The banking crisis as a giant carry trade gone wrong
Viral Acharya, Sascha Steffen23 May 2013
A pernicious aspect of the Eurozone crisis is the ‘doom loop’ linking European banks and governments. This column argues that poor European policy choices in the wake of the 2008 Global Crisis worsened the problem. Rather than being forcefully recapitalised as in the US and UK, many Eurozone banks were left undercapitalised and free to gamble for redemption. In what may be the greatest carry trade ever, they borrowed cheap, first in short-term debt markets and then from the ECB, to invest in high-yield but risky sovereign debt. Substantial bank recapitalisations against sovereign-bond losses is the way forward.
The health of the European financial system is intimately tied to the health of European sovereigns through the holdings of the sovereign debt (Angeloni and Wolff 2012; Acharya, Drechsler and Schnabl 2013). Traditionally, banks have been major holders of domestic sovereign debt, but in Europe there are substantial cross-country sovereign holdings.
Iceland’s post-Crisis economy: A myth or a miracle?
Jon Danielsson21 May 2013
Icelandic voters recently ejected its post-Crisis government – a government that successfully avoided economic collapse when the odds were stacked against it. The new government comprises the same parties that were originally responsible for the Crisis. What’s going on? This column argues that this switch is, in fact, logical given the outgoing government’s mishandling of the economy and their deference towards foreign creditors.
When the Global Crisis struck in September 2008, all eyes were on the US (Eichengreen and Baldwin 2008). Iceland, however, was the first country to really suffer. Its three major banks collapsed in the same week in October 2008, and it became the first developed country to request assistance from the IMF in 30 years. GDP fell 65% in euro terms, many companies went bankrupt and others moved abroad. At the time, a third of the population considered emigration as a good option (Danielsson 2008).
Are Germans poorer than other Europeans? The principal Eurozone differences in wealth and income
Giovanni D'Alessio, Romina Gambacorta, Giuseppe Ilardi24 May 2013
The ECB’s recent survey on household finances and consumption threw up some unexpected results – counter-intuitively, the average German household has less wealth than the average Mediterranean household. In line with a recent VoxEU.org contribution from De Grauwe and Ji, this article analyses the principal differences in wealth and income between the main Eurozone countries.
The Household Survey (European Central Bank 2013) is a joint project of the ECB and all the Eurozone central banks providing harmonised information on the balance sheets of 62,000 households in 15 Eurozone countries (all except Ireland and Estonia).1
Media hype had been generated by the ranking of the countries’ median household wealth results, especially by the fact that:
European bank deleveraging and global credit conditions
Erik Feyen, Ines Gonzalez del Mazo12 May 2013
Before the global financial crisis, European banks had rapidly expanded their foreign-lending activities. However, this column argues that financial stress in Europe has put this process into reverse and negatively affected credit conditions in developed and emerging markets alike. As European banks repair their balance sheets and rethink their business models in a context of stricter regulatory requirements, financial fragmentation, and a deteriorating European economy, they continue to retrench to home markets.
In the run up to the global financial crisis, European banks significantly increased their lending activities both domestically and outside home markets driven by a procyclical spiral of cheap abundant funding, increasing profitability, and economic growth. European banks not only provided cross-border financing, but became increasingly involved in domestic financial markets via lending activities of their local affiliates.
The world economy seems to be acting in unexpected ways. This column argues that austerity and quantitative easing do not seem to be working out as advertised. There is an urgent need to review the effectiveness of alternative macroeconomic policy approaches, and prepare an internationally agreed pro-growth plan to reflate distressed economies. The outlines of one such plan are presented.
Escaping liquidity traps: Lessons from the UK’s 1930s escape
Nicholas Crafts12 May 2013
The UK escaped a liquidity trap in the 1930s and enjoyed a strong economic recovery. This column argues that what drove this recovery was ‘unconventional’ monetary policy implemented not by the Bank of England but by the Treasury. Thus, Neville Chamberlain was an early proponent of ‘Abenomics’. This raises the question: is inflation targeting by an independent central bank appropriate at a time of very low nominal-interest rates?
In mid-1932, the UK had experienced a recession of a similar magnitude to that of 2008-09, was engaged in fiscal consolidation that reduced the structural budget deficit by about 4% of GDP, had short-term interest rates that were close to zero, and was in a double-dip recession (Crafts and Fearon 2013). The years from 1933 through 1936 saw a very strong recovery with growth of over 4% in every year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Neville Chamberlain (in office from November 1931 to May 1937) was the architect of this recovery.
France’s weak economic performance: Sick of taxation?
Balázs Égert10 May 2013
France has recorded one of the lowest real per capita income growth levels in the OECD over the last 20 years or so. One of the many structural weaknesses causing this weak performance is the French tax system. This column argues that complexity, instability and non-neutrality coupled with very high effective tax rates in many areas of the French tax system put a heavy burden on the economy.
France is often labelled these days as one of Europe’s problem children (The Daily Telegraph 2013, Handelsblatt 2013). Indeed, France is one of the OECD countries which has recorded the weakest real per capita income growth over the last two decades or so (Figure 1). This weak economic performance can be explained by the country’s structural weaknesses in many areas, including taxation. The high tax burden (43% of GDP in 2010) and the structure of the tax system weigh heavily on the economy.
Banking crises and political survival over the long run – why Great Expectations matter
Jeffrey Chwieroth, Andrew Walter10 May 2013
The economic consequences of financial crises have been systematically explored. Their political consequences haven’t. This column argues that without paying attention to politics, crises will remain poorly understood. After all, politics shapes policy choices, market sentiment and, ultimately, economic outcomes. Evidence from the effects of banking crises over the past century show that crises have a dramatic impact on the survival prospects of governments.
The wave of banking and sovereign-debt crises that began in 2007 has had powerful and continuing economic consequences (IMF 2013a; 2013b). Economists have used long run historical data to investigate the economic aftermaths of financial crises, but we lack any equivalent panoramic analysis of the impact of crises on politics. This is an important gap because these political effects, especially the survival prospects of incumbent governments, can shape governments’ post-Crisis policy choices, market sentiment, and thus economic outcomes.
Europe’s austerity-first approach has triggered research-based efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of debt-reduction strategies. This column, based on a US empirical study, suggests that an ‘austerity shock’ in a weak economy may be self-defeating. Public-debt reduction historically occurs gradually amid improved growth. If policymakers, firms and households respond as in the past, we should expect lower deficits amid higher growth and, eventually, decreasing debt ratios.
In many advanced countries, in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, deficits skyrocketed and public debt ballooned (see Figure 1). In fact, fiscal stimulus accounted for only a small fraction of the increase in debt, whereas collapsing revenues and higher unemployment and social benefits contributed the largest share (IMF 2011).
This paper studies the mechanisms through which the adoption of the euro delayed, rather than advanced, economic reforms in the Eurozone periphery and led to the deterioration of important institutions in these countries. The authors show that the abandonment of the reform process and the institutional deterioration, in turn, not only reduced their growth prospects but also fed back into financial conditions, prolonging the credit boom and delaying the response to the bubble when the speculative nature of the cycle was already evident.