Why fiscal sustainability matters
Willem Buiter 10 January 2014
Fiscal sustainability has become a hot topic as a result of the European sovereign debt crisis, but it matters in normal times, too. This column argues that financial sector reforms are essential to ensure fiscal sustainability in the future. Although emerging market reforms undertaken in the aftermath of the financial crises of the 1990s were beneficial, complacency is not warranted. In the US, political gridlock must be overcome to reform entitlements and the tax system. In the Eurozone, creating a sovereign debt restructuring mechanism should be a priority.
Does fiscal sustainability matter only when there is a fiscal house on fire, as was the case with the Greek sovereign insolvency in 2011–12? Far from it.
Financial markets Global crisis International finance Macroeconomic policy
eurozone, sovereign debt, capital flows, financial crisis, credit booms, fiscal policy, emerging markets, global financial crisis, banking, banks, Eurozone crisis, Currency wars, fiscal sustainability, banking union, sovereign debt restructuring, balance-sheet recession
The ghost of Deauville
Ashoka Mody 07 January 2014
On 19 October 2010, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy agreed that in future, sovereign bailouts from the European Stability Mechanism would require that losses be imposed on private creditors. This agreement was blamed for the increase in sovereign spreads in late 2010 and early 2011. This column discusses recent research on the market reaction to the surprise announcement at Deauville. With the exception of Greece, the rise in spreads was within the range of variability established in the previous 20 days.
The aversion to debt restructuring in the Eurozone has been remarkable, even though public debt ratios in several countries are well above the IMF-identified critical debt overhang threshold of 100% of GDP (IMF 2012). By early 2010, some recognised the urgency of restructuring Greek public debt (Calomiris 2010). But the official position between late 2009 and early 2011 deemed even Greek debt to be sustainable. Beyond the particularities of Greece, general principles were invoked. In the words of Cottarelli et al.
Financial markets International finance
eurozone, sovereign debt, Eurozone crisis, sovereign debt restructuring, financial contagion, Deauville
Joint liability in international lending: A proposal for amending the Treaty of Lisbon
Kaushik Basu, Joseph Stiglitz 02 January 2014
The Eurozone crisis exposed weaknesses in the Eurozone’s design. This column – by Nobelist Joe Stiglitz and World Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu – argues that the Eurozone’s financial architecture can be improved by amending the Treaty of Lisbon to permit appropriately structured cross-country liability for sovereign debt incurred by EZ members.
The sovereign debt crisis exposed weaknesses in the Eurozone’s financial architecture that may not have been fully anticipated when the founding treaties of the Eurozone were drafted. Key among these weak spots are the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon which regulate intergovernmental debt obligations and preclude direct financing of sovereigns by the ECB.
EU institutions International finance
eurozone, Maastricht Treaty, sovereign debt, moral hazard, Lisbon Treaty, Eurozone crisis, no-bailout clause
Does policy uncertainty reduce economic activity? Insights and evidence from large trade reforms
Kyle Handley, Nuno Limão 23 November 2013
The impact of policy uncertainty on economic activity is potentially important, but controversial because it is hard to identify and quantify. Recent research provides a framework to identify the impacts of policy uncertainty on firm decisions, and finds it has strong effects in the context of international trade. China’s WTO accession secured its most-favoured nation status in the US, and the evidence shows this reduction in uncertainty can explain a significant fraction of its export boom to the US.
The impact of policy uncertainty on economic activity is an issue traditionally associated with developing countries. Since 2008, however, the spotlight has shifted. Governments’ responses to the Great Recession and the Eurozone crisis have raised considerable uncertainty about the future policies of advanced economies. Examples include the timing and size of financial bailouts, government expenditures, and the risk of sovereign-debt default. These crises have also heightened trade policy uncertainty.
US, China, WTO, trade, uncertainty, Great Recession, Eurozone crisis
What’s wrong with Europe?
Isabella Rota Baldini, Paolo Manasse,
Unlike the US, Europe is struggling to recover from the crisis. This is especially the case in certain European countries. This column discusses why the process of convergence in the Eurozone has slowed down. It proposes a way for European institutions to cope with the structural problems-- by individual country-level reforms and a federal budget. Otherwise, the alternative could be a disintegration of the Eurozone.
