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Articles for the ‘Essentials of Economics 6e: Ch 14’ Category

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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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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The ECB: tackling the threat of deflation

The spectre of deflation haunts the eurozone economy. Inflation in the 12 months to May 2014 was 0.5%, down from 0.7% to April and well below the target of 2% (see). Price deflation can result in deflation of the whole economy. With the prospect of falling prices, many consumers put off spending, hoping to buy things later at a lower price. This delay in spending deflates aggregate demand and can result in a decline in growth or even negative growth: hardly a welcome prospect as the eurozone still struggles to recover from the long period of recession or sluggish growth that followed the 2007–8 financial crisis.

The ECB is well aware of the problem. Its President, Mario Draghi, has stated on several occasions that the central bank will do whatever it takes to ward off deflation and stimulate recovery. At its monthly meeting on 5 June, the ECB Council acted. It took the following measures (see Mario Draghi’s press conference and the press release):

• The main refinancing rate it charges banks on reverse repos (when using open-market operations) was cut from 0.25% to 0.15%.
• The rate it pays banks for depositing money in the ECB was cut from 0% to –0.1%. In other words, banks would be charged for ‘parking’ money with the ECB rather than lending it.
• It will provide targeted lending to banks (targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTROs)), initially of 7% of the total amount of each banks’ loans to the non-financial private sector within the eurozone. This will be provided in two equal amounts, in September and December 2014. These extra loans will be for bank lending to businesses and households (other than for house purchase). The total amount will be some €400 billion. Substantial additional lending will be made available quarterly from March 2016 to June 2016.
• It will make preparations for an asset purchase scheme. Unlike that in the UK, which involves the purchase of government bonds, this will involve the purchase of assets which involve claims on private-sector (non-financial) institutions. Depending on financing arrangements, this could amount to quantitative easing.
• It will suspend sterilising the extra liquidity that has been injected under the Securities Markets Programme (operated from May 2010 to September 2012), which involved purchasing eurozone countries’ existing bonds on the secondary market. In other words it will stop preventing the securities that have been purchased from increasing money supply. This therefore, for the first time, represents a genuine form of quantitative easing.

The question is whether the measures will be enough to stimulate the eurozone economy, prevent deflation and bring inflation back to around 2%. The measures are potentially significant, especially the prospect of quantitative easing – a policy pursued by other main central banks, such as the Fed, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan. A lot depends on what the ECB does over the coming months.

The following articles consider the ECB’s policy. The first ones were published before the announcement and look at alternatives open to the ECB. The others look at the actual decisions and assess how successful they are likely to be.

Articles published before the announcement
Mario Draghi faces moment of truth as man with power to steady eurozone The Observer, Larry Elliott (1/6/14)
What the ECB will do in June? Draghi spells it out The Economist (26/5/14)
Draghi as Committed as a Central Banker Gets, as Economists Await ECB Stimulus Bloomberg, Alessandro Speciale and Andre Tartar (19/5/14)
ECB’s credit and credibility test BBC News, Robert Peston (2/6/14)
90 ECB decamps to debate monetary fixes Financial Times, Claire Jones (25/5/14)

Speech
Monetary policy in a prolonged period of low inflation ECB, Mario Draghi (26/5/14)

Articles published after the announcement
ECB launches €400bn scheme, seeks to force bank lending Irish Independent (5/6/14)
The ECB’s toolbox BBC News, Linda Yueh (5/6/14)
ECB’s justified action will help but is no panacea for eurozone deflationary ills The Guardian, Larry Elliott (5/6/14)
Why Negative Rates Won’t Work In The Eurozone Forbes, Frances Coppola (4/6/14)
Germany’s fear of QE is what’s stopping us from cracking open the Cava The Telegraph, Roger Bootle (8/6/14)

