“Mensch tracht, und Gott lacht” – what’s the best guidance on monetary policy?
David Miles 22 October 2014
Many central banks embrace forward guidance by announcing expected interest rate paths. But how likely it is that actual rates will be close to expected ones? This column argues that quantifying such uncertainty poses great difficulties. Precise probability statements in a world of uncertainty (not just risk) can be misleading. It might be better to rely on qualitative guidance such as: “Interest rate rises will probably be gradual and likely to be to a level below the old normal”.
“Mensch tracht, und Gott lacht” is a Yiddish proverb – men plan and God laughs. Woody Allen puts the same thought this way: “If you want to make God laugh tell him about your plans”. Some people might see these words as a fitting epitaph for forward guidance on monetary policy. The Bank of England has certainly faced a good deal of criticism for the guidance that it has recently been giving, as has the Federal Reserve in the US.
forward guidance, unconventional monetary policy, monetary policy, Central Banks, central bank communication, interest rates, uncertainty
Quantifying the macroeconomic effects of large-scale asset purchases
Karl Walentin 11 September 2014
Central banks have resorted to various unconventional monetary policy tools since the onset of the Global Crisis. This column focuses on the macroeconomic effects of the Federal Reserve’s large-scale purchases of mortgage-backed securities – in particular, through reducing the ‘mortgage spread’ between interest rates on mortgages and government bonds at a given maturity. Although large-scale asset purchases are found to have substantial macroeconomic effects, they may not necessarily be the best policy tool at the zero lower bound.
Central banks have used various unconventional monetary policy tools since the onset of the financial crisis yet the debate continues regarding their efficiency. This column attempts to shed light on the ‘bang for the buck’, or the macroeconomic effects, of one such unconventional monetary policy – the Federal Reserve’s large-scale asset purchases of mortgage-backed securities employed during the Fed’s QE1 and QE3 programs.
Global crisis Monetary policy
monetary policy, unconventional monetary policy, large-scale asset purchases, central banking, financial crisis, Federal Reserve, quantitative easing, mortgage-backed securities, term premia, zero lower bound, interest rates, US, UK, Sweden, mortgages, global crisis
The role of corporate saving in global rebalancing
Philippe Bacchetta, Kenza Benhima 24 August 2014
Among the various explanations behind global imbalances, the role of corporate saving has received relatively little attention. This column argues that corporate saving is quantitatively relevant, and proposes a theory that is consistent with the stylised facts and useful for understanding the current phase of global rebalancing. The theory implies that, while the economic contraction originating in developed countries has pushed interest rates towards the zero lower bound, the recent growth slowdown in emerging countries could push them out of it.
The increase in global imbalances in the last decade posed a theoretical challenge for international macroeconomics. Why did some less-developed countries with a higher need for capital, like China, lend to richer countries? The inconsistency of standard open-economy dynamic models with actual global capital flows had already been stressed before (e.g. by Lucas 1990), but the sensitivity to this issue became more acute with increasing global imbalances. This stimulated the development of several alternative theoretical frameworks.
International finance International trade
interest rates, global imbalances, capital flows, saving, global crisis, credit constraints, savings glut, zero lower bound, corporate saving, global rebalancing
Secular stagnation: Facts, causes, and cures – a new Vox eBook
Coen Teulings, Richard Baldwin 10 September 2014
The CEPR Press eBook on secular stagnation has been viewed over 80,000 times since it was published on 15 August 2014. The PDF remains freely downloadable, but as the European debate on secular stagnation is moving into policy circles, we decided to also make it a Kindle book. This is available from Amazon; all proceeds will help defray VoxEU expenses.
Teaser from original column posted on 15 August 2014
Six years after the Crisis and the recovery is still anaemic despite years of zero interest rates. Is ‘secular stagnation’ to blame? This column introduces an eBook that gathers the views of leading economists including Summers, Krugman, Gordon, Blanchard, Koo, Eichengreen, Caballero, Glaeser, and a dozen others. It is too early to tell whether secular stagnation is really secular, but if it is, current policy tools will be obsolete. Policymakers should start thinking about potential solutions.
Global crisis Macroeconomic policy Monetary policy
interest rates, US, Europe, Japan, investment, macroeconomics, Great Recession, zero lower bound, savings, secular stagnation, SecStag debate
Low interest rates and secular stagnation: Is debt a missing link?
