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Articles for the ‘Essentials of Economics 6e: Ch 12’ Category

Cloudy skies ahead?

Now here’s a gloomy article from Robert Peston. He’s been looking at investors’ views about the coming years and sees a general pessimism about the prospects for long-term economic growth. And that pessimism is becoming deeper.

It is true that both the UK and the USA have recorded reasonable growth rates in recent months and do seem, at least on the surface, to be recovering from recession. But, according to investor behaviour, they:

seem to be saying, in how they place their money, that the UK’s and USA’s current reasonably rapid growth will turn out to be a short-lived period of catch-up, following the deep recession of 2008-9.

So what is it about investor behaviour that implies a deep pessimism and are investors right to be pessimistic? The article explores these issues. It does also look at an alternative explanation that investors may merely be being cautious until a clearer picture emerges about long-term growth prospects – which may turn out to be better that many currently now predict.

The article finishes by looking at a possible solution to the problem (if you regard low or zero growth as a problem). That would be for the government to ‘throw money at investment in infrastructure – to generate both short-term growth and enhance long-term productive potential.’

Note that Elizabeth also looks at this article in her blog The end of growth in the west?.

The end of growth in the West? BBC News, Robert Peston (26/9/14)

Questions

  1. What is meant by the ’25-year yield curve for government bonds’? Why does this yield curve imply a deep level of business pessimism about the long-term prospects for UK economic growth?
  2. What are the determinants of long-term economic growth?
  3. Looking at these determinants, which ones suggest that long-term economic growth may be low?
  4. Are there any determinants which might suggest that economic growth will be maintained over the long term at historical levels of around 2.6%?
  5. Do demand-side policies affect potential GDP and, if so, how?
  6. What policies could government pursue to increase the rate of growth in potential GDP?
  7. What current ‘dramas’ affecting the world economy could have long-term implications for economic growth? How does uncertainty about the long-term implications for the global economy of such dramas itself affect economic growth?
  8. Is long-term growth in real GDP an appropriate indicator of (a) economic development and (b) long-term growth in general well-being?
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The end of growth in the West?

The growth rates of the Western world have been somewhat volatile for the past decade, with negative growth sending economies into recession and then varying degrees of economic recovery. Growth rates elsewhere have been very high, in particular in countries such as China and India. The future of economic growth in the west is hotly debated and whether the western world has been forever changed by the credit crunch remains to be seen.

The article below from the BBC, written by Robert Peston, the Economics Editor, addresses the question of the future of the western world. Opinions differ as to whether the west is finally recovering from the recession and financial instability or if the credit crunch and subsequent recession is just the beginning of many years of economic stagnation. The article in particular focuses on the yield curve and the trends in government debt or gilts. This tends to be a key indicator of the expectations of the future of an economy and how confident investors are in its likely trajectory. Though technical in places, this article provides some interesting stances on what we might expect in the coming 2-3 decades for economic performance in the West.

Note that John also looks at this article in his blog Cloudy Skies Ahead?

The end of growth in the West? BBC News, Robert Peston (26/9/14)

Questions

  1. Which factors affect the economic growth of a nation?
  2. Confidence from consumers, firms and investors is always argued to be crucial to the future economic growth and in many cases, the recovery of an economy. Explain why this factor is so important.
  3. What is the yield curve and what does it show?
  4. How can the yield curve be used to offer predictions about the future strength of an economy?
  5. Why are governments seen as the safest place to lend?
  6. If Larry Summers is correct in saying that it is a negative equilibrium interest rate that is needed to generate full employment growth, what does this suggest about the future economic performance of the western world?
  7. In the article, there is a list of some of the key things that make investors anxious. Review each of these factors and explain why it is so important in generating anxiety.
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Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

The French economy is flatlining. It has just recorded the second quarter of zero economic growth, with growth averaging just 0.02% over the past 12 months. What is more, the budget deficit is rising, not falling. In April this year, the French finance minister said that the deficit would fall from 4.3% in 2013 to 3.8% in 2014 and to the eurozone ceiling of 3% in 2015. He is now predicting that it will rise this year to 4.4% and not reach the 3% target until 2017.

The deficit is rising because a flatlining economy is not generating sufficient tax revenues. What is more, expenditure on unemployment benefits and other social protection is rising as unemployment has risen, now standing at a record 10.3%.

And it is not just the current economic situation that is poor; the outlook is poor too. The confidence of French companies is low and falling, and investment plans are muted. President Hollande has pledged to cut payroll taxes to help firms, but so far this has not encouraged firms to invest more.

So what can the French government do? And what can the EU as a whole do to help revive not just the French economy but most of the rest of the eurozone, which is also suffering from zero, or near zero, growth?

There are two quite different sets of remedies being proposed.

