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Posts Tagged ‘moral hazard’

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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Ochi, ochi, ochi

Banks in Cyprus are in crisis. They have many bad debts e.g. to Greece and as mortgages in a falling property market. Private-sector debts have become unsustainable for the banks. The problem is compounded by negative economic growth and large government deficits (see chart). But, as with Icelandic banks back in 2008, this means a crisis for the whole country.

The reason is that the banking sector in Cyprus, as in Iceland and Ireland too, is large relative to the whole economy – over 8 times annual GDP (second only to Ireland in the EU). Loans to Greece alone are as much as 160% of Cyprus’ GDP and Cypriot banks were badly hit by the terms of the Greek bailout, which required creditors to take a 53% reduction (or ‘haircut’) in the value of their loans to Greece. With such a large banking sector, it is impossible for the Cypriot government alone to rescue the banks.

Cyprus thus turned to the EU for a bailout: back in June 2012. This makes Cyprus the fifth country to seek a bailout (after Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain). A bailout of €10 billion has just been agreed by the EU and IMF. The bailout comes with the ‘usual’ conditions of strong austerity measures of tax rises and cuts in government expenditure. But what makes this bailout different from those given to the other countries was a proposed levy on savers.

The proposal was that people with up €99,999 in their bank accounts (of any type) would face a one-off tax of 6.75%. The rate for those with €100,000 or more would be 9.9%, including on the first €99,999. This would raise around €5.8 billion of the €10 billion.

Not surprisingly, there was a public outcry in Cyprus. People had thought that their deposits were protected (at least up to €100,000). There was a run on cash machines, which, as a result were set to deliver just small amounts of cash to cope with the excessive demand. There was huge pressure on the Cypriot government not to introduce the measure.

But the ramifications of the proposed levy go well beyond the question of justice to savers. Questions are being raised about its incentive/disincentive effects. If people in other countries in future financial difficulties felt that they might face similar levies, how would they behave? Also, there is no haircut being proposed for holders of banks’ bonds. As Robert Peston states in his first article below:

The Cypriot deal sets back the cause of the new global rules for bringing order to banking systems when crisis hits. Apart from anything else, in other eurozone countries where banks are weak, it licenses runs on those banks, as and when a bailout looms.

But getting incentives right is not easy. As the Buttonwood column in The Economist points out:

The problem is tied up with the issue of moral hazard. This can be applied to both creditors and debtors; the former should be punished for reckless lending and the latter for living beyond their means. The collapse of Lehman Brothers is seen as an example of the faulty reasoning behind moral hazard; by letting the bank go bust, the crisis was spread throughout the financial system. But rescuing every creditor (or intervening to bail out the markets every time they falter) is the reason we are in this mess.

One alternative considered by the Cyprus parliament was to exempt people with less than €20,000 in their accounts from the levy. But this was rejected as being insufficient protection for savers. Another is to exempt people with less than €100,000, or to charge people with between €20,000 and €100,000 at a lower rate or rates.

But charging less, or nothing, on deposits of less than €100,000 would make it harder to to raise the €5.8 billion required by the EU. Without alternative measures it would mean charging a rate higher than 9.9% on larger deposits. The Cypriot government is afraid that this would discourage inward investment. Russia, in particular, has invested heavily in the Cyprus economy and Russia is campaigning vigorously to limit the size of the levy on large deposits. But there is little sympathy for Russian depositors, much of whose deposits are claimed to be ‘laundered money’. The Cypriot government has been seeking financial support from the Russian government.

An alternative proposal being considered is to issue government bonds in an “investment solidarity fund” and to transfer pension funds from semi-public companies to the state. Also Russia may be willing to invest more money in Cyprus’ offshore oil and gas fields.

Agreement
A deal was struck between Cyprus and the EU/IMF early in the morning of 25 March, just hours before the deadline. For details, see the News Item Cyprus: one crisis ends; another begins.

