Francesco Pappadà, Yanos Zylberberg03 February 2014
Greece’s austerity package included an unprecedented increase in the VAT rate, but the resulting increase in revenue was much lower than expected. This column links this disappointing result to the ‘transparency response’ of firms to higher tax rates. In countries like Greece with poor tax monitoring, firms face a tradeoff when deciding whether to declare their activity. Transparency is a necessary condition for accessing external finance, but it also means having to pay tax. Improving credit conditions for small and medium-size Greek firms might shift this tradeoff in favour of transparency.
Austerity plans in southern European countries (Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy) have so far yielded mixed results (Salto 2013). On the one hand, the primary budget balances of these countries have improved, and their risk premiums are now stabilised at a much lower level than during the crisis peak.
Tomaso Duso, Klaus Gugler, Florian Szücs26 January 2014
In 2004, European merger law was substantially revised, with the aim of achieving a ‘more economic approach’ to merger policy. This column discusses a recent empirical assessment of European merger cases before and after the reform. Post-reform, the outcomes of merger cases became more predictable, and the Commission prohibited fewer pro-competitive mergers. While there remains room for improvement in several aspects, the reform seems to have been successful in bringing European competition law closer to economic principles.
In May 2004, the legal basis for merger evaluation in the EU was substantially revised. By then, it was apparent that the old legislation – which first came into force in 1989 – was lacking in a number of ways. Most importantly, the assessment of market power was based on the so-called dominance test – a criterion that required the ‘creation or strengthening of a dominant position’ to be applicable, and therefore was ill-suited to prosecute mergers leading to collective dominance or increased scope for collusion in an oligopoly.
The new sustainability factor of the public pension system in Spain
Rafael Doménech, Víctor Pérez-Díaz11 December 2013
Based on the report issued by a Committee of Experts, the Spanish Parliament will pass a new law that implements an innovative sustainability factor in the public pension system. This column argues that the proposal solves the problem of financial sustainability in the long run while opening a wider debate on the welfare system and growth under conditions of increased global competition.
As in many other European countries, long-term trends in population growth and life expectancy in Spain make the current pay-as-you-go pension system unsustainable. A later baby boom and a recent immigration wave help explain why Spain has postponed the implementation of reforms already introduced in other European countries in the 1990s (see, for example, Chapter 1 of OECD 2012). A deep economic crisis has now revealed how dramatic the scenario really is.
The determinants of banks’ liquidity buffers and the role of liquidity regulation
Clemens Bonner, Iman van Lelyveld, Robert Zymek01 November 2013
What are the determinants of banks’ liquidity holdings and how are these reshaped by liquidity regulation? Based on a sample of 7,000 banks in 30 OECD countries, this column argues that banks’ liquidity buffers are determined by a combination of both bank- and country-specific variables. The presence of liquidity regulation substitutes for most of these determinants while complementing the role of size and institutions’ disclosure requirements. The complementary nature of disclosure and liquidity requirements provides a strong rationale for considering them jointly in the design of regulation.
Until recently, liquidity risk was not the main focus of banking regulators. However, the 2007–2009 crisis showed how rapidly market conditions can change, exposing severe liquidity risks for some institutions. Although capital buffers were effective in reducing liquidity stress to some extent, they were not always sufficient. In the light of this, efforts are underway internationally as well as in individual countries to establish or reform existing liquidity risk frameworks – most notably the proposals by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS 2013).
Faith in market discipline has been shattered by the financial crisis. This column argues that the failure of market discipline has different roots. It points to a lack of transparency and efficiency, particularly when it is needed most. In order to rectify this, however, it is not enough to merely increase the provision and disclosure of information. Instead, transparency depends on how that information is interpreted and used.
Federal Open Market Committee forecasts: Guesses or guidance?
Peter Tillmann23 February 2012
As the US Federal Reserve starts to increase the transparency of its decision-making process, including the release of economic forecasts and interest-rate projections, this column asks whether these projections reflect strategic motives that might make them less accurate and less useful to those wanting to predict monetary policy.
For democratic theorists, the notion that greater transparency improves accountability is axiomatic: when voters find out about political corruption, they punish the offending politicians by not voting for them again. But, the authors of CEPR DP8790 argue, many voters also respond to evidence of corruption by not voting at all – indicating that more transparency might not automatically result in a healthier democratic process.
Kateřina Šmídková, Jan Zapal, Roman Horváth13 November 2011
Does the publishing of voting records improve the transparency of monetary policy? This column argues voting records indeed contain informative power about future monetary policy but only if there is sufficient independence in voting across board members and if the signals about the optimal policy rate are noisy.
Monetary-policy transparency has several dimensions, such as volume, quality, and timeliness of disclosed information. Transparency-cautious central banks typically release the voting records from monetary-policy meetings together with the minutes. Ideally, these voting records should help external observers better understand monetary policy, as argued by Geraats et al (2008) in the case of the ECB. In other words, they should be informative about future monetary policy.
The European Central Bank was once known for its focus on price stability. Since the global economic crisis, however, its role has extended to saving banks and sovereign countries. This column argues that such a move has badly harmed the institution’s legitimacy – something that will damage both its policy effectiveness and confidence in the governing bodies of the EU as a whole.
The ECB’s role has evolved in its decade-long existence. In this note I describe how the choices of the ECB have damaged the institution’s legitimacy. This matters because decreased legitimacy lowers the ECB’s future policy effectiveness and weakens the legitimacy of all other institutions of governance in the EU, including the European Commission, the European Court of Justice, and the European Parliament.
In evaluating the ECB’s performance, I split the last eight years into two parts:
Financial crises feed on uncertainty. This essay warns that the longer the Eurozone crisis is allowed to linger, the greater will be the damage. But Europe can take concrete actions to bring it to an end. It should make bank stress tests public, provide more clarity on its special purpose vehicle, move forward with restructuring Greece’s debt, and support growth through quantitative easing.
Financial crises feed on uncertainty. The longer uncertainty is allowed to linger, the greater the damage to confidence and the more difficult it becomes to repair. It is essential therefore that European policymakers move decisively to draw a line under the crisis.