Category Archives: Economic Cycle

UK Economy – Goldilocks and the output gap

Chris Giles of The FT wrote a very good article explaining the output gap using Goldilocks and the three bears. As you may know in the story Goldilocks found the first bowl of porridge too hot, the second bowl too cold but the third bowl just right. We can use this analogy with regard to the economy:

  • running too hot – a positive output gap – the economy is overheating and higher interest rates and less government spending is needed to slow the economy down.
  • running too cold – a negative output gap – the economy has a lot of spare capacity and needs to be stimulated by dropping interest rates and increasing government spending.
  • running just right – no gap – there is neither a requirement for an expansionary monetary and fiscal policy nor a contractionary monetary and fiscal policy.

Just as Messrs Friedman and Phelps had predicted, the level of inflation associated with a given level of unemployment rose through the 1970s, and policymakers had to abandon the Phillips curve. Today there is a broad consensus that monetary policy should focus on holding down inflation. But this does not mean, as is often claimed, that central banks are “inflation nutters”, cruelly indifferent towards unemployment.

If there is no long-term trade-off, low inflation does not permanently choke growth. Moreover, by keeping inflation low and stable, a central bank, in effect, stabilises output and jobs. In the graph below the straight line represents the growth in output that the economy can sustain over the long run; the wavy line represents actual output. When the economy is producing below potential (ie, unemployment is above the NAIRU), at point A, inflation will fall until the “output gap” is eliminated. When output is above potential, at point B, inflation will rise for as long as demand is above capacity. If inflation is falling (point A), then a central bank will cut interest rates, helping to boost growth in output and jobs; when inflation is rising (point B), it will raise interest rates, dampening down growth. Thus if monetary policy focuses on keeping inflation low and stable, it will automatically help to stabilise employment and growth.

Gapology

 

However policymakers rely on estimates of the output gap – which compares actual GDP with a country’s full capacity when all resources are fully employed. The concern that the Bank of England have is that official data shows that the UK economy is showing sluggish growth rates with a tight labour market.

Almost all employment indicators suggest the economy close to overheating – recruitment difficulties and industry facing capacity constraints. This is in contrast to economic growth which suggest that there is room for expansion. Add to this the uncertainty about Brexit, the reliability of the output gap even more dubious. Current techniques might correctly measure the output gap but what about the contribution of potential capital projects which are underway?

Some economists have suggested that output gaps are inherently political and chosen to rationalise existing policies, rather than to set the correct prescriptions. However for economists is there an alternative to taking the temperature of an economy.

Economic Consequences of Trump

Very good video from Project Syndicate looking at the recovery of the US economy and if it is sustainable. Also was Trump responsible for the growth or Obama? Maybe Janet Yellen and central bankers with such low interest rates for a long period of time. However if there is another downturn do governments have the tools to grow the economy again? It seems that central banks have run out of ammunition i.e. no room to cut interest rates further. There is agreement that the levels of employment are not sustainable in the future and the focus should be on assisting low wage work and help people prepare for and keep work- ‘reward work’.

  • Features Nobel laureates Angus Deaton and Edmund Phelps, along with Barry Eichengreen,
  • Rana Foroohar author of ‘Makers and Takers’
  • Glenn Hubbard Dean of Columbia Business School

Central Banks could cause next financial crisis

A Buttonwood piece in the Economist (30th September 2017) looked at how central banks can trigger the next financial crisis. Deutsche Bank have looked into long-term asset returns in developed markets and suggest that crises have become much more common. They define a crisis when a country suffered one of the following:

  • a 15% annual decline in equities;
  • a 10% fall in its currency or its government bonds;
  • a default on its national debt; or
  • a period of double-digit inflation.

Pre the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates and a central bank’s limited ability to create credit, very few countries suffered a shock in a single year. But since 1980 there have been numerous financial crisis of some kind. Under the Bretton Woods system a country that expanded its money supply too quickly would encourage an increased demand for imports which would ultimately lead to a trade deficit and pressure on its exchange rate; the government would react by slamming on the monetary brakes. The result was that it was harder for financial bubbles to inflate.

But with a floating exchange rate a country has more flexibility to deal with economic crisis as they don not have to maintain a currency that is pegged to another. A weaker currency makes exports more competitive and imports more expensive. But it has also created a trend towards greater trade imbalances, which no longer constrain policymakers—the currency is often allowed to take the strain. See flow chart below.

As well as companies and consumers taking on debt, government debt has also been rising as a proportion of GDP since the mid-1970’s:

  • Japan – a deficit every year since 1966
  • France – a deficit every year since 1993
  • Italy – only one year of surplus since 1950

This has resulted in significant credit expansion and collapse – by allowing consumers to borrow more money the cost of assets (esp. houses) is pushed higher. However when lenders lose confidence in borrowers ability to repay they stop lending and mortgage sales follow. This is then reflected in the credit rating of borrowers. In order to try and rectify the problem the central banks intervene and reduce interest rates or buy assets directly. This may bring the crisis to a temporary halt but results in more debt and higher asset prices.