Data
Euro area economic and financial data ECB

Questions

  1. Why has the eurozone experienced falling inflation and a growing prospect of negative inflation?
  2. Explain how the Securities Markets Programme (SMP) worked (check it out on the ECB site). What countries’ bonds were purchased and why?
  3. What is meant by sterilisation? Why did the ECB sterilise the effects of the assets purchased under the SMP?
  4. If it is practical for the ECB to set a negative interest rate on the deposit facility for banks, would it be practical to set a negative interest rate for the main refinancing operations or the marginal lending facility? Explain.
  5. Why has the ECB, up to now, been unwilling to engage in quantitative easing? What has changed?
  6. Why may the introduction of a negative interest rate on bank deposits in the ECB have only a very small effect on bank lending?
  7. How much is broad money supply growing in the eurozone? Is this enough or too much? Explain.
  8. What else could the ECB have done to ward off deflation? Should the ECB have adopted these measures?
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Argentina and the Paris Club

An historic agreement has been reached between Argentina over outstanding debt owed to creditor nations. Creditor nations come together as the ‘Paris Club’ and at a Paris Club meeting on May 28, details of a repayment plan were agreed. Argentina hopes that the agreement will enable it to start borrowing again on international markets: something that had been largely blocked by outstanding debt, which, up to now, Argentina had been unwilling to repay.

The problem goes back to 2001. Argentina was faced with international debt payments of $132bn, equalling some 27% of GDP and over 300% of export earnings. But at the time the country was in recession and debts were virtually impossible to service. It had received some help from the International Monetary Fund, but in December 2001, the IMF refused a request for a fresh loan of $1.3 billion

As Case Study 27.5 in MyEconLab for Economics, 8th edition explains:

This triggered a crisis in the country with mass rioting and looting. As the crisis deepened, Argentina announced that it was defaulting on its $166 billion of foreign debt. This hardly came as a surprise, however. For many commentators, it was simply a question of when.

Argentina’s default on its debts was the biggest of its kind in history. In a series of dramatic measures, the Argentine peso was initially devalued by 29%. Over the next three months, the peso depreciated a further 40%.

The economy seemed in free-fall. GDP fell by 11% in 2002 and, by the end of the year, income per head was 22% below that of 1998. Unemployment was 21%.

Then, however, the economy began to recover, helped by higher (peso) prices for exports resulting from the currency depreciation. In 2003 economic growth was 9.0% and averaged 8.4% per annum from 2004 to 2008.

But what of the debt? In 2005, Argentina successfully made a huge debt swap with banks and other private creditors (see Box 27.1 in Economics, 8th edition). A large proportion of its defaulted debt was in the form of bonds. It offered to swap the old bonds for new peso bonds, but worth only 35% as much (known as a ‘haircut’). By the deadline of 25 February, there was a 76% take-up of the offer: clearly people thought that 35% was better than nothing! At a stroke, bonds originally worth $104 billion now became worth just $36.2 billion. Later the take-up of the offer increased to 93%. But still 7% held out.

Then in 2006 its debt of nearly $10 billion was repaid to the IMF. General government debt stock as a percentage of GDP fell from 172% in 2002 to 106% in 2006 and to 48% in 2010.

In September 2008, the government of President Cristina Kirchner pledged to use some of its foreign currency reserves of $47 billion to pay back the remainder of the defaulted debt still owed to Paris Club creditors. But negotiations stalled.

However, at the Paris Club meeting of 28 May this year, agreement was finally reached. Argentina will repay the outstanding $9.7bn owed to individual creditor countries. This will take place over 5 years, with a first instalment of $1.15bn being paid before May 2015.

Argentina hopes that the agreement will open up access to overseas credit, which, up to now, has been limited because of this unresolved debt. However, Argentina still owes money to the holders of the 7% of bonds who did not accept the haircut offered in 2005. Their claims are being heard in the US Supreme Court on 12 June this year. The outcome will be critical in determining whether Argentina will be able to raise new funds on the bond market.

Argentina clinches landmark debt repayment deal with Paris Club Reuters, Leigh Thomas and Sarah Marsh (29/5/14)
Argentina Will Repay Paris Club Debt 13 Years After Default Bloomberg, Charlie Devereux and Pablo Gonzalez (29/5/14)
Argentina and the capital markets: At least they have Paris The Economist (30/5/14)
Argentina’s Paris Club Deal to Bring Investment, Kicillof Says Bloomberg, Charlie Devereux (30/5/14)
Argentina Leaves Singer for Last in Preparing Bond Market Return Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Camila Russo and Katia Porzecanski (30/5/14)
Argentina in deal with Paris Club to pay $10bn debts BBC News (29/5/14)
Argentina debt deal could help ease re-entry to international markets The Guardian (29/5/14)
Argentina agrees deal to pay back $10bn debt The Telegraph (29/5/14)

