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Posts Tagged ‘moral hazard’

A deus ex machina at last?

It was argued in an earlier blog on the Greek debt crisis that a deus ex machina was needed to find a resolution to the impasse between Greece and its creditors. The most likely candidate for such as role was the IMF.

Three days before the Greek referendum on whether or not to accept the Troika’s proposals, the IMF has stepped onto the stage. To the undoubted surprise of the other two partners in the Troika (the European Commission and the ECB), the IMF argues that Greece’s debts are unsustainable and that much more is needed than a mere bailout (which simply rolls over the debt).

According to the IMF, Greece needs €52bn of extra funds between October 2015 and December 2018, large-scale debt relief, a 20-year grace period before making any debt repayments and then debt repayments spread over the following 20 years. In return, Greece should commit to supply-side reforms to cut out waste, reduce bureaucracy, improve tax collection methods and generally improve the efficiency of the economic system.

It would also have to agree to the previously proposed primary budget surplus (i.e. the budget surplus excluding debt repayments) of 1 per cent of GDP this year, rising to 3.5 per cent in 2018.

So it this what commentators have been waiting for? What will be the reaction of the Greeks and the other two partners in the Troika? We shall see.

Articles
IMF says Greece needs extra €50bn in funds and debt relief The Guardian. Phillip Inman, Larry Elliott and Alberto Nardelli (2/7/15)
IMF: 3rd Greek bailout would cost €52bn. Or more? Financial Times, Peter Spiegel (2/7/15)
IMF: Greece needs to reform for sustainable debt, financing needs rising CNBC, Everett Rosenfeld (2/7/15)
The IMF has made an obvious point about Greece’s huge debt. Here’s why it still matters Quartz, Jason Karaian (3/7/15)
Greece: when is it time to forgive debt? The Conversation, Jagjit Chadha (2/7/15)

IMF Analysis
Greece: Preliminary Draft Debt Sustainability Analysis IMF (2/7/15)
Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis for Greece IMF (25/6/15)

Questions

  1. To which organisations is Greece indebted? What form to the debts take?
  2. To what extent is Greece’s current debt burden the result of design faults of the euro?
  3. What are the proposals of the IMF? What effect will they have on the Greek economy if accepted?
  4. How would the IMF proposals affect aggregate demand (a) directly; (b) compared with the proposals previously on the table that Greece rejected on 26 June?
  5. What would be the effects of Greek exit from the euro (a) for Greece; (b) for other eurozone countries?
  6. What bargaining chips can Greece deploy in the negotiations?
  7. Explain what is meant by ‘moral hazard’. Where in possible outcomes to the negotiations may there be moral hazard?
  8. What has been the impact of Greek austerity measures on the distribution of income and wealth in Greece?
  9. What are the practicalities of pursuing supply-side policies in Greece without further dampening aggregate demand?
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Wanted: a Deus ex Machina for Greece

With talks ongoing about resolving the Greek debt crisis, it is clear that there is no agreement that will satisfy both sides – the Greek government and the troika of lenders (the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission). Their current negotiating positions are irreconcilable. What is needed is something more fundamental to provide a long-term solution. What is needed is a ‘deus ex machina‘.

A deus ex machina, which is Latin for ‘god from a machine’, was a device used in Greek tragedy to solve an impossible situation. A god would appear from above, lowered by a crane, or from below through a trap door, and would put everything right. The tragedy would then be given a happy ending.

So what possible happy ending could be brought to the current Greek tragedy and who could be the deus ex machina?

The negotiations between Greece and the troika currently centre on extending credit by €7.2bn when existing debts come up for repayment. There are repayments currently due to the IMF, or by the end of June, of €1.5bn and more in July, September and December (another €3.2bn). There are also €6.7bn of Greek bonds held by the ECB, as part of the 2010 bailout programme, that are due for repayment in July and August. Without the €7.2 billion bailout, Greece will be unable to meet these debt repayments, which also include Treasury bills.

