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Posts Tagged ‘austerity measures’

The paradox of thrift

If one person saves more, then it will increase that person’s consumption possibilities in the future. If, however, everyone saves more, and hence spends less, then businesses will earn less and are likely to respond by producing less if the decline in aggregate demand continues. Hence if a country saves more, people could be worse off. That’s the paradox of thrift.

There is considerable debate around the world at the moment about the desirability of austerity policies. The debate has become more intense with the worsening economic outlook in many European countries and with the election in France of François Hollande who rejects many of the austerity measures of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.

But can further stimulus be given to aggregate demand without causing a further worsening of countries’ public-sector debt positions and causing a fall in confidence in financial markets? And how would that impact on investment?

And in the meantime, as the economic outlook darkens, people are trying to save more, despite low interest rates. The paradox of thrift seems to be getting more acute. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

Articles
How National Belt-Tightening Goes Awry New York Times, Robert J. Shiller (19/5/12)
Japan disease is spreading: High risk and low returns Firstpost (India), Vivek Kaul (17/5/12)
The Solution can not be More Debt Huffington Post, Jill Shaw Ruddock (29/5/12)
Crediting debt Breaking Views, Edward Hadas (30/5/12)
Green investments can overcome the paradox of thrift New Statesman, Dimitri Zenghelis (7/6/12)
Austerity has never worked Guardian, Ha-Joon Chang (4/6/12)
The False Choice Between Austerity And Growth Forbes (24/5/12)
It’s not a case of austerity v stimulus for Europe Guardian, Paul Haydon (1/6/12)

Data
UK households’ saving ratio: series NRJS ONS
Household saving rates for OECD countries StatExtracts: OECD

Questions

  1. Why may we be experiencing a paradox of thrift at the current time?
  2. What are the arguments for the use of fiscal and monetary policies to expand aggregate demand at the current time?
  3. What are the arguments against the use of fiscal and monetary policies to expand aggregate demand at the current time?
  4. Can economic growth be stimulated by a redistribution of aggregate demand and, if so, in what way?
  5. Can green investment overcome the paradox of thrift?
  6. To what extent are demand-side and supply-side policies (a) complementary; (b) contradictory? Or, to put the question another way, to what extent may policies to encourage growth in the long term damage growth in the short term and vice versa?
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Economic stimulus, ‘oui’; austerity, ‘non’ (update)

Original post (24/4/12)
The result of the first round of the French presidential elections on 22 April make it likely that François Hollande will be the new president.

M. Hollande can be described as an austerity sceptic. In other words, he questions the wisdom of trying to meet the target agreed by eurozone countries of reducing public-sector deficits to no more than 3% of GDP.

If elected, M. Hollande promises to adopt a more Keynesian stance of stimulating demand in order to prevent a slide into recession. This would mean a reversal of cuts and a growth, at least temporarily, of the public-sector deficit.

Currently France’s deficit is much higher than the 3% target. In 2010 it was 7.1%; in 2011 it had fallen somewhat to 5.2%. But it is set to rise in 2012, thanks to the slowing economy in France and most of the rest of Europe.

And it is not just in France that ‘austerity sceptics’ are on the ascendant. In the Netherlands the centre right government of Mark Rutte fell. He was unable to get his coalition partners to agree to sufficient cuts to achieve the 3% target. And yet, the Netherland’s deficit is considerably lower than most eurozone countries’. In 2012 it is projected to be just 4.6% of GDP.

So if doubts about the 3% target could lead to a change in policy in the Netherlands and France, what hope is there that the targets could be adhered to by countries with much larger deficits and where the pain of the cuts is already causing political turmoil?

The growth in austerity scepticism has spooked the markets. The day following M. Hollande’s first round victory and the fall of Mark Rutte’s government, stock markets around Europe plummeted and bond prices rose. The higher bond prices will make it even harder for governments to refinance maturing government debt. Take the case of France. As Robert Peston remarks in his article below:

According to IMF figures, 59% of France’s government debt is held overseas – which means that well over half of all lending to the French state is not motivated by sentimentality or patriotism in any way.

To put that figure into context, just 24.8% of UK general government debt is provided by foreigners.

Perhaps more relevantly, the French government has to borrow a colossal sum equivalent to 18.2% of GDP this year and 19.5% next year to finance debt that is maturing and the current deficit.

So what are the implications of the rise in austerity scepticism? Will it make deficits harder to finance? Will a collapse of confidence push the eurozone into a deep recession. Might the eurozone break apart? Or will a dose of Keynesian policies turn the tide and allow growth to resume, making it easier to service government debts? The following articles explore the issues?

