Category Archives: Interest Rates

The Pound, the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) and George Soros pockets $1bn

Teaching  exchange rates with my AS Level class and couldn’t get away from the events in Britain on the 16th September 1992 – known as Black Wednesday. On this day the British government were forced to pull the pound from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). The video below explains the drama that unfolded very well.

Background

The Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) was the central part of the European Monetary System (EMS) and its purpose was to provide a zone of monetary stability – the ERM was like an imaginary rope (see below), preventing the value of currencies from soaring too high or falling too low in relation to one another.

It consisted of a currency band with a ‘Ceiling’ and a ‘Floor’ through which currencies cannot (or should not) pass and a central line to which they should aspire. The idea is to achieve the mutual benefits of stabel currencies by mutual assistance in difficult times. Participating countries were permitted a variation of +/- 2.25% although the Italian Lira and the Spanish Peseta had a 6% band because of their volatility. When this margin is reached the two central banks concerned must intervene to keep within the permitted variation. The UK persistently refused to join the ERM, but under political pressure from other members agreed to join “when the time is right”. The Chancellor decided that this time had come in the middle of October 1990. The UK pound was given a 6% variation

Black Wednesday

Although it stood apart from European currencies, the British pound had shadowed the German mark (DM) in the period leading up to the 1990s. Unfortunately, Britain at the time had low interest rates and high inflation and they entered the ERM with the express desire to keep its currency above 2.7 DM to the pound. This was fundamentally unsound because Britain’s inflation rate was many times that of Germany’s.

Compounding the underlying problems inherent in the pound’s inclusion into the ERM was the economic strain of reunification that Germany found itself under, which put pressure on the mark as the core currency for the ERM. Speculators began to eye the ERM and wondered how long fixed exchange rates could fight natural market forces. Britain upped its interest rates to 15% (5% in one day) to attract people to the pound, but speculators, George Soros among them, began heavy shorting* of the currency. Spotting the writing on the wall, by leveraging the value of his fund, George Soros was able to take a $10 billion short position on the pound, which earned him US$1 billion. This trade is considered one of the greatest trades of all time.

* In finance, short selling is the practice of selling assets, usually securities, that have been borrowed from a third party (usually a broker) with the intention of buying identical assets back at a later date to return to that third party. The short seller hopes to profit from a decline in the price of the assets between the sale and the repurchase, as the seller will pay less to buy the assets than it received on selling them. Wikipedia.

David McWilliams podcast – The end of neoliberalism?

Below is a link to a David McWilliams podcast which I recommend – excellent for macro policy.

130 – The end of Neo-Liberalism & economic super-cycles explained with Dario Perkins

There is mention of the collapse of the European Super League and that this could be that defining moment when the irresistible force of a once all-conquering ideology came crashing into the immovable object of a new reality, with devastating consequences.

The interview with Dario Perkins – 20 minutes in – is particularly worth listening to. They talk about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and that we shouldn’t worry where the money comes from as the central bank can just print it – spend first and tax later. It’s fiscal policy that will decide whether central banks can meet their inflation targets.

Joe Biden – the world’s most unlikely radical – is a convert to MMT. He is to MMT what Ronald Reagan was to monetarism. Biden’s agenda is to compress inequalities, rip the economy away from Wall Street and give it back to the man on the street by using government spending as an arm not just of economics but democracy underpinned by fairness. Biden wants to reverse the past 30 years and lead us into a new macroeconomic supercycle, which might also last decades.

Are we heading into Stagflation?

Currently teaching macro conflicts with my CIE A2 class and we have been discussing the late 1970’s and the stagflation period – see graph below. Since the days of stagflation in the US and UK in the 1970’s inflation has been the number one target for central bankers. The main cause of inflation during this period was the price of oil –

  • 1973 – 400%↑ – supply-side– Yom Kippur War oil embargo
  • 1979 – 200%↑ – supply-side – Iran Iraq War
Source: The Economist

US President Jimmy Carter’s attempts to follow Keynes’s formula and spend his way out of trouble were going nowhere and the newly appointed Paul Volcker (US Fed Governor in the 1970’s) saw inflation as the worst of all economic evils. Below is an extract of an interview from the PBS series “Commanding Heights”

“It came to be considered part of Keynesian doctrine that a little bit of inflation is a good thing. And of course what happens then, you get a little bit of inflation, then you need a little more, because it peps up the economy. People get used to it, and it loses its effectiveness. Like an antibiotic, you need a new one; you need a new one. Well, I certainly thought that inflation was a dragon that was eating at our innards, so the need was to slay that dragon.”

