Recent data on the US economy suggest that it may be heading back towards recession. Confidence is waning as growth slows. US GDP growth figures for the second quarter of 2010 have just been revised downwards: from 2.4% to 1.6%. And although growth is still quite strongly positive, unemployment is not coming down.
Most economists still think that the US economy will avoid a double dip, but many think that it is nevertheless a distinct possibility. For example, economists at Goldman Sachs put the likelihood of a double-dip recession at 25% to 30%, which although less than 50% is still a substantial risk.
Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, told a gathering of bankers and economists in Wyoming on August 27 that the Fed “will do all that it can” to avoid a double dip. According to Bernanke:
In many countries, including the United States and most other advanced industrial nations, growth during the past year has been too slow and joblessness remains too high… Central bankers alone cannot solve the world’s economic problems. That said, monetary policy continues to play a prominent role in promoting the economic recovery and will be the focus of my remarks today.
Bernanke outlined four monetary policy options that could be pursued, the first three of which were real possibilities for the Fed if economic growth did stall.
• The first would be to sell long-term government securities on the open market – a form of open-market operation. This quantitative easing would expand the money supply and should push long-term interest rates down (short-term interest rates are already virtually zero).
• The second would be to reduce interest rates paid to banks on reserves held in the Fed. These are currently around 0.25% and hence the scope for reductions here are very limited
• The third would be to promise to keep short-term interest rates low for a longer period than markets currently expect, thereby assuring markets that borrowing would remain cheap for some considerable time.
• The fourth option, and one not currently contemplated by the Fed, would be to raise the inflation rate target above its current level of 1.5% to 2%.
The first of the following two podcasts, which includes an interview with US Managing Editor of the Financial Times, Gillian Tett, looks at what the Fed might do. Is the solution to expand aggregate demand through monetary policy or are the problems more structural in nature? The other podcasts and the articles look at Bernanke’s proposals and their scope for avoiding a double dip.
‘No magic wand’ for US economy BBC Today Programme, Mark Mardell and Gillian Tett (27/8/10)
Fed Offers Higher Ground In Economic Mudslide NPR, Scott Horsley (28/8/10)
Roubini Interview Excerpt Bloomberg, Nouriel Roubini (27/8/10)
Bernanke Says Fed Will Do `All It Can’ to Ensure U.S. Recovery Bloomberg, Craig Torres and Scott Lanman (27/8/10)
What ammunition does the Fed have left? Reuters (27/8/10)
Fed is prepared to keep U.S. out of recession, Bernanke vows Los Angeles Times, Jim Puzzanghera (28/8/10)
Bernanke soothes rattled markets Telegraph (28/8/10)
Ben Bernanke promises to step in as US economy veers back towards recession Guardian, Katie Allen (27/8/10)
Shoot out at Jackson Hole – the world’s central bankers take aim at deflation Independent, Sean O’Grady (27/8/10)
Treasury Two-Year Yields Increase Most Since April After Bernanke Speech Bloomberg, Cordell Eddings (28/8/10)
Bernanke speech shows effort to find Fed consensus One News Now, Jeannine Aversa (28/8/10)
Analysis: The uncomfortable mathematics of monetary policy Reuters, Pedro Nicolaci da Costa (28/8/10)
Ben Bernanke calls for help to revive the stuttering US economy Guardian, Richard Adams (28/8/10)
Fed stands by to boost US growth Financial Times, Robin Harding, Michael Mackenzie and Alan Rappeport (27/8/10)
Bernanke outlines options for Fed Financial Times, Robin Harding (27/8/10)
The Economic Outlook and Monetary Policy Ben Bernanke (27/8/10)
US Bond Rates Yahoo Finance
US interest rates Federal Reserve Statistical Release
- Why is growth in the US economy slowing?
- Why has the recovery from recession in the USA so far not resulted in a reduction in unemployment?
- What structural problems are there in the US economy?
- What further scope is there for monetary policy in stimulating the US economy?
- What are the arguments for the Fed introducing a new programme of quantitative easing?
- How important are expectations in determining whether the US recovery will be maintained or whether there will be a double-dip recession?
- What impact did Bernanke’s speech have on bond markets and why?
In the past few days, the euro has been under immense speculative pressure. The trigger for this has been the growing concern about whether Greece would be able to force through austerity measures and cut its huge deficit and debt. Also there has been the concern that much of Greece’s debt is in the form of relatively short-term bonds, many of which are coming up for maturity and thus have to be replaced by new bonds. For example, on 19 May, Greece needs to repay €8.5 billion of maturing bonds. But with Greek bonds having been given a ‘junk’ status by one of the three global rating agencies, Standard and Poor’s, Greece would find it difficult to raise the finance and would have to pay very high interest on bonds it did manage to sell – all of which would compound the problem of the deficit.
Also there have been deep concerns about a possible domino effect. If Greece’s debt is perceived to be unsustainable at 13.5% of GDP (in 2009), then speculators are likely to turn their attention to other countries in the eurozone with large deficits: countries such as Portugal (9.4%), Ireland (14.3%) and Spain (11.2%). With such worries, people were asking whether the euro would survive without massive international support, both from within and outside the eurozone. At the beginning of 2010, the euro was trading at $1.444. By 7 May, it was trading at $1.265, a depreciation of 12.4% (see the Bank of England’s Statistical Interactive Database – interest & exchange rates data
If the euro were in trouble, then shock waves would go around the world. Worries about such contagion have already been seen in plummeting stock markets. Between 16 April and 7 May, the FTSE100 index in London fell from 5834 to 5045 (a fall of 13.5%). In New York, the Dow Jones index fell by 8.6% over the same period and in Tokyo, the Nikkei fell by 7.6%. By 5 May, these declines were gathering pace as worries mounted.
