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.
This column argues that the legacy of public debt resulting from the crisis in the Eurozone is a serious threat. Both the size of the problem and the options to address it make life much more difficult for policymakers than was the case in the late 1930s after the collapse of the gold standard. For some countries, a ‘subservient’ central bank might be preferable to the ECB.
The 1930s deservedly have a bad name. It is hard to imagine that a decade that included the Great Depression and a major de-globalisation of the world economy, and culminated in WWII could be other than notorious. And yet, compared with struggling Eurozone economies today, the economic situation in Europe in the later 1930s was in many ways more promising. This is particularly true of the aftermath of public debt and the difficulty of dealing with it.
Having promised to do ‘whatever it takes’ to ensure the survival of the euro, the ECB now faces the problem of record high unemployment combined with a strong currency. There is accumulating evidence that the ECB is more willing to fight currency appreciation than the Bundesbank would have been. Capital inflows have been a key source of recent upward pressure on the euro. Should this continue, the ECB may need to intervene more aggressively in order to promote economic recovery in the Eurozone.
Last year, the ECB entered an existential battle for the euro. By promising to do ‘whatever it takes’ to safeguard the euro, the ECB managed to calm sovereign debt markets and engineer a much-needed easing of overall credit conditions in the Eurozone.
Much has happened since VoxEU published an eBook on the banking union in Europe one year ago. In this column, the editor of the eBook reviews the developments and plans of the past year. Many of the issues flagged by eBook contributors are still relevant and have not yet been addressed. While immediate pressures seemed to have receded, the crisis is still very much with us and is still awaiting resolution.
In a few days, pending some last-minute diplomatic conflict between the UK and the European Commission, the ECB will begin an asset-quality review of European banks. This is supposed to be the entry point to the supervisory role of the ECB in the context of the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), the first of three pillars of the planned banking union. Little political progress has been made on the other two pillars, bank resolution and deposit insurance, in spite of proposals by the EU Commission.
The publication of attributed voting records and minutes of the ECB council’s meetings would increase the influence of national governments and discourage pro-Eurozone behaviour. This column argues that this would be undesirable. Publishing non-attributed summary minutes, however, would enhance the ECB’s accountability towards the public.
Mario Draghi has voiced his support for the quick release of minutes and has confirmed that the ECB is to take a decision on this issue in the near future (Reuters 2013). Joerg Asmussen, a member of the ECB's Executive Board, recently proposed that the ECB should publish the minutes of the ECB council meetings immediately and demanded that the members’ individual positions be revealed (Bloomberg 2013). There is no doubt that the current tendency towards more transparency in monetary policy1 enhances central banks' accountability towards the public.