Category Archive for: International Finance [Return to Main]

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.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

'Cyprus Set to Reject Bailout'

This is from Francesco Saraceno, "an Italian born economist working in France": 

Cyprus. Been There, Seen That: A small country is on the verge of bankruptcy. It is so small that the amount of money needed to save it (17bn euros) amounts to less than 0.12 per cent of the eurozone GDP (no typos here. It is around 30 euros per European citizen).
Been there, seen that. Just three years ago in another small country, Greece. At the time, procrastination, self interest, ineptitude, unpreparedness, made the small problem become huge. And we are all still paying the bill. The Greek crisis management was so successful that our leaders are happily embarking in the same dynamics: improvised, dangerous, half-baked solutions, supposedly designed to avoid free riding (the protestant syndrome, once again) and in fact destabilizing the whole system.
There is no need for me to repeat what has been understood everywhere except, as usual, in Berlin, Frankfurt and Brussels...
Here I just want to cite a few paragraphs from an excellent piece by Nick Malkoutzis...
There is really very little to add to this. Except maybe that Nick Malkoutzis is even too nice to Germany. It is interesting to notice that most of the time, in battered countries, Germany’s banks are among the top creditors. In this particular case, the exposure of German banks is 5.8 billions, exactly the amount that the tax should levy. Certainly a coincidence, but still…
I remember, a few years back, Joe Stiglitz accusing the IMF and the American treasury of imposing unnecessary austerity to crisis countries, in Latin America and in East Asia, with the objective to buy time for their banks to minimize their losses (or often times to cash their profits). The resemblance with the current situation in Europe, is worrisome. Very.

The latest:

Cyprus Set to Reject Bailout, Citing Tax on Bank Deposits: Cyprus’s Parliament is likely to reject an international bailout package that involves taxing ordinary depositors to pay part of the bill, President Nicos Anastasiades said Tuesday, despite a revision that would remove some objections by exempting small bank accounts from the levies. ...
Should the measure fail in Parliament, Mr. Anastasiades and his E.U. partners would have to return to the negotiating table. Analysts have also raised the possibility of bank runs and a halt in liquidity to Cypriot banks from the European Central Bank if the measure did not pass.
The bailout plan, negotiated over the weekend, has aroused harsh criticism in many quarters for its unprecedented inclusion of ordinary bank depositors — including those with insured accounts — among those who would have to bear part of the cost. ...
The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, said Tuesday she was in favor of modifying the agreement to put a lower burden on ordinary depositors. ... She urged leaders in Cyprus to quickly approve the plan... She complained that critics have not recognized how much the agreement will force Cyprus banks to restructure and become healthier. ...

Monday, March 18, 2013

Financial Markets Haven’t Freaked Out over Cyprus (Yet?)

Neil Irwin with the latest on Cyprus:

Financial markets haven’t freaked out over Cyprus. That doesn’t mean we’re in the clear, by Neil Irwin: First the good news: Financial markets have been relatively stable ... over international authorities’ decision to force losses on those with deposits in Cyprus’s banks. ... [There are] signs of an adverse market reaction to the weekend’s news — but not evidence that a broader run on Europe is underway. ...
The modest declines in financial markets Monday are a sign that global investors are betting  that the losses being forced upon Cypriot bank deposits will be a one-off situation, and not form a precedent for future aid to banks in Greece, Spain, Portugal and beyond. ...
After outcry from the people of Cyprus and anyone who cares about financial markets and worries about the implications of a government suddenly seizing a chunk of the money people kept in supposedly safe bank accounts, the terms of the rescue deal were being renegotiated Monday. The most likely outcome is a new deal that protects Cypriots’ deposits up to 100,000 euros, though details were murky Monday. ...
 The international negotiators ... are right that they have principle on their side. It is unfair for the rest of the world to come to the rescue of Cyprus at a time when the Russian oligarchs who have used the country’s banking system to squirrel away money pay nothing. But sometimes it’s better to have a policy that is unfair than one that is destructive. Europe has spent the past three years trying to persuade global investors and ordinary citizens that their money is safe in European banks. They had finally succeeded in the last several months. But the punitive approach to depositors in Cyprus throws that success into new question. ...

