One Swallow Doesn’t Make A Summer

Today Eurostat announced that the Euro area’s inflation rate (as measured by the HICP) has reached two per cent in February (see press release here: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/7895720/2-02032017-CP-EN.pdf/97184273-b9ae-46e6-99be-e50321ce5fa8). While seems finally some good news for the crisis-battered Euro area, it actually isn’t. Here’s why. Continue reading One Swallow Doesn’t Make A Summer

On ifo’s accountability bonds

In a recent press statement, ifo’s President Clemens Fuest argues for second-tier “accountability” bonds that would allow debt above the current limits of the Maastricht criteria, but with strings attached. From the statement:

Fuest and Becker propose that states only be allowed to finance 0.5 percent of their annual economic output with normal bonds. Should they run higher deficits, the excess debt should be subordinate i.e. it will only be repaid after other debts, must not be bought by the ECB, and should also only be held by banks with higher equity cover.

He continues to argue that such bonds would have far higher interest rates than regular bonds, thus discouraging states from using them to much. Continue reading On ifo’s accountability bonds

I thought we were past that

In a recent interview with the FT, Peter Navarro, an advisor to Donald Trump claimed the undervalued Euro to be an implicit Deutsche Mark and would benefit only Germany at the expense of our fellow Europeans and, of course, the US.

Hoo boy.

OK, I know that facts are not a particular strength of the new US government, but still, at least the assessment of the situation is correct: The Euro is probably undervalued vis-a-vis the Dollar, if you believe in The Economist’s Big-Mac-Index and thus in purchasing power parity. Given the more robust labour market and the recent monetary tightening of the Fed as compared to the Eurozone’s mess and still ultra-loose monetary policy by the ECB, the claim that the Euro is undervalued isn’t really a stretch.

Also true, undervalued currencies usually, ceteris paribus, benefit exporters of which Germany has a lot. But most of our exports go to Europe, i.e. the claim that Germany would benefit unfairly from the undervalued Euro is not as strong as you may think. In 2015 (oh facts again!), only 9.5% of our exports go to the US (https://www.destatis.de/DE/ZahlenFakten/GesamtwirtschaftUmwelt/Aussenhandel/Tabellen/RangfolgeHandelspartner.pdf?__blob=publicationFile) How exactly our exports to other Eurozone-countries are subject to the (external!) exchange rate is beyond me.

But for the sake of the argument, let’s assume for a second that Germany is benefitting unfairly. The obvious remedy for this would be an appreciation of the Euro vis-a-vis the Dollar, and to do this the ECB should stop its ultra-loose monetary policy and start raising interest rates better sooner than later. Wait, what? Yes, this is basically what Jens Weidmann and Wolfgang Schäuble demand for quite some time now. The allegations that Germany would keep the exchange rate towards the Dollar artificially low is nonsense, at best. And even if, there are some compelling arguments of why the ECB has adopted an ultra-loose monetary policy: weak labour markets in the south, under-capitalised banks, over-indebted governments, etc. Better export opportunities for Germany are merely a side-effect. We can talk about whether the ECB’s policy is adequate or what exactly drives Germany’s exports (non-substitutability perhaps?) or whether purchasing power parity holds, but going back to mercantilist thinking of the past fits the US goverment’s economic thinking: they are not thinking at all.

QE is no debt relief

There was a little Twitter exchange on the nature of the ECB’s QE programme between Paul de Grauwe and Marcel Fratzscher. Paul sees QE as a sort of debt relief and asks why the ECB grants such relief to Germany, France and Italy but not to debt-burdened Greece. If you think of QE as a sort of debt relief, Paul’s question is legitimate, after all Greece would benefit most from a debt relief. But that is not what QE is or should be. Continue reading QE is no debt relief