But the troika will only release the funds in return for harsh austerity measures, which involve further cuts to pensions and public expenditure. Greece would be required to run a substantial budget surplus for many years.

Greece could refuse, but then it would end up defaulting on debt and be forced out of the euro. The result would probably be a substantial depreciation of a newly restored drachma, rising inflation and many Greeks suffering even greater hardship – at least for a period of time.

So what is the possible deus ex machina? If you’re looking for a ‘god’ then it is best, perhaps, to look beyond the current actors. Perhaps the Americans could play the role in finding a solution to the impasse. Perhaps a small group of independent experts or politicians, or both, could find one. In either case, the politics of the situation would have to be addressed as well as the economics and finance.

And what would be the ‘fix’ to satisfy both sides? Ultimately, this has to allow Greek debt to be sustainable without further depressing demand and undermining the fabric of Greek society. This would almost certainly have to involve a large measure of debt forgiveness (i.e. debts being written off). It also has to avoid creating a moral hazard, whereby if the Greeks are seen as being ‘let off lightly’, this might encourage other indebted eurozone countries to be less willing to reduce their debts and make demands for forgiveness too.

Ultimately, the issue is a political one, not an economic one. This will require clever negotiation and, if there is a deus ex machina, clever mediation too.

Videos
Greek PM Tsipras warns lenders bailout plans ‘not realistic’ BBC News, Jim Reynolds (5/6/25)
Greece defers IMF payment until end of June BBC News, Chris Morris (5/6/15)
Greek debt talks: Empty shops and divided societies BBC News, Chris Morris (10/6/15)
Potential Grexit effects Deutsche Welle (13/6/15)

Articles
It’s time to end the pretence: Greece will never fully repay its bailout loan The Guardian, Andrew Farlow (9/6/15)
Greek exit would trigger eurozone collapse, says Alexis Tsipras The Guardian, Phillip Inman, Helena Smith and Graeme Wearden (9/6/15)
The eurozone was a dream of unity. Now Europe has turned upon itself The Guardian, Business leader (14/6/15)
Greece bailout talks: an intractable crisis with three possible outcomes The Guardian, Larry Elliott (2/6/15)
Greece needs an economic defibrillator and a debt write-off Financial Times letters, Ray Kinsella (25/3/15)
Greece’s new debt restructuring plan Times of Change, Peter Spiegel (5/6/15)
Eurozone still in denial about Greece BBC News, Robert Peston (3/6/15)
Greece bailout talks – the main actors in a modern-day epic The Guardian, Phillip Inman, Ian Traynor and Helena Smith (9/6/15)
Greece isn’t any old troubled debtor BBC News, Robert Peston (15/6/15)
Greece in default if debt deadline missed, says Lagarde BBC News (18/6/15)
Burden of debt to IMF and European neighbours proves too much for Greece The Guardian, Heather Stewart (17/6/15)

Paper
Ending the Greek Crisis: Debt Management and Investment led Growth Greek government

Questions

  1. To which organisations is Greece indebted? What form to the debts take?
  2. To what extent is Greece’s current debt burden the result of design faults of the euro?
  3. Would it be possible to restructure debts in ways that make it easier for Greece to service them?
  4. Should Greece be treated by the IMF the same way it treated the highly indebted poor countries (HIPCs) and granted substantial debt relief?
  5. What would be the effects of Greek exit from the euro (a) for Greece; (b) for other eurozone countries?
  6. What bargaining chips can Greece deploy in the negotiations?
  7. Explain what is meant by ‘moral hazard’. Where in possible outcomes to the negotiations may there be moral hazard?
  8. What has been the impact of Greek austerity measures on the distribution of income and wealth in Greece?
  9. What are the practicalities of pursuing supply-side policies in Greece without further dampening aggregate demand?
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Ending global poverty

In the developed countries of 2015, extreme poverty is (or should be) a thing of the past. With well-developed welfare states and hence safety nets, no-one should be living in deep poverty. However, that is not the case across the rest of the world, where extreme poverty is still a common thing – though much reduced compared to a decade ago.