Deutsche Bank suggest that could mean another financial crisis especially if there is the withdrawal of support from central banks who saved the global economy when the GFC started. Indicators suggest that this may be the case:

  • US Fed – has pushed up interest rates and cut back on asset purchases
  • ECB – likely to cut asset purchases next year
  • Bank of England – has recently pushed up interest rates

However rates are still at a stimulatory level and developed economies have been growing for several years. According to Deutsche Bank any kind of return to “normal” asset prices from their high levels would constitute a crisis. This would then force central banks to once again lower interest rates again but they will not want to appear to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff every time this happens. Remember the bailouts of AIG and the investment banks. It seems that the investment banks are happy to privatize the reward but socialise the risk – when it all “turns to custard” they need to be bailed because they are too big to fail. The question that people are now asking is what is the vulnerable asset class? Mortgage-backed securities was the cause in 2008.

IMF World Evaluation from the FT

Below is a very good video put together by the FT which summarises the recent IMF Report on the World Economy. Includes:

  • Better growth in China and the Euro zone makes up for slow US growth.
  • US infrastructure spending and tax reform still has to be approved by the senate.
  • Europe looking stronger than expected.
  • Emerging economies still face tough conditions.

The Ancient Art of Economic Forecasting

I came across this piece from a colleague on economic forecasting. The article below appeared in the Sydney Metropolitan Press in the late 1920’s. Although economic cycles don’t run to an exact time period the graph below would indicate that this model is not too far out of kilter.

The top line = years in which panics have occurred and will happen again

The middle line = years of good times, high prices and the time to sell stocks

The bottom line = years of hard times, low prices and good times to buy stocks

The past panic century of dates are 1911, 1927, 1945, 1965, 1981, 1999, 2019. Except for 1981, these were all pretty good years to sell stocks – The Big Picture blog. 2016 suggests the top of the present cycle with 2019 being a year of panic.

“The Ancient Art of Economic Forecasting” – Sydney Metropolitan Press 1920’s

The attached graph professes to forecast the future trend of Australian business conditions, was first brought under the notice of the public in 1872. It was prepared by a Mr Tritch, whose origin and activities are shrouded in mystery.

The top line shows years in which panics have occured, and will occur again. Their cycles are 16, 18 and 20 years. The centre line shows the years of good times and high prices; the cycles are 8, 9 and 10 years. The bottom line shows the years of depressions and low prices; the cycles are 9, 7 and 11 years.

The panic which occurred in 1893 is shown in 1891. Nevertheless, that year witnessed the beginning of the depression. 1915, just after the war started was a year of depreciation, and 1919, the year following the cessation of hostilities, was a period charcterised by good times.

As this chart was published in 1872, it is interesting to note the forecast of the depression now existing. It will be seen that there has been a general upward trend since 1926 with the panic occuring in 1927 after the high is reached. The bottom of the depression is reached at the end of 1930 and the upward trend begins in 1931.”

Art of forecasting2.png

Housing bubble and zero sum game

There has been a lot of talk in the media about an Auckland housing bubble and its impact on the New Zealand economy.  Below is a very informative graph I got from http://www.housepricecrash.co.uk which looks at the anatomy of a bubble.

Anatomy of bubble

Zero-Sum Game

When house prices are increasing rapidly we tend to feel better off but also have increased mortgage debt. House price inflation is a zero-sum game in that society as a whole does not benefit from a rise in house prices as those on the property ladder can only gain at the expense of prospective homeowners that cannot afford to enter the market. Over a short period of time house price inflation can provide a boost to economic growth if they deceive people into believing they are wealthier.

Positive-Sum Game

However, when a business invests it tends to have a positive-sum game in that if it employs 50 more workers that doesn’t mean that there are 50 other workers in the economy that are going to lose their jobs. This is real GDP growth rather than investing in property which tends not to generate growth as it is a finished asset – however some will argue that maintenance will always be needed.