Webcasts and podcasts
Eurozone ministers agree 10bn euro Cyprus bailout Channel 4 News (16/3/13)
Bailout is ‘blackmail’ claims Cyprus president Euronews (17/3/13)
Cyprus’s president tries to calm fears over EU bailout The Guardian (18/3/13)
Cypriot bank customers reactions to savings levy BBC News (17/3/13)
Cyprus bailout: Parliament postpones debate amid anger BBC News (17/3/13)
Cyprus parliament delays debate on EU bailout Al Jazeera (17/3/13)
Cyprus told it can amend bailout, as key vote postponed BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (18/3/13)
Robert Peston: Cyprus bailout an ‘astonishing mess’ BBC News, Robert Peston (18/3/13)
Cyprus bailout is ‘completely unfair’ BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, Michael Fuchs and Bernadette Segol (18/3/13)
Lenders ‘doing everything you should not do’ on Cyprus BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, Alistair Darling (19/3/12)
Cyprus warned over bailout rejection BBC News (20/3/13)

Articles
Cyprus becomes fifth eurozone bailout The News International (Pakistan) (17/3/13)
Cyprus bailout deal sparks run on ATMs Irish Independent (17/3/13)
EU leaders gamble in Cyprus bank bailout BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (17/3/13)
Cyprus told it can amend bailout, as key vote postponed BBC News (18/3/13)
Q&A: Cyprus bailout BBC News (19/3/13)
Cyprus’ President Defends Bailout Deal The Motley Fool (16/3/13)
Sad Cyprus The Economist, Buttonwood’s Notebook (12/3/13)
The Cypriot bail-out: A fifth bitter lemon The Economist (30/6/12)
Analysis: Cyprus bank levy risks dangerous euro zone precedent Reuters, Mike Peacock (17/3/13)
The Cyprus precedent Reuters, Felix Salmon (17/3/13)
The Cyprus Bank Bailout Could Be A Disastrous Precedent: They’re Reneging On Government Deposit Insurance Forbes, Tim Worstall (16/3/13)
Cyprus rescue breaks all the rules BBC News, Robert Peston (18/3/13)
Cyprus and the eurozone’s survival BBC News, Robert Peston (20/3/13)
Eurogroup defends Cyprus bail-out The Telegraph (17/3/13)
Cyprus eurozone bailout prompts anger as savers hand over possible 10% levy The Guardian (16/3/13)
Cyprus’s wealth tax makes perfect sense – its rich won’t escape unscathed The Guardian, Phillip Inman (18/3/13)
The tragedy of Cyprus The Real Economy blog, Edmund Conway (16/3/13)
Damage limitation in Cyprus BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (19/3/13)
The fatal flaw in the eurozone’s not-so-cunning plan for Cyprus The Guardian, Larry Elliott (19/3/13)
Cyprus plans special fund in race to get EU-IMF bailout BBC News, (21/3/13)
Cyprus says ‘significant progress’ in debt crisis talks BBC News (23/3/13)

Background information
The Banking System in Cyprus: Time to Rethink the Business Model? Cyprus Economic Policy Review, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 123–130, Constantinos Stephanou (2011)
European sovereign-debt crisis Wikipedia

Questions

  1. What is the justification given by the Cypriot government and the EU for imposing a levy on bank deposits?
  2. What alternative measures could have been demanded by the EU? Why weren’t they?
  3. What is the significance of Russian deposits in Cypriot banks?
  4. Compare the benefits of the proposed levy rates with the alternative of imposing levies only on deposits over €100,000, but at higher rates (perhaps tiered).
  5. Explain the moral hazard issues in bailing out the Cypriot banks.
  6. How serious is the problem that imposing a tax on deposits in Cypriot banks might have adverse affects on the behaviour of depositors in other countries’ banks?
  7. How might Cypriots behave in future in regards to depositing money in banks? What impact could this have on the economy of Cyprus?
  8. Explain “the unholy trinity of options facing indebted nations (inflate, stagnate, default)”. Compare the effectiveness of each.
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A cap fit for purpose?

