Category Archives: Growth

Covid-19 stimulus vs GFC stimulus

Below is a useful diagram from McKinsey & Company that compares the money used to assist the economies after the outbreak of Covid-19 and the GFC in 2017. Governments allocated US$10 trillion for economic stimulus in just two months—and for some countries, their response as a percentage of GDP was nearly ten times what it was in the financial crisis of 2008–09.

Countries in Europe have allocated around US$4 trillion which is approximately 30 times than that of the Marshall Plan in today’s value – the Marshall Plan was valued at $15bn in 1948. The size of government responses are unprecedented and they, with central banks, are moving into new territory. Global debt is estimated to reach US$300 trillion by the March quarter in 2021 with global GDP taking a huge hit. However unlike the GFC there seems to be an end point once an effective vaccine has been found but many jobs and businesses have gone and it will take time before new ones appear.

Addressing savings glut needs more than monetary policy

Today central banks have a limited toolkit and the powers to deal with the savings glut (see image below), lack of investment, climate change and income inequality. There is a lot of money in the system but the velocity of circulation is slow – MV=PT – and this is one reason why we have little inflation.

Velocity of circulation of money is part of the the Monetarist explanation of inflation operates through the Fisher equation:

M x V = P x T

M = Stock of money
V = Income Velocity of Circulation
P = Average Price level
T = Volume of Transactions or Output

Add to this COVID-19 and the impact it has had on especially developing economies and we have economic stagnation.

Source: Bloomberg Economics

Some economists have suggested the need for more expansionary fiscal policy as well as structural reform to achieve economic growth. The latter being a long-term policy can take the form of price controls, management of public finances, financial sector reforms. labour market reforms etc. Although the US Federal Reserve is adopting a flexible average inflation target to avoid a disinflationary environment it will not be enough to deal with secular stagnation.

Secular stagnation
Since the GFC in 2008 it is evident that low interest rates are the new normal and according to Larry Summers (former Treasury Secretary) we are in an era of secular stagnation. This refers to the fact that on average the ‘natural interest rate’ – the rate consistent with full employment – is very low. There can be periods of full employment but even with 0% interest rates private demand is insufficient to eliminate the output gap. The US was in a liquidity trap for eight of the past 12 years; Europe and Japan are still there, and the market now appears to believe that something like this is another the new normal.

Paul Krugman suggests that there are real doubts about unconventional monetary policy and that the stimulus for an economy should take the form of permanent public investment spending on both physical and human capital – infrastructure and health of the population. This spending would take the form of deficit-financed public investment. There has been the suggestion that deficit-financed public investment might lead to ‘crowding out’ private investment and also how is the debt repaid? Krugman came up with three offsetting factors

  1. When the economy is in a liquidity trap, which now seems likely to be a large fraction of the time, the extra public investment will have a multiplier effect, raising GDP relative to what it would otherwise be. Based on the experience of the past decade, the multiplier would probably be around 1.5, meaning 3% higher GDP in bad times — and considerable additional revenue from that higher level of GDP. Permanent fiscal stimulus wouldn’t pay for itself, but it would pay for part of itself.
  2. If the investment is productive, it will expand the economy’s productive capacity in the long run.This is obviously true for physical infrastructure and R&D, but there is also strong evidence that safety-net programmes for children make them healthier, more productive adults, which also helps offset their direct fiscal cost (Hoynes and Whitmore Schanzenbach 2018).
  3. There’s fairly strong evidence of hysteresis — temporary downturns permanently or semi-permanently depress future output (Fatás and Summers 2015).

Source: “The Case for a permanent stimulus”. Paul Krugman cited in “Mitigating the COVID Economic Crisis: Act Fast and Do Whatever It Takes” Edited by Richard Baldwin and Beatrice Weder di Mauro

Bloomberg Economics – Yellen, Summers Say Central Banks No Match for Savings Glut

OCR – LSAP – FLP = New Zealand’s Monetary Policy Toolkit

Below is a useful flow diagram from the ANZ bank which adds Large Scale Asset Purchases (LSAP) and Funding for Lending Programme (FLP) to the Official Cash Rate (OCR – Base Rate)

LSAP – this is the buying of up $100 billion of government bonds – quantitative easing
FLP – this gives banks cheap lending based on the Official Cash Rate – could be about $28 billion based on take up
OCR – wholesale interest rate currently at 0.25%. Commercial banks borrow at 0.5% above OCR and can save at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) at 1% below OCR.