The policy of the time was Keynesian – inject more money into the system in order to get the economy moving again. This was also the case in the UK in the early 1970’s but Jim Callaghan’s (Labour PM in the UK ousted by Thatcher in 1979) speech in 1976 had reluctantly recognised that this policy had run its course and a monetarist doctrine was about to become prevalent. Below is an extract from the speech.

“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 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. That is the history of the last twenty years”

With this paranoia about inflation central bankers began to implement a monetary policy targeting inflation in the medium term. In NZ the Reserve Bank Act 1989 established “price stability” as the main objective of the RBNZ. “Price stability” is defined in the PTA (Policy Target Agreement) as keeping inflation between 1 to 3% (originally 0-2%) – measured by the percentage change in CPI. Around the world central banks were adopting a more independent approach to policy implementation and with targeting inflation a new prevailing attitude seemed to be like an osmosis and suggesting that low prices = macro-economic stability as well. Also, raising interest rates is an unpopular political move and governments could now blame the central bank for this contractionary measure.

So are we now concerned that we will be entering another period of stagflation? Like the 1970’s we do have a supply-side issue (although not oil based) and expansionary demand side. The following are concerns:

Demand Side
– excessive fiscal stimulus for an economy that already appears to be recovering faster than expected.
– excessively accommodative with policies that combine monetary and credit easing
– monetisation of fiscal deficits will put pressure on inflation

Supply Side
– Rising protectionism
– Supply bottlenecks – container shortages and the Suez blockage
– Reshoring of FDI from low-cost China to higher-cost locations

However in saying this will the global supply side be positively influenced by better use of technological innovation in artificial intelligence and the return to normality on global supply distribution networks. Also will demand pressure eventuate especially when the threat of unemployment is ever present?

Keynes v Monetarist – Powerpoint download

Currently covering Keynes vs Monetarist in the A2 course. Here is a powerpoint on the theory that I use for revision purposes. I have found that the graphs are particularly useful in explaining the theory. The powerpoint includes explanations of:

C+I+G+(X-M)

  • 45˚line
  • Circular Flow and the Multiplier
  • Diagrammatic Representation of Multiplier and Accelerator
  • Quantity Theory of Money
  • Demand for Money – Liquidity Preference
  • Defaltionary and Inflationary Gap
  • Extreme Monetarist and Extreme Keynesian
  • Summary Table of “Keynesian and Monetarist”
  • Essay Questions with suggested answers.

Hope it is of use – 45˚line shown. Click the link below to download the file.
Keynes v Monetarist Keynote

A2 Economics – Credit Multiplier

When a bank accepts or collects deposits they keep some of the deposit as reserves (0.r is the reserve ratio) and advance the rest. As this money is spent it comes back into the banking system as someone else’s deposits. Some of this new deposit is kept as reserves and the rest advanced. This process continues until the new deposit becomes so small it can be ignored.

The value credit creation multiplier is an indicator of the final change in bank deposits which will stem from the initial change. We can calculate this as 1 / 0.r, where 0.r is the reserve ratio.

In the example below the credit creation multiplier equals 4 (that is, 1 / 0.25). Further we can work out the growth in the money supply (eventual increase in money supply), using the following formula: Eventual increase equals 1 / 0.r multiplied by the initial deposit in the money supply. In our example it is 4 times $100m equals $400m. The example below shows that loans given by one bank then become a deposit in another bank. Of that $75m deposited 25% must be kept in reserve ($18.75) and the remainder can be lent out ($56.25). This process continues through the banking system. We can also calculate the secondary expansion or credit created using this formula: Credit created equals (1 / 0.r multiplied by the initial deposit) minus the initial deposit.In our example it is $400m – $100m equals $300m.

The change in the money supply may not be as high as calculated because of leakages or withdrawals from the credit creation process. Banks tend to lose reserves as the public will not deposit the whole of the loans back. The public may retain some of the loan in the form of cash, or banks may be unable to find creditworthy customers to make advances to, or funds may get diverted into government securities.

