One of the benefits of the European Central Bank’s new household finance and consumption survey is that it allows eurozone household data to be compared with that of the US, since the surveys use comparable methodologies.
The survey already caused something of a stir in Germany earlier this week because it appeared to show that the typical Cypriot household was better off than the typical German one. (In 2010, anyway, and subject to a lot of caveats and nuance, summarised in the story.)
Today’s ECB monthly bulletin also picks over some of the data in the HFCS and highlights this ability to compare data with the US Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances. One interesting tidbit it points out is quite how much wealth distribution differs between the US and (the euro-wielding corner of) Europe. Read more
Don Kohn, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, has just apologised for his errors in the financial crisis in front of the UK Treasury Select Committee, the equivalent of a Congressional committee.
He said he had “learnt quite a few lessons – unfortunately” from the financial crisis, including that people in markets can get excessively relaxed about risk, that risks are not distributed evenly throughout the financial system, that incentives matter even more than he thought and transparency is more important than he thought. Similar to Alan Greenspan’s mea culpa of 2008:
“I made a mistake in presuming that the self interest of organisations, specifically banks and others, was such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders”.
Rates are held, as expected, and QE2 is expected to continue till June. But all eyes will be on Bernanke for any signals of change at the new press conference (see video). For live blog commentary, see Gavyn Davies‘ real time post or his earlier thoughts.
The US lacks a “credible strategy” to stabilise its mounting public debt, posing a small but significant risk of a new global economic crisis, says the International Monetary Fund.
In an unusually stern rebuke to its largest shareholder, the IMF said the US was the only advanced economy to be increasing its underlying budget deficit in 2011, at a time when its economy was growing fast enough to reduce borrowing. The latest warning on the deficit was delivered as Barack Obama, the US president, is becoming increasingly engaged in the debate over ways to curb America’s mounting debt. Read more
Many investors fear that the Fed’s impending exit from QE2 will have a very damaging effect on the financial markets. Whether they are right will depend on the nature of the exit, and its impact on bond yields. An end to the Fed’s programme of bond purchases, without any increase in short rates, is unlikely to be sufficient, on its own, to trigger a major bear market in bonds and equities. But an end to the Fed’s “extended period” language on interest rates would be a much greater threat. I still do not expect this to happen soon.
Recently, the Fed has purchased 60-70 per cent of all the bonds which have been issued to finance the US budget deficit. Some influential analysts (Bill Gross of Pimco among them) argue that bond yields will rise sharply when the Fed withdraws its life support from the bond market. But there are some powerful advocates, including the Fed chairman himself, for an entirely contrary point of view. Ben Bernanke told Congress in February that he did not expect to see “a big impact” on bond yields when the Fed ended its asset purchases.
The Fed has hardened its thinking on this question in the past couple of years. It has decided that QE reduces bond yields via its effect on the total stock of outstanding bonds, and not via its impact on the flow of bonds purchased in any given period. If this is the case, then
I’ve been off helping in our Tokyo bureau for ten days so time to catch up on the Fed news.
The March FOMC meeting
The committee took the opportunity to do a substantial rewrite of the first two pars of its statement, which made sense, as it was starting to get pinned down by fear that any change would be seen as a signal of early changes to QE2.
The main effect of the rewrite is to focus the statement on the danger of high headline inflation – but make clear that the FOMC expects it “to be transitory”. I’m a touch surprised by the transitory line given that some members of the committee are clearly concerned that it will be otherwise. Read more
No stress tests for ages, then they all come along at once.
Some banks are set to raise their dividends imminently in the US, once the Fed gives them the green light ahead of detailed stress test results released in secret next month. Another practice put on hold in 2009 – share buybacks – will also be back on the menu for some of the 19 large banks. Only those groups that wanted to increase dividends or share buy-backs, or repay government capital, received a call from the Fed on Friday. Those receiving good news will no doubt act swiftly: any of these activities will presumably be seen as a public badge of honour, in the absence of results publication.
Europe, meanwhile, does intend to publish results. Arguably the target audience for Europe’s stress tests is investors and markets rather than the banks themselves. This might give the unfortunate impression that policymakers are aiming for the appearance of a healthy banking sector rather than the real thing. Read more
Import prices in February climbed much faster than expected, as did producer prices, and the Federal Reserve adjusted the language in its latest FOMC statement to reflect the “upward pressure” on inflation from higher commodities prices.
But today’s CPI release showed that inflation in February was only slightly higher than consensus, so there probably won’t be any market surprises based on this — not with the extraordinary events happening elsewhere in the world. The headline number was up 0.5 per cent last month, and core grew by 0.2 per cent.
Still, the year-over-year gap between headline and core inflation continues to widen impressively. These are still low levels for both, but it’s worth mentioning that February was also the second straight month in which core inflation grew at 0.2 per cent — after not having exceeded 0.1 per cent since last June.
Our simulation analysis suggests this near-term fiscal drag would reduce annualized growth of real GDP during the second and third quarters of this year by ¾ percentage point, with smaller impacts for a few subsequent quarters.
Chris Giles has been the economics editor of the Financial Times since 2004. Based in London, he writes about international economic trends and the British economy. Before reporting economics for the Financial Times, he wrote editorials for the paper, reported for the BBC, worked as a regulator of the broadcasting industry and undertook research for the Institute for Fiscal Studies. RSS
Michael Steen, Frankfurt bureau chief, covers the ECB and the eurozone's economies. He joined the Financial Times in 2007 as Amsterdam correspondent and later worked as a front page news editor in London. Before joining the FT, he spent nine years as a correspondent at Reuters, mostly in foreign postings that included a previous stint in Frankfurt, as well as Moscow, Kiev and central Asia. He read German and Russian at Cambridge.RSS
Robin Harding is the FT's US economics editor, based in Washington. Prior to this, he was based in Tokyo, covering the Bank of Japan and Japan's technology sector, and in London as an economics leader writer. Robin studied economics at Cambridge and has a masters in economics from Hitotsubashi University, where he was a Monbusho scholar. Before joining the FT, Robin worked in asset management and banking. RSS
Ralph Atkins, capital markets editor, has been writing for the Financial Times for more than 20 years following an economics degree from Cambridge. From 2004 to 2012, Ralph was Frankfurt bureau chief, watching the European Central Bank and eurozone economies. He has also worked in Bonn, Berlin, Jerusalem and Brussels. RSS
Claire Jones is Money Supply economics team writer, based in London. Before joining the Financial Times, she was the editor of the Central Banking journal and CentralBanking.com. Claire studied philosophy and economics at the London School of Economics. RSS