conclude that the Euro was a failed experiment and that life without the Euro would have been better (and maybe I am reading too much into those posts and they are not really going that far in their statements). 
What one wants to do is build a counterfactual: where would Greece or Spain or Ireland be if they had never joined the Euro? What would their currency have done for them before and after the 2008 crisis? Unfortunately we cannot build such counterfactual so the best we can do is to look for similar examples (such as Thailand during the Asian crisis). But let me argue that if one extends the set of examples and anecdotes some of the data does not speak that clearly against the Euro. ...[more]...

Friday, August 30, 2013

Paul Krugman: The Unsaved World

How worried should we be about recent declines in emerging-market currencies?:

The Unsaved World, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: The rupiah is falling! Head for the hills! On second thought, keep calm and carry on.
In case you’re wondering, the rupiah is the national currency of Indonesia... The thing is, the last big rupiah plunge was in 1997-98, when Indonesia was the epicenter of an Asian financial crisis. In retrospect, that crisis was a sort of dress rehearsal for the much bigger crisis that engulfed the advanced world a decade later. So should we be terrified about Asia all over again?
I don’t think so... Consider, for example, the worst-case nation during each crisis: Indonesia then, Greece now.
Indonesia’s slump, which saw the economy contract 13 percent in 1998, was a terrible thing. But a solid recovery was under way by 2000. By 2003, Indonesia’s economy had passed its precrisis peak; as of last year, it was 72 percent larger than it was in 1997.
Now compare this with Greece, where output is down more than 20 percent since 2007 and is still falling fast. Nobody knows when recovery will begin, and my guess is that few observers expect to see the Greek economy recover to precrisis levels this decade.
Why are things so much worse this time? One answer is that Indonesia had its own currency, and the slide in the rupiah was, eventually, a very good thing. Meanwhile, Greece is trapped in the euro. In addition, however, policy makers were more flexible in the ’90s than they are today. The International Monetary Fund initially demanded tough austerity policies in Asia, but it soon reversed course. This time, the demands placed on Greece and other debtors have been relentlessly harsh, and the more austerity fails, the more bloodletting is demanded.
So, is Asia next? Probably not. Indonesia has a much lower level of foreign debt ... than it did in the 1990s. India, which also has a sliding currency that worries many observers, has even lower debt. So a repetition of the ’90s crisis, let alone a Greek-style never-ending crisis, seems unlikely.
What about China? Well, as I recently explained, I’m very worried, but for entirely different reasons...
But let’s be clear: Even if we are spared the spectacle of yet another region plunged into depression, the fact remains that the people who congratulated themselves for saving the world in 1999 were actually setting the world up for a far worse crisis, just a few years later.

 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Stiglitz: Globalization and Taxes

Joe Stiglitz on tax avoidance by companies such as Apple and Google:

Globalisation isn't just about profits. It's about taxes too: ... Apple, like Google, has benefited enormously from what the US and other western governments provide: highly educated workers trained in universities that are supported both directly by government and indirectly (through generous charitable deductions). The basic research on which their products rest was paid for by taxpayer-supported developments – the internet, without which they couldn't exist. Their prosperity depends in part on our legal system – including strong enforcement of intellectual property rights; they asked (and got) government to force countries around the world to adopt our standards, in some cases, at great costs to the lives and development of those in emerging markets and developing countries. Yes, they brought genius and organizational skills, for which they justly receive kudos. But while Newton was at least modest enough to note that he stood on the shoulders of giants, these titans of industry have no compunction about being free riders, taking generously from the benefits afforded by our system, but not willing to contribute commensurately. Without public support, the wellspring from which future innovation and growth will come will dry up – not to say what will happen to our increasingly divided society. ...
To say that Apple or Google simply took advantage of the current system is to let them off the hook too easily: the system didn't just come into being on its own. It was shaped from the start by lobbyists from large multinationals. Companies like General Electric lobbied for, and got, provisions that enabled them to avoid even more taxes. They lobbied for, and got, amnesty provisions that allowed them to bring their money back to the US at a special low rate, on the promise that the money would be invested in the country; and then they figured out how to comply with the letter of the law, while avoiding the spirit and intention. If Apple and Google stand for the opportunities afforded by globalization, their attitudes towards tax avoidance have made them emblematic of what can, and is, going wrong with that system.

Much more here.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

INET Hong Kong: The RMB and the Future of Asian Finance

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

'Cyprus should Leave the Euro'

Paul Krugman says, politics aside:

Cyprus should leave the euro. Now.

More here.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Paul Krugman: Hot Money Blues

The end of an era:

Hot Money Blues, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Whatever the final outcome in the Cyprus crisis — we know it’s going to be ugly; we just don’t know exactly what form the ugliness will take — one thing seems certain:... the island nation will have to maintain fairly draconian controls on the movement of capital in and out of the country. ... And ... Cypriot capital controls may well have the blessing of the International Monetary Fund, which has already supported such controls in Iceland.
That’s quite a remarkable development. It will mark the end of an era ... when unrestricted movement of capital was taken as a desirable norm around the world. ... To some extent this reflected the ... rise of free-market ideology, the assumption that if financial markets want to move money across borders, there must be a good reason, and bureaucrats shouldn’t stand in their way. ...
But the truth, hard as it may be for ideologues to accept, is that unrestricted movement of capital is looking more and more like a failed experiment.
It’s hard to imagine now, but for more than three decades after World War II financial crises of the kind we’ve lately become so familiar with hardly ever happened. Since 1980, however, the roster has been impressive: Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Chile in 1982. Sweden and Finland in 1991. Mexico again in 1995. Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea in 1998. Argentina again in 2002. And, of course...: Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Cyprus.
What’s the common theme...? Conventional wisdom blames fiscal profligacy — but ... that story fits only one country, Greece. Runaway bankers are a better story... But the best predictor of crisis is large inflows of foreign money: in all but a couple of the cases I just mentioned, the foundation for crisis was laid by a rush of foreign investors into a country, followed by a sudden rush out. ...
Now what? I don’t expect to see a wholesale, sudden rejection of the idea that money should be free to go wherever it wants, whenever it wants. There may well, however, be a process of erosion, as governments intervene to limit both the pace at which money comes in and the rate at which it goes out. Global capitalism is, arguably, on track to become substantially less global.
And that’s O.K. Right now, the bad old days when it wasn’t that easy to move lots of money across borders are looking pretty good.