In the article linked below, Linda Yueh of the BBC asks whether it is possible to end global poverty. Looking at some of the key data, we are certainly moving in the right direction, with the poverty rate in the developing world halving since 1981. Projections suggest that ending global poverty by 2030 is possible, though it will require significant investment and commitment. The World Bank data indicates that 50 million people would need to be brought out of poverty every year. Economists, on the other hand, suggest that the poverty rate may have fallen to around 8% – still progress, but perhaps a more realistic target?

How we measure poverty is clearly important here, as the higher the threshold income required to be ‘out of poverty’, the longer it will take and the more people will currently be in poverty. It is also important to consider things like changes in the population as although more people may be brought out of poverty, if an even greater number of people are being born in a country, then it is entirely possible that poverty actually increases in absolute terms.

A key thing to bear in mind when it comes to reducing poverty is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ policy. What works in one country is not necessarily going to work in another country. Policies will have to be targeted to the needs of the population and this means more time and resources. The numbers are definitely moving in the right direction, but whether they are going quickly enough to meet the 2030 target is another story. The BBC News article is linked below, as are some interesting documents and items from the World Bank and United Nations.

Is it possible to end global poverty? BBC News, Linda Yueh (27/3/15)
Poverty will only end by 2030 if growth is shared World Bank, Espen Beer Prydz (19/11/14)
Far greater effort needed to eradicate extreme poverty in world’s poorest nations United Nations News Centre (23/10/14)
Ending Poverty and Sharing Prosperity World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund, Global Monitoring Report 2014/2015 2015

Questions

  1. What is poverty and how to we measure it?
  2. If the growth rate of the world is high, does this mean that poverty is falling?
  3. What factors have explained the success of China in reducing poverty? Why might similar policies be ineffective in Africa? What types of policies would you recommend to reduce global poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa?
  4. Does Aid or Debt Forgiveness from developed countries help poorer nations or could it create a moral hazard?
  5. How important is economic growth in eliminating global poverty?
  6. How important are the Millennium Development Goals in driving efforts to eradicate global poverty?
  7. What are the 3 elements that the Global Monitoring Report focuses on to make growth inclusive and sustainable? In each case, explain how the elements would contribute towards global efforts to end poverty.
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Edging closer to full QE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions

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

In his Budget on March 19, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced fundamental changes to the way people access their pensions. Previously, many people with pension savings were forced to buy an annuity. These pay a set amount of income per month from retirement for the remainder of a person’s life.

But, with annuity rates (along with other interest rates) being at historically low levels, many pensioners have struggled to make ends meet. Even those whose pension pots did not require them to buy an annuity were limited in the amount they could withdraw each year unless they had other guaranteed income of over £20,000.

Now pensioners will no longer be required to buy an annuity and they will have much greater flexibility in accessing their pensions. As the Treasury website states:

This means that people can choose how they access their defined contribution pension savings; for example they could take all their pension savings as a lump sum, draw them down over time, or buy an annuity.

While many have greeted the news as a liberation of the pensions market, there is also the worry that this has created a moral hazard. When people retire, will they be tempted to blow their savings on foreign travel, a new car or other luxuries? And then, when their pension pot has dwindled and their health is failing, will they then be forced to rely on the state to fund their care?

But even if pensioners resist the urge to go on an immediate spending spree, there are still large risks in giving people the freedom to spend their pension savings as they choose. As the Scotsman article below states:

The risks are all too obvious. Behaviour will change. People who no longer have to buy an annuity will not do so but will then be left with a pile of cash. What to do with it? Spend it? Invest it? There are many new risky choices. But the biggest of all can be summed up in one fact: when we retire our life expectancy continues to grow. For every day we live after 65 it increases by six and a half hours. That’s right – an extra two-and-a-half years every decade.