The first comes from the German government and increasingly from the French government too. This is to stick to the austerity plans: to get the deficit down; to reduce the size of government in order to prevent crowding out; and to institute market-orientated supply-side policies that are business friendly, such as reducing business regulation. Business leaders in France, who generally back this approach, have called for reducing the number of public holidays and scrapping the maximum 35-hour working week. They are also seeking reduced business taxes, financed by reducing various benefits.

Increasingly President Hollande is moving towards a more business-friendly set of policies. Under his government’s ‘Responsibility Pact’, a €40 billion package of tax breaks for business will be financed through €50 billion of cuts in public spending. To carry through these policies he has appointed an ex-investment banker, Emmanuel Macron, as economy minister. He replaces Arnaud Montebourg, who roundly criticised government austerity policy and called for policies to boost aggregate demand.

This brings us to the alternative set of remedies. These focus on stimulating aggregate demand through greater infrastructure investment and cutting taxes more generally (not just for business). The central argument is that growth must come first and that this will then generate the tax revenues and reductions in unemployment that will then allow the deficit to be brought down. Only when economic growth is firmly established should measures be taken to cut government expenditure in an attempt to reduce the structural deficit.

There are also compromise policies being proposed from the centre. These include measures to stimulate aggregate demand, mainly through tax cuts, accompanied by supply-side policies, whether market orientated or interventionist.

As Europe continues to struggle to achieve recovery, so the debate is getting harsher. Monetary policy alone may not be sufficient to bring recovery. Although the ECB has taken a number of measures to stimulate demand, so far they have been to little avail. As long as business confidence remains low, making increased liquidity available to banks at interest rates close to zero will not make banks more willing to lend to business, or businesses more willing to borrow. Calls for an end, or at least a temporary halt, to austerity are thus getting louder. At the same time, calls for sticking to austerity and tackling excessive government spending are also getting louder.

Articles
Hollande entrusts French economy to ex-banker Macron Reuters, Ingrid Melander and Jean-Baptiste Vey (26/8/14)
France’s new Minister of the Economy Emmanuel Macron described by left-wingers as a ‘copy-and-paste Tony Blair’ Independent, John Lichfield (28/8/14)
Merkel praises France’s economic reform plans after Berlin talks with PM Valls Deutsche Welle (22/9/14)
French economy flat-lines as business activity falters Reuters, Leigh Thomas (23/9/14)
French public finances: Rétropédalage The Economist (13/9/14)
French employer group urges ‘shock therapy’ for economy Reuters (24/9/14)
Last chance to save France: loosen 35-hour week and cut public holidays, say bosses The Telegraph (24/9/14)
‘Sick’ France’s economy is stricken by unemployment ‘fever’ The Telegraph (17/9/14)
France’s economics ills worsen but all remedies appear unpalatable The Observer, Larry Elliott and Anne Penketh (31/8/14)
The Fall of France The New York Times, Paul Krugman (28/8/14)
Why Europe is terrified of deflation Salon, Paul Ames (20/9/14)
Europe’s Greater Depression is worse than the 1930s The Washington Post, Matt O’Brien (14/8/14)
Worse than the 1930s: Europe’s recession is really a depression The Washington Post, Matt O’Brien (20/8/14)
Eurozone business growth slows in September, PMI survey finds BBC News (23/9/14)
Europe must ‘boost demand’ to revive economy, US warns BBC News (21/9/14)
Valls says France would never ask Germany to solve its problems Reuters, Annika Breidthardt and Michelle Martin (23/9/14)
The euro-zone economy: Asset-backed indolence The Economist (11/9/14)

Data
Annual macro-economic database (AMECO) Economic and Financial Affairs DG, European Commission
Business and Consumer Surveys Times Series Economic and Financial Affairs DG, European Commission
StatExtracts OECD
Statistics database European Central Bank

Questions

  1. What types of supply-side reforms would be consistent with the German government’s vision of solving Europe’s low growth problem?
  2. How could a Keynesian policy of reflation be consistent with getting France’s deficit down to the 3% of GDP limit as specified in the Stability and Growth Pact (see)?
  3. What is meant by (a) financial crowding out and (b) resource crowding out? Would reflationary fiscal policy in France lead to either form of crowding out? How would it be affected by the monetary stance of the ECB?
  4. Give examples of market-orientated and interventionist supply-side policies.
  5. What is meant by the terms ‘cyclical budget deficit’ and ‘structural budget deficit’. Could demand-side policy affect the structural deficit?
  6. Using the European Commission’s Business and Consumer Surveys find our what has happened to business and consumer confidence in France over the past few months.
  7. How important is business and consumer confidence in determining economic growth in (a) the short term and (b) the long term?
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The house price roller coaster continues

The British love to talk about house prices. Stories about the latest patterns in prices regularly adorn the front pages of newspapers. We take this opportunity to update an earlier blog looking not only at house prices in the UK, but in other countries too (see the (not so) cool British housing market). This follows the latest data release from the ONS which shows the UK’s annual house price inflation rate ticking up from 10.2 per cent in June to 11.7 per cent in July and which contrasts markedly with the annual rate in July 2013 of 3.3 per cent.

