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Return of the political business cycle?

According to the theory of the political business cycle, governments call elections at the point in the business cycle that gives them the greatest likelihood of winning. This is normally near the peak of the cycle, when the economic news is currently good but likely to get worse in the medium term. With fixed-term governments, this makes it harder for governments as, unless they are lucky, they have to use demand management policies to engineer a boom as an election approaches. It is much easier if they can choose when to call an election.

In the UK, under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011, the next election must be five years after the previous one. This means that the next election in the UK must be the first Thursday in May 2020. The only exception is if at least two-thirds of all MPs vote for a motion ‘That there shall be an early parliamentary general election’ or ‘That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government.’

The former motion was put in the House of Commons on 19 April and was carried by 522 votes to 13 – considerably more than two-thirds of the 650 seats in Parliament. The next election will therefore take place on the government’s chosen date of 8 June 2017.

Part of the reason for the government calling an election is to give it a stronger mandate for its Brexit negotiations. Part is to take advantage of its currently strong opinion poll ratings, which, if correct, will mean that it will gain a substantially larger majority. But part could be to take advantage of the current state of the business cycle.

Although the economy is currently growing quite strongly (1.9% in 2016) and although forecasts for economic growth this year are around 2%, buoyed partly by a strongly growing world economy, beyond that things look less good. Indeed, there are a number of headwinds facing the economy.

First there are the Brexit negotiations, which are likely to prove long and difficult and could damage confidence in the economy. There may be adverse effects on both inward and domestic investment and possible increased capital outflows. At the press conference to the Bank of England’s February 2017 Inflation Report, the governor stated that “investment is expected to be around a quarter lower in three years’ time than projected prior to the referendum, with material consequences for productivity, wages and incomes”.

Second, the fall in the sterling exchange rate is putting upward pressure on inflation. The Bank of England forecasts that CPI inflation will peak at around 2.8% in early 2018. With nominal real wages lagging behind prices, real wages are falling and will continue to do so. As well as from putting downward pressure on living standards, it will tend to reduce consumption and the rate of economic growth.

Consumer debt has been rising rapidly in recent months, with credit-card debt reaching an 11-year high in February. This has helped to support growth. However, with falling real incomes, a lack of confidence may encourage people to cut back on new borrowing and hence on spending. What is more, concerns about the unsustainability of some consumer debt has encouraged the FCA (the financial sector regulator) to review the whole consumer credit industry. In addition, many banks are tightening up on their criteria for granting credit.

Retail spending, although rising in February itself, fell in the three months to February – the largest fall for nearly seven years. Such falls are likely to continue.

So if the current boom in the economy will soon end, then, according to political business cycle theory, the government is right to have called a snap election.

Articles
Gloomy economic outlook is why Theresa May was forced to call a snap election The Conversation, Richard Murphy (18/4/17)
What does Theresa May’s general election U-turn mean for the economy? Independent, Ben Chu (18/4/17)
It’s not the economy, stupid – is it? BBC News Scotland, Douglas Fraser (18/4/17)
Biggest fall in UK retail sales in seven years BBC News (21/4/17)
Sharp drop in UK retail sales blamed on higher prices Financial Times, Gavin Jackson (21/4/17)
Shoppers cut back as inflation kicks in – and top Bank of England official says it will get worse The Telegraph, Tim Wallace Szu Ping Chan (21/4/17)
Retail sales volumes fall at fastest quarterly rate in seven years Independent, Ben Chu (21/4/17)

Statistical Bulletin
Retail sales in Great Britain: Mar 2017 ONS (21/4/17)

Questions

  1. For what reasons might economic growth in the UK slow over the next two to three years?
  2. For what reasons might economic growth increase over the next two to three years?
  3. Why is forecasting UK economic growth particularly difficult at the present time?
  4. What does political business cycle theory predict about the behaviour of governments (a) with fixed terms between elections; (b) if they can choose when to call an election?
  5. How well timed is the government’s decision to call an election?
  6. If retail sales are falling, what other element(s) of aggregate demand may support economic growth in the coming months?
  7. How does UK productivity compare with that in other developed countries? Explain why.
  8. What possible trading arrangements with the EU could the UK have in a post-Brexit deal? Discuss their likelihood and their impact on economic growth?
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Sterling’s slide

The pound has fallen to its lowest rate against the euro since July 2013 and the lowest rate against the US dollar since 1985. Since August 2015, the pound has depreciated by 23.4% against the euro and 22.2% against the dollar. And since the referendum of 23 June, it has depreciated by 15.6% against the euro and 17.6% against the dollar.

On Sunday 2 October, at the start of the Conservative Party conference, the Prime Minister announced that Article 50, which triggers the Brexit process, would be invoked by the end of March 2017. Worries about what the terms of Brexit would look like put further pressure on the pound: the next day it fell by around 1% and the next day by a further 0.5%.

Then, on 6 October, it was reported that President Hollande was demanding tough Brexit negotiations and the pound dropped significantly further. By 7 October, it was trading at around €1.10 and $1.22. At airports, currency exchange agencies were offering less than €1 per £ (see picture).

With the government implying that Brexit might involve leaving the Single Market, the pound continued falling. On 12 October, the trade-weighted index reached its lowest level since the index was introduced in 1980: below its trough in the depth of the 2008 financial crisis and below the 1993 trough following Britain’s ejection from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in September 1992.

