Today’s UK GDP shocker once again raises the question of whether the rapid, pre-announced tightening of fiscal policy underway in Britain is wise. But at least one new academic paper suggests that chancellor George Osborne has it right.
Ignazio Angeloni and colleagues at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy run fairly comprehensive simulations on exit strategies from crisis fiscal and monetary policies and conclude:
Mervyn King has just delivered an important speech in Newcastle. As ever with the Bank of England governor, it is extremely well-written and his argument is tight. The speech is, however, infused with overwhelming self-belief and even arrogance in the face of difficult economic circumstances. Those, in a nutshell, are Mr King’s great strengths and weaknesses.
This is far from an attack on the governor. I think his “big picture” view is correct, but his unwillingness to concede mistakes undermines policy and damages the Bank’s credibility, making the Bank’s job of getting its message across rather harder than it need be.
The big picture should come from him.
“We must not lose sight of the big picture. Large – very large – shocks to relative prices are an inevitable part of the real adjustment vital to the rebalancing of the UK economy.
Bank Rossii chairman Sergei Ignatiev has told reporters that rates might be raised at next Monday’s meeting, Bloomberg reports. Mr Ignatiev hinted in December that rising inflation might lead to a rate rise in the first quarter, and that he was not scared of a stronger ruble.
A rise in the discount rate would be the first since the financial crisis, taking interest rates from their near-year-long record low of 7.75 per cent.
Strong demand for today’s eurozone bond issue, priced at a yield equivalent to 2.89 per cent. Hardly surprising. For exactly the same risk profile as German bonds, you get half a percentage point extra payment per annum for your money. (48 basis points, to be precise.)
The news is being greeted as a vote of confidence in the eurozone. Likewise, Japan’s pledge to buy at least 20 per cent of the bonds was treated as an offer of support. Klaus Regling, EFSF chief, said: “The huge investor interest confirms confidence in the strategy adopted to restore financial stability in the euro area.” But does it? Really?
Surely hard-headed profit-seeking is a more plausible explanation? After all, a vote of confidence would be investors buying Portuguese, Greek or Irish bonds; whereas here they are buying bonds backed in full by Germany. The legal framework of the EFSF makes clear that member states are each independently liable for debt issued, up to their maximum commitment. The only exceptions are countries currently “stepping out” (Greece; Ireland) and those that have not yet signed up in full (recent euro-joiner Estonia). See the table below.
Whoops! I don’t think he was meant to say that.
Ewald Nowotny, Austria’s central bank governor, has told journalists that he did not expect the ECB to lift its main policy rate in the next six months. That is not the ECB governing council’s official line, as set out earlier this month by Jean-Claude Trichet, president, according to which the euro’s monetary guardian could act at any time to keep inflation under control. Mr Trichet sent the euro sharply higher after highlighting price risks faced by the eurozone.
“I expect no decision on [interest] rate hikes in the first half of the year,” Mr Nowotny said at a conference in the UK, Reuters reports.
German consumer optimism has brightened further. The GfK research organisation in Nuremberg estimates its “consumer climate” index will rise again in February, reaching a level last seen in the second half of 2007 – before the global financial crisis took its toll. Germans’ “propensity to buy” this month was the highest since December 2006, it reported.
But “propensity to buy” does not mean actually buying. The most recent German retail sales figures have been disappointing. November saw a 2.4 per cent fall compared with October. While economists generally expect 2011 to see a revival in consumers spending, on the back of steep falls in unemployment, rising wages and a general improvement in German confidence, few expect a dramatic surge.
India’s Reserve Bank has raised rates to tackle inflation, while extending bank liquidity measures due to expire next week. The repo and reverse repo rates stand 25bp higher at 6.5 and 5.5 per cent, respectively, while easing measures are extended to April 8.
The rate rise was prompted by recent price rises. “Inflationary tendencies are clearly visible,” said governor Duvvuri Subbarao in the statement. “Inflation is the dominant concern… the reversal in [its] direction is striking.” The strength of his words make a 25bp rate rise seem insignificant.
But given global inflationary pressures from food and fuel, India’s December figure was not so dramatic. Viewed historically, annual wholesale price rises of 8.4 per cent still fit into the downward trend seen since April of last year, when inflation was running at 11 per cent. It is too early to say whether December’s figure is the start of a sharp increase in inflation – and today’s decision should make that a little less likely.
Despite the tightening measure, the RBI also announced today that it would alter and extend easing measures
In recent weeks, the Bank of England’s problem has been inflation. It is too high at 3.7 per cent in December and going higher. Now the Bank has something apparently worse on its hands: stagflation. The Office for National Statistics has just shocked everyone by saying the UK economy contracted by 0.5 per cent in the final quarter of 2010. Expectations had been for a 0.5 per cent increase.
Nothing could cheer the Monetary Policy Committee more. Now it can bat away suggestions it should be raising interest rates with the comment that this would be nuts as the economy is again contracting. High inflation is nothing to worry about if the economy is still in intensive care.
Current policy rate: 0 to 0.25%
Consensus expectation: no change
Simple Taylor rule policy: -0.8%
Core PCE price index: +0.8% (November yoy)
Inflation objective: 2% or a bit below
Notable special measures in operation
• Circa $2,200bn in completed asset purchases, holding $1,072bn of Treasuries and $989bn of MBS as of 20th Jan, 2011.
• $600bn increase in asset purchases in progress between November 2010 and June 2011.