Macro Conflicts in New Zealand

Part of the Cambridge A2 syllabus studies Macro Economic conflicts of Policy Objectives. Here I am looking at GDP, Unemployment, and Inflation (improving Trade figures is another objective also). The objectives are:

* Stable low inflation with prices rising within the target range of 1% – 3% per year
* Sustainable growth – as measured by the rate of growth of real gross domestic product
* Low unemployment – the government wants to achieve full-employment

New Zealand Growth, Jobs and Prices — 3 Key Macro Objectives Inflation, jobs and growth

1. Inflation and unemployment:

From the graph above you can see that low levels of unemployment have created higher prices – demand-pull inflation. Also note that as unemployment has increased there is a short-term trade-off between unemployment and inflation. Notice the increase in inflation in 2010-2011 as this is when the rate of GST was increased from 12.5% to 15%. Also today we have falling inflation (0.4% below the 1-3% band set by the RBNZ) and unemployment is on the rise – approximately 6%

NZ Economy 2006-2015

2. Economic growth and inflation

With increasing growth levels prices started to increase in 2007 going above the 3% threshold in 2008. This suggests that there were capacity issues in the economy and the aggregate supply curve was becoming very inelastic. In subsequent years the level of growth has dropped and with it the inflation rate.

3. Economic Growth and Unemployment

With increasing levels of GDP growth unemployment figures have tended to gravitate downward. This was apparent between 2006-2008 – GDP was positive and unemployment did fall to approximately 3.6%. From 2009 onwards you can see that growth has been positive with unemployment falling. 2015 saw the unemployment rate rising with lower annual growth rate.

Smoothing out the boom bust cycles

Below is a very informative video from the Reserve Bank of New Zealand about smoothing out the boom bust cycles in the New Zealand economy. There are some notes that follow which have been edited from the transcript.

Objectives macro prudential policy.

  • To build resilience of the financial system so that it can cope with the business cycle if it turns from boom to bust.
  • To be proactive in dampening the risk to begin with. This could include dampen the growth of credit, house prices or other asset prices. An example of this was in New Zealand in the late 1980’s – share market crash and the plunge in commercial property prices.

Macro Prudential Tool Kit – 4 Tools

1. Counter-cyclical capital buffer

This is where the banks are required to hold an extra margin of capital during the boom part of the cycle so that if the boom turns to bust the banks have an extra margin of capital that they can then call on to meet loan losses.

2. Sectorial capital overlay

This is very similar to a counter-cyclical capital buffer but it is about holding extra capital against a particular sector that the banks might be leaning to, for example the household sector, the farming sector, or potentially the commercial property sector.

3. Loan to value ratio for residential housing lending

This is a limit on the amount of high loan to value ratio lending or low deposit lending that the banks are able to do for the household sector. High LVR lending potentially fuels rapid house price growth and so that might be another reason why you would use that particular instrument.

4. Core funding ratio

This is a tool that has been a permanent fixture for the banks. There are a number of reasons why the core funding ratio might change. Potentially if the banks are facing an increase in risk, the Reserve Bank could require them to hold more core funding, funding that would be more likely to remain in the system during a downturn. By holding more of that stable funding, they’d be less likely to stop lending in a downturn because the funding would remain in the system.

Boom bust cycles are cycles in the economy and in the financial system are of course a fact of life. Macro-prudential policy certainly won’t prevent those cycles from occurring. What it will do is provide some cushioning to the cycle. It will hopefully clip the highs and the lows to some extent so that the flow of credit and the flow of financial services in the economy continue through time. It’s not about preventing the cycle or dampening it completely. It’s about taking some of the extremes out of the cycle.

Paul Mason interview on Radio New Zealand – "Pay People to Exist"

Post Cap MasonYesterday on Radio New Zealand Kim Hill interviewed Paul Mason – Channel 4 economics correspondent – about his new book entitled PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future. The book gives a very radical and innovative view of history, and offers a vision of a post capitalist society.

Mason believes that after two centuries in which capitalism has dominated the western world, this economic system has become desperately dysfunctional: inequality is growing, climate change is accelerating and nations are beset with bad demographics, debt burdens and angry voters. He makes three assertions according to Gillian Tett of the Financial Times:

  1. “information technology has reduced the need for work” — or, more accurately, for all humans to be workers.For automation is now replacing jobs at a startling speed
  2. “information goods are corroding the market’s ability to form prices correctly”. For the key point about cyber-information is that it can be replicated endlessly, for free; there is no constraint on how many times we can copy and paste a Wikipedia page. “Until we had shareable information goods, the basic law of economics was that everything is scarce. Supply and demand assumes scarcity. Now certain goods are not scarce, they are abundant.”
  3. “goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy”. More specifically, people are collaborating in a manner that does not always make sense to traditional economists, who are used to assuming that humans act in self-interest and price things according to supply and demand.

Radio NZHe also makes the point that we are going to live through a long transition from capitalism – the state and the market to post capitalism which is the state, the market and the shared collaborative economy. With technology taking a lot of the jobs in traditional industries in the UK he states that further development in this sector is not the way of creating new jobs. He talks about delinking work from wages by just paying people to actually exist – rather than tax to exist. He does come up with some very interesting thoughts and it is well worth listening to. Click below to hear the interview:

Paul Mason interview on Radio New Zealand