As part of the Basel III round of banking regulations, representatives of the EU Parliament and member governments have agreed with the European Commission that bankers’ bonuses should be capped. The proposal is to cap them at 100% of annual salary, or 200% with the agreement of shareholders. The full Parliament will vote in May and then it will go to officials from the 27 Member States. Under a system of qualified majority voting, it is expected to be accepted, despite UK resistance.

The main arguments in favour of a cap are that it will reduce the focus of bankers on short-term gains and reduce the incentive to take excessive risks. It will also appease the anger of electorates throughout the EU over bankers getting huge bonuses, especially in the light of the recession, caused in major part by the excesses of bankers.

The main argument against is that it will drive talented top bankers to countries outside the EU. This is a particular worry of the UK government, fearful of the effect on the City of London. There is also the criticism that it will simply drive banks into increasing basic salaries of senior executives to compensate for lower bonuses.

But it is not just the EU considering curbing bankers’ pay. The Swiss have just voted in a referendum to give shareholders the right to veto salaries and bonuses of executives of major companies. Many of these companies are banks or other financial sector organisations.

So just what will be the effect on incentives, banks’ performance and the movement of top bankers to countries without such caps? The following videos and articles explore these issues. As you will see, the topic is highly controversial and politically charged.

Meanwhile, HSBC has revealed its 2012 results. It paid out $1.9bn in fines for money laundering and set aside a further $2.3bn for mis-selling financial products in the UK. But its underlying profits were up 18%. Bonuses were up too. The 16 top executives received an average of $4.9m each. The Chief Executive, Stuart Gulliver, received $14.1m in 2012, 33% up on 2011 (see final article below).

Webcasts and podcasts
EU moves to cap bankers bonuses Euronews on Yahoo News (1/3/13)
EU to Curb Bank Bonuses WSJ Live (28/2/13)
Inside Story – Curbing Europe’s bank bonuses AlJazeera on YouTube (1/3/13)
Will EU bonus cap ‘damage economy’? BBC Radio 4 Today Programme (28/2/13)
Swiss back curbs on executive pay in referendum BBC News (3/3/13)
Has the HSBC scandal impacted on business? BBC News, Jeremy Howell (4/3/13)

Articles
Bonuses: the essential guide The Guardian, Simon Bowers, Jill Treanor, Fiona Walsh, Julia Finch, Patrick Collinson and Ian Traynor (28/2/13)
Q&A: EU banker bonus cap plan BBC News (28/2/13)
Outcry, and a Little Cunning, From Euro Bankers The New York Times, Landon Thomas Jr. (28/2/13)
Bank bonuses may shrink – but watch as the salaries rise The Observer, Rob Taylor (3/3/13)
Don’t cap bank bonuses, scrap them The Guardian, Deborah Hargreaves (28/2/13)
Capping banker bonuses simply avoids facing real bank problems The Telegraph, Mats Persson (2/3/13)
Pro bonus The Economist, Schumpeter column (28/2/13)
‘The most deluded measure to come from Europe since fixing the price of groceries in the Roman Empire’: Boris Johnson attacks EU banker bonus cap Independent, Gavin Cordon , Geoff Meade (28/2/13)
EU agrees to cap bankers’ bonuses BBC News (28/2/13)
Viewpoints: EU banker bonus cap BBC News (28/2/13)
Voters crack down on corporate pay packages swissinfo.ch , Urs Geiser (3/3/13)
Swiss voters seen backing executive pay curbs Reuters, Emma Thomasson (3/3/13)
Swiss referendum backs executive pay curbs BBC News (3/3/13)
Voters in Swiss referendum back curbs on executives’ pay and bonuses The Guardian, Kim Willsher and Phillip Inman (3/3/13)
Swiss vote for corporate pay curbs Financial Times, James Shotter and Alex Barker (3/3/13)
HSBC pays $4.2bn for fines and mis-selling in 2012 BBC News (4/3/13)

