Opinion

The Great Debate

from Breakingviews:

Fed fundamentalists deserve fresh listen

By Rob Cox

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

A portrait of Milton Friedman hangs at the entrance to the Stauffer Auditorium at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. It carries no identification, and doesn’t need any. All who enter here can be counted on to recognize the patron saint of contemporary free-market economics. And so it was two days last week, when the leaders of what might be dubbed monetary fundamentalism gathered under Friedman’s watchful gaze.

Stanford’s John Taylor, a former Treasury official and academic who created an eponymous and influential rule for setting interest rates, pulled together sitting and former presidents of Federal Reserve banks, along with prominent academics and former members of the European Central Bank board. They discussed a new framework for running the world’s central banks.

The cries from this boil of hawks may not have changed much over the decades, but more than five years since the financial crisis roiled the world’s financial markets and economies they deserve a fresh listen.

The views vary, but there is a common creed: The U.S. central bank has expanded its discretionary powers in monetary and credit policy in ways that threaten its existence. This isn’t mere traditionalism. It is an admission by powerful central bankers that they understand their own limitations, and they would rather see their powers circumscribed than fail abjectly, since failure could lead to the dismantlement of Fed independence.

from Breakingviews:

Europe slides towards the next Minsky Moment

By Neil Unmack

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

There’s little doubt that markets think the euro crisis is over. Bond yields have fallen below pre-crisis levels for most of the countries formerly known as peripherals; the grab for southern European assets is a crowded trade. Could this be the prelude to the next Minsky moment?

The last crisis fit perfectly the pattern described by the American economist Hyman Minsky. Investors’ exaggerated belief in stability leads them to price assets for perfection - for example no defaults by euro zone sovereigns. Then some imperfection arrives - a serious possibility of default - and there is a violent outbreak of instability - the euro crisis.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Time to stop following defunct economic policies

Can economists contribute anything useful to our understanding of politics, business and finance in the real world?

I raise this question having spent last weekend in Toronto at the annual conference of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, a foundation created in 2009 in response to the failure of modern economics in the global financial crisis (whose board I currently chair). Unfortunately, the question raised above is as troubling today as it was in November 2008, when Britain’s Queen Elizabeth famously stunned the head of the London School of Economics by asking faux naively, “But why did nobody foresee this [economic collapse]?”

As John Maynard Keynes observed in 1936, when he challenged the economic orthodoxies that were aggravating the Great Depression: “The ideas of economists, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”

from The Great Debate UK:

How central bankers have got it wrong

If you asked someone to list the chief qualities needed to be a good central banker I assume that the list may include: good communicator, wise, attention to detail, clear thinking, credibility, and good with numbers.  However, in recent months these qualities have been sadly lacking, most notably last week when the Federal Reserve wrong-footed the markets and failed to start tapering its enormous QE programme.

The market had expected asset purchases to be tapered because: 1, Ben Bernanke had dropped fairly big hints at his June press conference that tapering was likely to take place sooner rather than later and 2, because the unemployment rate has consistently declined all year and if it continues moving in this direction then it could hit the Fed’s 6.5% target rate in the coming months.

In the aftermath of the September Fed decision the markets, analysts and Fed commentators were lambasted for being too hasty and for trying to second guess the Fed. While I agree that the markets can get too hung up on the movements of the US central bank, I think that the criticism is unfair this time.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

When illogical policy seems to work

It’s cynical, manipulative and hypocritical – and it looks like it is going to work. How often do you hear a sentence like this, to describe a government initiative or economic policy?  Not often enough.

The media and a surprisingly high proportion of business leaders, financiers and economic analysts seem to believe that policies which are dishonest, intellectually inconsistent or obviously self-interested in their motivation are ipso facto doomed to fail or to damage the public interest. But this is manifestly untrue. The effectiveness of public policies and their ultimate desirability is in practice judged not by their motivations, but by their results.

Which brings me to the real subject of this column: the improving outlook for the world economy and why many economists and financiers cannot bring themselves to acknowledge it. Let me begin with a striking example anticipated in this column back in March: the boom in house prices and debt-financed consumption that the British government is pumping up in preparation for the general election in May 2015.

from MacroScope:

India’s central bank battles alone in inflation struggle

INDIA-ECONOMY/RATES What more does India's central bank have to do? Last week data showed March inflation rising to almost 9 percent on an annual basis. More importantly, core inflation is above 7 percent for the first time in 3 years meaning demand-side pressures are rising fast. And that's despite the Reserve Bank of India raising interest rates eight times since last March.

The inflation data comes just after a quarterly HSBC report based on purchasing managers indexes showed that inflation in India seemed impervious to monetary policy tightening.

The truth, is the inflation-fighting central bank has little backup from the government which remains stubbornly in spending mode. Its foot-dragging on reform and foreign investment contributes towards keeping food price inflation high. This year's fiscal deficit target is 4.8 percent of GDP and even this
is seen as optimistic.

Central banks face crisis of confidence

Central banks around the world are facing the worst crisis of confidence since the 1930s, as investors, households and firms question their commitment and ability to deliver price stability.

Whether it is inflation or deflation, outsiders question whether the major central banks will be able to regulate prices in the next few years.

TOO HOT ….
Bank of England Chief Economist Spencer Dale last week lashed out at what he branded “dangerous talk” the Bank had gone soft on inflation and was choosing to ignore price increases persistently above the target.

The Knightian dog ate my recovery

Remember when business and economic leaders droned on about “100-year storms,” 2008′s get-out-of-jail free card for people who missed the housing bubble?

This was the whole idea that there was no way that people could be held accountable for the crisis because the notion of there being a problem with continual double-digit house price growth and sky-high leverage was just so darned unlikely.

Well, it looks like we have the 2010 version of how the dog ate their homework again and this time it is called “Knightian uncertainty.”

from MacroScope:

Central banks should hedge: Gary Smith

Gary Smith, head of central banks, supranational institutions and sovereign wealth funds at BNP Paribas Investment Partners, has written a special guest blog for Macroscope in which he argues that central banks should consider ways to hedge their FX reserves against the crisis.

"After the 2008 crisis, a mathematical approach to measure the adequate level of foreign exchange reserves – import cover or an equation relating to short-term debt – no longer has much credibility. In the absence of sensible guidelines on adequacy of reserves there is now a general desire to have plenty of reserves.

yuan.jpg

What is lacking from the reserves debate, however, is whether National Wealth Managers in general (and central bank reserves managers in particular) should invest in assets that might increase in value during a crisis.

A rising tide of capital controls

jamessaft1.jpg(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

Easy money in the United States, a falling dollar and growing flows of funds seeking better returns in emerging markets are touching off a new round of capital controls in hot emerging markets, a trend that could accelerate and will at the very least increase market volatility.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, really; loose money in the developed world is helping to spur investment into emerging markets, driving currencies up and making local exports less competitive for countries which, unlike China, aren’t hitching a free ride as the dollar declines.

Inflation may be a threat for many of these, but with the global economy still struggling, it certainly won’t feel that way to policy makers.

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