Update (7/5/12)
François Hollande was indeed elected president on 6 May. The question now is to what extent he will be able to enact measures to simulate the economy. In his campaign he had talked about renegotiating the European treaty on budget discipline. Angela Merkel, responding to M. Hollande’s victory, said that the European fiscal treaty had been agreed and could not be renegotiated. Nevertheless, she said she was happy to consider new growth strategies that did not involve increased budget deficits.

Articles
François Hollande’s potential spending spree in France has caused concern in austerity Europe The Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield (23/4/12)
European turmoil, American collateral Guardian, Robin Wells (24/4/12)
Political risk returns to eurozone debt crisis Financial Times, Richard Milne (23/4/12)
The rise of Europe’s austerity foes Business Spectator, Karen Maley (23/3/12)
Europe: A crisis of the centre BBC News, Paul Mason (24/4/12)
Is Hollande enemy or prisoner of finance? BBC News, Robert Peston (23/4/12)
President Hollande and the IMF BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (23/4/12)
French Bond Yields Test Hollande’s Economic Fealty Bloomberg, Mark Deen and Anchalee Worrachate (24/4/12)
Dutch and French politics bring us back to reality BusinessDay (South Africa), Ron Derby (24/4/12)
Crisis topples governments like dominos Deutsche Welle, Bernd Riegert (24/4/12)
Eurozone leaders push for growth BBC News (25/4/12)

Additonal articles (after 6 May)
Francois Hollande to set France on new course after win BBC News (7/5/12)
Europe elections: German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Francois Hollande but warns Greece The Telegraph, 7/5/12)
A Merkel-Hollande bust-up? Less likely than you might think Guardian, Philip Oltermann (7/5/12)
Merkel Rejects Stimulus in Challenge to Hollande BloombergBusinessweek, Patrick Donahue and Tony Czuczka (7/5/12)
François Hollande’s chemistry with Angela Merkel crucial for Europe Guardian, Ian Traynor (7/5/12)
Q&A: End of austerity? BBC News (7/5/12)
Austerity and the people’s verdict Guardian letters, Shanti Chakravarty and others (8/5/12)
Europe: The big debate BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (11/5/12)

Data
European Economy: Economic data Economic and Financial Affairs, European Commission
Eurozone Statistics ECB
French Economic Statistics INSEE, National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies
Netherlands Statistics CBS, Statistics Netherlands

Questions

  1. Why do investors worry about the pursuit of Keynesian expansionary fiscal policies? Are their fears justified?
  2. How important is it for countries, such as the Netherlands, to retain their AAA credit rating?
  3. What determines bond yields?
  4. Do a search to find the policies advocated by M. Hollande. Assess the likely economic impact of these policies.
  5. What conditions are necessary for the pursuit of a tough austerity line to achieve economic growth in (a) the short term of 12 to 18 months; (b) the longer term of several years?
  6. Is an increased use of public-private partnerships a solution to finding a way of delivering greater infrastructure expenditure without increasing the short-term deficit?
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Greece lightening?

After a marathon 13-hour session in Brussels, ending at 5am on 21 February, eurozone finance ministers agreed a second bailout for Greece. The aim was to lighten Greece’s debt burden and prevent the country being forced to default.

Under the deal, Greece will have some €107bn of its debt written off. The main brunt of this will be borne by private creditors, who will see the value of their Greek bonds fall by 53.5% (some 70% in real terms). Old bonds will be swapped for ones with longer maturities and lower interest rates. In addition, Greece will be given further loans of more than €130bn through the EFSF on top of the €73bn already lent. The monies will be put in a special escrow account and can be used only to service the debt, not to finance general government expenditure.

In return, Greece must reduce its debt to GDP ratio from the current 160% to 120.5% by 2020. It must agree to continuing tight austerity measures and to significant supply-side reforms to reduce the size of the public sector and increase efficiency. Implementation of the measures would be overseen by an EU Task Force based in Greece.

But while governments in the EU and around the world are relieved that a deal has been finally agreed and that Greek default seems to have been averted – at least for the time being – the problems for Greece seem set to get worse. The further austerity measures will deepen the recession, now in its fifth year. Growth is not expected to return until 2014 at the earliest, by which point real GDP is expected to have shrunk by some 17% from the start of the recession. The question is whether the Greek people will stand for further cuts in income and further rises in unemployment, which had reached 20.9% in November 2011 and is still rising rapidly.