Questions

  1. What is the Paris Club? Why did the recent meeting of the Paris Club concerning Argentina’s debt not include the IMF?
  2. What moral hazards are involved in (a) defaulting on debt; (b) offering debt relief to debtor countries; (c) agreeing to pay bond holders who did not accept the haircut?
  3. In hindsight, was it in Argentina’s interests to default on its international debts in 2001?
  4. Assume a country has a severe debt problem. What are the benefits and costs of using devaluation (or depreciation) to tackle the problem?
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Cause for optimism?

The IMF has just published its 6-monthly World Economic Outlook report. The report is moderately optimistic, arguing that ‘global activity has broadly strengthened and is expected to improve further in 2014–15′. World growth is expected to rise from 3.0% in 2013 to 3.6% in 2014 and 3.9% in 2015,

Much of the impetus for an acceleration in growth is expected to come from advanced countries. Growth in these countries is expected to average 2¼% in 2014–15, a rise of 1 percentage point compared with 2013. Part of the reason is that these countries still have large output gaps and thus have considerable scope to respond to rises in aggregate demand.

Monetary policy in advanced countries remains accommodative, although the USA has begun to taper off its quantitative easing programme. It is possible, however, that the ECB may make its monetary policy more accommodative, with signs that it might embark on quantitative easing if eurozone growth remains weak and if the risks of deflation rise. If the average price level in the eurozone does fall, this could dampen demand as consumers defer consumption until prices have fallen.

As far as emerging economies are concerned, growth is projected to ‘pick up gradually from 4.7 percent in 2013 to about 5 percent in 2014 and 5¼% in 2015′. Although predicted growth is higher in emerging countries than in advanced countries, its acceleration is less, and much of the predicted growth is dependent on rising export sales to the advanced countries.

Global growth, however, is still fragile. Emerging market economies are vulnerable to a slowing or even reversal of monetary flows from the USA as its quantitative easing programme winds down. Advanced countries are vulnerable to deflationary risks. ‘The result [of deflation] would be higher real interest rates, an increase in private and public debt burdens, and weaker demand and output.’

The UK is predicted to have the strongest growth (2.9%) of the G7 countries in 2014 (see above chart). But the IMF cautions about being too optimistic:

Growth has rebounded more strongly than anticipated in the United Kingdom on easier credit conditions and increased confidence. However, the recovery has been unbalanced, with business investment and exports still disappointing.

Articles
IMF: World economy stronger; recovery uneven USA Today, Paul Davidson (8/4/14)
Emerging markets feel the pressure The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (8/4/14)
IMF cuts downturn danger to near zero Financial Times, Chris Giles (8/4/14)
IMF warns eurozone and ECB on deflation threat RTE News (8/4/14)
Recovery strong but risk shifts to emerging markets: IMF CNBC, Kiran Moodley (8/4/14)
IMF: World economy is stronger but faces threats Bloomberg Businessweek, Christopher S. Rugaber (8/4/14)
IMF: UK economic growth to reach 2.9% in 2014 BBC News (8/4/14)
IMF: UK economic growth to reach 2.9% in 2014 BBC News, Hugh Pym (8/4/14)
Five signs that the global economic recovery may be an illusion The Guardian, Larry Elliott (6/4/14)

Report and data
World Economic Outlook (WEO) International Monetary Fund (8/4/14)
World Economic Outlook Database IMF (8/4/14)

Questions

  1. Why does the IMF expect the world economy to grow more strongly in 2014 and 2015 than in 2013?
  2. What are the greatest risks to economic growth for (a) advanced countries; (b) developing countries?
  3. What geo-political events could negatively affect economic growth in (a) the eurozone; (b) the global economy?
  4. In what ways is the UK’s economic growth unbalanced?
  5. How much credence should be given to economic forecasts?
  6. Should countries’ economic performance be judged primarily by their growth in GDP?
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Imbalance of payments

The latest balance of payments data for the UK show that in the final two quarters of 2013 the current account deficit as a percentage of GDP was the highest ever recorded. In quarter 3 it was 5.6% of GDP and in quarter 4 it was 5.4% of GDP. The previous highest quarterly figures were 5.3% in 1988 Q4 and 5.2% in 1989 Q3. The average current account deficit from 1960 to 2013 has been 1.1% of GDP and from 1980 to 2013 has been 1.6% of GDP.