With FLP and more LSAP this will mean lower lending rates and deposit rates. This should provide more stimulus in the economy and allay fears of future funding constraints making banks more confident about lending. Add to this a third stimulus – an OCR of 0.25%. The flow chart shows the impact that these three stimulus policies have on a variety of variables including – exchange rates – inflation -unemployment – consumer spending – investment – GDP. Very useful for a class discussion on the monetary policy mechanism.

China looking to domestic sector to maintain growth.

Neoliberal policies of the last 30 years have seen income inequality grow and the collapse of consumer spending (C) the main driver of any domestic economy. There has been an increase in the proportion of income accruing to assets which worsens inequality in many countries. While China’s economy is synonymous with exports, private consumption has been the largest component of Chinese GDP growth since 2014. With household spending at 39% of GDP in 2018, compared with nearer 70% for more developed economies such as the U.S. and the U.K., it also has considerable potential for further growth. Remember that Aggregate Demand = C+I+G+(X-M).

S&P Global

At the annual planning meeting last month China decided to focus on expanding domestic demand and achieving a major breakthroughs in core technologies. President Xi Jinping’s administration is looking at being self-sufficient in a range of technologies that have in the past been dominated by US firms. An obvious reason for the switch to domestic consumers is that with COVID-19 there is increasing instability and uncertainty around the international environment. A temporarily suspended trade war with the US has emphasised the importance of ending its dependence on foreign technology supplies. President Xi Jinping outlined a new dual circulation economic strategy which came about with the potential decoupling with the US and deglobalisation which would negatively impact the demand for Chinese exports. The dual circulation economic strategy consists of:

  • The importance of strengthening domestic demand
  • Technological innovation over closer integration with the outside world

Growth targets
China has set targets for economic growth in its 5 year plans – this is its 14th 5 year plan. It is expected that annual average growth to be around 5% down from previous years where it was expected to be 6.5% – 7.5%.

Final thought
China needs a lot more domestic consumption as newly produced goods will just become surplus to requirements. This will also mean increased levels of corporate debt.

Teaching Monetary Policy – Every Breath You Take – Every Change of Rate (Fed Funds Rate)

Here is a really funny video by the students of Columbia Business School (CBS) – you may have seen it before but I find it very useful when you start teaching monetary policy and interest rates.

Back in 2006 Alan Greenspan vacated the role of chairman of the US Federal Reserve and the two main candidates for the job were Ben Bernanke and Glenn Hubbard. Glen Hubbard was (and still is) the Dean at Columbia Business School and was no doubt disappointed about losing out to Ben Bernanke. His students obviously felt a certain amount of sympathy for him and used the song “Every Breath You Take” by The Police to voice their opinion as to who should have got the job. They have altered the lyrics and the lead singer plays Glenn Hubbard.

Some significant economic words in it are: – interest rates, stagflate, inflate, bps, jobs, growth etc.

Macroeconomic Policy – where we’ve been and where are we going?

The Economist ‘Briefing’ recently looked at what now for macroeconomic policy in the global economy. The GFC of 2008 and outbreak of COVID-19 has got policymakers scratching their head as what can be done to stimulate aggregate demand.

Keynes’ ideas of government involvement in managing the economy in the business cycle – spend in recessions and pay of debt in booms – was flavour of the month in the post-war period. However by the1970’s this policy was in trouble which the spectre of stagflation – high inflation accompanied by high unemployment. According to Keynes the two variables should move in opposite directions. In 1976 the UK Prime Minister James Callaghan in his speech at the Labour Party Conference said:

We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession, and increase employ­ment by cutting taxes and boosting Government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and that in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of infla­tion into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step. Higher inflation followed by higher unemployment.

