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Posts Tagged ‘national debt’

Imposing a new fiscal straitjacket

In his annual Mansion House speech to business leaders on 10 June 2015, George Osborne announced a new fiscal framework. This would require governments in ‘normal times’ to run a budget surplus. Details of the new framework would be spelt out in the extraordinary Budget, due on 8 July.

If by ‘normal times’ is meant years when the economy is growing, then this new fiscal rule would mean that in most years governments would be require to run a surplus. This would reduce general government debt.

And it would eventually reduce the debt from the forecast ratio of 89% of GDP for 2015 to the target of no more than 60% set for member states under the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact. Currently, many countries are in breach of this target, although the Pact permits countries to have a ratio above 60% provided it is falling towards 60% at an acceptable rate. The chart shows in pink those countries that were in breach in 2014. They include the UK.

Sweden and Canada have similar rules to that proposed by George Osborne, and he sees them as having been more able to use expansionary fiscal policy in emergency times, such as in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2007/8, without running excessive deficits.

Critics have argued, however, that running a surplus whenever there is economic growth would dampen recovery if growth is sluggish. This makes the rule very different from merely requiring that, over the course of the business cycle, there is a budget balance. Under that rule, years of deficit are counterbalanced by years of surplus, making fiscal policy neutral over the cycle. With a requirement for a surplus in most years, however, fiscal policy would have a net dampening effect over the cycle. The chancellor hopes that this would be countered by increased demand in the private sector and from exports.

The rule is even more different from the Coalition government’s previous ‘fiscal mandate‘, which was for a ‘a forward-looking target to achieve cyclically-adjusted current balance by the end of the rolling, five-year forecast period’. The current budget excludes investment expenditure on items such as transport infrastructure, hospitals and schools. The fiscal mandate was very similar to the former Labour government’s ‘Golden rule’, which was to achieve a current budget balance over the course of the cycle.

By excluding public-sector investment from the target, as was previously done, it can allow borrowing to continue for such investment, even when there is a substantial deficit. This, in turn, can help to increase aggregate supply by improving infrastructure and has less of a dampening effect on aggregate demand. A worry about the new rule is that it could lead to further erosion of public-sector investment, which can be seen as vital to long-term growth and development of the economy. Indeed, Sweden decided in March this year to abandon its surplus rule to allow government borrowing to fund investment.

The podcasts and articles below consider the implications of the new rule for both aggregate demand and aggregate supply and whether adherence to the rule will help to increase or decrease economic growth over the longer term.

Video and audio podcasts
George Osborne confirms budget surplus law Channel 4 News, Gary Gibbon (10/6/15)
Osborne To Push Through Budget Surplus Rules Sky News (10/6/15)
OECD On Osborne’s Fiscal Plans Sky News, Catherine Mann (10/6/15)
‘Outright fiscal madness’ Osborne’s Mansion House Speech RT UK on YouTube, Harry Fear (11/6/15)
A “straightjacket” [sic] on future government spending? BBC Today Programme, Robert Peston; Nigel Lawson (11/6/15)
Thursday’s business with Simon Jack BBC Today Programme, Gerard Lyons (12/6/15)

Articles
Osborne seeks to bind successors to budget surplus goal Reuters, David Milliken (10/6/15)
George Osborne to push ahead with budget surplus law The Telegraph, Peter Dominiczak (10/6/15)
Osborne Wants U.K. to Build Treasure Chest During Good Times Bloomberg, Svenja O’Donnell (10/6/15)
Questions over Osborne’s Victorian-era budget plans BBC News (10/6/15)
Years more spending cuts to come, says OBR BBC News (11/6/15)
Is Chancellor right to want surplus in normal times? BBC News, Robert Peston (10/6/15)
George Osborne Unveils New Budget Surplus Law, But Critics Warn It Means Needless Cuts Huffington Post, Paul Waugh (10/6/15)
George Osborne’s fiscal handcuffs are political, but he does have a point Independent, Hamish McRae (11/6/15)
Osborne’s budget surplus law follows UK tradition of moving goalposts Financial Times, Chris Giles (10/6/15)
George Osborne’s budget surplus rule is nonsense and it could haunt Britain for decades Business Insider, Malaysia, Mike Bird (10/6/15)
To cut a way out of recession we need growth, not austerity economics Herald Scotland, Iain Macwhirter (11/6/15)
George Osborne moves to peg public finances to Victorian values The Guardian, Larry Elliott and Frances Perraudin (10/6/15)
The Guardian view on George Osborne’s fiscal surplus law: the Micawber delusion The Guardian, Editorial (10/6/15)
Academics attack George Osborne budget surplus proposal The Guardian, Phillip Inman (12/6/15)
Osborne plan has no basis in economics Guardian letters, multiple signatories (12/6/15)
Is there an optimal debt-to-GDP ratio? Vox EU, Anis Chowdhury and Iyanatul Islam
No basis in economics Mainly Macro, Simon Wren-Lewis (16/6/15)