So just why has the pound fallen so much, both before and after the Brexit vote? (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.) And what are the implications for the economy?

The articles explore the reasons for the depreciation. Central to these are the effects on the balance of payments from a possible decline in inward investment, lower interest rates leading to a net outflow of currency on the financial account, and stimulus measures, both fiscal and monetary, leading to higher imports.

Worries about the economy were occurring before the Brexit vote and this helped to push sterling down in late 2015 and early 2016, as you can see in the chart. This article from The Telegraph of 14 June 2016 explains why.

Despite the short-run effects on the UK economy of the Brexit vote not being as bad as some had predicted, worries remain about the longer-term effects. And these worries are compounded by uncertainty over the Brexit terms.

A lower sterling exchange rate reduces the foreign currency price of UK exports and increases the sterling price of imports. Depending on price elasticities of demand, this should improve the current account of the balance of payments.

These trade effects will help to boost the economy and go some way to countering the fall in investment as businesses, uncertain over the terms of Brexit, hold back on investment in the UK.

Articles
Pound Nears Three-Decade Low as May Sets Date for Brexit Trigger Bloomberg, Netty Idayu Ismail and Charlotte Ryan (3/10/16)
Sterling near 31-year low against dollar as May sets Brexit start dat Financial Times, Michael Hunter and Roger Blitz (3/10/16)
Sterling hits three-year low against the euro over Brexit worries The Guardian, Katie Allen (3/10/16)
Pound sterling value drops as Theresa May signals ‘hard Brexit’ at Tory conference Independent, Zlata Rodionova (3/10/16)
Pound falls as Theresa May indicates Brexit date BBC News (3/10/16)
The pound bombs and stocks explode over fears of a ‘hard Brexit’ Business Insider UK, Oscar Williams-Grut (3/10/16)
Pound Will Feel Pain as Brexit Clock Ticks Faster Wall Street Journal, Richard Barley (3/10/16)
British Pound to Euro Exchange Rate’s Brexit Breakdown Slows After Positive Manufacturing PMI Halts Decline Currency Watch, Joaquin Monfort (3/10/16)
7 ways the fall in the value of the pound affects us all Independent (4/10/16)
The pound and the fury: Brexit is making Britons poorer, and meaner The Economist, ‘Timekeeper’ (11/10/16)
Is the pound headed for parity v US dollar and euro? Sydney Morning Herald, Jessica Sier (5/10/16)
Flash crash sees the pound gyrate in Asian trading BBC News (7/10/16)
Flash crash hits pound after Hollande remarks Deutsche Welle (7/10/16)
Sterling mayhem gives glimpse into future Reuters, Swaha Pattanaik (7/10/16)
Sterling takes a pounding The Economist, Buttonwood (7/10/16)
Government must commit to fundamental reform The Telegraph, Andrew Sentance (7/10/16)

Data
Interest & exchange rates data – Statistical Interactive Database Bank of England

Questions

  1. Why has sterling depreciated? Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate your argument.
  2. What has determined the size of this depreciation?
  3. What is meant by the risk premium of holding sterling?
  4. To what extent has the weaker pound contributed to the better economic performance than was expected immediately after the Brexit vote?
  5. What factors will determine the value of sterling over the coming months?
  6. Who gain and who lose from a lower exchange rate?
  7. What is likely to happen to inflation over the coming months? Explain and consider the implications for monetary and fiscal policy.
  8. What is a ‘flash crash’. Why was there a flash crash in sterling on Asian markets on 7 October 2016? Is such a flash crash in sterling likely to occur again?
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Brexit: the economic consequences

The UK has voted to leave the EU by 17 410 742 votes (51.9% or 37.4% of the electorate) to 16 141 241 votes (48.1% or 34.7% of the electorate). But what will be the economic consequences of the vote?

To leave the EU, Article 50 must be invoked, which starts the process of negotiating the new relationship with the EU. This, according to David Cameron, will happen when a new Conservative Prime Minister is chosen. Once Article 50 has been invoked, negotiations must be completed within two years and then the remaining 27 countries will decide on the new terms on which the UK can trade with the EU. As explained in the blog, The UK’s EU referendum: the economic arguments, there are various forms the new arrangements could take. These include:

‘The Norwegian model’, where Britain leaves the EU, but joins the European Economic Area, giving access to the single market, but removing regulation in some key areas, such as fisheries and home affairs. Another possibility is ‘the Swiss model’, where the UK would negotiate trade deals on an individual basis. Another would be ‘the Turkish model’ where the UK forms a customs union with the EU. At the extreme, the UK could make a complete break from the EU and simply use its membership of the WTO to make trade agreements.

The long-term economic effects would thus depend on which model is adopted. In the Norwegian model, the UK would remain in the single market, which would involve free trade with the EU, the free movement of labour between the UK and member states and contributions to the EU budget. The UK would no longer have a vote in the EU on its future direction. Such an outcome is unlikely, however, given that a central argument of the Leave camp has been for the UK to be able to control migration and not to have to pay contributions to the EU budget.

It is quite likely, then, that the UK would trade with the EU on the basis of individual trade deals. This could involve tariffs on exports to the EU and would involve being subject to EU regulations. Such negotiations could be protracted and potentially extend beyond the two-year deadline under Article 50. But for this to happen, there would have to be agreement by the remaining 27 EU countries. At the end of the two-year process, when the UK exits the EU, any unresolved negotiations would default to the terms for other countries outside the EU. EU treaties would cease to apply to the UK.