Articles
Eurozone backs Greek bailout Euronews (21/2/12)
Greece Wins Second Bailout as Europe Picks Aid Over Default Bloomberg, James G. Neuger and Jonathan Stearns (21/2/12)
Eurozone agrees second Greek bail-out Financial Times, Peter Spiegel and Alex Barker (21/2/12)
Greece secures bailout to avoid debt default Independent, Gabriele Steinhauser and Sarah DiLorenzo (21/2/12)
EU tells Greece to cut more jobs, sees 2014 growth Reuters, Gabriele Robin Emmott and Nicholas Vinocur (21/2/12)
Eurozone agrees €130bn bailout for Greece The Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield (21/2/12)
Greece averted nightmare scenario – finance minister BBC News (21/2/12)
Greece: Dangerous precedent? BBC News, Robert Peston (21/2/12)
The end of the marathon? The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (21/2/12)
What Analysts Think of the Greek Deal The Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Fletcher (21/2/12)
Three steps to a strong eurozone Guardian, Henning Meyer (21/2/12)
Opinion: the eurozone is just buying time Deutsche Welle, Henrik Böhme (21/2/12)
Greece must default if it wants democracy Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau (19/2/12)
Eurozone’s Greece deal: debt and delusions at dawn Guardian. Editorial (21/2/12)
€130bn plaster leaves Greece independent in name only Guardian, Larry Elliott (22/2/12)
The Greek debt deal: Thumbs down The Economist, Buttonwood’s notebook (21/2/12)

Webcasts and podcasts
Are Greeks’ euro days numbered? Channel 4 News (21/2/12)
Wolf and Authers on Greece Financial Times, John Authers and Martin Wolf, (21/2/12)
Greece ‘unlikely to meet targets’ BBC Today Programme, Ngaire Woods, Guntram Wolff and Alistair Darling (21/2/12)
Austerity-hit Greeks scorn bailout deal Euronews (21/2/12)
Greek Bail Out Could Lead To More Violence Sky News (21/2/12)

Official Press Release
Eurogroup statement Europa Press Release (21/2/12)

Questions

  1. Outline the features of the bailout on offer to Greece. What is Greece expected to do in return for the bailout?
  2. To what extent has the deal lightened Greece’s macroeconomic problems?
  3. Why does granting a bailout create a moral hazard? How has the ECB/IMF/EU Commission Troika attempted to minimise the moral hazard in this case?
  4. Has Greece’s financial problem been essentially one of liquidity or solvency?
  5. What supply-side measures is Greece being required to implement? Will they have any demand-side consequences?
  6. From where is Greek growth likely to emanate after 2014?
  7. What are the downside risks of the deal?
  8. How likely is it that there will have to be a third bailout?
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A positive ‘negative’?

A negative outlook for the UK economy – at least that’s what Moody’s believes. The credit rating agency has put the UK economy’s sovereign credit rating, together with 2 other European nations (France and Austria) on the ‘negative outlook’ list.

The UK currently has a triple A rating and we have been able to maintain this despite the credit crunch and subsequent recession. However, with weak economic data and the continuing crisis in the eurozone, Moody’s took the decision to give the UK a ‘negative outlook’, which means the UK, as well as France and Austria have about a 30% chance of losing their triple A rating in the next 18 months.

Both Labour and the Coalition government have claimed this decision supports their view of the economy. Labour says this decision shows that the economy needs a stimulus and the Coalition should change its stance on cutting the budget deficit. However, the Coalition says that it shows the importance the Credit ratings agencies attach to budget deficits. Indeed, Moody’s statement showed no signs that it feels the UK should ease up on its austerity measures. The statement suggested the reverse – that a downgrade would only occur if the outlook worsened or if the government eased up on its cuts. The Coalition’s focus on cutting the deficit could even be something that has prevented the UK being put on the ‘negative watch’ list, as opposed to the ‘negative outlook’ list. The former is definitely worse than the latter, as it implies a 50% chance of a downgrade, rather than the current 30%.

The triple A rating doesn’t guarantee market confidence, but it does help keep the cost of borrowing for the government low. Indeed, the UK government’s cost of borrowing is at an historic low. A key problem therefore for the government is that there is a certain trade-off that it faces. Moody’s says that 2 things would make the UK lose its rating – a worsening economic outlook or if the government eases on its austerity plans. However, many would argue that it is the austerity plans that are creating the bad economic outlook. If the cuts stop, the economy may respond positively, but the deficit would worsen, potentially leading to a downgrade. On the other hand, if the austerity plans continue and the economy fails to improve, a downgrade could also occur. The next few days will be crucial in determining how the markets react to this news. The following articles consider this issue.