See also his discussion in the article about “Deauville,” and the delayed reaction of financial markets to this somewhat similar event. His point is that despite today's relatively calm reaction, we are not yet in the clear.

European policy seems to follow a common path. There is some sort of crisis that results in one group or another having to take a large loss, and the moralizing and fighting over who that should be leads to brinksmanship until, just before things really fall apart, someone steps in with a temporary, kick-the can down the road fix of some sort. This is starting to look similar -- I hope -- but one of these times they are going to misjudge where the brink actually is.

Fed Watch: The War on Common Sense Continues

Tim Duy:

The War on Common Sense Continues, by Time Duy: This weekend, European policymakers opened up a new front in their ongoing war on common sense. The details of the Cyprus bailout included a bail-in of bank depositors, small and large alike. As should have been expected, chaos ensued as Cypriots rushed to ATMs in a desperate attempt to withdraw their savings, the initial stages of what is likely to become a run on the nation's banks. Shocking, I know. Who could have predicted that the populous would react poorly to an assault on depositors?

Everyone. Everyone would have predicted this. Everyone except, apparently, European policymakers.

The situation remains fluid, with even the final hit to depositors still unknown. The Financial Times is reporting that authorities are considering altering the plan to shift the burden on the tax away from smaller depositors. Moreover, at this point it is not clear is the parliment will concede to the measures despite a last minute push by ECB officials to affirm the deal before markets open Monday. And the impact on other nations in the European periphery remains unknown.

At this point, I would imagine the damage is done, regardless of any modification of the plan. Cypriots know that their savings are now on the bargaining table. To be sure, there will be repeated reassurances that this is a one-off event, but how trustworthy are such assurances? Indeed, if Greece is any example, this will not be the last bailout, and thus plenty of time for the European policymakers to insist on another bite at the apple. Perhaps if authorities completely backtrack on the plan could they stave off a bank run, but even on that I am not confident. Trust is easy to lose and hard to earn.

The bigger question is what does this mean for the European financial system as a whole? Will depositors across the Eurozone view Cyprus as a unique situation? Or will Greek citizens come to believe that the next tranche of bailout funds might come with a new conditions to shore up government finances? Will taxes on deposits be an element of any future bailouts? If so, Italian and Spanish depositors might come to view their mattresses as safer than the bank.

Perhaps expectations of a broader bank run are premature. Early reports from Spain claim that no such run is in the making (of course, what else would they say?). But I suspect this is still a game-changing event, sure to make the financial system more unstable by aggravating the negative feedback loop that surrounds financial crises. What else could be the case when you remove a basic safeguard against panic in the banking system?

I can only sample the amazing amount of excellent commentary in response to this new development. Frances Coppola, in a must read piece, explains the economic consequences:

The effect of large and small depositors removing funds on that scale will be a brutal economic downturn as the money supply collapses. In particular, the dominant financial sector will suffer a severe contraction, putting thousands of jobs at risk and paralysing lending to Cypriot households and businesses. And that is IN ADDITION to the estimated 4.5% economic contraction that is already happening due to austerity measures imposed on Cyprus in 2012 to reduce its fiscal deficit, and the further measures required in this bailout.

Yes, exactly how will this help Cyprus emerge from their recesssion? If you guessed "it won't," you are correct. But expect European policymakerst to drone on about how their plan will restore confidence in the economy of Cyprus. Coppola also bemoans the culpability in the ECB:

The FT confirms the ECB's role in forcing through the deal. It says the ECB threatened to stop providing liquidity to Laiki, Cyprus's second-biggest bank, which would have caused an immediate disorderly collapse. I have written previously about the ECB's disgraceful behaviour. This is the worst example yet.

Just two weeks ago I implored the ECB not to do anything stupid. They didn't listen.

Like me, Karl Whelan is challenged to see that this was a good choice:

Even if we get through the next week without panic, my gut feeling is that this decision is a bad one and the Europeans should have chosen from the other two options on the table. Over the longer-term, I doubt if financial stability in the euro area (and the continued existence of the euro) is compatible with a policy framework that doesn’t protect the savings of ordinary depositors.