Questions

  1. Explain what is meant by a ‘cyclically adjusted current budget balance’.
  2. How does the speed with which the government reduces the public-sector debt affect aggregate demand and aggregate supply?
  3. What are the arguments for and against running a budget surplus: (a) when there is currently a large budget deficit; (b) when there is already a budget surplus? How do the arguments depend on the stage of the business cycle?
  4. Do you agree with the statement that ‘the biggest issue with the UK economy right now is not the government deficit’. If so, what bigger issues are there?
  5. How could public-sector debt as a proportion of GDP decline without the government running a budget surplus?
  6. How might the term ‘normal times’ be defined? How does the definition used by the Chancellor affect the rate at which the public-sector debt is reduced?
  7. How sustainable is the current level of public-sector debt? How does its sustainability relate to the interest rate on long-term government bonds?
  8. If there is a budget surplus, such that GT is negative, what can we say about the balance betwen (I + X) and (S + M)? What good and adverse consequences could follow?
  9. Why do George Osborne’s plans for budget surpluses ‘risk a liquidity crisis that could also trigger banking problems, a fall in GDP, a crash, or all three’?
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US budget and debt ceiling deal

You may have been following the posts on the US debt ceiling and budget crisis: Over the cliff and Over the cliff: an update. Well, after considerable brinkmanship over the past couple of weeks, and with the government in partial shutdown since 1 October thanks to no budget being passed, a deal was finally agreed by both Houses of Congress, less than 12 hours before the deadline of 17 October. This is the date when the USA would have bumped up against the debt ceiling of $16.699 trillion and would be in default – unable to borrow sufficient funds to pay its bills, including maturing debt.

But the deal only delays the problem of a deeply divided Congress, with the Republican majority on the House of Representatives only willing to make a long-term agreement in exchange for concessions by President Obama and the Democrats on the healthcare reform legislation. All that has been agreed is to suspend the debt ceiling until 7 February 2014 and fund government until 15 January 2014.

A more permanent solution is clearly needed: not just one that raises the debt ceiling before the next deadline, but one which avoids such problems in the future. Such concerns were echoed by Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who issued the following statement:

The U.S. Congress has taken an important and necessary step by ending the partial shutdown of the federal government and lifting the debt ceiling, which enables the government to continue its operations without disruption for the next few months while budget negotiations continue to unfold.

It will be essential to reduce uncertainty surrounding the conduct of fiscal policy by raising the debt limit in a more durable manner. We also continue to encourage the U.S. to approve a budget for 2014 and replace the sequester with gradually phased-in measures that would not harm the recovery, and to adopt a balanced and comprehensive medium-term fiscal plan.

