MacroScope

from Jeremy Gaunt:

When things stagnate

Goldman Sachs researchers have been hitting the history books again, trying to divine what happens to currencies when economies stagnate. Answer:  Not as much as you might think

Looking at exchange rates for years before and during "stagnation", Goldman found that year-to-year FX volatility in such periods is lower than in normal periods. But a lot of it depends on the type of stagnation.

First, an average stagnation -- a period of sub-par economic growth lasting for at least six years:

On average, the run-up to stagnations (and the early years into an episode) tends to be characterised by moderate FX appreciation. Later on, FX remains flat for a while and gradually assumes a depreciation trend during the last years of stagnation. The average initial appreciation hovers below 5%, while the ultimate depreciation tends to be smaller than 10%.

Next, a "Great Stagnation" -- a period lasting for 10 years or more:

The initial appreciation can reach more than 20% (computed from the years prior to the stagnation) and the posterior depreciation can surpass 10 % .

Some good econ reads from the Blogosphere

From the econ blogosphere:

UK BUDGET
– The libertarian Adam Smith Institute says here that the UK government should look at every government job, programme and department, and ask whether they are really needed. “Do we really need new school buildings….? Should taxpayers really stump up for free bus passes, or winter fuel and Chistmas bonuses for wealthy pensioners?”

CHINESE FX
– VOX publishes this post from senior research fellow Willem Thorbecke of the Asian Development Bank on China’s latest move on the dollar peg. “China’s action may facilitate a concerted appreciation in Factory Asia, helping the region redirect production away from western markets and towards domestic consumers.”

U.S. JOBS
– Karen Dynan, vice president for economics studies at Brookings, looks here at the latest U.S. jobs data and argues that Congress needs to extend unemployment benefits. “Reinstating the benefits would … help the broader public by contributing to overall demand in goods and services and thereby mitigating the risks of a double dip in the economy.”

Unlocking the Yuan

Reuters’s top news and innovation teams have put together a web site on the yuan and the debate over its revaluation. Particularly worth a look after the weekend’s statement by China that it would allow more flexibility in its currency exchange. You can access it here, but it looks like this:

Yuan2

Lessons for Europe from the U.S. single currency

The euro zone is not the only large currency union in the world.  There is also the United States. While it may be pushing things to see California as Germany and Mississippi as Greece, there is still a disparity in the potential of the economies of the U.S. States.

Harvard economics professor Martin Feldstein, the former chairman of  Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors, reckons the dollar zone could offer some help to the euro zone. U.S. state deficits are minimal compared with Europe’s, he says in an op ed piece for The Washington Post. Even cash-strapped California’s is only about 1 percent of state GDP.

The secret, according to Felstein , is that all U.S. states have constitutions prohibiting borrowing for operating purposes. Bonds for infrastructure projects, yes. For salaries, services or transport payments, no.

What can Kan do?

Mixed reaction from major European banks to appointment of Naoto Kan as new Japanese finance minister. ING is pretty scathing, saying the appointment sidesteps a process of change Japan must undertake to avoid further stagnation or a fate far worse.

“PM Hatoyama has appointed someone with no experience in economic management… Mr. Kan takes on the finance minister role without a well documented, deeply considered policy agenda. Here we rely on reports of positions he has taken in the Cabinet, and from public statements on economic management. These suggest his instincts are to pursue a stimulus strategy involving higher government spending; a weaker yen and ultra-loose monetary policy. Mr. Kan appears tone deaf to microeconomic reform or to the threats to financial stability posed by high public debt.”

The implication, ING says, confirms its worries about Japanese government bonds.

from Global Investing:

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week

TUSSLE FOR DIRECTION
- The tussle between bullish and bearish inclinations -- with bears gaining a bit of ground so far this month -- is being played out over both earnings and economic data. Alcoa got the U.S. earnings season off to a good start but a heavier results week lies ahead and could toss some banana skins into the market's path. Key financials, technology bellwethers (IBM, Google, Intel), as well as big names like GE, Nokia, Johnson and Johnson will offer more food for thought for those looking past the simple defensive versus cyclical split to choices between early cylicals, such as consumer discretionaries, and late cyclicals, such as industrials, based on the short-term earnings momentum. Macroeconomic data will need to confirm the picture painted by last week's unexpectedly German strong orders and production figures to give bulls the upper hand.

