Policy Hub: Macroblog provides concise commentary and analysis on economic topics including monetary policy, macroeconomic developments, inflation, labor economics, and financial issues for a broad audience.
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June 30, 2010
Keeping an eye on Europe
In June, a third of the economists in the Blue Chip panel of economic forecasters indicated that they had lowered their growth forecast over the next 18 months as a consequence of Europe's debt crisis. When pushed a little further, 31 percent said that weaker exports would be the channel through which this problem would hinder growth, while 69 percent thought that "tighter financial conditions" would be the channel through which debt problems in Europe could hit U.S. shores.
Tighter financial conditions also were mentioned by the Federal Open Market Committee in its last statement, where the committee noted, "Financial conditions have become less supportive of economic growth on balance, largely reflecting developments abroad."
In his speech today, Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart identified the European sovereign debt crisis as one of the sources of uncertainty for the U.S. economy that he believes "have clouded the outlook." President Lockhart explicitly expressed his concern that Europe's "continuing and possibly escalating financial market pressures will be transmitted through interconnected banking and capital markets to our economy."
Negative effects from the European sovereign debt crisis can be transmitted to the U.S. economy through a number of financial channels, including higher risk premiums on private securities, a considerable rise in uncertainty, and sharply increased risk aversion. Another important channel is the direct exposure of the U.S. banking sector—both through holdings of troubled European assets and counterparty exposure to European banks, which not only have a substantial exposure to the debt-laden European countries but have also been facing higher funding costs. The LIBOR-OIS spread has widened notably (see the chart below), liquidity is now concentrated in tenors of one week and shorter, and the market has become notably tiered.
Banks in the most affected countries (Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, and Italy) and other European banks perceived as having a sizeable exposure to those countries have to pay higher rates and borrow at shorter tenors. Although for now U.S. banks can raise funds more cheaply than many European financial institutions, some analysts believe that there's a risk that the short-term offshore dollar market may become increasingly strained, leading to funding shortages and, conceivably, forced asset sales.
Bank for International Settlements data through the end of December of last year show that the U.S. banking system's risk exposure to the most vulnerable EU countries appears to be manageable. U.S. banks' on-balance sheet financial claims vis-á-vis those countries, adjusted for guarantees and collateral, look substantial in absolute terms but are rather small relative to the size of U.S. banks' total financial assets (see the chart below). The exposure to Spain is the biggest, closely followed by Ireland and Italy. Overall, the five countries account for less than 2 percent of U.S. banks' assets.
U.S. exposure to developed Europe as a whole, however, is much higher at $1.2 trillion, so U.S. financial institutions may feel some pain if the European economy slows down markedly. How likely is a marked slowdown? It's difficult to determine, of course, but when asked about the largest risks facing the U.S. economy over the next year, the Blue Chip forecasters put "spillover effects of Europe's debt crisis" at the top of their list.
By Galina Alexeenko, economic policy analyst at the Atlanta Fed
September 1, 2009
Us and them: Reviewing central bank actions in the financial crisis
With all the focus on the financial crisis in the United States, folks in this country might sometimes lose sight of the fact that this crisis has been global in nature. To provide some perspective on the global dimensions of the crisis, we are providing a few summary indicators of financial sector performance and central bank policy responses in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Euro Area, and Canada. Based on this general review, we surmise that some of the experiences have been remarkably similar, while others appear to be quite different. To pre-empt the question: Why these four regions? The reason is simply that the data were readily available. We encourage readers to use data from other areas, and let us know what you find.
The first chart compares relative changes in monthly stock market price indices for 2005 through the end of August. During the crisis, market participants significantly reduced their exposure to risky assets, which helped push equities lower. All indices peaked in 2007, except Canada, which technically peaked in May 2008. Canada outperformed relative to the others in early 2008 but suffered proportionally similar losses thereafter. The United Kingdom, Euro Area, and Canada bottomed in February 2009 while the United States bottomed in March 2009. The Euro Area to date has experienced the strongest rebound in equities, increasing by almost 40 percent since the trough in February. However, Europe also had the largest peak-to-trough decline, almost 60 percent. Canada and the United States have jumped by about 33 percent since their respective lows in February and March, while U.K. stock prices have risen by about 30 percent since February.
The second chart compares long-term government yields. As the crisis unfolded in late 2007, yields on 10-year U.S. Treasuries sank as global flight to quality helped push yields lower. Yields on U.S., U.K., and Canadian bonds have all moved lower than they were prior to the onset of the crisis. Interestingly, in the Euro Area, prior to the crisis, sovereign yields were at or below bond yields in the other countries but are now slightly above those. In fact, Euro Area yields haven't moved much since the beginning of the crisis in late 2007.
The third chart contrasts monetary policy rates in the four regions. The chart shows that all the central banks lowered rates aggressively, but there are some subtle differences in the timing. For the United Kingdom, Euro Area, and Canada, the bulk of policy rate cuts came after the financial market turmoil accelerated in the fall of 2008, whereas in the United States the majority of the cuts came earlier.
