Saving the euro: self-fulfilling crisis and the ‘Draghi put’
Marcus Miller, Lei Zhang26 June 2014
Like banks, indebted governments can be vulnerable to self-fulfilling financial crises. This column applies this insight to the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis, and explains why the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions policy reduced sovereign bond spreads in the Eurozone.
Central bank transparency and committee deliberation
Stephen Hansen, Michael McMahon, Andrea Prat20 June 2014
Central bank transparency is essential to democratic accountability. Central bankers often limit it – fearing its stifling effect on frank debate. Yet transparency may induce monetary policy committee members to be better prepared. This column discusses evidence showing that the ‘better prepared’ effect is important empirically. Exploiting a natural experiment in the Fed Open Market Committee in 1993 – and using computational linguistics tools to measure the impact of transparency on deliberation – the research shows that the net effect is a more informative deliberation process.
Will voters turn out in the 2014 European Parliamentary elections?
Owen McDougall, Ashoka Mody17 May 2014
Turnout in the 2014 European Parliament elections is seen as a critical test for EU democracy. This column presents some predictions. Trust in the ECB – rather than in the European Parliament itself – has been associated with higher turnout in previous elections. Macroeconomic conditions are also important – where a country’s fiscal problems are greater, voters are more inclined to vote.
The extent of voter turnout in the 2014 European Parliamentary (EP) election is widely viewed as a critical test for European democracy. Turnout in the EP elections has steadily declined over three decades, from 62% in the first election in 1979 to 43% in the 2009 election (EP Liaison Office undated). There is great concern that the legitimacy of the EU is at stake should there be a further slide in voter turnout.
As banks repay their loans from the Long-Term Refinancing Operation, the ECB’s balance sheet is shrinking. This column argues that, given the slow recovery and sustained low inflation, the ECB should replace its bank lending programme with quantitative easing. Buying short-term government debt would be consistent with the ECB’s inflation target, would keep the ECB’s monetary policy separate from its role in bank supervision, and would create a built-in exit strategy from unconventional policy.
Europe’s modest economic recovery and uncomfortably low inflation put the ECB in a bind. Although economic conditions are improving gradually (European Commission 2014), concerns about the potentially negative impacts of deflation persist (Armstrong et al. 2014). The ECB’s top near-term priorities are to avoid deflation (and apparently even sustained low inflation) and extend the economic recovery.
Europe’s banking problem through the lens of secular stagnation
Jan Willem van den End , Jakob de Haan28 March 2014
While many economists argue that demand stimulus is needed, this column argues that supply side measures are necessary to avoid secular stagnation. In the Eurozone, it is necessary to clean up and strengthen the balance sheets of banks, which can kick-start the flow of new lending. The comprehensive assessment by the ECB is an important step in this direction.
What is the economy’s new normal? Will it be secular stagnation as suggested by Summers (2013)? According to this view, the economy will be in a permanent state of recession because aggregate demand is below potential output. As the actual real interest rate exceeds the negative equilibrium real interest rate (the natural rate), investment activity is too low. In the secular stagnation view, the zero lower bound (ZLB) prevents an adjustment of the interest rate to the (negative) equilibrium rate. Consequently, the economy ends up in a liquidity trap (Krugman 2013).
Considering QE, Mario? Buy US bonds, not Eurobonds
Jeffrey Frankel24 March 2014
The Eurozone needs to further ease monetary policy because under the current low inflation and high unemployment periphery countries need to suffer painful deflation. However, the ECB faces challenges other central banks do not face. This column proposes a way to overcome some of these hurdles. It argues that the ECB should buy US treasury securities, lowering the foreign exchange value of the euro. That would be the best way to restore the export sector of the periphery countries.
The ECB should further ease monetary policy. Inflation at 0.8% across the Eurozone is below the target of ‘close to 2%’, and unemployment in most countries is still high. Under the current conditions, it is hard for the periphery countries to bring their costs the rest of the way back down to internationally competitive levels as they need to do. If inflation is below 1% Eurozone-wide, then the periphery countries have to suffer painful deflation.
TARGET balances, Bretton Woods, and the Great Depression
Michael Bordo21 March 2014
Since 2007, there has been a buildup of TARGET imbalances within the Eurosystem – growing liabilities of national central banks in the periphery matched by growing claims of central banks in the core. This column argues that, rather than signalling the collapse of the monetary system – as was the case for Bretton Woods between 1968 and 1971 – these TARGET imbalances represent a successful institutional innovation that prevented a repeat of the US payments crisis of 1933.
During the Eurozone crisis, an analogy was made between the events in Europe between 2007 and 2012 and the collapse of the Bretton Woods System between 1968 and 1971. There has been a build-up of TARGET liabilities since 2007 by some central banks (notably Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain, or the ‘GIPS’), and of TARGET assets by Germany and others.
German Court decision: Legal authority and deep power implications
Katharina Pistor26 February 2014
Who wields supreme power over the ECB? This column analyses the recent ruling by the German Constitutional Court that the ECB cannot act as lender of last resort. Although seemingly couched by the referral of this decision to the European Court of Justice, this is a bid for power and the return to the pre-crisis paradigm of ‘ultra posse nemo obligatur’.
Can the European Central Bank legally act as lender of last resort to ensure the survival of the euro?
This question is of fundamental importance for the sustainability of the monetary union. Recently, the German Constitutional Court ruled that it cannot. In the court’s view the ECB has the power to conduct monetary policy, but not to support member states in financial distress even if necessary to ensure the survival of the common currency.
Nicholas Crafts talks to Viv Davies about his recent work on the threatening issue of public debt in the Eurozone. Crafts maintains that the implicit fault line in the EZ is evident; several EZ economies face a long period of fiscal consolidation and low growth and that a different sort of central bank might be preferable. They also discuss the challenges and constraints of banking, fiscal and federal union. The interview was recorded in London on 17 January 2014.
Single supervision and resolution rules: Is ECB independence at risk?
Donato Masciandaro, Francesco Passarelli21 December 2013
During the Great Moderation, central banks focused on price stability, and independence was seen as crucial to limit inflation bias. Since the Global Financial Crisis, emergency support measures for banks, and central banks’ increasing involvement in supervision, have called central bank independence into question. This column argues that the literature has overlooked the distributional effects of the tradeoff between monetary and financial stability. In a political economy framework, heterogeneity in voters’ portfolios can cause the degree of central bank independence to differ from the social optimum.
Lucia Dalla Pellegrina, Donato Masciandaro, Rosaria Vega Pansini
A successful transition to a European Banking Union requires robust and credible ‘Chinese walls’ between the ECB’s role as monetary authority and any responsibility in the Single Supervisory Mechanism or in the resolution rules. Otherwise, the ECB’s independence would be at risk, given that monetary policy would likely have larger distributional effects.