Nick Rowe points out that savers in Cyprus are suffering disproportionately because they lack the ability to print their own currency:

The difference is that inflation from printing too much money is a tax on currency too. Cyprus cannot tax currency; it can only tax bank deposits.

Joseph Cotterill (another must read piece), identifies the reason to spread the pain to small depositors:

The spin that this is about spanking money-launderers is rubbish. The 9.9 per cent levy will be the cost of doing business for the average CIS corporate shell, as Pawelmorski notes. More to the point, someone clearly balked at increasing the rate above 10 per cent for big-ticket depositors — because why else distribute pain to small holders to make up for it. Someone has an eye on Cyprus somehow maintaining a future as an offshore banking centre.

Too big a hit to large depositors would end any hope that Cyprus could hold onto its biggest industry. The anonymously penned Some of it Was True blog wonders if there are any rules in European finance:

Probably of more lasting importance is the latest bout of rule-changing by the authorities. Debt unwindings are generally well-defined in law. First equity, then sub debt, then deposits and senior bonds together, and all treated equally. Most of these principles have been tweaked over the last few years, but the tweaks are getting steadily more aggressive. The ECB, holders of Athens-law and foreign law Greek debt all got different treatment; the Dutch didn’t restructure SNS Reeal paper, they confiscated it; the Irish banned lawsuits against the ultimate wind-down of Anglo Irish. This is scratching the surface compared with the rule-changes of the past but it’s getting steadily more creative.The referee has gone from being quasi-neutral arbiter, to pulling off his black shirt to reveal a Manchester United one underneath and awarding himself a series of penalties. While there’s clearly no point in market participants playing the shocked blushing virgin in the face of a situation where the consequences of following the legally-logical steps are socially unacceptable, the uncertainty generated creates costs too.

Edward Harrison (yet another must read) takes a fatalistic view of the news:

It was inevitable that we would be in crisis again. The austerity world view of crisis resolution is completely at odds with the capacity of the euro zone’s institutional architecture to handle a crisis. And so, we keep doubling down on the same policy of austerity in exchange for reforms which has created the downward spiral to begin with. I wish I could be optimistic here. But I think it is going to get worse. I hope I’m wrong. And I certainly hope that periphery depositors still have enough faith in the euro to ride this one out. If the Cyprus panic metastasizes, it will get ugly.

Peter Siegel at the FT places the blame on the Germans:

Unbeknown to the Cypriot delegation members as they entered the hulking Justus Lipsius summit building in Brussels on Friday night, their fate was already sealed: their German counterparts wanted about €7bn for the estimated €17bn bailout of their country to come from deposits in the country’s banks.

“They were hand in hand with Finns, who were much more dogmatic,” said one senior eurozone official involved in the 10-hour marathon talks that stretched until 3am on Saturday morning. “Had that not happened, full bail-in,” the official added, using the terminology for wiping out nearly all Cypriot bank accounts.

Felix Salmon see the German influence as bad for Euope and Germany itself:

The Cypriot parliament is probably not going to revolt this weekend, but any politician who votes for this bill is going to have a very, very hard time getting re-elected. This decision is important not only because of the precedent it sets with regard to bank depositors, but also because of the way in which it points up just how powerless all the Mediterranean countries (plus Ireland) have become. More than ever before, it’s Germany’s Europe. That’s bad for Cyprus — and it’s not even particularly good for Germany.

For their part, the Germans deny responsibilty for actions against small depositors:

"It was the position of the German government and the International Monetary Fund that we must get a considerable part of the funds that are necessary for restructuring the banks from the banks owners and creditors - that means the investors," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told public broadcaster ARD in an interview.

"But we would obviously have respected the deposit guarantee for accounts up to 100,000," he said. "But those who did not want a bail-in were the Cypriot government, also the European Commission and the ECB, they decided on this solution and they now must explain this to the Cypriot people."