The Fed was the first to lower rates, cutting the fed funds rate by 50 basis points in September 2007 at the onset of the crisis. The Fed continued to lower rates pretty aggressively through April 2008, with a cumulative reduction of 325 basis points. Once the financial turmoil accelerated again in the fall of 2008 the Fed cut rates again by another 200 basis points.
The Bank of Canada's cuts followed a generally similar timing pattern to the Fed but with differences in the relative magnitude of the cuts. In particular, the Bank of Canada rate lowered rates by 150 basis points through April 2008 and then by another 275 basis points since September 2008.
Similarly, the Bank of England cut rates three times in late 2007/early 2008, totaling 75 basis points. But like the Bank of Canada, the bulk of their policy rate cuts didn't come until the increased financial turmoil in the fall of 2008. Between September 2008 and March 2009, the Bank of England cut the policy rate by 450 basis points.
Unlike the other central banks, the European Central Bank (ECB) did not initially adjust policy rates down as the crisis emerged in late 2007. In fact, after holding rates steady for several months it increased its rate from 4 percent to 4.25 percent in July 2008. It started cutting rates in October 2008, and from October 2008 to May 2009 the ECB reduced its refinancing rate by 325 basis points. Of the four regions, the ECB currently has the highest policy rate at 1 percent. For some speculation about the future of monetary policy rates for a broader set of countries, see this recent article from The Economist.
The final chart compares relative changes in the size of balance sheets across the four central banks. The balance sheet changes might be viewed as an indication of the relative aggressiveness of nonstandard policy actions by the central banks, noting that some of the increases can be attributed to quantitative easing monetary policy actions, some to central bank lender-of-last-resort functions, and some to targeted asset purchases.
The sharpest increases in the central bank balance sheets came in the wake of the most intense part of the financial crisis, in the fall of 2008. There had been relatively little balance sheet expansion until the fall 2008. Prior to that, the action was focused mostly on changing the composition of the asset side of the balance sheet rather than increasing its size. The size of both U.S. and U.K. balance sheets has more than doubled since before September 2008, although both are now below their peaks from late 2008. Note that in the case of the Bank of England, quantitative easing didn't begin until March 2009, and the subsequent run-up in the size of the balance sheet is much more significant than in the United States. Prior to that, the increase in the Bank of England balance sheet was associated with (sterilized) expansion of its lending facilities.
In contrast, the Bank of Canada and ECB increased their balance sheets by about 50 percent—much less than in the United Kingdom or United States. By this metric, nonstandard policy actions have been less aggressive in Canada and the Euro Area. Why these differences? This recent Reuters article provides a hypothesis that focuses on institutional differences between the Bank of England and the ECB. In a related piece, this IMF article compares the ECB and the Bank of England nonstandard policy actions.
Note: The Bank of England introduced reforms to its money market operations in May 2006, which changed the way it reports the bank's balance sheet data (see BOE note).
By John Robertson, vice president and senior economist, and Mike Hammill and Courtney Nosal, both economic policy analysts, at the Atlanta Fed
March 20, 2009
A look at the Bank of England’s balance sheet
The current financial crisis is global in scope, with central banks responding in various ways to mitigate the strains in their respective countries. The Federal Reserve is not the only central bank that has been aggressive in its response. For instance, the Bank of England's (BoE) Monetary Policy Committee, in its March 5 policy statement, explained the details of its new asset purchase program:
"…the Committee agreed that the Bank should, in the first instance, finance £75 billion of asset purchases by the issuance of central bank reserves. The Committee recognised that it might take up to three months to carry out this programme of purchases. Part of that sum would finance the Bank of England's programme of private sector asset purchases through the Asset Purchase Facility, intended to improve the functioning of corporate credit markets. But in order to meet the Committee's objective of total purchases of £75 billion, the Bank would also buy medium- and long-maturity conventional gilts in the secondary market. It is likely that the majority of the overall purchases by value over the next three months will be of gilts."
Thus, the BoE will purchase £75 billion of assets (approximately U.S. $108 billion as March 20 and U.S. $106 billion as of March 5), mostly intermediate-to-longer dated U.K. sovereign debt (or gilts) but also some "investment grade" corporate bonds. Along with this new asset purchase program, to ease strains in credit markets the BoE has previously implemented other efforts, such as purchasing commercial paper, asset-backed securities, and corporate bonds. But these earlier efforts were conducted in such a way that the BoE sterilized its purchases—that is, for every £1 of private assets it purchased, the BoE would issue £1 of its own debt (sterling bills), with the effect being that the money base (bank reserves plus currency in circulation) grew much less than the overall size of the balance sheet.
However, with the new asset purchase program, the BoE is targeting a quantity of U.K. sovereign debt to purchase in an unsterilized manner, hence the key phrase "by the issuance of central bank reserves." As stated, the BoE will be buying gilts, "with the aim of boosting the supply of money and credit and thus raising the rate of growth of nominal spending to a level consistent with meeting the inflation target [2% CPI inflation] in the medium term."