Reserves may also be lost to taxation and imports (under a fixed exchange rate). The reasons for the initial increase in bank reserves could be the public banking more notes and coins than they withdraw, or public debt maturing. If a Central Bank buys back (purchases) government securities or other financial assets from the public or financial institutions, then there will be an increase in bank reserves.

Read more at: elearn Economics

Global Economic Data as of February 2021

I always encourage students to be aware of what is happening in the global economy as well as their own. Below are growth, unemployment and interest rates for the main economies. Note the high rates of quarterly economic growth which indicates a bounce back from the previous quarter when most of the world was in a serious lockdown. The unemployment rates you would expect to be a lot higher with COVID-19 and a 4.9% rate in NZ was a surprise. An area of employment growth in the December quarter was Construction, along with many government-dominated industry types. Monetary policy been very accommodative and although rates have been very low note that in Japan and the Euro zone areas it has been like this since 2016. These figures could be used for discussion purposes in you class.

Quarterly Economic Growth Rates

Unemployment %
Global Interest Rates

Source: Monthly Economic Review – February 2021 – NZ Parliamentary Service

How interest rates affect inflation – flow chart

Below is a useful flow chart for anyone studying monetary policy. Both the NCEA Level 3 and CIE A2 courses cover this topic.

Negative – lower interest rates might depress spending by some retirees who rely on interest income. But these counterproductive channels are small compared to the
Positive – lower interest rates = a lower propensity to save and a higher propensity to spend.

The side effects of monetary policy.
Falling interest rates = accelerating house prices = social problems and political anxiety.
If RBNZ kept interest rates at around 8% as in the 2000s to prevent the house price = New Zealand in deflationary spiral.

The economic and social consequences of deflation would be far worse than the (undeniable) problems with rising house prices. The low inflation / falling interest rate dynamic of the past two decades has been a global phenomenon, ultimately caused by a global change in the balance between savings and investment. The Reserve Bank of New Zealand could not have prevented this global trend from affecting New Zealand interest rates without causing severe damage to the economy. In New Zealand, the most important transmission channels are asset prices and the exchange rate. Falling interest rates tend to push asset prices up, which stimulates consumer spending. Falling interest rates also tend to reduce the exchange rate, which generates inflation via the prices of internationally-traded goods and services.

Source: Westpac Bank

Why does Japanese public debt have little impact on bond yield levels?

Japan is top of the table in accumulating government debt and with a record stimulus to cushion the impact of COVID-19 it is approaching debt levels of 250% of GDP. So how does Japan manage to keep its government bond yields so low (see graph below) and investor confidence high that it can avoid default?

Source: FT

To finance this debt, the Japanese government issues bonds known as JGBs. These are snapped up in enormous volumes by the Bank of Japan (BoJ), the country’s central bank that is officially independent but in practice closely co-ordinates economic policy with the government.

Bond Prices vs Yield

Like any investment the buyer of the bond wants to get the greatest return. Bond prices and interest rates (yield) move in opposite directions and an easy way to consider this is zero-coupon bonds. Here the interest is derived by the difference between the purchase price of the bond and the value of the bond on maturity.
Bond price $920 – Maturity value $1000. The bond’s rate of return = (1000-80 ÷ 920) x 100 = 8.7% return. However a lot depends on what else is happening in the bond market. If interest were to increase and newly issued bonds were giving a return of 10% the 8.7% return is no longer attractive. To match the 10% the original bond price would have to decrease to $909. The bond’s rate of return = (1000-909 ÷ 909) x 100 = 10% return

Reasons for low rates on JGB’s

Japanese Government Bond (JGB) is a bond issued by the government of Japan. The government pays interest on the bond until the maturity date. At the maturity date, the full price of the bond is returned to the bondholder. Japanese government bonds play a key role in the financial securities market in Japan.

The BoJ has recently been buying up billions dollars of Japanese government bonds keeping interest rates around 0% in the hope of increasing the inflation rate to its 2% target. Therefore any rise in bond yields triggers a buy action from the BoJ. As of 2019, the central bank owns over 40% of Japanese government bonds. The BOJ’s government bond holdings rose 3.4% from a year ago to 486 trillion yen ($4.5 trillion) as of March 2020, roughly 90% the size of the country’s economy, according to the central bank’s earnings report for the previous fiscal year.

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.