Bottom Line: In the short-run, the implications for the European periphery might be limited. But, in the long-run, it is hard to see the assault on Cypriot depositors as anything but a step backwards for financial stability in Europe. This crisis remains far from over.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

'The Cypriot Haircut'

Next week could be fun for economists in search of natural experiments -- will there be a large bank run? -- but not so fun for Europeans:

The Cypriot Haircut, by Paul Krugman: ... With all the problems in Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal I wasn’t watching Cyprus. But that’s where the big euro news is this weekend; in return for a bailout, Cyprus is supposed to impose a large haircut — that is, loss — on all depositors in its banks.
You can sort of see why they’re doing this: Cyprus is a money haven, especially for the assets of Russian beeznessmen; this means that it has a hugely oversized banking sector (think Iceland) and that a haircut-free bailout would be seen as a bailout, not just of Cyprus, but of Russians of, let’s say, uncertain probity and moral character. ...
The big problem, however, is that it’s not just large foreign deposits that are taking a haircut; the haircut on small domestic deposits is a bit smaller, but still substantial. It’s as if the Europeans are holding up a neon sign, written in Greek and Italian, saying “time to stage a run on your banks!”
Tomorrow and the days immediately following should be very interesting.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Fed Watch: ECB Should Pledge to Not Do Anything Stupid

Tim Duy:

ECB Should Pledge to Not Do Anything Stupid, by Tim Duy: Market participants were rattled today by the election news out of Italy, as it looks like the economically-challenged nation is now politically adrift. But what exactly might worry investors? I pulled this quote from Bloomberg:

“We don’t want to see more chaos out of Europe,” Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at the private-banking unit of KeyCorp in Cleveland, said in a phone interview. His firm oversees more than $20 billion. “Any question about whether or not Italy would be committed to austerity measures after the elections gets investors concerned.”

Why should we be concerned that Italy backslides on its commitment to austerity? After all, evidence of the economic damage wrought by such policies continues to mount. If anything, a reversal of recent austerity should be welcome.

I suspect, however, that it is not the austerity that worries market participants. It is the fear that European Central Bank head Mario Draghi will threaten to pull his pledge to do whatever is takes to save the Euro in the face of Italian intransigence. The fear that European policymakers are about to partake in another grand game of chicken that once again will bring the sustainability of the single currency back into question. In short, I think that market participants fear tight monetary policy much more than loose fiscal policy.

I am very much hoping that the ECB will keep calm and not do anything that encourages market participants to once again doubt the central bank's commitment to the Euro. Otherwise, this spring and summer will look much like last year's. And the year before that. And the year before that.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fed Watch: Another Entry on The Currency Wars

Tim Duy:

Another Entry on The Currency Wars, by Tim Duy: Regarding the never-ending debate on the the currency wars, Greg Ip adds an important point:

..these conventional and unconventional actions work the same way: by lowering the real (inflation-adjusted) interest rate, they stimulate domestic demand and consumption...This pushes the exchange rate down in two ways. First, a lower interest rate reduces a currency’s relative expected return...Second, higher inflation reduces a currency’s real value and thus ought to lead to depreciation. But higher inflation also erodes the competitive benefit of the lower exchange rate, offsetting any positive impact on trade.

If this were the end of the story, the currency warriors would have a point. But it isn’t. The whole point of lowering real interest rates is to stimulate consumption and investment which ordinarily leads to higher, not lower, imports. If this is done in conjunction with looser fiscal policy (as is now the case in Japan), the boost to imports is even stronger. Thus, QE’s impact on its trading partners may be positive or negative..The point is that this is not a zero sum game; QE raises a country’s GDP by more than any improvement in the trade balance.

The Federal Reserve is generally considered the first offender in the currency wars, yet it is often forgotten that the vast majority of the Dollar's real depreciation occurred prior to the recession:


To be sure the Dollar took a hit after the first round of quantitative easing, but that was a positive policy outcome for all as the calming of financial markets eased the rush to the safety of the US currency. On average, since the beginning of 2008 there has been little change in the real value of the Dollar, despite the massive expansion of the Fed's balance sheet.
Also note that by stabilizing the US (and global economies), the Fed contributed to a stabilization of the US current account balance:


All of the improvement in the current account balance occurred prior to the Fed's expansion of the balance sheet, largely due to collapsing global trade. And the subsequent period was one of generally declining real government spending; a more stimulative policy would likely have supported more imports such that trade remained an even greater drag on the economy.