The July annual house price inflation figure of 11.7 per cent for the UK is heavily influenced by the rates in London and the South East. In London house price inflation is running at 19.1 per cent while in the South East it is 12.2 per cent. Across the rest of the UK the average rate is 7.9 per cent, though this has to be seen in the context of the July 2013 rate of 0.8 per cent.

Chart 1 shows house price inflation rates across the home nations since the financial crisis of the late 2000s. It shows a rebound in house price inflation over the second half of 2013 and across 2014. In July 2014 house price inflation was running at 12.0 per cent in England, 7.6 per cent in Scotland, 7.4 per cent in Wales and 4.5 per cent in Northern Ireland. If we use the East Midlands as a more accurate barometer of England, annual house price inflation in July was 7.6 per cent – the same as across Scotland. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

Consider a more historical perspective. The average annual rate of growth since 1970 is 9.7 per cent in the UK, 9.7 per cent in England (9.6 per cent in the East Midlands), 9.6 per cent in Wales, 8.8 per cent in Scotland and 8.7 per cent in Northern Ireland. Therefore, house prices in the home nations have typically grown by 9 to 10 per cent per annum. But, as recent experience shows, this has been accompanied by considerable volatility. An interest question is the extent to which these two characteristics of British house prices are unique to Britain. To address this question, let’s go international.

Chart 2 shows annual house price inflation rates for the UK and six other countries since 1996. Interestingly, it shows that house price volatility is a common feature of housing markets. It is not a uniquely British thing. It too shows shows something of a recovery in global house prices. However, the rebound in the UK and the USA does appear particularly strong compared with core eurozone economies, like the Netherlands and France, where the recovery is considerably more subdued. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

The chart captures very nicely the effect of the financial crisis and subsequent economic downturn on global house prices. Ireland saw annual rates of house price deflation exceed 24 per cent in 2009 compared with rates of deflation of 12 per cent in the UK. Denmark too suffered significant house price deflation with prices falling at an annual rate of 15 per cent in 2009.

House price volatility appears to be an inherent characteristic of housing markets worldwide. Consider now the extent to which house prices rise over the longer term. In doing so, we analyse real house price growth after having stripped out the effect of consumer price inflation. Real house price growth measures the growth of house prices relative to consumer prices.

Chart 3 shows real house prices since 1995 Q1. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.) It shows that up to 2014 Q2, real house prices in the UK have risen by a factor of 2.4 This is a little less than in Sweden where prices are 2.6 times higher. Nonetheless, the increase in real house prices in the UK and Sweden is significantly higher than in the other countries in the sample. In particular, in the USA real house prices in 2014 Q2 were only 1.2 times higher than in 1995 Q1. Therefore, in America actual house prices, when viewed over the past 19 years or so, have grown only a little more quickly than consumer prices.

The latest data on house prices suggest that house price volatility is not unique to the UK. The house price roller coaster is an international phenomenon. However, the rate of growth in UK house prices over the longer term, relative to consumer prices, is markedly quicker than in many other countries. It is this which helps to explain the amount of attention paid to the UK housing market. The ride continues.

Data
House Price Indices: Data Tables Office for National Statistics

Articles
Property prices in all regions of the UK grow at the fastest annual pace seen in seven years Independent, Gideon Spanier (16/9/14)
UK House Prices Have Not Soared This Fast In Seven Years The Huffington Post UK, Asa Bennett (16/9/14)
UK house prices hit new record as London average breaks £500,000 Guardian, Phillip Inman (6/12/14)
Six regions hit new house price peak, says ONS BBC News, (16/9/14)
Welsh house prices nearing pre-crisis peak BBC News, (16/9/14)

Questions

  1. What is meant by the annual rate of house price inflation? What about the annual rate of house price deflation?
  2. What factors are likely to affect housing demand?
  3. What factors are likely to affect housing supply?
  4. Explain the difference between nominal and real house prices. What does a real increase in house prices mean?
  5. How might we explain the recent differences between house price inflation rates in London and the South East relative to the rest of the UK?
  6. What might explain the very different long-term growth rates in real house prices in the USA and the UK?
  7. Why were house prices so affected by the financial crisis?
  8. What factors help explain the volatility in house prices?
  9. How might we go about measuring the affordability of housing?
  10. In what ways might house price patterns impact on the macroeconomy?
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The effects of Scottish independence: a question of known unknowns?