The impact of the BoE's efforts to support private credit markets can be seen in this chart of the size and composition of the BoE's assets:
As the size of the asset side of the BoE's balance sheet grew, so did the liability-side:
Notice that much of the increase in the liabilities has come from "other liabilities" and "short-term open market operations" and not "reserve balances." But with the new asset purchase program, reserve balances will become much larger.
By Laurel Graefe and Andrew Flowers, economic analysts at the Atlanta Fed.
June 12, 2007
Putting The Money Back In Monetary Policy?
The Wall Street Journal's Joellen Perry reports (page A8 in the print edition) on the latest debate within the European Central Bank:
With euro-zone interest rates near a six-year high, European Central Bank policy makers are clashing over the role of the swollen supply of money in pushing up prices.
That rare break in the bank's public facade of unity suggests policy makers are divided about how high to push interest rates in the 13-nation currency bloc, and it could rekindle a global debate on the merits of monitoring money supply...
Years of low interest rates have fueled a global liquidity glut that has inflation-wary central bankers world-wide paying attention to money-supply data. The ECB, as the only major central bank to give money-supply growth an official role in its decision-making, has led the charge. But other policy makers, including at the Bank of England and Sweden's Riksbank, have also cited strong money-supply growth as a reason for recent interest-rate rises.
Actually, Claus Vistesen was thinking about this last week, while I was in Frankfurt attending a joint conference on Monetary Strategy: Old issues and new challenges, jointly sponsored by the Deutsche Bundesbank and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. The question of whether or not central bankers ought pay attention to money, and talk about it when they do, did come up. Gunter Beck and Volcker Wieland, both from the Goethe University Frankfurt (and the latter formerly of the Federal Reserve Board), offered up a theoretical argument for why the money-guys in the ECB might be on to something:
... we develop a justification for including money in the interest rate rule by allowing for imperfect knowledge regarding unobservables such as potential output and equilibrium interest rates. We formulate a novel characterization of ECB-style monetary cross-checking and show that it can generate substantial stabilization benefits in the event of persistent policy misperceptions regarding potential output.
... We assume that the central bank checks regularly whether a filtered money growth series adjusted for output and velocity trends averages around the inflation target. If the central bank obtains successive signals of a sustained deviation of inflation from target it adjusts interest rates accordingly.
Our simulations indicate that persistent policy misperceptions regarding potential output induce a policy bias that translates into persistent deviations of inflation and money growth from target. In this case, our “two-pillar” policy rule may effectively overturn the policy bias. Cross-checking relies on filtered series of actual money and output growth without requiring estimates of potential output. Indirectly, however, it helps the central bank to learn the proper level of interest rates.
Some of the conference participants noted that there are lots of alternative (and established) statistical techniques for forecasting in the face of uncertainties about concepts such as potential output and the equilibrium real interest rate, but another of the conference papers -- from the Bundesbank's Martin Scharnagl and Christian Schumacher -- suggested that Beck and Wieland may just be on to something when they say the ECB money-guys may just be on to something:
This paper addresses the relative importance of monetary indicators for forecasting inflation in the euro area. The analysis is carried out in a Bayesian framework that explicitly considers model uncertainty with potentially many explanatory variables...
The empirical results show that money is an integral part of the forecasting model... The key finding of the paper is is that the majority of models include both monetary and non-monetary indicators.
To paraphrase, when it comes to short-run forecasts, the kitchen sink works best. But the result that got my attention was Scharnagl and Schumacher's finding that, in their experiments, the trend in the money supply is the only factor that appears useful in forecasting inflation once you get out beyond about 6 quarters.
That may surprise you, but it probably shouldn't. The Scharnagl and Schumacher study is on the technical side, but some years ago economists George McCandless and Warren Weber offered up some evidence which was pretty easy to grasp:
That's a graph of the relationship between average money growth (measured by M2) and average inflation for a large cross-section of countries, over the period from 1960 through 1990. If you are an old hand on this topic, you probably remember that it was around 1990 that both the ECB and the Federal Reserve lost confidence in the money measures they were tracking. The ECB responded by moving from a narrow measure of money to the very broad M3 concept. The Federal Reserve responded by more-or-less abandoning monetary measures all together.
OK, let's take a look at the McCandless and Weber picture post-1990:
Hmm. The Wall Street Journal article correctly notes that there is still a great deal of skepticism about the usefulness of monetary measures in formulating monetary policy:
The U.S. Federal Reserve is among the doubters. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said in November that a "heavy reliance" on money-supply data as a predictor of U.S. inflation was "unwise."
I don't think either the Beck-Wieland or Scharnagl-Schumacher work contradicts that skepticism about "heavy reliance." But maybe money deserves just a little more love on this side of the Atlantic than it currently gets?
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