It is quite likely, then, that the UK would face trade restrictions on its exports to the EU, which would adversely affect firms for whom the EU is a significant market. Where practical, some firms may thus choose to relocate from the UK to the EU or move business and staff from UK offices to offices within the EU. This is particularly relevant to the financial services sector. As the second Economist article explains:

In the longer run … Britain’s financial industry could face severe difficulties. It thrives on the EU’s ‘passport’ rules, under which banks, asset managers and other financial firms in one member state may serve customers in the other 27 without setting up local operations. …

Unless passports are renewed or replaced, they will lapse when Britain leaves. A deal is imaginable: the EU may deem Britain’s regulations as ‘equivalent’ to its own. But agreement may not come easily. French and German politicians, keen to bolster their own financial centres and facing elections next year, may drive a hard bargain. No other non-member has full passport rights.

But if long-term economic effects are hard to predict, short-term effects are happening already.

The pound fell sharply as soon as the results of the referendum became clear. By the end of the day it had depreciated by 7.7% against the dollar and 5.7% against the euro. A lower pound will make imports more expensive and hence will drive up prices and reduce the real value of sterling. On the other had, it will make exports cheaper and act as a boost to exports.

If inflation rises, then the Bank of England may raise interest rates. This could have a dampening effect on the economy, which in turn would reduce tax revenues. The government, if it sticks to its fiscal target of achieving a public-sector net surplus by 2020 (the Fiscal Mandate), may then feel the need to cut government expenditure and/or raise taxes. Indeed, the Chancellor argued before the vote that such an austerity budget may be necessary following a vote to leave.

Higher interest rates could also dampen house prices as mortgages became more expensive or harder to obtain. The exception could be the top end of the market where a large proportion are buyers from outside the UK whose demand would be boosted by the depreciation of sterling.

But given that the Bank of England’s remit is to target inflation in 24 month’s time, it is possible that any spike in inflation is temporary and this may give the Bank of England leeway to cut Bank Rate from 0.5% to 0.25% or even 0% and/or to engage in further quantitative easing.

One major worry is that uncertainty may discourage investment by domestic companies. It could also discourage inward investment, and international companies many divert investment to the EU. Already some multinationals have indicated that they will do just this. Shares in banks plummeted when the results of the vote were announced.

Uncertainty is also likely to discourage consumption of durables and other big-ticket items. The fall in aggregate demand could result in recession, again necessitating an austerity budget if the Fiscal Mandate is to be adhered to.

We live in ‘interesting’ times. Uncertainty is rarely good for an economy. But that uncertainty could persist for some time.

Articles
Why Brexit is grim news for the world economy The Economist (24/6/16)
International banking in a London outside the European Union The Economist (24/6/16)
What happens now that Britain has voted for Brexit The Economist (24/6/16)
Britain and the EU: A tragic split The Economist (24/6/16)
Brexit in seven charts — the economic impact Financial Times, Chris Giles (21/6/16)
How will Brexit result affect France, Germany and the rest of Europe? Financial Times, Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, Stefan Wagstyl, Duncan Robinson and Richard Milne (24/6/16)
How global markets are reacting to UK’s Brexit vote Financial Times, Michael Mackenzie and Eric Platt (24/6/16)
Brexit: What happens now? BBC News (24/6/16)
How will Brexit affect your finances? BBC News, Brian Milligan (24/6/16)
Brexit: what happens when Britain leaves the EU Vox, Timothy B. Lee (25/6/16)
An expert sums up the economic consensus about Brexit. It’s bad. Vox, John Van Reenen (24/6/16)
How will the world’s policymakers respond to Brexit? The Telegraph, Peter Spence (24/6/16)
City of London could be cut off from Europe, says ECB official The Guardian, Katie Allen (25/6/16)
Multinationals warn of job cuts and lower profits after Brexit vot The Guardian, Graham Ruddick (24/6/16)
How will Brexit affect Britain’s trade with Europe? The Guardian, Dan Milmo (26/6/16)
Britain’s financial sector reels after Brexit bombshell Reuters, Sinead Cruise, Andrew MacAskill and Lawrence White (24/6/16)
How ‘Brexit’ Will Affect the Global Economy, Now and Later New York Times, Neil Irwin (24/6/16)
Brexit results: Spurned Europe wants Britain gone Sydney Morning Herald, Nick Miller (25/6/16)
Economists React to ‘Brexit’: ‘A Wave of Economic and Political Uncertainty’ The Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey Sparshott (24/6/16)
Brexit wound: UK vote makes EU decline ‘practically irreversible’, Soros says CNBC, Javier E. David (25/6/16)
One month on, what has been the impact of the Brexit vote so far? The Guardian (23/7/16)

Questions

  1. What are the main elements of a balance of payments account? Changes in which elements caused the depreciation of the pound following the Brexit vote? What elements of the account, in turn, are likely to be affected by the depreciation?
  2. What determines the size of the effect on the current account of the balance of payments of a depreciation? How might long-term effects differ from short-term ones?
  3. Is it possible for firms to have access to the single market without allowing free movement of labour?
  4. What assumptions were made by the Leave side about the economic effects of Brexit?
  5. Would it be beneficial to go for a ‘free trade’ option of abolishing all import tariffs if the UK left the EU? Would it mean that UK exports would face no tariffs from other countries?
  6. What factors are likely to drive the level of investment in the UK (a) by domestic companies trading within the UK and (b) by multinational companies over the coming months?
  7. What will determine the course of monetary policy over the coming months?
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The UK’s EU referendum: the economic arguments

Many of the arguments used by both sides in the referendum debate centre on whether there will be a net economic gain from either remaining in or leaving the EU. This involves forecasting.