Questions

  1. How does competition, or a lack of it, in the banking industry affect senior bankers’ remuneration?
  2. What incentives are created by the bonus structure as it is now? Do these incentives result in desirable outcomes?
  3. How would you redesign the bonus system so that the incentives resulted in beneficial outcomes?
  4. If bonuses are capped as proposed by the EU, how would you assess the balance of advantages and disadvantages? What additional information would you need to know to make such an assessment?
  5. How has the relationship between banks and central banks over the past few years created a moral hazard? How could such a moral hazard be eliminated?
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Doves from above

With many countries struggling to recover from the depression of the past few years, central banks are considering more and more doveish moves to kick-start lending. But with short-term interest rates in the USA, the UK and Japan close to zero, the scope for further cuts are limited. So what can central banks do?

The first thing that can be done is to adopt a higher inflation target or to accept inflation above target – at least for the time being. This could be accompanied by explicitly targeting GDP growth (real or nominal) or unemployment (see the blog from last December, Rethinking central bank targets).

The second option is to increase quantitative easing. Although in a minority at the last MPC meeting, Mervyn King, the current Bank of England Governor, argued for a further £25 billion of asset purchases (bringing the total to £400bn) (see MPC minutes paragraph 39). It is highly likely that the MPC will agree to further QE at its next meeting in March. In Japan, the new governor of the Bank of Japan is expected to include asset purchases as part of the policy of monetary easing.

The third option is for the central bank to provide finance at below-market rates of interest directly to the banking sector specifically for lending: e.g. to small businesses or for house purchase. The Bank of England’s Funding for Lending Scheme is an example and the Bank is considering extending it to other financial institutions.

One other approach, mooted by the Bank of England’s Deputy Governor before the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, is for negative interest rates paid on Banks’ reserves in the Bank of England. This would, in effect, be a fee levied on banks for keeping money on deposit. The idea would be to encourage banks to lend the money and not to keep excessive liquidity. As you can see from the chart, three rounds of quantitative easing have led to a huge increase in bank’s reserves at the Bank of England. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

The following articles consider these various proposals and whether they will work to stimulate lending and thereby aggregate demand and economic recovery.

Central banks: Brave new words The Economist (23/2/13)
Phoney currency wars The Economist (16/2/13)
Analysis: Global central banks will keep taking it easy Reuters, Alan Wheatley (22/2/13)
Quantitative easing: the markets are struggling with a serious drug habi The Guardian, Larry Elliott (24/2/13)
Negative interest rates idea floated by Bank’s Paul Tucker BBC News (26/2/13)
Bank of England mulls negative interest rates Independent, Ben Chu (26/2/13)
BoE floats extending Funding for Lending to non-banks Mortgage Solutions, Adam Williams (26/2/13)
Funding for Lending Scheme failing to get banks lending Left Foot Forward, James Bloodworth (26/2/13)
Mortgage market boosted by lending schemes, says Redrow BBC News (26/2/13)
Widespread quantitative easing risks ‘QE wars’ and stagnation The Guardian, Nouriel Roubini (28/2/13)

Questions

  1. Consider each of the methods outlined above and their chances of success in stimulating aggregate demand.
  2. Go through each of the methods and consider the problems they are likely to create/have created.
  3. How important is it that monetary policy measures affect people’s expectations?
  4. What effects do the measures have on the distribution of income between borrowers and savers?
  5. What are annuities? How are these affected by policies of monetary easing?
  6. How has actual and anticipated Japanese monetary policy affected the exchange rate of the Japanese yen? How is this likely to affect the Japanese economy?
  7. Explain the sub-heading of the final article above, “When several major central banks pursue QE at the same time, it becomes a zero-sum game”. Do you agree?
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