Economic journalists, commentators and politicians have been examining the possible economic effects of a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September. For an economist, there are two main categories of difficulty in examining the consequences. The first is the positive question of what precisely will be the consequences. The second is the normative question of whether the likely effects will be desirable or undesirable and how much so.

The first question is largely one of ‘known unknowns’. This rather strange term was used in 2002 by Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense, in the context of intelligence about Iraq. The problem is a general one about forecasting the future. We may know the types of thing that are likely happen, but the magnitude of the outcome cannot be precisely known because there are so many unknowable things that can influence it.

Here are some known issues of Scottish independence, but with unknown consequences (at least in precisely quantifiable terms). The list is certainly not exhaustive and you could probably add more questions yourself to the list.

Will independence result in lower or higher economic growth in the short and long term?
Will there be a currency union, with Scotland and the rest of the UK sharing the pound and a central bank? Or will Scotland merely use the pound outside a currency union? Would it prefer to have its own currency or join the euro over the longer term?
What will happen to the sterling exchange rate with the dollar, the euro and various other countries?
How will businesses react? Will independence encourage greater inward investment in Scotland or will there be a net capital outflow? And either way, what will be the magnitude of the effect?
How will assets, such as oil, be shared between Scotland and the rest of the UK? And how will national debt be apportioned?
How big will the transition costs be of moving to an independent Scotland?
How will independence impact on Scottish trade (a) with countries outside the UK and (b) with the rest of the UK?
What will happen about Scotland’s membership of the EU? Will other EU countries, such as Spain (because of its concerns about independence movements in Catalonia and the Basque country), attempt to block Scotland remaining in or rejoining the EU?
What will happen to tax rates in Scotland, with the new Scottish government free to set its own tax rates?
What will be the consequences for Scottish pensions and the Scottish pensions industry?
What will happen to the distribution of income in Scotland? How might Scottish governments behave in terms of income redistribution and what will be its consequences on output and growth?

Of course, just because the effects cannot be known with certainty, attempts are constantly being made to quantify the outcomes in the light of the best information available at the time. These are refined as circumstances change and newer data become available.

But forecasts also depend on the assumptions made about the post-referendum decisions of politicians in Scotland, the rest of the UK and in major trading partner countries. It also depends on assumptions about the reactions of businesses. Not surprisingly, both sides of the debate make assumptions favourable to their own case.

Then there is the second category of question. Even if you could quantify the effects, just how desirable would they be? The issue here is one of the weightings given to the various costs and benefits. How would you weight distributional consequences, given that some people will gain or lose more than others? What social discount rate would you apply to future costs and benefits?

Then there are the normative and largely unquantifiable costs and benefits. How would you assess the desirability of political consequences, such as greater independence in decision-making or the break-up of a union dating back over 300 years? But these questions about nationhood are crucial issues for many of the voters.

Articles
Scottish Independence would have Broad Impact on UK Economy NBC News, Catherine Boyle (9/9/14)
Scottish independence: the economic implications The Guardian, Angela Monaghan (7/9/14)
Scottish vote: Experts warn of potential economic impact BBC News, Matthew Wall (9/9/14)
The economics of Scottish independence: A messy divorce The Economist (21/2/14)
Dispute over economic impact of Scottish independence Financial Times, Mure Dickie, Jonathan Guthrie and John Aglionby (28/5/14)
10 economic benefits for a wealthier independent Scotland Michael Gray (6/3/14)
Scottish independence, UK dependency New Economics Foundation (NEF), James Meadway (4/9/14)
Scottish Jobs and the World Economy Scottish Economy Watch, Brian Ashcroft (25/8/14)
Scottish yes vote: what happens to the pound in your pocket? Channel 4 News (9/9/14)
What price Scottish independence? BBC News, Robert Peston (12/9/14)
What price Scottish independence? BBC News, Robert Peston (7/9/14)
Economists can’t tell Scots how to vote BBC News, Robert Peston (16/9/14)

Books and Reports
The Economic Consequences of Scottish Independence Scottish Economic Society and Helmut Schmidt Universität, David Bell, David Eiser and Klaus B Beckmann (eds) (August 2014)
The potential implications of independence for businesses in Scotland Oxford Economics, Weir (April 2014)

Questions

  1. What is a currency union? What implications would there be for Scotland being in a currency union with the rest of the UK?
  2. If you could measure the effects of independence over the next ten years, would you treat £1m of benefits or costs occurring in ten years’ time the same as £1m of benefits and costs occurring next year? Explain.
  3. Is it inevitable that events occurring in the future will at best be known unknowns?
  4. If you make a statement that something will occur in the future and you turn out to be wrong, was your statement a positive one or a normative one?
  5. What would be the likely effects of Scottish independence on the current account of the balance of payments (a) for Scotland; (b) for the rest if the UK?
  6. How does inequality in Scotland compare with that in the rest of the UK and in other countries? Why might Scottish independence lead to a reduction in inequality? (See the chapter on inequality in the book above edited by David Bell, David Eiser and Klaus B Beckmann.)
  7. One of the problems in assessing the arguments for a Yes vote is uncertainty over what would happen if there was a majority voting No. What might happen in terms of further devolution in the case of a No vote?
  8. Why is there uncertainty over the amount of national debt that would exist in Scotland if it became independent?
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Edging closer to full QE