In short, the Federal Reserve did not pursue a "beggar-thy-neighbor" policy. The Federal Reserve actually stabilized the Dollar's value, calmed global financial markets, made a positive contribution to international trade, and stabilized the US current account balance. Sounds like a net win across the board.

Separately, I see that Japanese policymakers continue to make the same mistake of needlessly antagonizing their trading partners. From Bloomberg:

The yen fell after Kazumasa Iwata, a potential candidate to become the next central bank head, signaled the currency has scope to depreciate further and data showed Japan’s gross domestic unexpectedly shrank...Iwata, a former deputy governor at the BOJ, said in a statement the price goal can’t be reached without a correction in the yen’s strength. The yen at 90 to 100 per dollar marks a return to equilibrium, he said.

While there are voices in Japan arguing that the Yen's depreciation is simply a side-effect of domestic policies, it is tough for other nations to buy that story when prominent current, former and potentially future policymakers repeatedly put numbers on the appropriate value of the Yen. They would be better off with some noncommittal statement about currency values being driven by economic fundamentals, with only one spokesperson for the currency. Trying to convince Japanese policymakers to not talk about the value of the Yen, however, is generally about as productive as trying to convince the sky not to be blue.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Fed Watch: Currency Wars Over Before They Begin?

Two from Tim Duy -- this is the first:

Currency Wars Over Before They Begin?, by Tim Duy: Are the currency wars already over? From Reuters:

The finance minister's [Taro Aso] comments indicate some surprise within the government at how quickly those expectations among traders translated into declines in the yen.

"It seems that the government's policies have fueled expectations and the yen weakened more than we intended in the move to around 90 from 78," Aso told lawmakers in the lower house budget committee.

Surprise, when you tell market participants exactly what you intend to do, they react accordingly. Market participants received a strong signal that Japanese monetary and fiscal policy would be joined to deliver a significant boost to the economy. The early exit, some might say forced exit, of Bank of Japan Governor Misaaki Shirikawa, clearing away an impediment to such plans, only further entrenched expectations. And market participants delivered accordingly:


Apparently this was too far, too fast? Was it concerns about the price of imported energy goods? Or international pressure? Still from Reuters:

Recently, Aso has reacted strongly to criticism from German and other European officials that Japan is intentionally trying to weaken its currency with monetary easing, so his comments on Friday could cause some confusion about Japan's currency policy.

I continue to think that Japan made a significant tactical error when outlining their policy objectives. A substantial monetary easing that accomplished the objective of driving up inflation expectations in and of itself would be expected to depreciate the Yen. Japanese policymakers could have framed the policy as simply supporting the domestic economy similar to the approach initiated by the Federal Reserve. The impact on the Yen itself could have been implicit rather than explicit. Instead, by making the Yen a part of the discussion at the beginning, Japanese policymakers angered their international partners. I tend to think this was an unnecessary and ultimately counterproductive strategy.

Bottom Line: If Japanese policymakers really intend the depreciation of the Yen be limited to 90, then the supposed currency wars may already be near an end.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Fed Watch: The Japan Story Continues to Evolve

Tim Duy:

The Japan Story Continues to Evolve, by Tim Duy: Evolving economic policy in Japan is an excellent distraction from the fiscal cliff story. From my perspective, the most interesting idea Abe floated was forcing the Bank of Japan to buy government debt to support additional fiscal stimulus. Noah Smith countered that Abe is unlikely to experiment with monetary policy and will simply fall back on a mercantilist policy. While I think it is too early to ignore the fiscal policy aspect, it is increasingly clear that Abe thinks the future of Japan is in its past. From Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:

Premier Shenzo Abe is to spend up to one trillion yen (£7.1bn) buying plant in the electronics, equipment, and carbon fibre industries to force the pace of investment, according to Nikkei news.