The 1980’s saw monetarist ideas enter the scene with a focus on the control of inflation though constraining the money supply. University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman and US Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker knew that in order the get inflation down that the economy would have to go through a recession and very higher unemployment in the short-run. However once inflation started to drop the Central Bank could relax monetary policy (interest rates) and then encourage more economic activity in the economy and thereby reducing unemployment. Previously policy had focused on equality of incomes which had a large impact of economic efficiency. Price stability was now the primary focus of a central bank and it was in New Zealand with the 1989 Reserve Bank Act that the first central bank became independent from government. Gone were the days where the Minister of Finance could get on the phone to the Reserve Bank Governor to change interest rates. Central banks had inflationary targets whilst fiscal policy was to keep government debts low and to redistribute income as the government saw fit.

This policy came unstuck after the GFC as central banks dropped interest rates to record levels and implemented a series of quantitative easing (QE) measures to no avail. Growth was stagnant for a long time but eventually demand for labour picked up. This would have normally been accompanied by higher inflation but it wasn’t the case. Just like in the 1970’s inflation and unemployment were not behaving according to the theory but at this time both were favourable – low inflation and low unemployment. However inequality was now gripping the attention of economists and there was concern about the monopoly position of some firms. The rich have a higher tendency to save rather than spend, so if their share of income rises then overall saving goes up and lower interest rates and QE were driving up inequality by increasing house and equity prices.

Once COVID-19 hit it was government’s fiscal policy which has been used to try and stabilise the economy and boost growth. Fiscal stimulus – government spending with running up large deficits might be required for a long period of time in order to support the economy. This is more acceptable amongst economists as low interest rates enable the government to service much larger debts and with such low inflation it is unlikely that rates will increase anytime soon. This resembles Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) – the situation where the government can create its own money therefore:

  1. Cannot default on debt denominated in its own currency;
  2. Can pay for goods, services, and financial assets without a need to collect money in the form of taxes or debt issuance in advance of such purchases;
  3. Is limited in its money creation and purchases by inflation, which accelerates once the economic resources (i.e., labor and capital) of the economy are utilised at full employment;
  4. Can control inflation by taxation and bond issuance, which remove excess money from circulation, although the political will to do so may not always exist;
  5. Does not need to compete with the private sector for scarce savings by issuing bonds. Within this model the only constraint on spending is inflation, which can break out if the public and private sectors spend too much at the same time. As long as there are enough workers and equipment to meet growing demand without igniting inflation, the government can spend what it needs to maintain employment and achieve goals such as halting climate change.

Negative interest rates

Some governments have gone the way of negative interest rates (see graphic) to try and stimulate more aggregate demand. This would discourage saving and see a potential withdrawal of cash from the banking system leaving less money to lend out. Avoiding this scenario might involve abolishing high-denomination bank notes and making the holding of large amount of cash expensive and unfeasible. However in order to keep money in the banks might renege on interest rate cuts as customers might move their money to rival banks therefore high negative interest rates would severely dent banks’ profits.

The current economic environment may make negative interest more plausible as:

  • Cash is in decline.
  • Banks are becoming less important to finance.
  • Central bankers are looking at creating their own digital currencies

Final thought

Greater government intervention is what the majority of economists want but it does carry with it risks of significant debt and high inflation. There is an opportunity to rethink the economics discipline and as stated in The Economist:

A level-headed reassessment of public debt could lead to the green public investment necessary to fight climate change. And governments could unleash a new era of finance, involving more innovation, cheaper financial intermediation and, perhaps, a monetary policy that is not constrained by the presence of physical cash. What is clear is that the old economic paradigm is looking tired. One way or another, change is coming

The Economist – A new era of economics – July 25th 2020

Truckometer – another indicator of the NZ Economy

The ANZ Truckometer is a set of two economic indicators derived using traffic volume data from around the country. Traffic flows are a real-time and real-world proxy for economic activity –particularly for the New Zealand economy, where a large proportion of freight is moved by road. It represents an extremely timely barometer of economic momentum. The ANZ Heavy Traffic Index shows a strong contemporaneous relationship to GDP, while the ANZ Light Traffic Index has a six month lead on activity as measured by GDP. Notice the change around 2007/08 with the GFC. The index below does show some encouraging signs after the lockdown with heavy traffic bouncing back as restocking takes place. Although as stated by Sharon Zollner of ANZ it is early days.