As we saw in the blog post last month, Eurozone becalmed the doldrums, the eurozone economy is stagnant and there is a growing danger that it could sink into a deflationary spiral. Last month, several new measures were announced by the ECB, including a negative interest rate on money deposited in the ECB by banks in the eurozone. This month, the ECB has gone further including, for the first time, a form of quantitative easing.

So what has been announced, and will it help to kick-start the eurozone economy? The measures were summarised by Mario Draghi, President of the ECB, at a press conference as follows:

The Governing Council decided today to lower the interest rate on the main refinancing operations of the Eurosystem by 10 basis points to 0.05% and the rate on the marginal lending facility by 10 basis points to 0.30%. The rate on the deposit facility was lowered by 10 basis points to –0.20%. In addition, the Governing Council decided to start purchasing non-financial private sector assets.

The Eurosystem will purchase a broad portfolio of simple and transparent asset-backed securities (ABSs) with underlying assets consisting of claims against the euro area non-financial private sector under an ABS purchase programme (ABSPP). This reflects the role of the ABS market in facilitating new credit flows to the economy and follows the intensification of preparatory work on this matter, as decided by the Governing Council in June. In parallel, the Eurosystem will also purchase a broad portfolio of euro-denominated covered bonds issued by MFIs domiciled in the euro area under a new covered bond purchase programme (CBPP3). Interventions under these programmes will start in October 2014.

To summarise: the ECB has cut interest rates, with the main rate cut to virtually zero (i.e. 0.05%). This represents a floor to interest rates, as, according to Mario Draghi, there is now no scope for further cuts. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

In addition, the ECB will begin the outright purchase of private-sector securities. This is a form of quantitative easing as it will involve the purchase of assets with newly created money. In the past, the ECB has simply offered loans to banks, with assets owned by banks used as collateral. This form of quantitative easing has been dubbed ‘QE light’, as it does not involve the purchase of government bonds, something the German government in particular has resisted. The ECB recognises that it would be a sensitive matter to buy government bonds of countries, such as Greece, Spain and Cyprus, which have been criticised for excessive borrowing.

Nevertheless, if it involves the creation of new money, purchasing private-sector assets is indeed a form of QE. As Mario Draghi said in response to a question on this matter:

QE is an outright purchase of assets. To give an example: rather than accepting these assets as collateral for lending, the ECB would outright purchase these assets. That’s QE. It would inject money into the system. Now, QE can be private-sector asset-based, or also sovereign-sector, public-sector asset-based, or both. The components of today’s measures are predominantly oriented to credit easing. However, it’s quite clear that we would buy outright ABS only if there is a guarantee.

So with appropriate guarantees in place about the soundness of these securitised assets, the ECB will purchase them outright.

But will these measures be enough? Time will tell, but there are now several measures in the pipeline, which could see a large stimulus to bank lending. The main question is whether banks will indeed take the opportunity to lend or merely hoard the extra reserves. And that depends in large part on the demand for credit from businesses and consumers. Boosting that is difficult when the economic climate is pessimistic.

Articles
Draghi’s ECB surprise puts off bigger quantitative easing for now Reuters, John O’Donnell (5/9/14)
ECB President Mario Draghi pulls stimulus lever at last, but still no quantitative easing for eurozone Independent, Ben Chu (5/9/14)
ECB cuts rates and launches stimulus programme BBC News (4/9/14)
Draghi Push for ECB Easing Intensifies Focus on ABS Plan Bloomberg, Stefan Riecher and Jeff Black (4/9/14)
Draghi Sees Almost $1 Trillion Stimulus as QE Fight Waits Bloomberg, Simon Kennedy (5/9/14)
Draghi’s Case For ECB Quantitative Easing Forbes, Jon Hartley (8/9/14)
ECB’s last roll of the dice BBC News, Robert Peston (4/9/14)
Draghi’s eurozone steroids BBC News, Robert Peston (2/10/14)
Draghinomics – Abenomics, European-style The Guardian, Nouriel Roubini (1/9/14)

ECB Press Release
Introductory statement to the press conference (with Q&A) European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, President of the ECB (4/9/14)
Webcast of the press conference 4 September 2014 European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, President of the ECB (4/9/14)

