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)
- Explain what is meant by default and how the concept applies to the USA if it had not suspended or raised its budget ceiling.
- Is the agreement of October 16 likely to ‘reassure markets’? Explain your reasoning.
- What is likely to happen to long-term interest rates as a result of the agreement?
- 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?
- 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?
Since the beginning of 2009, central banks around the world have operated an extremely loose monetary policy. Their interest rates have been close to zero (click here for a PowerPoint of the chart) and more than $20 trillion of extra money has been injected into the world economy through various programmes of quantitative easing.
The most recent example of loose monetary policy has been in Japan, where substantial quantitative easing has been the first of Japan’s three arrows to revive the economy (the other two being fiscal policy and supply-side policy).
One consequence of a rise in money supply has been the purchase of a range of financial assets, including shares, bonds and commodities. As a result, despite the sluggish or negative growth in most developed countries, stock markets have soared (see chart). From March 2009 to May 2013, the FTSE 100 rose by 91% and both the USA’s Dow Jones Industrial average and Germany’s DAX rose by 129%. Japan’s NIKKEI 225, while changing little from 2009 to 2012, rose by 78% from November 2012 to May 2013 (click here for a PowerPoint of the chart).
The US economy has been showing stronger growth in recent months and, as a result, the Fed has indicated that it may soon have to begin tightening monetary policy. It is not doing so yet, nor are other central banks, but the concern that this may happen in the medium term has been enough to persuade many investors that stock markets are likely to fall as money eventually becomes tighter. Given the high degree of speculation on stock markets, this has led to a large-scale selling of shares as investors try to ‘get ahead of the curve’.
From mid-May to mid-June, the FTSE 100 fell by 6.2%, the Dow Jones by 2.6%, the DAX by 4.5% and the NIKKEI by 15%. In some developing countries, the falls have been steeper as the cheap money that entered their economies in search of higher returns has been leaving. The falls in their stock markets have been accompanied by falls in their exchange rates.
The core of the problem is that most of the extra money that was created by central banks has been used for asset purchase, rather than in financing extra consumer expenditure or capital investment. If money is tightened, it is possible that not only will stock and bond markets fall, but the fragile recovery may be stifled. In other words, tighter money and higher interest rates may indeed affect the real economy, even though loose monetary policy and record low interest rates had only a very modest effect on the real economy.
This poses a very difficult question for central banks. If even the possibility of monetary tightening some time in the future has spooked markets and may rebound on the real economy, does that compel central banks to maintain their loose policy? If it does, will this create an even bigger adjustment problem in the future? Or could there be a ‘soft landing’, whereby real growth absorbs the extra money and gradually eases the inflationary pressure on asset markets?
How the Fed bosses all BBC News, Robert Peston (12/6/13)
The great reversal? Is the era of cheap money ending? BBC News, Linda Yueh (12/6/13)
The Great Reversal: Part II (volatility and the real economy) BBC News, Linda Yueh (14/6/13)
The end of the affair The Economist (15/6/13)
Out of favour The Economist, Buttonwood (8/6/13)
The Federal Reserve: Clearer, but less cuddly The Economist (22/6/13)
Global financial markets anxious to avoid many pitfalls of ‘political risk’ The Guardian, Heather Stewart (13/6/13)
Dow Falls Below 15,000; Retailers Add to Slump New York Times, (12/6/13)
Global market sell-off over stimulus fears The Telegraph, Rachel Cooper (13/6/13)
Nikkei sinks over 800 points, falls into bear market Globe and Mail (Canada), Lisa Twaronite (13/6/13)
Global shares drop, dollar slumps as rout gathers pace Reuters, Marc Jones (13/6/13)
The G8, the bond bubble and emerging threats BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (17/6/13)
Global monetary policy and the Fed: vive la difference BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (20/6/13)
The Federal Reserve’s dysfunctional relationship with the markets The Guardian, Heidi Moore (19/6/13)
Global stock markets in steep falls after Fed comment BBC News (20/6/13)
Federal Reserve’s QE withdrawal could signal real trouble ahead The Guardian, Nils Pratley (20/6/13)
Central banks told to head for exit Financial Times, Claire Jones (23/6/13)
Stimulating growth threatens stability, central banks warn The Guardian (23/6/13)
BIS Press Release and Report
Making the most of borrowed time: repair and reform the only way to growth, says BIS in 83rd Annual Report BIS Press Release (23/6/13)
83rd BIS Annual Report 2012/2013 Bank for International Settlements (23/6/13)
Yahoo! Finance: see links for FTSE 100, DAX, Dow Jones, NIKKEI 225
Link to central bank websites Bank for International Settlements
Statistical Interactive Database – Interest & exchange rates data Bank of England
- Why have stock markets soared in recent years despite the lack of economic growth?
- What is meant by ‘overshooting’? Has overshooting taken place in stock markets (a) up to mid-May this year; (b) since mid-May? How would you establish whether overshooting has taken place?
- What role is speculation currently playing in stock markets? Would you describe this speculation as destabilising?
- What has been the impact of quantitative easing on (a) bond prices; (b) bond yields?
- Argue the case for and against central banks continuing with the policy of quantitative easing for the time being.
- Find out how much the Indian rupee and the Brazilian real have fallen in recent weeks. Explain your findings.