MacroScope

Unlimited fun, not funds, on ECB’s iPhone app

But we never pre-commit

Who says central banking is boring? The European Central Bank, now grappling with safeguarding the survival of the euro zone, has made it to iTunes, with its monetary policy app “€conomia”. It challenges iPhone and iPad users with — you guessed it — keeping inflation at just under 2 percent. The new app is the on-the-go version of “The Monetary Policy Game” that has been available on its website for some time.

What is most striking is not the funky music soundtrack you would expect to hear playing quietly in the background while the Governing Council meets to set policy in Frankfurt. What really sticks out is the lack of monetary policy tools at the user’s disposal.

You can cut, raise or hold the benchmark interest rate, read up on the press coverage, and watch the economy thrive, stagnate, or flounder.

But you can’t inject billions of euros into the financial system through refinancing operations of various maturities. You can’t provide emergency lending to financial institutions with no access to capital markets, you can’t tell everyone that the current interest rate is appropriate, you can’t purchase vast amounts of Italian bonds, and as of now, you can’t be the lender of last resort.

Perhaps that’s one for the next version.

Contemplating Italian debt restructuring

This week’s evaporation of confidence in the euro zone’s biggest government debt market — Italy’s 1.6 trillion euros of bonds and bills and the world’s third biggest — has opened a Pandora’s Box that may now force  investors to consider the possibility of a mega sovereign debt default or writedown and, or maybe as a result of,  a euro zone collapse.

Given the dynamics and politics of the euro zone, this is a chicken-or-egg situation where it’s not clear which would necessarily come first. Greece has already shown it’s possible for a “voluntary” creditor writedown of  the country’s debts to the tune of 50 percent without — immediately at least — a euro exit. On the other hand, leaving the euro and absorbing a maxi devaluation of a newly-minted domestic currency would instantly render most country’s euro-denominated debts unpayable in full.

But if a mega government default is now a realistic risk, the numbers on the “ifs” and “buts” are being crunched.

from Amplifications:

The ECB’s battle against central banking

By J. Bradford DeLong
The opinions expressed are his own.

When the European Central Bank announced its program of government-bond purchases, it let financial markets know that it thoroughly disliked the idea, was not fully committed to it, and would reverse the policy as soon as it could. Indeed, the ECB proclaimed its belief that the stabilization of government-bond prices brought about by such purchases would be only temporary.

It is difficult to think of a more self-defeating way to implement a bond-purchase program. By making it clear from the outset that it did not trust its own policy, the ECB practically guaranteed its failure. If it so evidently lacked confidence in the very bonds that it was buying, why should investors feel any differently?

The ECB continues to believe that financial stability is not part of its core business. As its outgoing president, Jean-Claude Trichet, put it, the ECB has “only one needle on [its] compass, and that is inflation.” The ECB’s refusal to be a lender of last resort forced the creation of a surrogate institution, the European Financial Stability Mechanism. But everyone in the financial markets knows that the EFSF has insufficient firepower to undertake that task – and that it has an unworkable governance structure to boot.

from Global Investing:

Phew! Emerging from euro fog

Holding your breath for instant and comprehensive European Union policies solutions has never been terribly wise.  And, as the past three months of summit-ology around the euro sovereign debt crisis attests, you'd be just a little blue in the face waiting for the 'big bazooka'. And, no doubt, there will still be elements of this latest plan knocking around a year or more from now. Yet, the history of euro decision making also shows that Europe tends to deliver some sort of solution eventually and it typically has the firepower if not the automatic will to prevent systemic collapse.
And here's where most global investors stand following the "framework" euro stabilisation agreement reached late on Wednesday. It had the basic ingredients, even if the precise recipe still needs to be nailed down. The headline, box-ticking numbers -- a 50% Greek debt writedown, agreement to leverage the euro rescue fund to more than a trillion euros and provisions for bank recapitalisation of more than 100 billion euros -- were broadly what was called for, if not the "shock and awe" some demanded.  Financial markets, who had fretted about the "tail risk" of a dysfunctional euro zone meltdown by yearend, have breathed a sigh of relief and equity and risk markets rose on Thursday. European bank stocks gained almost 6%, world equity indices and euro climbed to their highest in almost two months in an audible "Phew!".

Credit Suisse economists gave a qualified but positive spin to the deal in a note to clients this morning:

It would be clearly premature to declare the euro crisis as fully resolved. Nevertheless, it is our impression that EU leaders have made significant progress on all fronts. This suggests that the rebound in risk assets that has been underway in recent days may well continue for some time.