Questions

  1. Summarise the ECB’s monetary policy measures that will be coming into effect over the coming months.
  2. How does the QE announced by Mario Draghi differ from the QE that has been used by the Bank of England?
  3. Would it be a realistic option for the ECB to reduce its main rate below zero, just as it did with the deposit facility rate?
  4. What is meant by ‘securitisation’. Explain how asset-backed securities (ABSs) and covered bonds are forms of securitised assets.
  5. Why will the purchase of mortgage-backed securities not necessarily give a boost to the housing market?
  6. How does the effectiveness of any QE programme depend on what happens to the velocity of circulation of created money?
  7. What determines this velocity of circulation?
  8. Why are ‘animal spirits’ so important in determining the effectiveness of monetary policy?
  9. Are there any moral hazards in the ECB actions? If so what are they?
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Interest rates still at 0.5%

In 2009, interest rates in the UK were cut to a record low of 0.5%. Since that point, there has been almost unanimous agreement amongst the members of the Monetary Policy Committee to keep rates at this low. It is only in the last couple of months when some have even voted to raise rates. However, this month, interest rates were once again held at 0.5%.

The low interest rates have played a key part in creating an economic stimulus for the UK economy. With low interest rates, some of the key components of aggregate demand are stimulated and this in turn is crucial in creating a growth environment. However, with the recovery of the UK economy, there are now expectations that interest rates may soon begin to rise. Perhaps adding to this expectation is the fact that the bank’s stimulus programme has remained unchanged at £375bn. As more data is released that continues to show the positive progress of the UK economy, it becomes increasingly likely that interest rates will soon rise.

Despite the fact that interest rates will inevitably increase, Mark Carney has said that any increase will be slow and gradual to minimise the effect on consumers, especially home-owners. Mortgage payments are typically the biggest expenditure for a household and so any increase in interest rates will certainly put added pressure on home-owners and with wage growth still remaining slow, there are concerns of the impact this may have. Perhaps this may continue to deter some of the Committee for voting in favour of interest rate rises. There does appear to be some conflict between economists as to what the next step is likely to be. Yael Selfin is the economics director at KPMG and said:

With inflationary pressures still subdued, it is no surprise that rates have been held … Despite recent revisions to GDP and productivity, there is still room for further improvements in productivity, to mop up some of the rise in demand over the coming months. Steady falls in unemployment and strong economic growth are likely to see rates rising in February next year.

However, Andrew Goodwin, who is the senior economic adviser to the EY ITEM Club commented that:

On one hand, the stronger performance might convince some members that the economy is sufficiently robust to withstand the steady tightening of policy, although it should be noted that the Bank routinely builds into its forecasts the expectation of some upward revisions to the recent historical data … On the flip side, the revisions also provide some ammunition for those of a dovish persuasion, with evidence that a stronger productivity performance has had little feed through into inflationary pressures.

The key question therefore appears to be not whether interest rates will increase, but when. The MPC certainly considers inflation when making its decisions, but over the past few years, it is economic growth which has probably been the biggest influence. The data for the UK economy over the coming months, as well as the fast-approaching General Election, will prove crucial in determining exactly when interest rates increase. The following articles consider this monetary policy change.

UK interest rates held at record low of 0.5% BBC News (4/9/14)
Bank of England holds interest rates at 0.5pc for 66th month The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (4/9/14)
Timing of UK interest rate hike mired in UK services sector conundrum International Business Times, Lianna Brinded (3/9/14)
Interest rates expected to hold Mail Online, Press Association (31/8/14)
Bank of England holds rates despite robust recovery Reuters, Andy Bruce (4/9/14)
Bank of England keeps record-low rate on weak inflation Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton (4/9/14)

Questions

  1. By outlining the key components of aggregate demand, explain the mechanisms by which interest rates will affect each component.
  2. How can inflation rates be affected by interest rates?
  3. Why is there a debate between economists and the MPC as to when interest rates should be increased?
  4. If interest rates do increase, how is this likely to affect home-owners?
  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a slow and gradual rise as opposed to one big rise?
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Eurozone becalmed in the doldrums

The eurozone recorded 0.0% growth in the second quarter of 2014. While the UK and USA are now experiencing relatively buoyant economic growth, the eurozone as a whole is stagnating. Some of the 18 eurozone countries, it is true, are now growing, including Spain, Portugal, Ireland and the Netherlands. But the German and Italian economies contracted in the three months to the end of June, while France experienced zero growth.

This will put growing pressure on the ECB to introduce quantitative easing (QE) through the direct purchase of government bonds or other assets. Although this has been a key policy of many central banks, including the Bank of England, the Fed and the Bank of Japan, up to now the ECB has focused mainly on providing cheap funds to banks to encourage them to lend and keeping interest rates very low.

In June, the ECB did announce that it would explore the possibility of QE. It would also introduce €400 billion worth of targeted long-term lending to banks (targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTROs)), and would cease sterilising the extra liquidity injected through the Securities Markets Programme, which involved the purchase of existing bonds on the secondary market.