The IMF, Greece and the ECB

There have been leaks of alleged minutes of an IMF high rank conference call about Greece. Allegedly, Poul Thomsen, Director of the IMF’s European Department and his colleagues agreed that Greece only decides on the brink of default (p. 6). While Thomsen is right that Greek decisions are taken in the most effective way only close to default, there is little the fund could do about it. Greece is technically insolvent and is only able to keep on going with the extensive support of the ECB (and the ESM), in fact it is only political will that keeps Greece afloat, so the whole arrangement is near-default anyway. So, the only institution able to exert influence on Greece is the ECB. But the fund is not at all in a position to have a sizeable influence on the developments in Greece anyway, neither economically, since the Greek debt is guaranteed by the ECB’s various unconventional monetary policy programmes, nor politically, since they are currently not taking part in the “rescue” programme. The IMF wants a debt cut (which German chancellor Angela Merkel refuses) and will until then stand on the sideline. Continue reading The IMF, Greece and the ECB

Helicopters are for real disasters

So, everybody and their grandmas are discussing something so absurdly wacko, that just a few years earlier, even mentioning it could very well cost you your professional reputation. But in times of QE and negative rates, the perception of “throwing money off a helicopter” is relatively less crazy. In absolute terms of course, it is still nuts. Continue reading Helicopters are for real disasters

Inflation is inflation is inflation. Or not?

New numbers of the consumer price index sparked again a debate about what monetary policy can do to fight off European deflation and thence the economic glum across the continent. In brief, in February the HICP fell by 0.2 percentage points an an annualised basis. Since the average HICP is the ECB’s preferred gauge for “inflation”, this would suggest further loosening of monetary policy – not to mention that monetary
policy is as loose as it never has been, and this for years. So you may have noticed that I have put the term inflation in quotes, since inflation is something else, but not (really) the change of the HICP. Continue reading Inflation is inflation is inflation. Or not?

A central bank cannot monetise away a liquidity trap

As was expected, today the ECB cut its penalty interest rates on banks’ deposits further into negative territory to 0.4 from 0.3 per cent. Additionally, the ECB also cut its main refinancing operations rate to zero from 0.05 per cent and increased the volume of its QE purchases to 80 billion Euro per month, from 60 billion. As always, the ECB cited sub-par inflation due to slow credit growth as the reason for this policy move.
To my mind, this policy move is merely cosmetic, to keep up the mirage of the ECB’s prowess, where there is actually nothing Frankfurt’s Ostend can do to end Europe’s slump. For years now, Europe is stuck in a liquidity trap. And as we all know, in a situation where the transmission mechanism is broken, more liquidity will not help, that’s why it is called a trap. It seems worth to repeat, that no central bank, no matter how powerful, can monetise away a liquidity trap. Not even the ECB, not even with the fancy, shiny new policy tools of negative rates or QE. Europe’s problem is not liquidity supply, given QE and ultra-low interest, ultra-long provisions, money is everything but scarce. But two features of Europe’s economies make all this supply virtually void.

Continue reading A central bank cannot monetise away a liquidity trap

Anfa is not as bad as thought but still bad

A bit more than two months ago in early December, there was much fuss about the ECB’s secret Anfa (Agreement on Net Financial Assets) and how the Central Banks of France and Italy allegedly misused it for additional monetary easing to the tune of roughly half a trillion euros, by buying sovereign debt. The public outrage over a secret agreement and using it to circumvent the prohibition of monetary financing, prompted the ECB to first release an explainer, that Anfa was quite the opposite of what was speculated in the media – but nobody believed it and politicians and economists (including myself) demanded the agreement to be made public. And on February 5th, the ECB did publish the text, along with the signatures of the NCB governors, the technical appendix and an extended explainer. Unfortunately, the agreement is a rather unreadable document, but nevertheless, I read through it and came to the conclusion that Anfa is actually bad, but not as bad as we may have thought. Anfa actually does what the ECB claims, namely to limit the amount of assets the NCBs may hold for non-monetary policy purposes. But there are several catches. Continue reading Anfa is not as bad as thought but still bad