The Riksbank is wrong about the debt: Higher policy rates increase rather than decrease the household-debt ratio
Lars E.O. Svensson 04 September 2013
The Riksbank maintains high policy rates since it fears that a lower rate would increase the household-debt ratio. This column argues that a higher rate in fact leads to a higher debt ratio, not a lower one. The higher rate reduces nominal housing prices and new mortgages, but since the new mortgages are such a small share of total mortgages, the total nominal debt falls very slowly. Yet nominal GDP falls much faster, so the debt-to-GDP ratio rises.
In the last few years, the Riksbank has conducted a monetary policy that has led to substantially lower inflation than the inflation target and unnecessarily high unemployment. The Riksbank has more recently justified this policy by maintaining that a lower policy rate would increase the household-debt ratio (the ratio of debt to disposable income) and thereby any risks associated with the debt.
Sweden, Riksbank, household debt
Why leaning against the wind is the wrong monetary policy for Sweden
Lars E.O. Svensson 05 July 2014
Sweden has pursued a tighter monetary policy than is necessary to achieve the inflation target in order to reduce risks associated with household indebtedness. The net benefit to ‘leaning against the wind’ has been hotly debated; this column argues strongly against it. By reducing inflation, the Riksbank has in fact increased household debt, and contractionary pressure has worsened the employment situation. The author estimates that the benefits to leaning are worth only 0.4% of the costs.
There is a lively ongoing debate about whether raising interest rates beyond the level needed to stabilise prices – ‘leaning against the wind’ – is a justified modification of flexible inflation targeting (as discussed in Smets 2013). In a new paper, I explain why leaning against the wind is the wrong monetary policy for Sweden (Svensson 2014).
Leaning against the wind, Riksbank, lean vs clean
‘Leaning against the wind’, debt deflation, and the Riksbank
Lars E.O. Svensson 10 October 2013
Leaning-against-the-wind monetary policy may lead to a Fisherian debt deflation, since it may lower prices below the anticipated level and therefore raise real debt above what was anticipated. This is what the Riksbank has done by keeping average inflation significantly below the inflation target for a long period. This has caused household real debt to be substantially higher than it would have been if inflation had been on target.
A dangerous thing concerning debt is what Irving Fisher (1933) called ”debt deflation.” It is usually described as deflation causing the real value of nominal debt to increase. Loan-to-value and loan-to-income ratios also increase, since the debt is fixed in nominal terms but the nominal value of assets and income fall. This may hurt the economy through bankruptcies, deleveraging, and fire sales.
Leaning against the wind, Riksbank, debt deflation
Is the Riksbank neglecting the price-stability objective, counteracting full employment, and increasing household debt?
Lars E.O. Svensson 09 September 2013
Sweden’s average inflation has consistently undershot its inflation target. This column argues that this has led to higher average unemployment and a higher household-debt ratio. The author, a former Deputy Governor of the Riksbank, argues that Sweden’s central bank is not fulfilling its mandate.
How do we know whether or not the Riksbank is neglecting the price-stability objective? Could it be that the Riksbank is not only neglecting the price-stability objective but is also counteracting the Riksdag’s and the Government’s full-employment objective as well as increasing household indebtedness?
inflation targeting, Riksbank