These plans and their implications are examined in the blog post, The ECB: tackling the threat of deflation.

But even if it does eventually introduce QE, this is unlikely before 2015. However, the first €200 billion of TLTROs will be introduced in September and the remaining €200 billion in December. The ECB hopes that these measures in the pipeline will give a sufficient stimulus to rekindle economic growth. But increasingly there are calls for something more dramatic to be done to prevent the eurozone as a whole slipping back into recession.

Articles
Eurozone economy grinds to halt even before Russia sanctions bite Reuters, Michelle Martin and Martin Santa (14/8/14)
ECB under pressure to boost growth, analysts say BBC News (14/8/14)
Eurozone growth at zero as Germany slumps, France stagnates Deutsche Welle (14/8/14)
Eurozone crisis: The grim economic reality BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (14/8/14)
Eurozone growth splutters to a halt as crisis enters new phase The Guardian, Larry Elliott (14/8/14)
Eurozone can learn from George Osborne and Bank of England stimulus The Guardian, Larry Elliott (14/8/14)
Broken Europe: economic growth grinds to a standstill The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (14/8/14)
One-in-three chance the ECB conducts quantitative easing next year – Reuters Poll Reuters, Sumanta Dey (13/8/14)
Eurozone’s Unravelling Recovery: What’s Going Wrong Across Troubled Currency Bloc International Business Times, Finbarr Bermingham (14/8/14)
France calls on ECB to act as eurozone growth grinds to a halt The Guardian, Larry Elliott (14/8/14)
That sinking feeling (again) The Economist (30/8/14)

Data
GDP stable in the euro area and up by 0.2% in the EU28 eurostat euroindicators (14/8/14)
Statistics Pocket Book ECB
European Economy: links to data sources Economics Network
Euro area economic and financial data ECB

Questions

  1. Explain how quantitative easing works.
  2. Why has the ECB been reluctant to introduce QE?
  3. What is meant by sterilisation? Why did the ECB sterilise the effects of the assets purchased under the Securities Markets Programme? Why did it cease doing this in June?
  4. How have events in Ukraine and political reactions to them influenced the eurozone economy?
  5. Should QE be ‘fast tracked’? Would there be any dangers in this?
  6. What is the ‘Funding for Lending’ scheme in the UK? Is the planned introduction of TLTROs similar to Funding for Lending?
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A growing debt burden

The linked article below from The Guardian paints a disturbing picture of the long-term problem of servicing both private-sector and public-sector debts.

With interest rates at historical lows, the problem has been masked for the time being. But with interest rates set to rise within a few months, and significantly over the coming years, the burden of debt servicing is likely to become severe. This could have profound effects both on long-term economic growth and on the distribution of income.

As the author, Phillip Inman states:

The funding gap is growing and with deficits on so many fronts, it is hard to see how promises to pensioners and health service users can be met without a dash for growth that is unsustainable, a switch to dramatic cost-cutting in other areas or higher taxes on those who came through the recession relatively unscathed.

You are probably facing the problem of growing debt yourself. How long, if ever, will it take you to repay your student loans? What impact will this have on your ability to spend and to have a ‘decent’ standard of living? Will you be able to afford a mortgage large enough to buy a reasonable house or flat? Will you be able to afford to do a masters degree or PhD without support from your parents or relatives or without a scholarship? And even if you manage to secure a well-paid job, will you be able to afford a reasonable pension for when you eventually retire?

The article looks at the nature of the problem and its causes. It concludes by saying:

Britain has become expert at putting off decisions and hoping for something to turn up. Without a return to ultra-cheap commodities, another technological/productivity revolution, or a return to more modest living and delayed gratification, it’s a plan that is running out of time.

Article
Trouble in store: the grave future of British public and private debt The Guardian, Phillip Inman (20/7/14)

Report
Fiscal sustainability report Office for Budget Responsibility (10/7/14)
Fiscal sustainability report – Executive summary Office for Budget Responsibility (10/7/14)
Fiscal sustainability report – Supplementary data series Office for Budget Responsibility (10/7/14)

Questions

  1. Why is public-sector debt likely to continue rising significantly over the coming years unless there is a concerted policy to make cuts in public expenditure?
  2. What factors are likely to lead to a rise in private-sector debt over the coming years?
  3. What factors have caused a redistribution from the younger to the older generation?
  4. How have ultra low interest rates affected the distribution of income?
  5. What is likely to happen to the gap in wages between ‘graduate’ jobs and ‘non-graduate’ jobs? Identify the factors likely to influence this gap?
  6. What is meant by ‘hire purchase’? Are leasing schemes for car purchase a form of ‘hire purchase? Are there similar schemes in the housing market?
  7. Does it matter if a country’s debts rise (either public or private) if the creditors are in the same country? Explain.
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How to cool the London housing market?