US default: Congress votes to end shutdown crisis The Telegraph, Raf Sanchez (17/10/13)
US shutdown: Christine Lagarde calls for stability after debt crisis is averted The Guardian,
James Meikle, Paul Lewis and Dan Roberts (17/10/13)
America’s economy: Meh ceiling? The Economist (15/10/13)
Relief as US approves debt deal BBC News (17/10/13)
Shares in Europe dip after US debt deal BBC News (17/10/13)
Dollar slides as relief at U.S. debt deal fades Reuters, Richard Hubbard (17/10/13)
US debt deal: Analysts relieved rather than celebrating Financial Times, John Aglionby and Josh Noble (17/10/13)
Greenspan fears US government set for more debt stalemate BBC News (21/10/13)

Questions

  1. Explain what is meant by default and how the concept applies to the USA if it had not suspended or raised its budget ceiling.
  2. Is the agreement of October 16 likely to ‘reassure markets’? Explain your reasoning.
  3. What is likely to happen to long-term interest rates as a result of the agreement?
  4. Will the imposition of a new debt ceiling by February 2014 remove the possibility of using fiscal policy to stimulate aggregate demand and speed up the recovery?
  5. What is meant by ‘buy the rumour, sell the news’ in the context of stock markets? How was this relevant to the agreement on the US debt ceiling and budget?
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Over the cliff: an update

In a News Item of 1 October, Over the Cliff, we looked at the passing of the deadline that same day for Congress to agree a budget. We also looked at the looming deadline for Congress to agree a new higher ceiling for Federal Government debt, currently standing at $16.699 trillion. Without an agreement to raise the limit, the government will start becoming unable to pay some of its bills from around 17 October.

One week on and no agreement has been reached on either a budget or a higher debt ceiling.

Failure to agree on a budget has led to the ‘shut-down’ of government. Only essential services are being maintained; the rest are no longer functioning and workers have been sent home on ‘unpaid leave’. This has led to considerable hardship for many in the USA. It has had little effect, however, on the rest of the world, except for tourists to the USA being unable to visit various national parks and monuments.

Failure to raise the debt ceiling, however, could have profound consequences for the rest of the world. It could have large and adverse effects of global growth, global trade, global investment and global financial markets. The articles below explore some of these consequences.

U.S. Congress enters crucial week in budget, debt limit battles Reuters, Richard Cowan (7/10/13)
Debt ceiling: Understanding what’s at stake CBS Moneywatch, Alain Sherter (7/10/13)
Q&A: What is the US debt ceiling? BBC News, Ben Morris (3/10/13)
Five Reasons to Fear the Debt Ceiling Bloomberg (6/10/13)
A U.S. Default Seen as Catastrophe Dwarfing Lehma Bloomberg Businessweek, Yalman Onaran (6/10/13)
China tells US to avoid debt crisis for sake of global economy BBC News (7/10/13)
US shutdown is starting to hit business, says Commerce Secretary BBC News (6/10/13)
Why Australia should fear a US government default The Guardian, Greg Jericho (7/10/13)
Could the US default over just $6bn? BBC News, Linda Yueh (11/10/13)
IMF piles pressure on US to reconcile differences and prevent debt default The Guardian, Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor (10/10/13)
Republicans offer to raise US debt ceiling for six weeks The Telegraph, Peter Foster and Raf Sanchez (11/10/13)

Questions

  1. If a debt ceiling is reached, what does this imply for the budget deficit?
  2. How serious are the two current fiscal cliffs?
  3. How would a continuation of the partial government shut-down impact on the US private sector?
  4. What multiplier effects on the rest of the world are likely to arise from a cut in US government expenditure or a rise in taxes? What determines the size of these multiplier effects?
  5. Explain the likely effect of the current crisis on the exchange rate of the dollar into other currencies.
  6. Why might the looming problem of reaching the debt ceiling drive up long-term interest rates in the USA and beyond?
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Over the cliff

For the second time in nine months, the USA has approached a fiscal cliff. This is where the federal government is forced to make government expenditure cuts and/or impose tax rises. There are two types of cliff face. The first is a legal limit on the size of the federal government debt and hence deficit. The second is failure to agree on a budget.

On January 1st this year, a fiscal cliff was narrowly averted by a last-minute agreement to raise the size of the permitted debt. On the 1st October (the beginning of the financial year), however, the US economy ‘fell over the cliff’. This time is was a failure by Congress to reach agreement over the federal budget. The sticking point was an unwillingness of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives to agree to a budget without the government making concessions on its healthcare reform. The government was unwilling to do that and so no budget was passed.

With no budget, much of government has to shut down! In practice, this means that all non-essential workers will cease to be paid. That includes workers in housing, parts of healthcare, the civil law part of the justice system, immigration, regulatory agencies, the passport service, parks and museums. Even workers in essential areas, such as civilian workers in the military, police and social services, are likely to see their pay delayed until the problem is resolved. The articles below look at some of the implications of this partial shut-down.

It is hoped that, within a few days, agreement on a budget will be reached. But that will not be the end of the story because a second fiscal cliff looms. And that is of the first type. There is currently a legal limit to Federal Government debt of $16.699 trillion. Because that limit was reached earlier this year, from May 18 the government has been able to use various ‘extraordinary measures‘ to carry on borrowing. These measures will run out, however, around 17 October. From then, if a new higher debt ceiling has not been agreed by Congress, the government will be unable to pay some of its bills. For example, on 1 November it will get a bill of $67billion for social security, medicare and veterans benefits. As the second Independent article below explains:

In a government shutdown, the federal government is not allowed to make any new spending commitments. By contrast, if we hit the debt-ceiling then the Treasury Department won’t be able to borrow money to pay for spending that Congress has already approved. In that case, either Congress will have to lift the debt ceiling or the federal government will have to default on some of its bills, possibly including payments to bondholders or Social Security payouts. That could trigger big disruptions in the financial markets — or a long-term rise in borrowing costs.

Not surprisingly, financial markets are nervous. Although the direct effect of lost output will be relatively small, provided agreements on the budget and the debt are reached fairly soon, the impact on confidence in the US system of government could be more damaging. Not only could this curb recovery in the USA, it could have a significant effect on global recovery, given the size and importance of the US economy to the rest of the world.

Webcasts
What does the shutdown mean for normal Americans? BBC News, Keith Doyle (1/10/13)
How the government shut down is being reported in the US BBC News (1/10/13)
Shutdown could slam frail U.S. economy Reuters, Bobbi Rebell (1/10/13)
Shutdown Will Cost U.S. Economy $300 Million a Day, IHS Says Bloomberg, Jeanna Smialek & Ian Katz (1/10/13)
How will the US government shutdown affect the global economy? The Guardian, Larry Elliott and Guy Grandjean (1/10/13)
How would a government shutdown affect the rebounding economy? Aljazeera, Duarte Geraldino (30/9/13)
How will the US government shutdown affect the economy? BBC News, Richard Lister (1/10/13)
Shutdown continues as Obama and Republicans fail to agree BBC News, Rajini Vaidynathan (2/10/13)
Former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich on shutdown BBC News, Robert Reich (2/10/13)
Government shutdown: What’s the cost? CBS News, Rebecca Kaplan (1/10/13)
US shutdown will have ‘minimal impact’ on global economy One News (New Zealand), Dan Zirker (2/10/13)
What is the US debt ceiling? BBC News, Hugh Pym (14/10/13)

Articles
US wakes up to government shutdown as Congress fails to strike budget deal Independent, Nikhil Kumar (1/10/13)
US begins government shutdown as budget deadline passes BBC News (1/10/13)
David Cameron warns on world growth as US government shuts down The Telegraph, Damien McElroy (1/10/13)
Shutdown showdown: A glossary Aljazeera, Ben Piven (30/9/13)
Everything you need to know about how the partial shutdown will work in US Independent, Brad Plumer (1/10/13)
What’s the economic impact of a US government shutdown? BBC News, Kim Gittleson (1/10/13) (follow links at top of screen for further articles)
US government shutdown isn’t the worst of it BBC News, Linda Yueh (30/9/13)
Onset of the storm BBC News, Robert Peston (1/10/13)
The gathering storm? BBC News, Robert Peston (30/9/13)
Government shutdown: what’s really going on – and who’s to blame? The Guardian, Dan Roberts (30/9/13)
Government shutdown threat is getting very old, very fast CNN, Julian Zelizer (30/9/13)
US fiscal cliff fears rattle the markets The Australian, Adam Creighton (1/10/13)
U.S. Government Shutdown Sinks Dollar Forbes, Dean Popplewell (1/10/13)
US Government Shutdown: European Markets Not Fretting Over Temporary Closure International Business Times, Ishaq Siddiqi (1/10/13)
The States to plunge into abyss of debt, off fiscal cliff Pravda, Irina Sabinina (1/10/13)
Shutting down the United States government nothing new The Vancouver Sun, Andrew Coyne (1/10/13)
Christine Lagarde urges US that debt crisis threatens world economy The Guardian, Larry Elliott (3/10/13)
U.S. failure to lift debt ceiling could damage world – IMF Reuters (3/10/13)