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, Eurozone crisis
What’s wrong with Europe?
Isabella Rota Baldini, Paolo Manasse 04 November 2013
Unlike the US, Europe is struggling to recover from the crisis. This is especially the case in certain European countries. This column discusses why the process of convergence in the Eurozone has slowed down. It proposes a way for European institutions to cope with the structural problems – with individual country-level reforms and a federal budget. Otherwise, the alternative could be a disintegration of the Eurozone.
The US and Europe: a tale of two cities
US, productivity, Eurozone crisis
A fiscal perspective on EU sovereign credit ratings: Did the credit-rating agencies get them right?
Mike Wickens, Vito Polito 30 October 2013
A good credit rating has become a key fiscal objective, even if it requires austerity when unemployment is high. Recent experience has raised doubts about the sovereign ratings provided by the credit-rating agencies. This column suggests a new way to measure credit ratings based on a country’s ability to meet its liabilities using fiscal policy. This measure would have identified and signalled to market participants signs of the impending European sovereign-debt crisis well before 2010, when the rating agencies first reacted to the crisis.
The financial crisis has put EU and US sovereign credit ratings centre-stage in a way not seen before. Previously, it was taken for granted that all Eurozone governments could borrow at more or less the same risk-free rate as Germany, and that Germany, the UK, and the US would be rated triple-A.
Global crisis International finance
sovereign debt, Eurozone crisis, credit-rating agencies
International cooperation and central banks
Harold James 08 October 2013
The global nature of the recent financial crisis required a coordinated response from central banks. After the fall of Lehman Brothers, several of them simultaneously reduced their policy rates, and the Fed extended dollar swap lines to its overseas counterparts. However, the second phase of the crisis has put increasing strain on international cooperation. This column presents two explanations. First, the Eurozone crisis threatens the solvency of governments, thus creating conflict over who will pay the costs of maintaining financial stability. Second, unconventional monetary policy has had spillover effects in developing countries.
Tackling the aftermath of a major financial crisis, the origins of which lie in ‘global imbalances’ and whose transmission mechanisms are cross-national, seems prima facie to demand more substantial and institutionalised cooperation. However, in the five years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, visions of what central banks can and should do have changed profoundly. In particular, the demand that they should play a much more vigorous and preemptive role in financial supervision has had made them more nationally focused and in consequence less prone to cooperate.
Global crisis International finance
monetary policy, global imbalances, Central Banks, global crisis, policy coordination, Eurozone crisis
Credit rating agencies and the Eurozone Crisis: What is the value of sovereign ratings?
Norbert Gaillard 09 September 2013
Credit rating agencies didn’t anticipate the Eurozone Crisis and their ratings have been procyclical ever since. This column discusses research on the agencies' recent performance. Since 2009, credit ratings have persistently lagged behind market spreads, suggesting that ratings have been more lenient with respect to Eurozone countries than generally believed. Bond spreads may be too volatile for regulatory purposes.
The inability of credit rating agencies to anticipate sovereign-debt crises and the tendency to overreact once financial difficulties have piled up are well-known phenomena. Ferri et al. (1999) show that the downgrades by Moody’s and S&P exacerbated the Asian crisis in 1997. Examining the Great Depression, Gaillard (2011) and Flandreau et al. (2011) find that major credit rating agencies did not lower sovereign credit ratings until 1931.
Europe's nations and regions Global crisis
Fiscal stimulus in times of high public debt: Reconsidering multipliers and twin deficits
Christiane Nickel, Andreas Tudyka 07 September 2013
Fiscal stimulus can either be a boon for an economy or its bane. This column discusses new empirical research on how the effects of fiscal stimuli interact with public debt-to-GDP ratios. Using data on real GDP, private investment and the trade balance, evidence suggests that the cumulative effect on real GDP is positive at moderate debt-to-GDP ratios but turns negative as the ratio increases. The evidence also suggests that the cumulative trade-balance effect is negative at first but switches sign at higher degrees of indebtedness.
The stimulus impact of a government-spending shocks varies with the economic environment (Ilzetzki, Mendoza, and Végh 2013). One important determinant is the level of government indebtedness – particularly when the nation’s fiscal sustainability may be in doubt. The economic logic of this is straightforward.
fiscal stimulus, Eurozone crisis