The meaning of ‘negative’ for Mr Osborne and the UK BBC News, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (14/2/12)
Relaxed markets remain one step ahead of Moody’s move The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (14/2/12)
George Osborne tries to be positive on negative outlook for economy Guardian, Patrick Wintour (14/2/12)
Moody’s wants it may cut AAA-rating for UK and France Reuters, Rodrigo Campos and Walter Brandimarte (14/2/12)
Moody’s rating decision backs the Coalition’s path of fiscal consolidation The Telegraph, Damian Reece (14/2/12)
Moody’s rating agency places UK on negative outlook BBC News (14/2/12)
Britain defends austerity measures New York Times, Julia Werdigier 14/2/12)

Questions

  1. What does a triple A rating mean for the UK economy?
  2. Which factors will be considered when a ratings agency decides to change a country’s credit rating? What similarities exist between the UK, France and Austria?
  3. Which political view point do you think Moody’s decision backs? Do you agree with the Telegraph article that ‘Moody’s rating decision backs the Coalition’s path of fiscal consolidation’?
  4. If a country does see its credit rating downgraded, what might this mean for government borrowing costs? Explain why this might cause further problems for a country?
  5. How do you think markets will react to this news? Explain your answer.
  6. What action should the government take: continue to cut the deficit or focus on the economic outlook?
  7. Why has the eurozone crisis affected the UK’s credit rating?
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Calls grow for a Plan B

With all the concerns recently about Greek and Italian debt and about the whole future of the eurozone, you would be forgiven for thinking that the problems of the UK economy had gone away. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Problems are mounting and pessimism is growing.

First there is the problem of a contracting eurozone economy. This will directly impact on the UK as almost half of UK exports go to eurozone countries. Second there is the impact of the government expenditure cuts, most of which have still not taken effect yet. Third there is the fact that, with the combination of inflation over 5% and nominal pay typically rising by no more than 2%, real take-home pay is falling and hence too is the volume of consumer expenditure. Fourth, there is the increasingly pessimistic mood of consumers and business. The more pessimistic people become about the prospects for their jobs and incomes, the more people will rein in their spending; the more pessimistic businesses become, the more they will cut back on investment and economise on stock holding.

Forecasts for the UK economy have become considerably bleaker over the past few weeks. These include forecasts by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR), the accountancy network BDO, Ernst & Young’s ITEM Club and the CBI in its SME Trends Survey and November Economic Forecast. The Treasury’s latest Forecasts for the UK Economy, which brings together forecasts by 29 different organisations, also shows a marked increase in pessimism from September to October.

So is it now time for the government to change course to prevent the economy slipping back into recession? Do we need a Plan B? Certainly, it’s something we’ve considered before on this news site (see Time for a Plan B?). The latest call has come from a group of 100 leading academic economists who have written to the Observer. In their letter they spell out what such a plan should contain. You’ll find a link to the letter below and to other articles considering the proposals.

The letter
We economists have a Plan B that will work, Mr Osborne Observer letters (29/10/11)

Articles
Plan B: the ideas designed to restart a stalled UK economy Observer, Daniel Boffey and Heather Stewart (29/10/11)
Plan B could have been even more aggressive, but it would definitely work Observer, Will Hutton (29/10/11)
The economy: we need Plan B and we need it now Observer editorial (30/10/11)
If tomorrow’s growth figures disappoint, Plan B will be a step closer, whatever David Cameron says The Telegraph, Daniel Knowles (31/10/11)
Plan B to escape the mess we are in Compass, John Weeks (7/11/11)

The report
Plan B; a good economy for a good society Compass, Edited by Howard Reed and Neal Lawson (31/10/11)

Questions

  1. What are the main proposals in Compass’s Plan B?
  2. How practical are these proposals?
  3. Without a Plan B, what is likely to happen to the UK economy over (a) the coming 12 months; (b) the next 3 years?
  4. Why might sticking to Plan A worsen the public-sector deficit – at least in the short term?
  5. What are the main arguments for sticking to Plan A and not easing up on deficit reduction?
  6. Find out what proportion of the UK’s debt is owed to non-UK residents? (See data published by the UK’s Debt Management Office (DMO).) How does this proportion and the average length of UK debt affect the arguments about the sustainability of this level of debt and the ease of servicing it?
  7. If you had to devise a Plan B, what would it look like and why? To what extent would it differ from Compass’s Plan B and from George Osborne’s “Plan A”?
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On the edge: can Greece avoid debt restructuring?