Forecasting the economic impact of the decision, however, is difficult, especially in the case of a leave vote, which would involve substantial change and uncertainty.

First, the effects of either remaining or leaving may be very different in the long run from the short run, and long-run forecasts are highly unreliable, as the economy is likely to be affected by so many unpredictable events – few people, for example, predicted the financial crisis of 2007–8.

Second, the effects of leaving depend on the nature of any future trading relationships with the EU. Various possibilities have been suggested, including ‘the Norwegian model’, where Britain leaves the EU, but joins the European Economic Area, giving access to the single market, but removing regulation in some key areas, such as fisheries and home affairs. Another possibility is ‘the Swiss model’, where the UK would negotiate trade deals on an individual basis. Another would be ‘the Turkish model’ where the UK forms a customs union with the EU. At the extreme, the UK could make a complete break from the EU and simply use its membership of the WTO to make trade agreements.

Nevertheless, despite the uncertainty, economists have ventured to predict the effects of remaining or leaving. These are not precise predictions for the reasons given above. Rather they are based on likely assumptions.

In a poll of 100 economists for the Financial Times, ‘almost three-quarters thought leaving the EU would damage the country’s medium-term outlook, nine times more than the 8 per cent who thought the country would benefit from leaving’. Most fear damage to financial markets in the UK and to inward foreign direct investment.

Despite the barrage of pessimistic forecasts by economists about a British exit, there is a group of eight economists in favour of Brexit. They claim that leaving the EU would lead to a stronger economy, with higher GDP, a faster growth in real wages, lower unemployment and a smaller gap between imports and exports. The main argument they use to support their claims is that the UK would be more able to pursue trade creation freed from various EU rules and regulations.

Then, less than four weeks before the vote, a poll of economists who are members of the Royal Economic Society and the Society of Business Economists came out strongly in favour of continued membership of the EU. Of the 639 respondents, 72 per cent thought that the most likely impact of Brexit on UK real GDP would be negative over the next 10 to 20 years; and 88 per cent thought the impact on GDP would be negative in the next five years (see chart: click to enlarge).

Of those stating that a negative impact on GDP in the next 5 years would be most likely, a majority cited loss of access to the single market (67%) and increased uncertainty leading to reduced investment (66%).

The views of the majority of economists accord with those of various organisations. Domestic ones, such as the Bank of England, the Treasury (see the blog Brexit costs), the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) all warn that Brexit would be likely to result in lower growth – possibly a recession – increased unemployment, a fall in the exchange rate and higher prices and that greater economic uncertainty would damage investment.

International organisations, such as the OECD, the IMF and the WTO, also argue that leaving the EU would create great uncertainty over future trade relations and access to the Single Market and would reduce inward foreign direct investment and the flow of skills.

But the forecasts of all these organisations depend on their assumptions about trade relations and that, in the event of the UK leaving the EU, would depend on the outcome of trade negotiations. The Leave campaign argues that other countries would want to trade with the UK and that therefore leaving would not damage trade. The Remain campaign argues that the EU would not wish to be generous to the UK for fear of encouraging other countries to leave the EU and that, anyway, the process of decoupling from the EU and negotiating new trade deals would take many years and, in the meantime, the uncertainty would be damaging to investment and growth.

The articles linked below looks at the economic arguments about Brexit and reflect the range of views of economists. Several are from ‘The Conversation’ as these are by academic economists. Although some economists are in favour of Brexit, the vast majority support the Remain side in the debate.

Articles
EU referendum: Pros and cons of Britain voting to leave Europe The Week (4/5/16)
The fatal contradictions in the Remain and Leave camps The Economist (3/6/16)
Four reasons a post-Brexit UK can’t copy Norway or Switzerland The Telegraph, Andrew Sentance (10/6/16)
What will Brexit do to UK trade? Independent, Ben Chu (2/6/16)
Leavers may not like economists but we are right about Brexit Institute for Fiscal Studies, Paul Johnson (9/6/15)
Why Brexit supporters should take an EU-turn – just like I did The Conversation, Wilfred Dolfsma (8/6/16)
The economic case for Brexit The Conversation, Philip B. Whyman (28/4/16)
Fact Check: do the Treasury’s Brexit numbers add up? The Conversation, Nauro Campos (20/4/16)
Which Brexit forecast should you trust the most? An economist explains The Conversation, Nauro Campos (25/4/16)
Why is the academic consensus on the cost of Brexit being ignored? The Conversation, Simon Wren-Lewis (17/5/16)
How Brexit would reduce foreign investment in the UK – and why that matters The Conversation, John Van Reenen (15/4/16)
The consensus on modelling Brexit NIESR, Jack Meaning, Oriol Carreras, Simon Kirby and Rebecca Piggott (23/5/16)