FINANCIAL FOCUS
- The heavy financial results slate (Goldman, JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citi) will show the extent to which balance sheets are being cleansed of toxic assets and the health of, and outlook for margins, trading revenues, etc. The relative performance of the firms reporting could put the spotlight on the split between investment banking and retail exposure. In Europe, Swedbank's results will be watched for Baltic exposure while clarity is still being sought on what banks plan to do with the large chunk of ECB one-year money which they continue to park back at the ECB in the form of overnight deposits.

JAPANESE DILEMMA
- The BOJ's policy meeting poses thorny questions on quantitative easing (QE), with the policy debate complicated by sharp gains in the yen. The yen has risen as much as 10.5 percent in three months against the dollar and is nearing the 90 threshold which is viewed by the foreign exchanges as the point at which the Japanese authorities start ratcheting up the rhetoric. Further sustained yen gains will fuel market debate about the fallout for carry trades and for exporters -- and by extension economic activity.

The Big Five: themes for the week ahead

Five things to think about this week:

BOND YIELDS 
- Nominal bond yields have risen across the curve, while term premiums and fixed income volatility are higher in an environment of uncertainty about how central banks will exit from quantitative easing policies once recovery takes hold. Bonds have turned into the worst-performing asset class this year according to Citi and none of the factors which markets have blamed for this are about to disappear. Curve steepening seen in April/May has started to reverse and whether it continues is being viewed as a more open question than whether yields head higher still.

RATTLING EQUITIES? 
- World stocks’ are struggling to extend the near-50 percent gains seen since March 9 but they have yet to succumb to gravity despite a back up in government bond yields. Citigroup analysts reckon global equity markets can rally as long as Treasury yields stay below 5-6 percent but it might be the speed of yield moves that determines whether equities get rattled or keep looking past higher borrowing costs to the recovery story. 

INFLATION EXPECTATIONS 
-  Increases in the prices of oil and other commodities have seen the CRB index rise about 30 percent in less than four months and sustained gains will risk filtering through to prices and price expectations. Inflation reports are due out on both sides of the Atlantic next week but markets are looking further out and starting to price in the risks of a pick up in price pressures. Breakevens have turned positive all along the U.S. yield curve for the first time since autumn and euro zone breakevens have risen. Also, a Bank of England survey indicates public price expectations are up. Bid/cover ratios and tails at inflation-linked bond auctions will tell their own story on extent of demand for inflation hedges.

from Photographers' Blog:

Tim Geithner : What’s In Your Wallet?

What's in U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's wallet? Not much.

While testifying in front of a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill Thursday Geithner was shown a $50 Billion Zimbabwean bank note (rendered worthless by Zimbabwe's hyperinflation) by U.S. Representative John Culberson (R- TX) and asked if he had ever seen one himself. Geithner immediately pulled a piece of Zimbabwean currency out of his own pocket and showed it off to the committee. At the next break in the hearing I approached Geithner and asked how he happened to have a piece of foreign currency in his pocket. His response was "I often have some foreign currency in my wallet. Want to see?" He pulled a very thin and mostly empty wallet from his pocket.

Amongst many empty slots in the thin weathered leather wallet there could be seen three credit or debit cards with Visa and Mastercard logos (all inserted into the wallet upside down so that the card issuers could not be seen) and an old and yellowed looking identification card of indeterminate origin.

From inside the wallet Geithner extracted a small pile of receipts and paper including a New York City MTA farecard, pointing out that there were European Euros tucked amongst the paper.

from Global Investing:

Carry on falling

Graphic evidence from Investec Asset Management (below) highlighting the demise of the carry trade. It shows returns from borrowing low-yielding currencies such as Japanese yen to buy high-yielding ones over the past 7-1/2 years or so.  There has been a roughy 50 percent decline since the end of July.