Last week Mervyn King, Bank of England governor, and Dominique Strauss Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund spoke about international policy co-ordination. Both speeches are worth reading. Though this is not their intention, both speeches also highlight how difficult it will be to get an agreement on a co-ordinated solution to global imbalances.
Remember, global trade imbalances were an important contributor to the financial and economic crisis because huge amounts of money, which flowed to the US searching for yield, ultimately found its way to borrowers who were wholly unsuitable via lots of dodgy dealing in the financial sector.
In the depth of the crisis, world leaders came together to co-ordinate economic policy to ensure that recession did not become depression. Protectionism was largely avoided; monetary policy moved to unorthodox territory, and fiscal policy moved into super-stimulus mode. As Mr Strauss Kahn said:
“In sum—during the heat of the crisis, the benefits from co-operation were evident, and the costs of cooperation were small.”
But such co-operation diminished as recession became recovery and squabbling has replaced co-ordinated activity at the G20 level. Countries are now engaged in a tortuous discussion of how to measure global imbalances because this distracts them from having to disagree about what to do about them. Read more
Ireland’s new PM turned down an offer to improve the terms of the bail-out deal – and the Irish public are overwhelmingly behind him. Seventy-eight per cent of those polled think Mr Kenny was correct to refuse trading higher corporate tax rates for lower rates on bail-out loans.
Ireland’s troubles remained notably unaddressed in a bold agreement between eurozone ministers early on Saturday morning. In a sign of ongoing market stress, yields on Irish government debt have continued to rise today, unlike those of Greece, Spain and Belgium, which have fallen. Read more
Despite record yields, no bonds bought by the ECB settled last week – that’s two in a row for the eurozone central bank. The stock of ECB-bought bonds therefore remains at €77.5bn. Next week might be different, however, as demand for Portugal’s unexpectedly successful bond auction last week might have been driven by ECB purchases.
In future, buying government bonds at auction is a role that might pass to the eurozone’s rescue fund, the EFSF. A deal struck between eurozone heads of state over the weekend agrees that the fund can intervene in primary market (i.e. government debt auctions) in exceptional circumstances. This would not entirely replace the ECB’s role, as they have bought debt in the secondary (i.e. resale) bond market, too. Of €77.5bn ECB bond purchases, we do not know the split between primary and secondary debt – though anecdotally, secondary market purchases seem to have been bigger. Read more
If it is approved, the nascent agreement reached in the small hours of Saturday morning will address many of the symptoms of the eurozone’s disease. Note, though, that the fundamental issue of bond haircuts was not addressed. Euro leaders’ hard work leaves them on target for what was a very tight March 24/25 deadline. Measures include:
- Increase the effective lending capacity of the EFSF from ~ €250bn to €440bn. The Fund already had €440bn at its disposal in theory, but needed to hold back a proportion in order to issue AAA-rated debt. Discussions are ongoing on how to achieve this.
- Give the EFSF the right, “as an exception”, to intervene in primary debt markets – though with such strict conditionality that some analysts say this will make little effective difference. The right, which will extend to EFSF successor, the ESM, is not a full substitute for the ECB’s bond-buying programme, since the ECB buys bonds in both the primary market (government auctions) and secondary market (resale of already-issued bonds).
- Lower the rates charged by the EFSF on bail-out loans to take into account debt sustainability of recipient countries. Rates should remain above facility’s funding costs and in line with IMF pricing principles.
- Specifically, for Greece: reduce the interest rate on rescue loans from 5.25 to 4.25 per cent and increase the average maturity of Greek bail-out loans from 4 to 7.5 years.
- €500bn funding confirmed for the ESM, EFSF successor.
- Further explore the idea of a financial transaction tax.
On top of the $265bn being made available to banks, the Bank of Japan has decided to double its asset purchase scheme to $122bn (¥10,000bn). The decision was made at the Bank’s scheduled monetary policy meeting, at which rates were kept at 0-0.1 per cent.
Of the $265bn (¥21,800bn) being made available to financial institutions, $182.3bn (¥15,000) is available immediately, and $82.6 (¥6,800) over the coming days.
The Bank’s current Asset Purchase Programme is subject to a ceiling of $427bn (¥35,000bn). This splits into a maximum of $366bn (¥30,000bn) in loans, and a maximum of $61bn (¥5,000bn) stock of outstanding financial assets. It is this latter limit that is to be doubled to $122bn (¥10,000bn), effective today, with assets being bought by the end of June 2012.
Specific details are as follows: Read more