Data
US government shutdown: in numbers The Guardian (see also)
US Budget: Historical Tables White House Office of Management and Budget (includes estimates to 2018 as well as historical data)

Questions

  1. If a debt ceiling is reached, what does this imply for the budget deficit?
  2. How serious are the two current fiscal cliffs?
  3. How would a continuation of the partial government shut-down impact on the US private sector?
  4. What multiplier effects on the rest of the world are likely to arise from a cut in US government expenditure or a rise in taxes? What determines the size of these multiplier effects?
  5. Explain the likely effect of the current crisis on the exchange rate of the dollar into other currencies.
  6. Why might the looming problem of reaching the debt ceiling drive up long-term interest rates in the USA and beyond?
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Greece lightening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions

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

Well they say that a day is a long-time in politics – that an awful lot can happen within 24 hours. The two days of the G20 summit have seemed like a lifetime. The meeting took place in Cannes from 3 to 4 November, 2011. It was the sixth such meeting of the G20: the 19 largest developed and developing countries plus the European Union.

As chair of the meeting, President Sarkozy of France had planned to address the two key global issues of securing a sustained global recovery and strengthening the global banking system. He also wanted to address other issues, such as climate change, commodity price volatility, social inclusion, corruption and corporate governance. But although these issues are covered in the final communiqué, what took centre-stage for the whole summit was the crisis in Greece and its impact on the eurozone.

The drama began on Monday 31 October. The Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, decided to call a referendum on the agreement reached at the eurozone summit in Brussels the previous week. In return for banks being required to take a loss of 50% in converting existing Greek bonds into new ones, Greece would have to continue with its tough austerity measures: measures that have caused the Greek economy to implode.

With worries that (a) the referendum would create several weeks of uncertainty, (b) that the agreement might then be rejected, (c) that the government might fall, stock markets plunged. French and German markets fell by over 5%. The Athens stock market fell by 7 per cent. The yield on Italian bonds passed 6%, amidst fears that if Greece defaulted, so too might Italy. But if the eurozone could survive a Greek default, it might not survive an Italian one. Even though several members of Mr. Papandreou’s Pasok party demanded his resignation, he stuck to his guns that an agreement had to have the consent of the Greek people. That was Tuesday.

The next day, Wednesday, was the start of the two-day G20 conference. What was to have been a meeting addressing wider issues of the global economy, was now having to focus on the Greek crisis. President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel made it clear that the next tranche of bailout money to Greece would not be paid until the deal agreed in Brussels was accepted by Greece. They gave the first indications that they might accept Greece’s withdrawal from the eurozone.

On Thursday afternoon, Mr Papandreou signalled that he would back down from the referendum if the opposition New Democracy party would join him in supporting the Brussels deal. He would not resign. But the opposition leader, Antonis Samaras, said that his party would not join with Mr Papandreou and that the Prime Minister should indeed resign. He did not resign, but abandoned the calll for a referendum.

With the Greek crisis dominating the meeting, little concrete agreement was reached. One important outcome, however, was the recognition that the financing of the IMF should be strengthened. As the final communiqué states:

We will ensure the IMF continues to have resources to play its systemic role to the benefit of its whole membership, building on the substantial resources we have already mobilized since London in 2009. We stand ready to ensure additional resources could be mobilised in a timely manner and ask our finance ministers by their next meeting to work on deploying a range of various options including bilateral contributions to the IMF, SDRs, and voluntary contributions to an IMF special structure such as an administered account. We will expeditiously implement in full the 2010 quota and governance reform of the IMF.