This on the back of:

The disclosure came just a day after Mr Abe vowed to revive Japan's nuclear industry with a fresh generation of reactors, insisting that they would be "completely different" from the Fukishima Daiichi technology.

I imagine that should advanced civilizations ever travel to the Earth, they would be amazed that we allow fission reactors on the surface of the planet. I am amazed after by this after the lessons of Chernobal and Fukishima.

I have trouble with this characterization:

The industrial shake–up shows the ferment of fresh thinking in the third–largest economy after years of paralysis.

I am not sure this is fresh thinking at all. It sounds as if Japan is trying to go backwards in time to the 1980's. Especially when combined with an obvious intent to devalue the Yen for mercantilist reasons:

He has set an implicit exchange range target of 90 yen to the dollar, instructing the Bank of Japan to drive down the yen with mass purchases of foreign bonds along lines pioneered by the Swiss.

Finance minister Taro Aso brushed aside warnings that naked intervention would anger trade partners and damage Japan's strategic alliance with the US. "Foreign countries have no right to lecture us," he said, accusing the West of failing to abide by a G20 pledge in 2009 to forgo competitive devaluations.

As I have said in the past, I think that a yen/dollar target of 90 will yield only minor economic benefits at the price undermining Japan's international relationships. The US and Europe will reply that their quantitative easing programs are primarily aimed at boosting domestic demand, whereas if Japan appears to be pursuing an obvious beggar-thy-neighbor strategy. Of course, Abe isn't too worried about offending the international community. From Reuters:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to replace a landmark 1995 apology for suffering caused in Asia during World War Two with an unspecified "forward-looking statement", a newspaper reported on Monday...

..Any hint that Japan is back-tracking from the 1995 apology, issued by then Prime Minister Tomic Murayama, is likely to outrage neighbours, particularly China and North and South Korea, which endured years of brutal Japanese rule.

This is shaping up as a year in which Japan moves to center-stage in the international arena.

Bottom Line: Explicit cooperation between fiscal and monetary authorities to dramatically support domestic demand in Japan would be a step forward, but everything else that seems to be coming from Abe is a step backwards.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

'Europe’s Avoidable Collision Course'

Tyler Cowen on Europe:

... Until a broad solution is enacted, the system remains within the danger zone for a broader crash. ... Unfortunately, the relevant governments — and their citizens — still don’t seem close to accepting the onerous financial burdens they need to face. And when those burdens are unjust to mostly innocent voters, no matter whose particular story you endorse, acceptance becomes that much tougher.
Still, we shouldn’t forget that a solution exists. In essence, the required debt write-down is a large check lying on the table waiting to be picked up. No one knows how costly it is, but estimates have ranged from the hundreds of billions to the trillions of dollars. It need only be decided how to divide the bill. The reality is this: The longer that the major players wait, the larger that bill will grow. That they’ve yet to split the check is the worst news of all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

We Should Stop Blaming China For Our Economic Problems

Here's my contribution to the debate over China bashing:

We Should Stop Blaming China for our Economic Problems: The second presidential debate featured Mitt Romney and Barack Obama going nose to nose over who would be tougher on China and other countries over their unfair trade practices. But by adopting a narrative that places the blame for our problems on other countries, President Obama is playing into the hands of those who’d like to make significant cuts to social insurance programs that protect working class households. ...

Here's the bottom line:

Blaming our troubles on external causes and implying that all will be well once these causes are eliminated allows the wealthy winners from globalization to escape the taxes that are needed to provide the social protections workers need in the global economy, and to ensure that the gains from globalization are shared equitably. President Obama needs to make it clear that helping the working class will take a lot more than just forcing China to change its ways... [It] will require us to look inward at our own character as a nation instead of blaming others.
Pointing fingers at other countries and demanding change may be politically effective, but the real change begins at home.
[Read more]

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bernanke: Accommodative Policies Do Not Impose (Net) Costs on Developing Countries

Ben Bernanke responds to foreigners complaining about US monetary policy (including saying that if some countries want to enjoy the benefits of an undervalued currency, then they must also pay the costs, "including reduced monetary independence and the consequent susceptibility to imported inflation":