House prices have been rising strongly in London. According to the Halifax House Price index, house prices in London in the first quarter of 2014 were 15.5% higher than a year ago. This compares with 8.7% for the UK as a whole, 1.3% for the North of England and –1.5% for Scotland. CPI inflation was just 1.6% for the same 12-month period.

The London housing market has been stoked by rising incomes in the capital, by speculation that house prices will rise further and by easy access to mortgages, fuelled by the government’s Help to Buy scheme, which allows people to put down a deposit of as little as 5%. House prices in London in the first quarter of 2014 were 5.3 times the average income of new mortgage holders, up from 3.5 times in the last quarter of 2007, just before the financial crisis.

Concerns have been growing about increasing levels of indebtedness, which could leave people in severe financial difficulties if interest rates were to rise significantly. There are also concerns that an increasing proportion of people are being priced out of the housing market and are being forced to remain in the rental sector, where rents are also rising strongly.

But how can the housing market in London be dampened without dampening the housing market in other parts of the country where prices are barely rising, and without putting a break on the still relatively fragile recovery in the economy generally?

The Governor of the Bank of England has just announced two new measures specific to the housing market and which would apply particularly in London.

The first is to require banks to impose stricter affordability tests to new borrowers. Customers should be able demonstrate their ability to continue making their mortgage payments if interest rates were 3 percentage points higher than now.

The second is that mortgage lenders should restrict their lending to 4½ times people’s income for at least 85% of their lending.

Critics are claiming that these measures are likely to be insufficient. Indeed, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, has argued for a limit of 3½ times people’s income. Also banks are already typically applying a ‘stress test’ that requires people to be able to afford mortgage payments if interest rates rose to 7% (not dissimilar to the Bank of England’s new affordability test).

The videos and articles look at the measures and consider their adequacy in dealing with what is becoming for many living in London a serious problem of being able to afford a place to live. They also look at other measures that could have been taken.

Webcasts and Podcasts
The Bank of England announces plans for a new affordability test BBC News (26/6/14)
Bank of England moves to avert housing boom BBC News, Simon Jack (26/6/14)
Bank of England to act on house prices in south-east BBC News, Robert Peston (25/6/14)
Bank of England measures ‘insure against housing boom’ BBC News, Robert Peston (26/6/14)
Carney: There is a ‘new normal’ for interest rates BBC Today Programme, Mark Carney (27/6/14)

Articles
Bank of England imposes first limits on size of UK mortgages Reuters, Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Huw Jones (26/6/14)
Stability Report – Mark Carney caps mortgages to cool housing market: as it happened June 26, 2014 The Telegraph, Martin Strydom (26/6/14)
Bank of England cracks down on mortgages The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (26/6/14)
Mortgage cap ‘insures against housing boom’ BBC News (26/6/14)
Viewpoints: Is the UK housing market broken? BBC News (26/6/14)
How can UK regulators cool house prices? Reuters (25/6/14)
Bank will not act on house prices yet, says Carney The Guardian, Jill Treanor and Larry Elliott (26/6/14)
Mark Carney’s housing pill needs time to let economy digest it The Guardian, Larry Elliott (26/6/14)
Bank Of England Admits Plans To Cool Housing Market Will Have ‘Minimal’ Impact Huffington Post, Asa Bennett (26/6/14)
Carney Surprises Are Confounding Markets as U.K. Central Bank Manages Guidance Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton and Emma Charlton (26/6/14)
House prices: stop meddling, Mark Carney, and bite the bullet on interest rates The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (27/6/14)
Mark Carney’s Central Bank Mission Creep Bloomberg, Mark Gilbert (26/6/14)

Consultation paper
Implementing the Financial Policy Committee’s Recommendation on loan to income ratios in mortgage lending Bank of England (26/6/14)
Bank of England consults on implementation of loan-to-income ratio limit for mortgage lending Bank of England News Release (26/6/14)

Data
Links to sites with data on UK house prices Economic Data freely available online, The Economics Network

Questions

  1. Identify the main factors on the demand and supply sides that could cause a rise in the price of houses. How does the price elasticity of demand and supply affect the magnitude of the rise?
  2. What other measures could have been taken by the Bank of England? What effect would they have had on the economy generally?
  3. What suggests that the Bank of England is not worried about the current situation but rather is taking the measures as insurance against greater-than-anticipated house price inflation in the future?
  4. Why are UK households currently in a ‘vulnerable position’?
  5. What factors are likely to determine the future trend of house prices in London?
  6. Is house price inflation in London likely to stay significantly above that in other parts of the UK, or is the difference likely to narrow or even disappear?
  7. Should the Bank of England be given the benefit of the doubt in being rather cautious in its approach to dampening the London housing market?
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