But despite this recognition of the key role of the IMF, the agreement was essentially that an agreement would be needed!

Articles
Eurozone crisis: yet another twist to Greek farce keeps leaders on edge of seats The Telegraph (4/11/11)
G20 summit: the main issues at Cannes The Telegraph (3/11/11)
Quick! More sandbags (filled with cash) The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (4/11/11)
The burning fuse The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (4/11/11)
G20 leaders agree to boost IMF resources BBC News (4/11/11)
G20 summit fails to allay world recession fears Guardian, Patrick Wintour and Larry Elliott (4/11/11)
G20 summit: roll call of doom for a dysfunctional family Guardian, Angelique Chrisafis (3/11/11)
Euro zone finds no new money for debt crisis at G20 The Economic Times of India (4/11/11)
Shares jump after referendum ditched New Zealand Herald (5/11/11)
Bunds rise on EFSF worries, Italy under pressure Reuters (4/11/11)
Eurozone crisis: The possible resolutions BBC News (4/11/11)
The G20 aren’t running to Europe’s rescue BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (4/11/11)
Is the euro about to capsize? BBC News, Laurence Knight (4/11/11)

Final Communiqué
Meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors: final communiqué G20–G8 France 2011 (4/11/11)

Questions

  1. Why might the ‘game’ between the eurozone leaders and George Papandreou be seen as a prisoner’s dilemma game? What are the payoffs?
  2. Why might increasing the bailout for Greece represent a moral hazard for the eurozone leaders?
  3. Trace through market reactions between the 31 October and the 4 November and explain the movements.
  4. How crucial is the IMF in achieving global stability and economic growth?
  5. Assess the success of the Cannes G20 conference.
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On the edge: can Greece avoid debt restructuring?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions

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

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, delivered the annual Budget on 23 March. He was very keen to have a ‘Budget for growth’ given the pessimism of consumers (see Table 1, UK, line 3, in Business and Consumer Survey Results, February 2011) and the bad news on inflation (see 4.4% and rising?).

But what could he do? Despite being urged by the Labour opposition to stimulate aggregate demand by cutting the deficit more slowly, he ruled out this alternative. It would be perceived by markets, he argued, as a sign that he was ‘gong soft’ on the commitment to tackle the deficit.

If stimulating aggregate demand directly was out, the alternative was to use supply-side policy: to provide more favourable conditions for business by cutting ‘red tape’, providing tax incentives for investment, reducing regulations, simplifying tax, cutting corporation tax financed by tax increases elsewhere, creating 21 ‘enterprise zones’ and funding extra apprenticeships and work experience placements.

The links below give details of the measures and consider their likely effectiveness. Crucially, the Budget will be much more successful in encouraging investment if people think it will be successful. In other words, its success depends on how it affects people’s expectations. Will it help confidence to return – or will the impending tax increases and cuts on government expenditure only make people more pessimistic?

Webcasts
Budget: Chancellor George Osborne opens speech BBC News (23/3/11)
Budget: Osborne wants to ‘simplify taxes’ BBC News (23/3/11)
Budget: Osborne lowers corporation tax BBC News (23/3/11)
Budget: BBC Economics editor Stephanie Flanders BBC News (23/3/11)
Budget: BBC business editor Robert Peston BBC News (23/3/11)
Enterprise Zones on the way back Channel 4 News, Siobhan Kennedy (22/3/11)

Articles
Osborne’s Budget ‘to fuel growth’ BBC News (23/3/11)
A budget for big business BBC News blogs, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (23/3/11)
Budget 2011: tax grab is the real story Guardian, Patrick Collinson (23/3/11)
Budget 2011 – full details Independent (23/3/11)
Osborne shakes up corporation tax Financial Times, Vanessa Houlder (23/3/11)
Osborne unveils ‘Budget for growth’ Financial Times, Daniel Pimlott and Chris Giles (23/3/11)
Budget 2011: Guardian columnists’ verdict Guardian, Jackie Ashley, Martin Kettle, George Monbiot, Julian Glover (23/3/11)
Budget 2011: a million low-paid people escape tax but fiscal drag catches others The Telegraph, Ian Cowie (23/3/11)
Budget 2011: some good news and lots of micro-management The Telegraph, Janet Daley (23/3/11)
Micro trumps macro BBC News Blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (23/3/11)
George Osborne, growing giant of the Tory party, launches ‘slow burn’ Budget Guardian, Nicholas Watt (23/3/11)