Reports, Press Conferences, etc.
Economists’ forecasts: Brexit would damage growth Financial Times, Chris Giles and Emily Cadman (3/1/16)
The Economy After Brexit, Economists for Brexit
Economists’ Views on Brexit Ipsos MORI (28/5/16)
Inflation Report Bank of England (May 2016)
EU referendum: HM Treasury analysis key facts HM Treasury (18/4/16)
Brexit and the UK’s public finances Institute for Fiscal Studies, Carl Emmerson , Paul Johnson , Ian Mitchell and David Phillips (25/5/16)
The Long and the Short of it: What price UK Exit from the EU? NIESR, Oriol Carreras, Monique Ebell, Simon Kirby, Jack Meaning, Rebecca Piggott and James Warren (12/5/16)
The Economic Consequences of Brexit: A Taxing Decision OECD (27/4/16)
Transcript of the Press Conference on the Release of the April 2016 World Economic Outlook IMF (12/4/16)
Macroeconomic implications of the United Kingdom leaving the Euroepan Union IMF Country Report 16/169 (1/6/16)
WTO warns on tortuous Brexit trade talks Financial Times, Shawn Donnan (25/5/16)

Questions

  1. Summarise the main economic arguments of the Remain side.
  2. What assumptions are made by the Remain side about Brexit?
  3. Summarise the main economic arguments of the Leave side.
  4. What assumptions are made by the Leave side about Brexit?
  5. Assess the realism of the assumptions of the two sides.
  6. If the UK exited the EU, would it be possible to continue gaining the benefits of the single market while restricting the free movement of labour?
  7. Would it be beneficial to go for a ‘free trade’ option of abolishing all import tariffs if the UK left the EU? Would it mean that UK exports would face no tariffs from other countries?
  8. If forecasting is unreliable, does this mean that nothing can be said about the costs and benefits of Brexit? Explain.
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Turkish delight melts

Turkey has experienced rapid economic growth in recent years and has attracted large inflows of foreign capital. The chart below illustrates how growth in real GDP in Turkey in most years since 2000 has considerably exceeded that in the OECD as a whole (click here for a PowerPoint). As you can see from the chart, growth in Turkey over the period has averaged 4.5%, while that in the OECD has averaged just 1.8%.

Indeed, Turkish growth has been compared with that of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China). However, like the BRICs, Turkey has been experiencing slowing growth in the past few months. Indeed, the slowdown has been especially marked in Turkey.

In recent years Turkey has benefited from large inflows of foreign capital. Partly these were direct investment flows, encouraged by a large and rapidly growing internal market, boosted by a rapid expansion of consumer credit, and also by a growing export sector. But to a large extent, especially in recent years, there has been a large rise in portfolio and other investment inflows. This has been encouraged by a large increase in global money supply resulting from policies of quantitative easing in the USA and other developed countries.

But the economic climate has changed. First investors have become worried about the conflict in Syria escalating and this impacting on Turkey. Second Turkey’s large financial account surpluses have allowed it to run large current account deficits and have maintained a high exchange rate. Third the tapering off and possible reversal of quantitative easing have led to recent outflows of finance from various countries perceived as being vulnerable, including Turkey.

The effect of this has been a depreciation of the Turkish lira and upward pressure on inflation. The lira has fallen by 14% since the beginning of 2013 and by nearly 7% since the beginning of August alone.

The question is whether the supply side of the Turkish economy has become robust enough to allow the country to ride out its current difficulties. Will foreign investors have sufficient faith in the long-term potential of the Turkish economy to continue with direct investment, even if short-term financial inflows diminish?

Articles
Turkey’s economy faces uncertainties amid possible military intervention in Syria Xinhua, Fu Peng (29/8/13)
Turkey may cut 2014 growth target to 4% Turkish Daily News (8/9/13)
Turkish lira at record low, threatening growth Daily News Egypt (7/9/13)
Turkish lira may need higher interest rates to escape emerging markets rout Reuters, Sujata Rao and Seda Sezer (20/8/13)
Turkey Economic Crisis: Crises from Both Sides Wealth Daily, Joseph Cafariello (9/8/13)
Western financial prescription has made Turkey ill The Observer, Heather Stewart (1/9/13)
Turkish Deputy PM Babacan calm amid economic fluctuations Turkish Daily News (8/9/13)
The Fragile Five BBC News, Linda Yueh (26/9/13)

Data
Economic growth rates (annual) for Turkey, Brazil, Russia, India and China: 2000–13 IMF Economic Outlook Database (April 2013)
Quarterly growth rates of real GDP for OECD countries and selected other countries and groups of countries OECD StatExtracts
Turkey and the IMF IMF
Turkey: data World Bank
Links to Turkish Official Statistics Offstats
Country statistical profile: Turkey OECD Country Statistical Profiles
Spot exchange rate, Turkish Lira into Dollar Bank of England

Questions

  1. Why has the Turkish economy experienced such rapid growth in recent years and especially from 2010 to 2012?
  2. Why has Turkish growth slowed over the past year?
  3. Why has “Western financial prescription made Turkey ill”
  4. Why has the Turkish lira depreciated? What has determined the size of this depreciation?
  5. What are the beneficial and adverse effects of this depreciation?
  6. Why must any surplus on the combined financial and capital accounts of the balance of payments be matched by a corresponding deficit on the current account?
  7. How is a tapering off of quantitative easing likely to impact on developing countries? What will determine the size of this impact?
  8. Istanbul has lost its bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games? How is this likely to affect the Turkish economy?
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Cyprus: one crisis ends; another begins

After a week of turmoil in Cyprus (see the News item Ochi, ochi, ochi) a deal has been struck between Cyprus, the EU and the IMF over a €10bn bailout for the island’s banking system. But while the deal may bring the immediate crisis to an end, the Cypriot economy could face years of austerity and depression. And there remain questions over whether the deal sends the wrong message to depositors in banks in other eurozone countries whose banking systems are under pressure.