The glory of an annuity is it pays you an income for every year you live – no matter how long. The problem with cash is that it runs out. Already the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said that the reform ‘depends on highly uncertain behavioural assumptions about when people take the money’. And that ‘there is a market failure here. There will be losers from this policy’.

We do not have perfect knowledge about how long we will live or even how long we can be expected to live given our circumstances. Many people are likely to suffer from a form of myopia that makes them blind to the future: “We’re likely to be dead before the money has run out”; or “Let’s enjoy ourselves now while we still can”; or “We’ll worry about the future when it comes”.

The point is that there are various market failings in the market for pensions and savings. Will the decisions of the Chancellor have made them better or worse?

Articles
Pension shakeup in budget leaves £14bn annuities industry reeling The Guardian, Patrick Collinson (20/3/14)
Chancellor vows to scrap compulsory annuities in pensions overhaul The Guardian, Patrick Collinson and Harriet Meyer (19/3/14)
Labour backs principle of George Osborne’s pension shakeup The Guardian, Rowena Mason (23/3/14)
Osborne’s pensions overhaul may mean there is little left for future rainy days The Guardian, Phillip Inman (24/3/14)
Let’s celebrate the Chancellor’s bravery on pensions – now perhaps the Government can tackle other mighty vested interests Independent on Sunday, Mary Dejevsky (23/3/14)
A vote-buying Budget The Scotsman, John McTernan (21/3/14)
L&G warns on mis-selling risks of pension changes The Telegraph, Alistair Osborne (26/3/14)
Budget 2014: Pension firms stabilise after £5 billion sell off Interactive Investor, Ceri Jones (20/3/14)

Budget publications
Budget 2014: pensions and saving policies Institute for Fiscal Studies, Carl Emmerson (20/3/14)
Budget 2014: documents HM Treasury (March 2014)
Freedom and choice in pensions HM Treasury (March 2014)

Questions

  1. What market failures are there in the market for pensions?
  2. To what extent will the new measures help to tackle the existing market failures in the pension industry?
  3. Explain the concept of moral hazard. To what extent will the new pension arrangements create a moral hazard?
  4. Who will be the losers from the new arrangements?
  5. Assume that you have a choice of how much to pay into a pension scheme. What is likely to determine how much you will choose to pay?
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Flooding the insurance market

Britain has faced some its worst ever weather, with thousands of homes flooded once again, though the total number of flooded households has fallen compared to previous floods. However, for many households, it is just more of the same – if you’ve been flooded once, you’re likely to be flooded again and hence insurance against flooding is essential. But, if you’re an insurance company, do you really want to provide cover to a house that you can almost guarantee will flood?

The government has pledged thousands to help households and businesses recover from the damage left by the floods and David Cameron’s latest step has been to urge insurance companies to deal with claims for flood damage as fast as possible. He has not, however, said anything regarding ‘premium holidays’ for flood victims.

The problem is that the premium you are charged depends on many factors and one key aspect is the likelihood of making a claim. The more likely the claim, the higher the premium. If a household has previous experience of flooding, the insurance company will know that there is a greater likelihood of flooding occurring again and thus the premium will be increased to reflect this greater risk. There have been concerns that some particularly vulnerable home-owners will be unable to find or afford home insurance.

The key thing with insurance is that in order for it to be provided privately, certain conditions must hold. The probability of the event occurring must be less than 1 – insurance companies will not insure against certainty. The probability of the event must be known on aggregate to allow insurance companies to calculate premiums. Probabilities must be independent – if one person makes a claim, it should not increase the likelihood of others making claims.

Finally, there should be no adverse selection or moral hazard, both of which derive from asymmetric information. The former occurs where the person taking out the insurance can hide information from the company (i.e. that they are a bad risk) and the latter occurs when the person taking out insurance changes their behaviour once they are insured. Only if these conditions hold or there are easy solutions will the private market provide insurance.