Budget documents
2011 Budget, HM Treasury (23/3/11)
Budget 2011 press notice, HM Treasury (23/3/11)
2011 Budget documents, HM Treasury (23/3/11)

Questions

  1. What supply-side policies were included in the Budget?
  2. What will be the impact of the Budget measures on aggregate demand?
  3. What are the major factors that are likely to influence the rate of economic growth over the coming months?
  4. What would have been the advantages and disadvantages of a more expansionary (or less contractionary) Budget?
  5. What will be the effects of the Budget measures on the distribution of income (after taxes and benefits)?
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Ireland’s bailout

In the post of the 17th November, Greece 2: This time it’s Ireland, we looked at the problems of the Irish economy in servicing its debts and whether it would need a bailout. Well, despite protesting that such a bailout would not be necessary, in the end events overtook the Irish government. International loss of confidence forced the government to accept a bailout package. After a weekend of talks, a deal was reached on 28 November between the Irish government, the ECB, the IMF, the European Commission and individual governments.

The deal involves loans totalling €85 billion. Of this, €35 billion will go towards supporting the Irish banking system. The remaining €50 billion will go to supporting government spending. The loans will carry an average interest rate of 5.8%, which is more than the 5.2% on the bailout loans to Greece, but considerably below the rates that Ireland would have to pay on the open market. Being loans, rather than grants, they only delay the problems of dealing with Ireland’s large debt, which has been rising rapidly and is predicted to be around 80% of GDP for 2010 (see Annex Table 62 in OECD Economic Outlook Statistical Annex). They thus provide Ireland with liquidity while it implements policies to reduce its debt.

Ireland itself has contributed €17.5 billion to the loan fund; of the rest, €22.5 billion will come from the IMF, while the European Union and bilateral European lenders, including the UK, Sweden and Denmark, have pledged a total of €45.0 billion, including £3.25 billion from the UK.

One of the main purposes of the loans is to reduce the likelihood of speculation against other relatively highly indebted countries in the EU, such as Portugal, Spain and Italy. The hope is that, by granting Ireland loans, the message would be that similar support would be made available to other countries as necessary. ‘Contagion’ would thereby be halted.

Podcasts and webcasts
Ireland’s €85bn bailout is best deal available, says PM Guardian webcast (29/11/10)
Interview with Jim O’Neill BBC News (29/11/10)
Irish deal ‘better than market rate’BBC Today Programme, Ajai Chopra (29/11/10)
Ireland bailout ‘doesn’t stop pressure building’ BBC Today Programme, Tony Creszenzi and Brian Hayes (29/11/10)

Articles
EU/IMF Irish bailout – the details FT Alphaville, Neil Hume (28/11/10)
Ireland rescue is not a game changer Financial Times, Mohamed El-Erian (29/11/10)
IMF insists Ireland got a ‘good deal’ Irish Times (29/11/10)
Can the eurozone afford its banks? BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (29/11/10)
Irish bailout leaves markets nervous for good reason CNN Business 360, Peter Morici (30/11/10)
Eurozone debt crisis deepens Times of Malta (30/11/10)
Will the Irish crisis spread to Italy? Vox, Paolo Manasse and Giulio Trigilia (29/11/10)

Questions

  1. Distinguish between liquidity and solvency solutions to sovereign debt problems.
  2. Is Ireland’s debt problem purely a sovereign one? Explain.
  3. What will determine whether the bailout for Ireland will halt contagion to other countries?
  4. Why might the implementation of an austerity package make the sovereign debt problem worse in the short to medium run?
  5. Will the Irish crisis spread to Italy?
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A guilt trip about gilts

National debt has increased rapidly over the past few years. In 2006/7 general government debt was £577.8bn or 42.9% of GDP. In 2009/10 it was £1000.4bn or 71.3% of GDP. It is set to go higher, with government debt forecast to be around 87% of GDP in 2011. This compares with forecasts of 82% for Germany, 87% for France, 103% for the USA, 134% for Greece and 195% for Japan.