Unlike the original EU proposal, the deal will not impose a levy on deposits under €100,000, much to the relief of small and medium depositors. But individuals and businesses with deposits over €100,000 in the two main troubled banks (Laiki and the Bank of Cyprus) will face losses that could be as high as 40%. The precise size will become clear in the coming days.

The troubled second largest bank, Laiki (Popular) Bank, will be split into a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ bank. The assets and liabilities of the good part will be taken over by the largest bank, the Bank of Cyprus. Thus people’s accounts under €100,000 will be moved from one to the other. The ‘bad’ part will include deposits over €100,000 and bonds. Holders of these could lose a substantial proportion of their value.

Many businesses will be hard hit and may be forced to close. This could have serious adverse multiplier effects on the economy. These effects will be aggravated by the fiscal austerity measures which are also part of the deal. The measures are also likely to discourage further inward investment, again pushing the economy further into recession.

And then there are the broader effects on the eurozone. The direct effect of a decline in the Cypriot economy would be tiny; the Cypriot economy accounts for a mere 0.2% of eurozone GDP. Also the effect on small savers in other eurozone countries is also likely to be limited, as people will probably be reassured that savings under €100,000 have remained protected, even in an economy as troubled as Cyprus.

But some commentators argue that the effect on large depositors in other troubled eurozone countries, such as Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy, could be much more serious. Would people with large balances in these countries prefer to move their money to, say, Germany, or even out of the eurozone altogether? There is clearly disagreement over this last point as you will see from the articles below.

Webcasts and Podcasts
Cyprus agrees bailout with eurozone ministers The Guardian (25/3/13)
Cyprus bailout: Deal reached in Eurogroup talks BBC News (25/3/13)
‘Disaster avoided’ as Cyprus agrees EU bailout deal Euronews (25/3/13)
Cyprus saved from bankruptcy Channel 4 News on YouTube, Faisal Islam (25/3/13)
What are the implications of the Cyprus deal? BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, Stephanie Flanders (25/3/13)
Cyprus bailout deal: Russia riled but Germany relieved BBC News, Steve Rosenberg in Moscow and Stephen Evans in Berlin (25/3/13)
Cyprus bailout deal ‘durable’ says IMF chief BBC News, Christine Lagarde (25/3/13)
Cyprus Bailout Deal Raises Questions: Lombardi Bloomberg, Domenico Lombardi (25/3/13)
Minister Michalis Sarris: Cyprus paying ‘tremendous cost’ BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, Michalis Sarris (26/3/13)

Articles
Last-minute Cyprus deal to close bank, force losses Reuters, Jan Strupczewski and Annika Breidthardt (25/3/13)
Cyprus strikes last-minute EU bailout deal The Guardian, Ian Traynor (25/3/13)
‘There is no future here in Cyprus’ The Telegraph, Nick Squires (25/3/13)
Back from the brink: EU ministers approve €10bn bailout deal at 11th-hour to save Cyprus Independent, Charlotte McDonald-Gibson and Majid Mohamed (25/3/13)
Cyprus bailout: Deal reached in Eurogroup talks BBC News (25/3/13)
Q&A: Cyprus deal BBC News (25/3/13)
The rescue of Cyprus won’t feel like one to its people BBC News, Robert Peston (25/3/13)
Lessons of Cyprus BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (25/3/13)
Cyprus bailout: Dijsselbloem remarks alarm markets BBC News (25/3/13)
Cyprus saved – but at what cost? The Guardian, Helena Smith (25/3/13)
Cyprus bail-out: savers will be raided to save euro in future crisis, says eurozone chief The Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield (25/3/13)
Cyprus’s banks have been tamed – are Malta and Luxembourg next? The Guardian, Ian Traynor (25/3/13)
Lehman lessons weigh on Cyprus talks but 1920s slump must not be ignored The Guardian, Larry Elliott (24/3/13)

Questions

  1. Explain what is meant by ‘moral hazard’. What moral hazards are implicit in the deal that has been struck with Cyprus?
  2. How does the size of the banking system in Cyprus as a proportion of GDP differ from that in other troubled eurozone countries? How does this affect the ‘contagion’ argument?
  3. Does the experience of Iceland and its troubled banks suggest that the Cypriot problem has nothing to do with its being in the eurozone?
  4. What options are open to the Cypriot government to stimulate the economy and prevent a severe recession? How realistic are these options (if any)?
  5. What are the likely implications of the deal for the economic relationships (as opposed to the political ones) between Cyprus and Russia and between the eurozone and Russia?
  6. Are there any similarities in the relationships between the weak and strong eurozone countries today and those between Germany and other countries in the 1920s and 30s?
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Losing the productivity race

Recent figures from the ONS suggest that the UK lags well behind its competitors in terms of labour productivity. In terms of output per hour worked, Germany produces 22% more than the UK, France produces 26% more, the USA produces 27% more, the Netherlands 31% more and Ireland 43% more. The first chart illustrates some of these figures.