Supervising the supervisors

A new Brookings Institution report from the self-appointed Committee on International Economic Policy and Reform suggests that, given a spotty recent record, supervisors and policymakers at the world’s top central banks need to be watched themselves. The group of 16 high-profile economists and financial experts, which includes former Brazilian central bank chief Arminio Fraga, Berkeley professor Barry Eichengreen, Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff and Mohamed El-Erian from Pimco, proposes a new international watchdog that might ensure actions taken by individual countries are coordinated and smoothed out:

We call for the creation of an International Monetary Policy Committee composed of representatives of major central banks that will report regularly to world leaders on the aggregate consequences of individual central bank policies.

The proposal comes as the Federal Reserve, faced with a weakening U.S. economy, ponders another round of unconventional monetary stimulus. Many analysts believe the Fed will take some type of step to support low long-term rates at its September 20-21 meeting. When the Fed implemented its second round of bond-buying, it came under harsh criticism from emerging economies for pushing up their exchange rates with ultra-low rates in the United States.

Italy under fire as debt crisis heats up

It’s been a rough week for the euro zone and Italy is feeling the pain.

Despite regular purchases of Italian bonds by the European Central Bank since August — a policy aimed at keeping funding costs affordable — yields on benchmark 10-year Italian government bonds rose as high as 5.6 percent this week. Before the ECB started intervening in the secondary market, yields surged above 6 percent. Beyond 7 percent, funding costs are perceived to be unsustainable.

This raises questions over the effectiveness of ECB policy – doubts heightened  by the shock news that the central bank’s chief economist Juergen Stark would leave the institution early because of disagreements over the bank’s bond-buying policy.

The news highlights the rift inside the central bank over the handling of the worsening debt crisis. It drew a dramatic close  to a week of uncertainty: a debt swap meant to help Greece avoid default hung in balance;  a row over collateral for Greek bailout loans remained unresolved; and national parliaments had yet to ratify increased powers for the euro zone’s rescue fund.

Price stability key to ECB bond buys?

Price stability remains the only needle in the compass for the European Central Bank, even when it is buying government bonds, the 17-country bloc’s central bank strived to argue on Sunday.

ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said, in the statement announcing extension of its bond-buying programme, that the decision was made to keep inflation at an acceptable level.

“This programme has been designed to help restoring a better transmission of our monetary policy decisions – taking account of dysfunctional market segments – and therefore to ensure price stability in the euro area,” Trichet said.

Axel who? ECB gets tough without hardman Weber

trichet-weber2

When it decided the time was right to crack down on inflation, the European Central Bank did so without the man who is often regarded as its toughest inflation hawk: Bundesbank chief Axel Weber.  The ECB took financial markets by surprise by announcing on Thursday it could raise rates as soon as April — a decision its policymakers reached without Weber even in the room.

The German, who has appeared isolated at times over the last year because of his staunch commitment to price stability above all else, was absent without leave and did not attend the meeting.

“He’s tied up today,” a spokesman for the Bundesbank said of Weber, who last month announced he would step down from the central bank a year before his term ended and that he was no longer a candidate to head the ECB when Trichet’s term expires in October. Weber said his hardline views were not well received by other decision makers.

Dutch ECB knowledge as holey as their cheeses

ECB President Jean-Claude TrichetThe Dutch public’s knowledge about the European Central Bank is as holey as the some of the country’s infamous cheeses, a new ECB survey has shown.

 When asked about the ECB’s main objective and being given the option to mark statements as true or false, more than 60 percent of Dutch respondents knew the ECB strives for price stability, but close to half of those surveyed also believed it tries to keep unemployment below five percent and more than a third think its primary objective is high economic growth.

    “Knowledge about the ECB’s main policy objective is far from perfect,” the study which was carried out last year said.”The average number of correct answers to our eleven statements is less than five.” 

The ECB’s exit strategy gets the austerity treatment

Trichet gives the ECB's exit strategy the austerity treatment

Trichet gives the ECB's exit strategy the austerity treatmentAs a top central banker you have to watch your words. Almost every one you utter is scrutinised by finanical markets for a cryptic hint on policy the way a jeweller studies a diamond. So when you chop out almost a quarter of the content of your main policy message, the likelihood is that you know you are playing with fire.
The ECB juggled the flames on Thursday, slashing 427 words — almost 25 percent –from its monthly policy statement. The leaner 1,388 word composition represented no change at all in the bank’s view of the world, stressed the bank’s President, Jean-Claude Trichet.
But the some of the stuff binned involved some of juiciest material, particularly all-important plans to remove crisis support. That section got reduced by almost 30 percent to a slender 62 words although the message stayed the same, something along the lines of: we will reel support in gradually and when markets are ready.
With central banks in other major advanced economies now turning back in the direction of stimulus, the ECB’s unwavering, albeit shorter, view of the exit route helped the euro break through the $1.40 barrier.
It just shows that austerity really is all the rage in much of the euro zone.