Getting the deficit and debt down has, not surprisingly, become an issue in many countries. In the UK it has become the major current pre-occupation of the Coalition government and on 20 October it is set to announce major public spending cuts as a means of achieving this.

To get a flavour of the government’s thinking and the message that ministers are putting out to the electorate, the following are quotes from the Prime Minister’s and then the Chancellor’s speeches to the Conservative Party Conference:

This year, we’re going to spend £43 billion pounds on debt interest payments alone. £43 billion – not to pay off the debt – just to stand still. Do you know what we could do with that sort of money? We could take eleven million people out of paying income tax altogether. We could take every business in the country out of corporation tax. That’s why we have acted decisively – to stop pouring so much of your hard-earned money down the drain. We are already paying £120m of interest every single day thanks to the last Labour government. (David Cameron)

It’s the borrowing that doesn’t go away as the economy grows, and we have £109bn of it. It’s like with a credit card. The longer you leave it, the worse it gets. You pay more interest. You pay interest on the interest. You pay interest on the interest on the interest. We are already paying £120m of interest every single day thanks to the last Labour government. Millions of pounds every day that goes to the foreign governments we owe so they can build the schools and hospitals for their own citizens that we aren’t able to afford for ours. How dare Labour call that protecting the poor? (George Osborne)

Let’s unpick this a bit. Who earns the interest? The answer is that it is paid to holders of government debt in the form of government bonds (gilts), national savings certificates, premium bonds, etc. In other words it is paid to savers, whether individuals or pension funds or companies.

Does it all go abroad? In fact 29% of gilts are held abroad. The rest are held by British residents. Thus some 70% of the interest rate paid on government debt goes to British residents and supports pensions and savers. It can thus be seen as a transfer from taxpayers to savers.

Because of the record low interest rates many pensioners who rely on savings interest have seen their incomes fall dramatically. Others draw income from a ‘self-invested personal pension’. The amount that can be drawn each year is based on tables according to a person’s age and the current 15-year Treasury gilt yield (currently 3.45%). Thus the lower the rate of interest, and the less the yield, the less that can be drawn.

So who are the gainers and losers from high general government debt and attempts to get it down? Read the following articles and look at the data and then try answering the questions.

Articles
Britons have donated £7m to help pay off the national debt (but that’s a drop in the ocean) Mail Online, Daniel Martin (9/10/10)
A trillion and rising: Britain’s £1,000,000,000,000 debt means it is now paying as much in interest as it does for defence Mail Online, Hugo Duncan (1/10/10)
Spending cuts “not enough”, say small firms Telegraph, James Hurley (8/10/10)
UK public finances post record August deficit Guardian, Julia Kollewe (21/9/10)
Another paradox of thrift The Economist, Buttonwood (16/9/10)

Data
The gilt market UK Debt Management Office
Gilt market data UK Debt Management Office
Overseas gilt holdings UK Debt Management Office
Public sector: current position ONS (30/9/10)
Public sector finances ONS Statistical Bulletin (21/9/10)
Government deficit and debt under the Maastricht Treaty ONS Statistical Bulletin (30/9/10)
Contributions to the government deficit and debt ONS Statistical Bulletin (31/3/10)

Questions

  1. Explain the difference between central government, general government and public-sector deficits and debt.
  2. Who loses from a rising public-sector debt? Who gains?
  3. Conduct an international comparison of (a) the level of the government deficit and debt and (b) their rate of growth over the past few years.
  4. What is meant by the ‘yield’ on a particular gilt?
  5. If gilt yields fall, does this mean that the government pays less on existing gilts? Is it likely to pay less on new gilt issues? Explain.
  6. How do cuts affect the distribution between savers and borrowers?
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