(Click here for a PowerPoint of this chart.)

And in the past few years the problem has been getting worse. This is shown in the second chart. This, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until 2006, the gap was narrowing, but since then it has widened. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the second chart.)

What has caused this widening of the gap? Part of the problem is a historical lack of investment in the UK. Between 2005 and 2012, the UK invested on average 15.7% of GDP. The USA invested 16.5%, Germany 17.9% and France 20.1%. And part of the problem has been the cut back in private-sector investment in response to the recession (which has been deeper in the UK) and in public-sector investment as part of the government’s austerity measures.

Part of the problem has been lower levels of inward investment. Inward direct investment to the UK in 2011 was only 24 per cent of that in 2007. In France, Germany, Italy and the USA, the figures were 43, 50, 66 and 105 per cent respectively.

Part of the problem has been the size of the financial sector in the UK. This is considerably larger as a proportion of the economy than in most the UK’s major competitors. And it was this sector most hard hit by the crisis of 2007/8.

With this poor productivity performance, you might expect unemployment to have soared. In fact, the UK has one of the lowest unemployment rates of the developed countries and in recent months it has been falling while other countries have seen their unemployment rates rise.

In fact, low productivity and high employment are compatible. If people produce less than their counterparts abroad, then more people will be needed to produce the same level of output. The problem, of course, is that this only works if wages are kept down. Indeed, wages have fallen in real terms and now stand at the level of 10 years ago.

The problem of falling real wages is that this translates into a lack of demand – especially when people are trying to reduce their debts. Not only does this result in a lack of economic growth, it discourages firms from investing – and investment is one of the prime drivers of future productivity growth!

The following articles explore the problem of low productivity and its relationship with employment and with both short-term and long-term economic growth.

Articles
UK has widest productivity gap since 1993 City A.M., Ben Southwood (14/2/13)
Productivity ‘key to UK’s economic future’ SnowdropKCS (7/2/13)
Low wages and lack of investment – why UK’s productivity has slumped Wales Online, David Williamson (2/3/13)
Recovery in jobs gives a fillip before the news on growth Independent, Russell Lynch (23/1/13)
U.K. Triple-Dipping as Productivity Falls Slate, Matthew Yglesias (25/1/13)
UK productivity puzzle baffles economists BBC News, By Andrew Walker (18/10/12)
Is low productivity a structural problem in the UK? BBC Today Programme, Bridget Rosewell and Andrew Sentance (4/1/13)
We Need to Talk About the Middle Huffington Post, Stewart Wood (14/2/13)
UK Wages Slump to Lowest Level in a Decade – ONS International Business Times, Shane Croucher (13/2/13)
Britain’s low-wage economy serves as a bind on the country The Guardian, Philip Inman (13/2/13)
Real wages fall back to 2003 levels in UK The Guardian, Hilary Osborne (13/2/13)

Data
International Comparisons of Productivity – Final Estimates for 2011 ONS (13/2/13)
International Comparisons of Productivity, datasets ONS (13/2/13)
Changes in real earnings in the UK and London, 2002 to 2012 ONS (13/2/13)

Questions

  1. Which is a better measure of productivity – output per worker or output per hour worked? Why, do you think, does the USA produce 39% more per worker, but only 27% more per hour worked?
  2. What policies should the government adopt in order to encourage a growth in productivity?
  3. If productivity growth increased, what would be the likely effect on employment? Explain.
  4. Why has unemployment not risen in recent months?
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A changing supply chain

With globalisation, more and more businesses have found it beneficial to ‘go global’. There are many reasons why a firm might choose to expand its production or market to other countries and one particular advantage is cutting costs in the manufacturing of products.

Countries such as China and India have become leaders in production. Look at many of the items you own – I’m sure you’ll see a ‘Made in China’ or ‘Made in India’ amongst them. These fast emerging countries were highly sought after as places to produce due to much cheaper production costs. This advantage led to Western companies outsourcing much of their manufacturing base to China, as a means of retaining a competitive advantage.

However, the cost advantages that China boasted are now less significant and we may be about to see the emergence of a new manufacturing hub. Other countries that are further behind the BRICS in the development process now have cost advantages over places like China and so we may see another transfer of manufacturing to other parts of the world.

When splitting up a supply chain to gain cost advantages a key consideration is the extent to which you lose control. Communication and co-ordination issues can emerge when design takes place in one country; production in another and then the products are sold around the world. When cost differences are huge, these problems can be overlooked, as what they might cost you in terms of lost time etc. is easily made up by savings through cheaper labour.

However, when the cost advantages of production in China shrink, companies are still left with the problems of communication and co-ordination. These now represent more significant costs that could be reduced were production to revert to the country of design or if production were to be moved to an even cheaper country.

The following article from BBC News considers the issues surrounding the supply chain and how businesses may benefit from more collaboration.

Better collaboration lets businesses take back the supply chain BBC News, Alastair Sorbie (15/6/12)

Questions

  1. What are the arguments for becoming a multinational?
  2. Why do host countries, such as the BRICS accept inward investment? What do they gain from it?
  3. Explain how the product life cycle can affect the profitability of a MNC and how the company might respond.
  4. What are the disadvantages to a MNC from ‘going global’?
  5. What are the problems faced by developing countries acting as host nations?
  6. How has technology affected both big and small businesses?
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Taking over?