On the demand-side, consumers must be willing to pay for insurance, which provides them with protection against certain contingencies: in this case against the cost of flood damage. Given the choice, rational consumers will only take out an insurance policy if they believe that the value they get from the certainty of knowing they are covered exceeds the cost of paying the insurance premium. However, if the private market fails to offer insurance, because of failures on the supply-side, there will be major gaps in coverage.

Furthermore, even if insurance policies are offered to those at most risk of flooding, the premiums charged by the insurance companies must be high enough to cover the cost of flood damage. For some homeowners, these premiums may be unaffordable, again leading to gaps in coverage.

Perhaps here there is a growing role for the government and we have seen proposals for a government-backed flood insurance scheme for high-risk properties due to start in 2015. However, a loop hole may mean that wealthy homeowners pay a levy for it, but are not able to benefit from the cheaper premiums, as they are deemed to be able to afford higher premiums. This could see many homes in the Somerset Levels being left out of this scheme, despite households being underwater for months. There is also a further role for government here and that is more investment in flood defences. If that occurs though, where will the money come from? The following articles consider flooding and the problem of insurance.

Insurers urged to process flood claims quickly BBC News (17/2/14)
Flood area defences put on hold by government funding cuts The Guardian, Damian Carrington and Rajeev Syal (17/2/14)
Flooding: 200,000 houses at risk of being uninsurable The Telegraph (31/1/12)
Govt flood insurance plan ‘will not work’ Sky News (14/2/14)
Have we learned our lessons on flooding? BBC News, Roger Harrabin (14/2/14)
ABI refuses to renew statement of principles for flood insurance Insurance Age, Emmanuel Kenning (31/1/12)
Wealthy will have to pay more for flood insurance but won’t be covered because their houses are too expensive Mail Online, James Chapman (7/2/14)
Buyers need ‘flood ratings’ on all houses, Aviva Chief warns The Telegraph, James Quinn (15/2/14)
Wealthy homeowners won’t be helped by flood insurance scheme The Telegraph(11/2/14)
Costly insurance ‘will create flood-risk ghettos and £4.3tn fall in house values’ The Guardian, Patrick Wintour (12/2/14)
Leashold homes face flood insurance risk Financial Times, Alistair Gray (10/2/14)

Questions

  1. Consider the market for insurance against flood damage. Are risks less than one? Explain your answer.
  2. Explain whether or not the risk of flooding is independent.
  3. Are the problems of moral hazard and adverse selection relevant in the case of home insurance against flood damage?
  4. To what extent is the proposed government-backed flood insurance an equitable scheme? Should the government be stepping in to provide insurance itself?
  5. Should there be greater regulation when houses are sold to provide better information about the risk of flooding?
  6. Why if the concept of opportunity cost relevant here?
  7. How might household values be affected by recent floods, in light of the issues with insurance?
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Are Scotland and the rest of the UK an optimal currency area?

In a speech in Edinburgh, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, considered the implications of Scotland retaining the pound if the Scottish people vote yes for independence. His speech was intended to be non-political. Rather he focused on two main questions: first whether a currency union of Scotland and the rest of the UK (RUK) would be an optimal currency area; second how much economic sovereignty would need to be shared with RUK as a consequence of Scotland keeping the pound.

On the first question, Mark Carney argued that the current UK is close to an optimal currency area as there is a high degree of economic integration and factor mobility. Sharing a currency eliminates exchange costs, improves pricing transparency and hence encourages competition, promotes cross-border investment, improves the flow of technology and ideas, and increases the mobility of labour and capital.

But sharing a currency involves sharing a monetary policy. This would still be determined by the Bank of England and would have to geared to the overall economic situation of the union, not the specific needs of Scotland.

There would also need to be a banking union, whereby banks in difficulties would receive support from the whole currency area. In Scotland’s case, banking accounts for a very large proportion of the economy (12.5% compared with 4.3% for RUK) and could potentially place disproportionate demands on the currency union’s finances.

