Tag: moral hazard

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?

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?

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.

Articles

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?

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?

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.

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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?