The current account has four major components: the balance on goods, the balance on services, the balance on current transfers and the balance on income flows (e.g. investment income). The chart below shows the annual balances of each of these components, plus the overall current account balance, from 1960 to 2013.

There are large differences in the balances of these four and the differences seem to be widening. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

Traditionally the balance on goods has been negative. In 2013 Q3 the deficit on goods reached a record 7.3% of GDP. It fell back somewhat in Q4 to 6.5%, still significantly above the average since 2000 of 5.5%. With the economy still recovering slowly, it would normally be expected that the trade deficit would be low. However, the high exchange rate has made it difficult for UK exporters to compete. Also with consumer confidence returning, imports are rising, again boosted by the high exchange rate, which makes imports cheaper.

The services balance, by contrast, is typically in surplus. In the final two quarters of 2013, the surpluses were 4.9% and 5.1% of GDP respectively. These compare with an average of 3.3% since 2000. It seems that the service sector, which includes banking, insurance, consultancy, advertising, accountancy, law, etc., is much more able to compete in a global environment.

The balance of current transfers to and from such bodies as the EU and UN have traditionally been negative, although as a proportion of GDP this has gradually widened in recent years. In 2013 the deficit was 1.7% compared with an average of 1.0% since 2000.

The most dramatic change has been in income flows and particularly those from investment. Before the crash in late 2008, the returns to many of the risky investments abroad made by UK financial institutions were very high. Income flows in the 12 months 2007 Q4 to 2008 Q3 averaged a surplus of 2.8% of GDP. They stayed positive, albeit at lower levels, until 2012 Q1, but then became negative as UK institutions reduced their exposure to overseas investments and as earnings in the UK by overseas investors increased. In the last two quarters of 2013, the deficits on income flows were 1.4% and 2.5% of GDP respectively.

How do these figures accord with the Chancellor’s desire to rebalance the economy towards exports? In terms of services, the export performance is good. In terms of goods, however, exports actually fell in the last two quarters from £78.4bn to £74.8bn. Although imports fell too in the final quarter, there is a danger that, with recovery and a high pound, these could begin to rise rapidly

So should the Bank of England attempt to bring the sterling exchange rate down? After all, the exchange rate index has risen from 79.1 in March 2013 to 85.9 in February 2014 (an appreciation of 8.6%). But if it did want to do so, what could it do? The traditional methods of reducing Bank rate and increasing the money supply are not open to it at the present time: Bank rate, at 0.5%, is already about as low as it could go and the Bank has ruled out any further quantitative easing.

The articles consider the latest balance of payments figures and their implications for the economy and for economic policy

Articles
UK current account deficit far bigger than forecast The Guardian, Katie Allen (28/3/14)
UK current account deficit near record high at £22.4bn BBC News (28/3/14)
UK current account gap second widest on record The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (28/3/14)
When will the UK pay its way? BBC News, Robert Peston (28/3/14)
Current account deficit crisis creeping up on UK can no longer be ignored The Guardian, Larry Elliott (30/3/14)

Data
Balance of Payments, Q4 and annual 2013 ONS (28/3/14)
Statistical Interactive Database – interest & exchange rates data Bank of England

Questions

  1. If the current account is in deficit, how is the overall balance of payments in balance (i.e. is in neither deficit nor surplus)?
  2. If the current account is in record deficit, why has sterling appreciated over recent months? What effect is this appreciation likely to have on the balance on trade in goods and services?
  3. Why has the balance on investment income deteriorated? In what ways could this be seen as a ‘good thing’?
  4. To what extent do the balance of payments figures show a rebalancing of the economy in the way the Chancellor would like?
  5. What could the Bank of England do to bring about a depreciation of sterling?
  6. What would be the benefits and costs of a depreciation of sterling?
  7. Why do investors overseas seem so willing to lend to the UK, thereby producing a large surplus on the financial account?
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How can the ECB ease monetary policy?