U.S. Monetary Policy and International Implications, Speech by Ben Bernanke: Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here. This morning I will first briefly review the U.S. and global economic outlook. I will then discuss the basic rationale underlying the Federal Reserve's recent policy decisions and place these actions in an international context. ...
Federal Reserve's Recent Policy Actions
All of the Federal Reserve's monetary policy decisions are guided by our dual mandate to promote maximum employment and stable prices. With the disappointing progress in job markets and with inflation pressures remaining subdued, the FOMC has taken several important steps this year to provide additional policy accommodation. ...
As I have said many times, however, monetary policy is not a panacea. Although we expect our policies to provide meaningful help to the economy, the most effective approach would combine a range of economic policies and tackle longer-term fiscal and structural issues as well as the near-term shortfall in aggregate demand. Moreover, we recognize that unconventional monetary policies come with possible risks and costs; accordingly, the Federal Reserve has generally employed a high hurdle for using these tools and carefully weighs the costs and benefits of any proposed policy action.
International Aspects of Federal Reserve Asset Purchases
Although the monetary accommodation we are providing is playing a critical role in supporting the U.S. economy, concerns have been raised about the spillover effects of our policies on our trading partners. In particular, some critics have argued that the Fed's asset purchases, and accommodative monetary policy more generally, encourage capital flows to emerging market economies. These capital flows are said to cause undesirable currency appreciation, too much liquidity leading to asset bubbles or inflation, or economic disruptions as capital inflows quickly give way to outflows.
I am sympathetic to the challenges faced by many economies in a world of volatile international capital flows. And, to be sure, highly accommodative monetary policies in the United States, as well as in other advanced economies, shift interest rate differentials in favor of emerging markets and thus probably contribute to private capital flows to these markets. I would argue, though, that it is not at all clear that accommodative policies in advanced economies impose net costs on emerging market economies, for several reasons.
First, the linkage between advanced-economy monetary policies and international capital flows is looser than is sometimes asserted. Even in normal times, differences in growth prospects among countries--and the resulting differences in expected returns--are the most important determinant of capital flows. The rebound in emerging market economies from the global financial crisis, even as the advanced economies remained weak, provided still greater encouragement to these flows. Another important determinant of capital flows is the appetite for risk by global investors. Over the past few years, swings in investor sentiment between "risk-on" and "risk-off," often in response to developments in Europe, have led to corresponding swings in capital flows. All told, recent research, including studies by the International Monetary Fund, does not support the view that advanced-economy monetary policies are the dominant factor behind emerging market capital flows.1 Consistent with such findings, these flows have diminished in the past couple of years or so, even as monetary policies in advanced economies have continued to ease and longer-term interest rates in those economies have continued to decline.
Second, the effects of capital inflows, whatever their cause, on emerging market economies are not predetermined, but instead depend greatly on the choices made by policymakers in those economies. In some emerging markets, policymakers have chosen to systematically resist currency appreciation as a means of promoting exports and domestic growth. However, the perceived benefits of currency management inevitably come with costs, including reduced monetary independence and the consequent susceptibility to imported inflation. In other words, the perceived advantages of undervaluation and the problem of unwanted capital inflows must be understood as a package--you can't have one without the other.
Of course, an alternative strategy--one consistent with classical principles of international adjustment--is to refrain from intervening in foreign exchange markets, thereby allowing the currency to rise and helping insulate the financial system from external pressures. Under a flexible exchange-rate regime, a fully independent monetary policy, together with fiscal policy as needed, would be available to help counteract any adverse effects of currency appreciation on growth. The resultant rebalancing from external to domestic demand would not only preserve near-term growth in the emerging market economies while supporting recovery in the advanced economies, it would redound to everyone's benefit in the long run by putting the global economy on a more stable and sustainable path.
Finally, any costs for emerging market economies of monetary easing in advanced economies should be set against the very real benefits of those policies. The slowing of growth in the emerging market economies this year in large part reflects their decelerating exports to the United States, Europe, and other advanced economies. Therefore, monetary easing that supports the recovery in the advanced economies should stimulate trade and boost growth in emerging market economies as well. In principle, depreciation of the dollar and other advanced-economy currencies could reduce (although not eliminate) the positive effect on trade and growth in emerging markets. However, since mid-2008, in fact, before the intensification of the financial crisis triggered wide swings in the dollar, the real multilateral value of the dollar has changed little, and it has fallen just a bit against the currencies of the emerging market economies. ...