Source: ANZ Truckometer – 11th August 2020

Do imports slow GDP growth?

A book published this year ‘Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy Is a Sign of Success’ Dietrich Vollrath addresses the issue – is growth the best way to measure economic success — and does a slowdown indicate problems in an economy?

He discusses that the slowdown (Pre-Covid) is an indicator of economic prosperity. The economy has already provided much of what we need in life – comfort, security and luxury – that we have turned to new forms of production and consumption that enhance our well-being but do not contribute to growth in GDP. One chapter looks at the increase in imports from China and how it doesn’t necessarily have any connection with the level of GDP or growth rate. It is commonly portrayed in the media that imports from China have a negative effect on US GDP and you can say that they do impact on employment levels in certain sectors – e.g. manufacturing industry. This can lead to a slowdown in growth if workers didn’t find alternative employment. According to Vollrath the size of imports from China looks too small to account for the growth slowdown.

There is an assumption that imports lower GDP but most introductory economics courses refer to GDP with the following:

Y = C + I + G + (X-M)

Y = GDP, C = Consumption, I = Investment, G = Government spending, (X-M) = Exports – Imports
With this equation if imports are higher, it must be that GDP is lower. The right hand side of the equation is just a way of accounting for GDP; it does not determine the size of GDP. Vollrath now puts imports on the other side of the equation so you have:

Y + M = C + I + G + X

The above equation helps given the common way that people understand the relationship if they imagine that M goes up, they’ll jump to the conclusion that one of the items on the right (C + I + G + X) must have gone up as well.

Y + M is the total goods and services available in a given year which we can purchase. The other side of the equation represents the purchasing of these goods and services whether it is consumption goods, capital good, government purchases and foreign purchases. An increase in imports means that there are more goods and services to purchase. But there is no necessary mechanical effect of having more imports on the size of our own production, GDP.

GDP comparison between countries and Big Mac Index worksheet

Here is something that I use with my Year 12 & 13 Economics students when looking at the comparison between nominal GDP and PPP – NCEA Level 3 Growth external and CIE A2 Unit 4. I have found the worksheet that follows useful for students to workout the price of a Big Mac in US dollars in each country, the Big Mac exchange rate and compare it with the actual exchange. The table below gives the Nominal GDP in various countries expressed in US dollars. If you convert the value of GDP in local currency into one common currency (US$) it gives you a false idea of many countries’ economic status. The cost of different goods and services can vary widely – countries like China and India have much lower costs for most consumer items compared to more developed countries like the US and Germany. Therefore to make a more accurate comparison economists tend to use the purchasing power parity (PPP). This is a simple calculation where a base currency is chosen (usually US$) and a basket of goods and services is chosen. They are then compared to the value of the same items in another country using traditional exchange rates. However it is not as simple as that as countries use a wide variety of goods and services that are not the same or not as popular in certain countries.

Countries by Nominal GDP US$ – October 2019 (ranking is on Nominal GDP)

IMF’s World Economic Outlook Database, October 2019

*New Zealand’s GDP in NZ$ is approximately – NZ$ 314 billion (March 2020)

The Economist came up with the Big Mac index in 1986 as a lighthearted guide to whether currencies are at their “correct” level. It is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity (PPP), the notion that in the long run exchange rates should move towards the rate that would equalise the prices of an identical basket of goods and services (in this case, a burger) in any two countries. Here is something that I put together using the the Big Mac index from The Economist website. Students have to complete the table below.

The Big Mac Index – July 2020

  1. Complete the table above. In which country was their actual exchange rate on July 2020 closest to their Big Mac exchange rate?
  2. Which country’s currency is suggested by your calculations above as being
    a) the most undervalued against the dollar, and the most overvalued against the dollar?
  3. What factors could have an influence on exchange rate values on a given date as shown in the table above.
  4. In which country was their actual exchange rate on July 2020 closest to their Big Mac exchange rate?

You can check your answers and other countries Big Mac Index by going to The Economist’s website – click below: