International finance

Rui Cartaxo Mano, Tarek Hassan, 20 November 2014

A common view in international finance is that currency trades make money because high-interest-rate currencies tend to appreciate. This column argues that this view is flawed, suggesting that currency risk premia may be much simpler than previously thought. The carry trade has little to do with the appreciation of the currency, but instead exploits persistent differentials in interest rates across countries. It is thus important to understand why some currencies have persistently higher interest rates than others.

Victor Lavy, Avraham Ebenstein, Sefi Roth, 20 November 2014

Admission to higher education often depends on the results of high-stakes tests, but assessing the consequences of having a ‘bad day’ on such tests is challenging. This column provides evidence from a dataset on Israeli high-school students. Random variations in pollution have measurable effects on exam performance, and these in turn have significant effects on students’ future educational and labour-market outcomes. The authors argue that placing too much weight on high-stakes exams may not be consistent with meritocratic principles.

Christiane Baumeister, Lutz Kilian, 19 November 2014

Futures prices are a potentially valuable source of information about market expectations of asset prices. This column discusses a general approach to recovering this expectation when there is no agreement on the nature of the time-varying risk premium contained in futures prices. The authors illustrate this approach by tackling the long-standing problem of how to recover the market expectation of the price of crude oil.

David Dollar, Tatjana Kleineberg, Aart Kraay, 19 November 2014

Concerns about inequality are at the forefront of many policy debates. While inequality has increased in many countries over the past few decades, in others it has decreased. This column uses data from 117 countries over the past four decades to investigate the importance of such changes in inequality, as well as of overall economic growth. Whereas inequality changes in most countries have been small, differences in overall growth performance have been large. Policymakers should therefore be careful not to undermine growth in the quest for greater equality. 

Morris Goldstein, 18 November 2014

Results from last month’s EU-wide stress test are reassuring, especially for countries at Europe’s core. This column warns against a rosy interpretation. The test relies on risk-weighted measures of bank capital ratios that have been shown to be less predictive of bank failure than unweighted leverage ratios – a metric already adopted by the US Fed and Bank of England. In addition, many experts recommend much higher leverage ratios than currently required. The ECB must do more to fix undercapitalisation.

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