In August 2012, the ECB president, Mario Draghi, said that the ECB would ‘do whatever it takes‘ to hold the single currency together and support the weaker economies, such as Greece, Portugal and Spain. At the same time, he announced the introduction of outright monetary purchases (OMTs), which would involve purchasing eurozone countries’ bonds in the secondary markets. There were no limits specified to such purchases, but they would be sterilised by the sale of other assets. In other words, they would not increase the eurozone money supply. But despite the fanfare when OMTs were announced, they have never been used.

Today, the eurozone economy is struggling to grow. The average annual growth rate across the eurozone is a mere 0.5%, albeit up from the negative rates up to 2013 Q3. GDP is still over 2% below the peak in 2008. Inflation is currently standing at 0.8%, well below the 2% target. The ECB’s interest rate (‘main refinancing operations rate’) is 0.25%.

The recovery is hindered by a strong euro. As the chart shows, the euro has been appreciating against the dollar. The euro exchange rate index has also been rising. This has made it harder for the eurozone countries to export.

So what can the ECB do to stimulate the eurozone economy? Other central banks, such as the Bank of England, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan have all had substantial programmes of quantitative easing. The ECB has not. Perhaps OMTs could be used without sterilisation. The problem here is that there are no eurozone bonds issued by the ECB and hence none that could be purchased, only the bonds of individual member countries. Buying bonds of weaker countries in the eurozone would be seen as favouring these countries and might create a moral hazard.

Reducing interest rates is hardly an option given that they are at virtually zero already. And expansionary fiscal policy in the weaker countries has been ruled out by having to stick to the bailout conditions for these countries, which require the pursuit of austerity policies.

One possibility would be to intervene in the foreign currency market by buying US and other countries’ bonds. This would drive down the euro and provide a stimulus to exports. This option is considered in the Jeffrey Frankel article.

Articles
Why the European Central Bank should buy American The Guardian, Jeffrey Frankel (13/3/14)
Draghi holds course in face of deflation threat Reuters, Paul Carrel and Leika Kihara (13/3/14)
ECB’s Draghi: Strong Euro Pulling Down Euro Zone Inflation Wall Street Journal, Christopher Lawton and Todd Buell (13/3/14)
Draghi Bolstering Guidance Seen as Convincing on Rates Bloomberg, Jeff Black and Andre Tartar (13/3/14)
ECB president Mario Draghi counters euro upswing Financial Times, Claire Jones (13/3/14)
Turning Japanese? Euro zone exporters must hope not Reuters, Neal Kimberley (14/3/14)
Prospect of ECB QE drives eurozone bond rally Financial Times, Laurence Mutkin (12/3/14)

Data
Statistical Data Warehouse ECB
Winter forecast 2014 – EU economy: recovery gaining ground European Commission: Economic and Financial Affairs DG
AMECO online European Commission: Economic and Financial Affairs DG

Questions

  1. Why is the ECB generally opposed to quantitative easing of the type used by other central banks?
  2. What is meant by ‘sterilisation’? Why does sterilisation prevent OMTs being classed as a form of quantitative easing?
  3. Would it be possible for OMTs to be used without sterilisation in such as way as to avoid a moral hazard for the highly indebted eurozone countries?
  4. Is the eurozone in danger of experiencing deflation?
  5. What are the dangers of deflation?
  6. Why does the ECB not cut its main refinancing rate below zero?
  7. If the ECB buys US bonds, what effect would this have on the euro/dollar exchange rate?
  8. Would purchasing US bonds affect the eurozone money supply? Explain.
  9. What other means are there of the ECB stimulating the eurozone economy? How effective would they be likely to be?
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Cleaning up the foreign exchanges

According to latest evidence from the Bank for International Settlements, in April 2013 some £3.2 trillion ($5.3 trillion) of foreign exchange was traded daily on global foreign exchange (forex) markets. About 40% of forex dealing goes through trading rooms in London. This market is highly profitable for the UK economy. But all is not well with the way people trade. There is a scandal about rate fixing.

Exchange rates on the forex market are freely determined by demand and supply and fluctuate second by second, 24 hours a day, except for weekends. Nevertheless, once a day rates are fixed for certain trades. At 4pm GMT a set of reference rates is set for corporate customers by banks and other traders. The rates are set at the free market average over the one minute from 16:00 to 16:01. The allegation is that banks have been colluding, through text messaging and chat rooms, to manipulate the market over that one minute.