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

'Fear-of-China Syndrome'

Paul Krugman tries, once again, to explain why there's no reason to fear that "terrible things will happen" if China stops purchasing our government bonds:

Wicksell Goes To China, by Paul Krugman: The idea that we are at the mercy of the Chinese — that terrible things would happen if they stopped buying our bonds — is very influential. Yet it’s just wrong.
Think of it this way: the argument that interest rates would soar if the Chinese bought fewer bonds is the same as the argument that interest rates would soar when the U.S. government sold more bonds — which, as you may recall, was the subject of fierce debate more than three years ago — and you know how that turned out.
Again, you can think of this in terms of Wicksell: we’re in a situation in which the incipient supply of savings — the amount that people would save at full employment — is greater than the incipient demand for investment. And this excess supply of savings leads to a depressed economy.
What China does by buying bonds is add to the excess savings — which makes our situation worse. (This is just another way of saying that the artificial trade surplus hurts our economy — just another way of stating the same thing). And we want them to do less of it; far from fearing that they will stop, we should welcome the prospect.
Yet this point isn’t even controversial — by and large, commentators aren’t even aware that fear-of-China syndrome might be in error.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Paul Krugman: Crash of the Bumblebee

Will the euro be saved? Should it be saved?:

Crash of the Bumblebee, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Last week Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, declared that his institution “is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro” — and markets celebrated. ... But will the euro really be saved? That remains very much in doubt.
First of all, Europe’s single currency is a deeply flawed construction. And Mr. Draghi, to his credit, actually acknowledged that. “The euro is like a bumblebee,” he declared. “This is a mystery of nature because it shouldn’t fly but instead it does. So the euro was a bumblebee that flew very well for several years.” But now it has stopped flying. What can be done? The answer, he suggested, is “to graduate to a real bee.”
Never mind the dubious biology, we get the point. In the long run, the euro will be workable only if the European Union becomes much more like a unified country. ...
But ... a United States of Europe won’t happen soon, if ever, while the crisis of the euro is now. So what ... could turn this dangerous situation around? The answer is fairly clear: policy makers would have to (a) do something to bring southern Europe’s borrowing costs down and (b) give Europe’s debtors the same kind of opportunity to export their way out of trouble that Germany received during the good years — that is, create ... a temporary rise in German inflation... The trouble is that Europe’s policy makers seem reluctant to do (a) and completely unwilling to do (b).
In his remarks, Mr. Draghi ... basically floated the idea of having the central bank buy lots of southern European bonds to bring those borrowing costs down. But ... German officials appeared to throw cold water on that idea. In principle, Mr. Draghi could just overrule German objections, but would he really be willing to do that?
And bond purchases are the easy part. The euro can’t be saved unless Germany is also willing to accept substantially higher inflation... — and so far I have seen no sign that German officials are even willing to discuss this issue...
So could the euro be saved? Yes, probably. Should it be saved? Yes, even though its creation now looks like a huge mistake. For failure of the euro wouldn’t just cause economic disruption; it would be a giant blow to the wider European project, which has brought peace and democracy to a continent with a tragic history.
But will it actually be saved? Despite Mr. Draghi’s show of determination, that is, as I said, very much in doubt.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

'Internal Devaluation, Inflation, and the Euro'

Travel day, so here's a quick one:

Internal Devaluation, Inflation, and the Euro (Wonkish), by Paul Krugman: I’ve been writing for a long time about how the euro area needs more inflation. But I suspect that many readers don’t quite see how this ties into the macro story. So here’s something that may or may not clear things up — a stylized little model linking euro inflation and the adjustment problem to overall monetary policy. It’s very stylized, making some obviously untrue but I think still useful assumptions, and I have been finding that it clarifies my own thinking ...[continue reading]...