The Greek economy is suffering. In April 2010, a €45 billion bailout package was agreed between Greece and the IMF and the EU. This was increased to €110 billion in May 2011. (The bailout loans expire in 2013.) In return for the loans, Greece agreed to tough austerity measures, involving tax increases, clamping down on tax evasion and government expenditure cuts. These measures have succeeded in cutting the deficit by 5 percentage points, but it still stood at 10.5% of GDP in 2010. Public-sector debt rose from 127% of GDP in 2009 to 143% in 2010. The market cost of borrowing on two-year government bonds currently stands at 23% per annum – a sign of a serious lack of confidence by investors in Greece’s ability to repay the loans.

The austerity measures have brought great hardship. Unemployment has soared. In February 2011, it reached 15.9%; in February last year it was 12.1%. According to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook (Table A2), Greek real GDP fell by 2.0% in 2009, by 4.5% in 2010 and is forecast to fall by 3.0% in 2011. But with GDP falling, this brings automatic fiscal stabilisers into play: lower incomes mean lower income tax revenues; lower expenditure means lower VAT revenue; higher unemployment means that more people claim unemployment-related benefits. This all makes it harder to meet the deficit reduction targets through discretionary tax rises and government expenditure cuts and makes it even more important to cut down on tax evasion. But, of course, the more taxes rise and the more government expenditure is cut, the more this suppresses aggregate demand. The austerity measures have thus worsened the recession.

On May 9, the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Greece’s rating to B (15 points below the top rating of AAA and 6 points into ‘junk’ territory). It now has the lowest rating in Europe along with Belarus.

Worries have been growing that Greece might be forced to default on some its debt, or choose to do so. This would probably mean an extension of repayment periods. In other words, bondholders would be paid back in full but at a later date. This has been referred to as ‘debt re-profiling’. This could cause a renewed loss of confidence, not only in the Greek economy, but also in banks that are major lenders to Greece and which would be exposed in the case of default or restructuring.

The IMF and the ECB have been quick to stress that Greece can continue to manage its debt and that, if necessary, another loan might be negotiated. Anticipations are that Greece could indeed ask for a further bailout. But is this the answer? Or would it be better if Greece sought a restructuring of its debt? The following webcasts and podcasts consider the issue.

Webcasts and podcasts
Greece may need second financial bail-out BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (11/5/11)
Greece needs revised bail-out Financial Times Global Economy Webcasts, Luke Templeman and Vincent Boland (9/5/11)
Why Greece must stick to the plan Financial Times Global Economy Webcasts, Ralph Atkins, Frankfurt Bureau Chief, talks to Jurgen Stark (11/5/11)
Will Greece need more money? BBC News, Matina Stevis (9/5/11)
Economists debate Greek crisis BBC News, Thomas Mayer and David McWilliam (9/5/11)
Greece at ‘a very difficult stage’ BBC Today Programme, Stephanie Flanders and Vassilis Xenakis (11/5/11)
The Business podcast: PPI scandal and Greece’s debt crisis Guardian Podcast, Aditya Chakrabortty (11/5/11) (listen to last part of podcast, from 19:20)
Greece: Eurozone ministers discuss terms of second bailout BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (16/5/11)
Greece dominates eurozone talks in Brussels BBC News, Matthew Price (17/5/11)

Articles
S&P moves to cut Greek credit rating Financial Times, Richard Milne, Tracy Alloway and Ralph Atkins (9/5/11)
One Year After the Bailout, Greece is Still Hurting Time Magazine, Joanna Kakissis (12/5/11)
What price a Greek haircut? BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (10/5/11)
What is debt ‘reprofiling’? BBC News, Laurence Knight (17/5/11)
Reprofiling: Greece’s restructuring-lite Channel 4 News, Faisal Islam (17/5/11)

Questions

  1. What are the arguments for and against tough austerity measures for Greece and other eurozone countries with high deficits, such as Portugal and Ireland?
  2. Should Greece seek a restructuring of its debts?
  3. What is a ‘haircut’ and is this a suitable form of restructuring?
  4. What are the arguments for and against a default, or partical default, by the Greek government on its debt?
  5. Is it in the intesests of European banks to offer a further bailout to Greece?
  6. What should be the role of the IMF in the current situation in Greece?
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