Since the early summer of 2013, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the UK, along with counterparts in the USA, Switzerland, Hong Kong and elsewhere, has been looking into these allegations. Last week (4/3/14), the Bank of England suspended a member of its staff as part of its own investigation into potential rigging of the foreign exchange market. The allegation is not that the staff member(s) were involved in the rigging but that they might have known about it.The Bank said that, “An oversight committee will lead further investigations into whether bank officials were involved in forex market manipulation or were aware of manipulation, or at least the potential for such manipulation.”

Meanwhile, the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee has been questioning Bank of England staff, including the governor, Mark Carney, about the scandal. Speaking to the Committee, Martin Wheatley, head of the FCA said that the investigation over rigging had been extended to 10 banks and that the allegations are every bit as bad as they have been with Libor.

Forex rigging ‘as serious as’ Libor scandal: Carney Yahoo News, Roland Jackson (11/2/14)
Forex manipulation: How it worked HITC (Here Is The City), Catherine Boyle (11/3/14)
Bank of England Chief Grilled Over Forex Scandal ABC News, Danica Kirka (11/3/14)
Carney Faces Grilling as Currency Scandal Snares BOE Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton and Suzi Ring (10/3/14)
UK financial body urges quick action over foreign exchange ‘fixing’ Reuters, Huw Jones (11/3/14)
Timeline -The FX “fixing” scandal Reuters, Jamie McGeever (11/3/14)
Forex in the spotlight Financial Times (16/2/14)
Forex scandal: What is that all about? BBC News (11/3/14)
Bank of England in shake-up after rate manipulation criticism BBC News (11/3/14)
Mark Carney faces Forex questions from MPs BBC News, Hugh Pym (11/3/14)
Bank of England’s Paul Fisher: ‘It’s not our job to go hunting for market wrongdoing’ Independent, Russell Lynch , Ben Chu (11/3/14)

Questions

  1. For what reasons would sterling appreciate against the dollar?
  2. Most of forex trading is for speculative purposes, rather than for financing trade or investment. Why is this and does it benefit international trade?
  3. If foreign exchange rates fluctuate, is it not a good thing that banks collude to agree the 4pm fixed rate? Explain.
  4. What was the Libor scandal? Why are some people arguing that the current forex scandal is worse?
  5. What can the FCA do to prevent collusion over exchange rates?
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Economic shocks and the Ukrainian crisis

One of the reasons why it is so hard to forecast economic growth and other macroeconomic indicators is that economies can be affected by economic shocks. Sometimes the effects of shocks are large. The problem with shocks is that, by their very nature, they are unpredictable or hard to predict.

A case in point is the current crisis in Ukraine. First there was the uprising in Kiev, the ousting of President Yanukovich and the formation of a new government. Then there was the seizing of the Crimean parliament by gunmen loyal to Russia. The next day, Saturday March 1, President Putin won parliamentary approval to invade Ukraine and Russian forces took control of the Crimea.

On Monday 3 March, stock markets fell around the world. The biggest falls were in Russia (see chart). In other stock markets, the size of the falls was directly related to the closeness of trade ties with Russia. The next day, with a degree of calm descending on the Crimea and no imminent invasion by Russia of other eastern parts of Ukraine, stock markets rallied.

What will happen to countries’ economies depends on what happens as the events unfold. There could be a continuing uneasy peace, with the West effectively accepting, despite protests, the Russian control of the Crimea. But what if Russia invades eastern Ukraine and tries to annex it to Russia or promote its being run as a separate country? What if the West reacted strongly by sending in troops? What if the reaction were simply sanctions? That, of course would depend on the nature of those sanctions.

Some of the possibilities could have serious effects on the world economy and especially the Russian economy and the economies of those with strong economic ties to Russia, such as those European countries relying heavily on gas and oil imports from Russia through the pipeline network.

Economists are often criticised for poor forecasts. But when economic shocks can have large effects and when they are hard to predict by anyone, not just economists, then it is hardly surprising that economic forecasts are sometimes highly inaccurate.