And then there is the question of fiscal policy. A shared currency also means pooling a considerable amount of sovereignty over taxation, government spending and government debt. This could be a serious problem in the event of asymmetric shocks to Scotland and RUK. For example, if oil prices fell substantially, Scotland may want to pursue a more expansionary fiscal policy just at a time when its tax revenues were falling. This could put a strain on Scotland’s finances. This might then require RUK to provide support from a common pool of funds, such as a ‘regional fund’.

Being in a currency union can amplify fiscal stress, and increase both the risks and consequences of financial instability. In the situation just described [a fall in demand for exports], fiscal policy would ideally help smooth adjustment to the external shock. But its ability to do so could be limited by the budgetary impact of the falls in output, prices and wages. To maintain credibility, fiscal policy may even become pro-cyclical, with the resulting austerity exacerbating the initial fall in demand. In the extreme, adverse fiscal dynamics could call into question a country’s membership of the union, creating the possibility of self-fulfilling ‘runs’ on bank and sovereign debt absent central bank support.6 Such adverse feedback loops turned recessions into depressions in several European countries in recent years.

A separate Scottish currency, by contrast, would, according to Carney, be a valuable shock absorber if domestic wages and prices were sticky.

For example, suppose demand for a country’s exports falls. All else equal, its output will fall, unemployment increase and current account deteriorate. With an independent currency, exchange rate depreciation can dampen these effects by improving competitiveness, and monetary policy can become more accommodative, supporting demand and employment. However, if the country were part of a currency area with its foreign market, its exchange rate would by definition not change, putting the full weight of adjustment on wages and unemployment – a significantly more protracted and painful process. In addition, the responsiveness of monetary policy to weak demand in that country would be diluted by the needs of the broader membership.

But despite the problems of ceding a degree of monetary and fiscal sovereignty, Scotland and RUK are well placed to continue with a successful currency union if Scotland becomes independent. Economic conditions are very similar, as are language, culture and institutions, and there is an effective banking union – assuming such a banking union were to continue post independence.

The existing banking union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom has proved durable and efficient. Its foundations include a single prudential supervisor maintaining consistent standards of resilience, a single deposit guarantee scheme backed by the central government, and a common central bank, able to act as Lender of Last Resort across the union, and also backed by the central government. These arrangements help ensure that Scotland can sustain a banking system whose collective balance sheet is substantially larger than its GDP.

The desirability of Scottish independence is a normative question for the Scottish electorate to decide. Nevertheless, economists have an important part to play in informing the debate. Mark Carney’s economic analysis of currency union if the Scottish electorate votes yes is a good example of this.

Video of speech
Speech at lunch hosted by the Scottish Council for Development & Industry, Edinburgh Bank of England, Mark Carney (29/1/14)

Text of speech
The economics of currency unions Bank of England, Mark Carney (29/1/14)

Articles, podcasts and webcasts
Independent Scotland would be forced to cede some sovereignty if it keeps pound, says Carney The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (29/1/14)
Scottish independence: Currency debate explained BBC News, Andrew Black (29/1/14)
Scottish independence: Key extracts from Mark Carney speech BBC News (29/1/14)
Scottish independence: Carney says Scots currency plan may lead to power loss BBC News (29/1/14)
The sterling price of Scottish independence BBC News, Robert Peston (29/1/14)
Independent Scotland ‘needs to cede sovereignty’ for currency union with UK The Guardian, Severin Carrell (29/1/14)
Mark Carney warns Scotland over currency union hopes Financial Times, Mure Dickie and Sarah O’Connor (29/1/14)
How independent would Scotland really be? Channel 4 News (29/1/14)
BoE’s Mark Carney in currency sovereignty warning The Scotsman, Tom Peterkin (30/1/14)
Carney Says Scotland Must Heed Euro Crisis in Pound Debate Bloomberg, Emma Charlton and Jennifer Ryan (29/1/14)
Independent Scotland ‘meets criteria’ for currency union BBC Today Programme, Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp and Iain Gray (29/1/14)
Scotland must play a high-stakes poker game with Westminster over the pound The Guardian Larry Elliott (12/2/14)