Crisis talks took place over the weekend of the 8/9 May between European finance ministers and, to the surprise of many, a major package of measures was announced. This involves setting aside €750bn to support the eurozone. The package had two major elements: (a) €60bn from EU funds (to which all 27 EU countries contribute) to be used for loans to eurozone countries in trouble; (b) a European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (a ‘Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV)’), which would be funded partly by eurozone countries which would provide €440bn and partly by the IMF which would provide a further €250bn. The SPV would be used to give loans or loan guarantees to eurozone countries, such as Greece, which were having difficulty in raising finance because of worries by investors. The effect would also be to support the euro through a return of confidence in the single currency.
In addition to these measures, the European Central Bank announced that it would embark on a ‘Securities Markets Programme’ involving the purchase of government bonds issued by eurozone countries in difficulties. According to the ECB, it would be used to:
.. conduct interventions in the euro area public and private debt securities markets to ensure depth and liquidity in those market segments which are dysfunctional. The objective of this programme is to address the malfunctioning of securities markets and restore an appropriate monetary policy transmission mechanism.
Does this amount to quantitative easing, as conducted by the US Federal Reserve Bank and the Bank of England? The intention is that it would not do so, as the ECB would remove liquidity from other areas of the market to balance the increased liquidity provided to countries in difficulties. This would be achived by selling securities of stronger eurozone countries, such as Germany and France.
In order to sterilise the impact of the above interventions, specific operations will be conducted to re-absorb the liquidity injected through the Securities Markets Programme. This will ensure that the monetary policy stance will not be affected.
So will the measures solve the problems? Or are they merely a means of buying time while the much tougher problem is addressed: that of getting deficits down?
Webcasts and podcasts
Rescue plan bolsters the euro BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (10/5/10)
The EU rescue plan explained Financial Times, Chris Giles, Emily Cadman, Helen Warrell and Steve Bernard (10/5/10)
Peston: ‘Crisis is not over’ BBC Today Programme (10/5/10)
Greece ‘will get into even more deep water’ BBC Today Programme (11/5/10)
EU ministers offer 750bn-euro plan to support currency (including video) BBC News (10/5/10)
EU sets up crisis fund to protect euro from market ‘wolves’ Independent, Vanessa Mock (10/5/10)
Euro strikes back with biggest gamble in its 11-year history Guardian, Ian Traynor (10/5/10)
Debt crisis: £645bn rescue package for euro reassures markets … for now Guardian, Ian Traynor (10/5/10)
The E.U.’s $950 Billion Rescue: Just the Beginning Time, Leo Cendrowicz (10/5/10)
Eurozone bail-out (portal) Financial Times
Bailout does not address Europe’s deep-rooted woes: Experts moneycontrol.com (11/5/10)
An ever-closer Union? BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (10/5/10)
Eurozone crisis is ‘postponed’ BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (10/5/10)
Multi-billion euro rescue buys time but no solution BBC News, Lucy Hooker (11/5/10)
No going back The Economist (13/5/10)
It is not Greece that worries EURO: It is China that teeters on a collapse Investing Contrarian, Shaily (11/5/10)
Data and official sources
For deficit and debt data see sections 16.3 and 18.1 in:
Ameco Online European Commision, Economic and Financial Affairs DG
For the ECB statement see:
10 May 2010 – ECB decides on measures to address severe tensions in financial markets ECB Press Release
- Why should the measures announced by the European finance ministers help to support the euro in the short term?
- Why should the ECB’s Securities Markets Programme not result in quantitative easing?
- Explain what is meant by sterlisation in the context of open market operations.
- What will determine whether the measures are a long-term success?
- Explain why there may be a moral hazard in coming to the rescue of ailing economies in the eurozone. How might such a moral hazard be minimised?
- Why should concerns about Greece lead to stock market declines around the world?
- What is the significance of China in the current context?
The Bank of England has extended its policy of increasing the money supply through the process of quantitative easing. After the May meeting of the MPC, the Bank announced that it will increase the amount of assets it is prepared to buy under the ‘Asset Purchase Programme’ from £75 billion to £125 billion. At the same time the ECB has announced that it too will embark on a programme of quantitative easing. The press releases and articles below consider the details.
Bank of England Maintains Bank Rate at 0.5% and Increases Size of Asset Purchase Programme by £50 Billion to £125 Billion Bank of England News Release (7/5/09) (see also interview with Bank of England Governor)
Press conference by Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the ECB and Lucas Papademos, Vice President of the ECB ECB Press Release (7/5/09) (you can also watch a webcast of the press conference from this link)
Bank of England and European Central Bank extend quantitative easing Telegraph (8/5/09) (see also)
Economy to get extra £50bn boost BBC News (7/5/09)
A QE surprise BBC News: Stephanomics blog (7/5/09)
European Central Bank opts for quantitative easing to lift the eurozone far Times Online (8/5/09)
Fighting recession in the eurozone Financial Times (7/5/09)
ECB dips toe in quantitative easing water Guardian (7/5/09)
Quantitative easing: The story so far BBC News site video
- Explain how quantitative easing is conducted by the Bank of England and the ECB.
- Examine what determines the effect of quantitative easing on aggregate demand.
- Is quantitative easing the same as open-market operations?
- Explain how quantitative easing is likely to affect exchange rates.
While deflation was quite common right up to World War II, it has not been seen in the UK since 1947. The podcast considers whether it might return and looks at the impact of deflation on economic activity. There is a short case study on the deflationary years suffered by Japan between 1997 and 2006 and a consideration of policies that might be appropriate to overcome defaltionary pressures.