What Wall Street is watching in Ukraine crisis USA Today (3/3/14)
Ukraine’s economic shock waves – magnitude uncertain Just Auto, Dave Leggett (7/3/14)
Ukraine: The end of the beginning? The Economist (8/3/14)
Russia will bow to economic pressure over Ukraine, so the EU must impose it The Guardian, Guy Verhofstadt (6/3/14)
Russia paying price for Ukraine crisis CNN Money, Mark Thompson (6/3/14)
Ukraine Crimea: Russia’s economic fears BBC News, Nikolay Petrov (7/3/14)
How Russia’s conflict with Ukraine threatens vital European trade links The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (8/3/14)
Will a Russian invasion of Ukraine push the west into an economic war? Channel 4 News, Paul Mason (2/3/14)
Who loses from punishing Russia? BBC News, Robert Peston (4/3/14)
Should Crimea be leased to Russia? BBC News, Robert Peston (7/3/14)
The Ukraine Economic Crisis Counter Punch, Jack Rasmus (7-9/3/14)
UK price rise exposes failure to prepare for food and fuel shocks The Guardian, Phillip Inman (2/3/14)

Questions

  1. What sanctions could the West realistically impose on Russia?
  2. How would sanctions against Russia affect (a) the Russian economy and (b) the economies of those applying the sanctions?
  3. Which industries would be most affected by sanctions against Russia?
  4. Is Russia likely to bow to economic pressure from the West?
  5. Should Crimea be leased to Russia?
  6. Is the behaviour of stock markets a good indication of people’s expectations about the real economy?
  7. Identify some other economic shocks (positive and negative) and their impact.
  8. Could the financial crisis of 2007/8 be described as an economic shock? Explain.
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20 views on the world economy

Finance ministers and central bank officials of the G20 countries are meeting in Sydney from 20 to 23 February. Business leaders from these countries are also attending and have separate meetings.

Amongst the usual discussions at such meetings about how to achieve greater global economic stability and faster and sustained economic growth, there are other more specific agenda issues. At the Sydney meeting these include a roundtable discussion to identify practical solutions to lift infrastructure investment. They also include discussions on how to clamp down on tax avoidance through means such as transfer pricing.

The G20 meetings of finance and business leaders take place annually. There are also annual summits of heads of government (the next being in Brisbane in November 2014).

The G20 was formed in 1999 to extend the work of the G8 developed countries to include other major developed and developing countries plus the EU. In 2008/9 it played a significant role in helping devise policies to tackle the banking crisis and combat the subsequent recession. At the time there was a common purpose, which made devising common policies easier.

Since then, the importance of the G20 has waned. Partly this is because of the divergent problems and issues between members and hence the difficulty of reaching agreements. Partly it is because, to be effective, it needs to remain small but, to be inclusive, it needs to extend beyond the current 20 members. Indeed there has been considerable resentment from many countries outside the G20 that their views are not being represented. Some representatives from non-G20 countries attend meetings on an informal basis.

The following articles discuss the role of the G20 and whether it is fit for purpose.

Articles
Janet Yellen vs. the world: The issues at the G20 finance summit Globe and Mail (Canada), Iain Marlow (20/2/14)
Turning ideas into action at the G20 Business Spectator (Australia), Mike Callaghan (21/2/14)
Boosting infrastructure investment can prove G20’s value to the world The Conversation, Andrew Elek (20/2/14)
Can the G20 ever realise its potential? The Conversation, Mark Beeson (21/2/14)
G20 has failed to fulfil its promise of collaboration amid hostility The Guardian, Larry Elliott (20/2/14)

Official G20 site
G20 Priorities G20
Australia 2014 G20
News G20

Questions

  1. Which countries are members of the G20? Compile a list of those countries you feel ought to be members of such an organisation.
  2. What are the arguments for and against increasing the membership of the G20 (or decreasing it)?
  3. Why is Janet Yellen, Chair of the US Federal Reserve, likely to be at odds with leaders from other G20 countries, especially those from developing countries?
  4. Why have the tensions between G20 members increased in recent months?
  5. Discuss possible reforms to the IMF and the G20′s role in promoting such reforms.
  6. What insights can game theory provide in understanding the difficulties in reaching binding agreements at G20 meetings? Are these difficulties greater at G20 than at G8 meetings?
  7. Should the G20 be scrapped?
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