Questions

  1. What are the conditions necessary for a successful currency union?
  2. To what extent do Scotland and RUK meet these conditions?
  3. What are meant by asymmetric shocks? Give some examples of asymmetric shocks that could affect a Scotland–RUK currency union.
  4. Why is there a potential moral hazard in a whole currency union providing fiscal support to members in difficulties?
  5. Why is banking union such an important part of a successful currency union? What lessons can be learned here from the eurozone currency union?
  6. What constraints would currency union impose on Scottish fiscal policy? Would such constraints exist in an optimal currency area?
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Kostas Economides and the Archbishop of Canterbury

A few weeks ago, Elizabeth wrote a blog on the payday loan industry and its referral by the OFT to the Competition Commission (see A payday inquiry). Now the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has joined the debate. He suggests that the problem of sky-high interest rates charged by payday loan companies would be tackled better by increased competition from elsewhere in the industry than by regulation.

In particular, he proposes an expansion of credit unions. These could provide a much cheaper alternative for people in financial difficulties who are seeking short-term loans. He would like church members with relevant skills to volunteer at credit unions and proposes setting up local credit unions operated from church buildings.

*            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

In this news item we hand over to ‘Kostas Economides’, an imaginary lecturer in Economics at the imaginary ‘University of the South of England’. Kostas’s blog is written by Guy Judge. Guy recently retired from the University of Portsmouth, where he was Deputy Head of Department, and is now a Visiting Fellow.

In his blog, Kostas frequently reflects on various economic issues, as well as on life at USE. Here he recounts a conversation with his colleagues about Justin Welby’s proposals. They consider various implications of the proposals from an economist’s point of view.

Kostas’s blog
Pay day loans Guy’s Other Stuff, Guy Judge (30/7/13)

To provide some background to Kostas’s blog, you’ll see below the normal set of links to newspaper articles.

We may well return to Kostas in the near future, as he is planning to look at a number of topical economic issues.

Articles
Why I support Justin Welby’s battle with Wonga The Telegraph, Jacob Rees-Mogg (30/7/13)
Church plans to compete with payday lender Wonga BBC News, Robert Piggott (25/7/13)
Archbishop of Canterbury wants to ‘compete’ Wonga out of existence The Guardian, Miles Brignall (25/7/13)
Let the payday lenders prosper, but not extort Financial Times (30/7/13)
Coalition will support Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s plan for credit unions, says Vince Cable Independent, Andrew Grice (28/7/13)
Former Archbishop Rowan Williams backs action against payday loan firms Cambridge News, Jennie Baker (30/7/13)
Why Justin Welby’s vision of kumbayah capitalism is wrong The Telegraph, James Quinn (25/7/13)
Wonga V The Church: Comparing Interest Rates Of Payday Loans And Credit Unions The Huffington Post, Tom Moseley (25/7/13)
Wonga Warned Church Of England Could ‘Compete’ It Out Of Existence The Huffington Post, Tom Moseley (25/7/13)
Credit unions thriving even before Archbishop Welby’s attack on Wonga The Guardian, Rupert Jones (29/7/13)

Questions

  1. Find out the monthly interest rates being charged by various payday loan companies. Take one loan company as an example and calculate what would happen to your debt over the course of a year if you borrowed £100 and paid nothing back each month. What would be the annualised rate of interest?
  2. What are the arguments for and against banning payday loan companies?
  3. What are the arguments for and against imposing an interest rate cap on such companies?
  4. What are the differences between credit unions and banks?
  5. Should the interest rates charged by credit unions be uncapped?
  6. Explain what is meant by ‘moral hazard’ and give some examples. What moral hazard would there be in placing a limit on the number of months over which a debt could go on accumulating?
  7. How would you decide what a ‘normal’ rate of interest should be? Should this vary with the risk of default and, if so, by how much?
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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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