The UK has adopted a relatively open market policy towards takeovers of domestic companies by ones from overseas. True, takeovers have to be in accordance with competition legislation, namely the 2002 Enterprise Act, or, in the case of takeovers affecting competition in the UK and at least one other EU country, the EU 2004 merger control measures and Article 102 of the Lisbon Treaty. The EU regulations disallow mergers if they result in ‘a concentration which would significantly impede effective competition, in particular by the creation or strengthening of a dominant position’ (see Economics (7th ed) pages 370–3 or Economics for Business (5th ed), pages 443–50). The UK legislation is similarly concerned with a substantial lessening of competition. But in both cases, competition policy is not concerned with whether the takeover is by a foreign company rather than a domestic one. So should we be concerned?

Interest in this question increased recently with the takeover of Cadbury by Kraft. Many saw it as yet one more example of British companies being taken over by foreign ones. Other examples include the takover in 2008 of Scottish and Newcastle (brewers of Courage, John Smith’s, Fosters and Kronenbourg) by the Carlsberg/Heineken consortium; the sale of the Rover group, with Minis now made by BMW, and Jaguar Land Rover now owned by Tata Motors of India; and the takeover in 2007 of Corus, the Anglo-Dutch steelmaker, by India’s Tata Steel. One of the key complaints about foreign takeovers is when they result in job losses. Although Kraft gave assurances that the Cadbury plant at Keynesham, near Bristol, would remain open, as soon as the takeover was completed, Kraft announced the closure of the Keynesham factory. Tata Steel earlier this year decided to mothball its steelworks at Redcar, on Teesside. It may never re-open.

But there are many arguments on either side about the desirability of takeovers by foreign companies. On the positive side, they may result in investment in new plant and new products and a faster growth of the company. This could result in more employment, not less. They may bring in foreign expertise and give access to new technology; they may be able to achieve various economies of scale through joint operations; productivity may increase. As the article from The Economist states:

For 30 years the consensus has been that Britain has more to gain than to lose from its open embrace of globalisation. … Britain has enjoyed a strong inflow of foreign direct investment. It has consistently attracted more than any other European country. A report on British manufacturing for Policy Exchange, a centre-right think-tank, notes that the openness of the economy “makes Britain a magnet for foreign companies looking for acquisitions on which they can build their manufacturing operations” for Britain and elsewhere.

On the negative side, there may indeed be job losses as ‘rationalisation’ takes place. Head office functions and key research facilities may move abroad. Hostile takovers may result in the stripping of assets for short-term gain, thereby undermining the loing-term viability of the company.

The article from The Economist explores these issues.

Article
Small island for sale The Economist (25/3/10)

Data
A summary of cross-border mergers, acquisitions and disposals by UK companies and foreign companies in the UK can be found at: Mergers & Acquisitions data Office for National Statistics
For statistical bulletins and press releases see: Mergers and Acquisitions involving UK companies Office for National Statistics
For international data on foreign inward and outward direct investment see: Interactive database on Enterprise and Investment UNCTAD
See also: World Investment Report UNCTAD

Questions

  1. Explain what is meant by the ‘competition for corporate control’. In what ways does this competition affect consumers?
  2. From the point of view of a multinational company, assess the strategy of acquiring foreign companies by hostile takeovers.
  3. Has the UK benefited from an open policy towards inward investment and foreign takeovers of UK companies?
  4. How do short-term flows of funds prior to a takeover impact on the takeover process?
  5. Compare the trends in inward investment to the UK with outward investment by the UK.
  6. Examine the arguments for and against the government blocking takeovers if they threaten jobs.
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The China syndrome (updated)

“We will look back at 2009 as a watershed in economic history. This is the first time since the war that the world economy has not been led out of a recession by the US consumer.” (Jeremy Beckworth, CIO, Kleinwort Benson Private Bank – see second linked article below) How has the Chinese economy fared during the global recession? What policies has it pursued and how successful have they been? Will Chinese growth continue and how will this impact on the rest of the world? What economic risks does China face? These are questions that the following articles consider.

Array of figures adds to optimism over China economy Reuters (15/10/09)
Look East for the land of opportunity Jeremy Beckwith, Portfolio Adviser (14/10/09)
Greenback Woes Boost China’s Global Muscle Money Morning (15/10/09)
China Rises Amid Global Economic Crisis Manufacturing.net (13/10/09)
Why China must do more to rebalance its economy Financial Times (22/9/09)
China economic growth accelerates BBC News (22/10/09)
Chinese economy grows at fastest pace in a year Telegraph (22/10/09)
China’s 3Q growth accelerates to 8.9% pace Los Angeles Times (22/10/09)

Questions

  1. Examine whether Chinese inward investment to the UK is desirable for UK companies and employees.
  2. Why is a more powerful Chinese economy a ‘mixed blessing’ for the USA?
  3. In what ways is the Chinese economy ‘distorted’? Explain why this matters.
  4. Why is it encouraging that China’s current account and balance of trade surpluses have been shrinking?
  5. What effect would an appreciation of the yuan (or ‘renmimbi’) have (a) on the Chinese economy; (b) on the rest of the world? What would determine the size of this effect for any given appreciation?
  6. Why must China do more to rebalance its economy?
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