Claudio Borio, Piti Disyatat 25 June 2014
Real interest rates have fallen to historic lows, and some economists are concerned that an era of secular stagnation has begun. This column highlights the role of policy frameworks and financial factors – particularly debt – in linking low real interest rates and sluggish economic growth. Policies that do not lean against booms but ease aggressively and persistently in busts induce a downward bias in interest rates over time and an upward bias in debt levels – something akin to a debt trap. Low real interest rates may thus be self-reinforcing and not always ‘natural’.
Today, the US government can borrow for ten years at a fixed rate of around 2.5%. Adjusted for expected inflation, this translates into a real borrowing cost of under 0.5%. A year ago, real rates were actually negative. With low interest rates dominating the developed world, many worry that an era of secular stagnation has begun (Summers 2013).
Financial markets Global crisis Monetary policy
interest rates, monetary policy, global crisis, debt, secular stagnation, risk-taking channel of monetary policy, natural rate of interest, monetary non-neutrality
The LIBOR scandal: What’s next ? A possible way forward
Vincent Brousseau, Alexandre Chailloux, Alain Durré 09 December 2013
In the aftermath of the LIBOR scandal, it is important to re-establish a credible reference rate for the pricing of financial instruments and of wholesale and retail loans. The new candidate must meet the five criteria suggested by the Bank for International Settlements – reliability, robustness, frequency, availability, and representativeness – in all circumstances. This column argues that strengthening governance and/or adopting a trade-weighted reference rate is probably the fastest approach, but not necessarily sufficient for a resilient reference rate in the long run.
After the first allegations of LIBOR manipulation in May 2012 – which eventually resulted in investigations into banks and individuals in various countries as of June 2012 – the reliability and credibility of unsecured reference rates in various currencies (the LIBOR in pounds, dollars, euros, and yen, and also the EURIBOR) have been severely questioned. With a view to restoring the credibility of these important reference interest rates, financial regulators have launched a broad consultation to study possible options to avoid similar manipulation in the future.
interest rates, LIBOR, financial regulation
To cut or not to cut, that is the (central banks') question: In search of neutral interest rates in Latin America
Nicolas Magud, Evridiki Tsounta 16 January 2013
The ‘neutral’ rate is the real interest that is consistent with stable inflation and narrow output gaps. This column discusses the various estimation techniques and presents estimates for a range of Latin American nations. No methodology is fully correct: central banks must still make a subjective judgement, but econometrics can significantly help to inform it.
An increasing number of Latin American countries have been strengthening their monetary policy frameworks, using the monetary policy rate as their main instrument since the late 1990s. To decide whether to ease or tighten monetary conditions, policymakers typically compare the policy rate to the (short-run) neutral-interest rate – the rate that is consistent with stable inflation (at the central bank’s target) and a closed output gap. However, this rate can be time-varying as it is affected by changes in macroeconomic fundamentals and global interest rates.
Institutions and economics Macroeconomic policy Microeconomic regulation
interest rates, Central Banks, Information
Banking union and ambiguity: Dare to go further
Sylvester Eijffinger, Rob Nijskens 23 November 2012
The Eurozone is moving towards a banking union with the ECB at its centre. This column argues that there are problems with the European Commission’s proposal. The ECB can never supervise all 6000 banks in the Eurozone, supervision should be separated from monetary policy to avoid conflicts of interest, and joint deposit insurance and resolution funds must be created. Furthermore, the ECB should exert constructive ambiguity in its supervision.
On September 12, the European Commission published a proposal to establish a banking union in the Eurozone1. This proposal delegates the supervision of large cross-border banks to the ECB. The ECB will also be responsible for supervising smaller banks, in cooperation with national supervisors. The European Banking Authority (EBA) can coordinate this through the proposed Single Supervisory Mechanism.
EU institutions EU policies
ECB, interest rates, banking union, supervision
Loose monetary policy and excessive credit and liquidity risk-taking by banks
Steven Ongena, José-Luis Peydró 25 October 2011
Do low interest rates encourage excessive risk-taking by banks? This column summarises two studies analysing the impact of short-term interest rates on the risk composition of the supply of credit. They find that lower rates spur greater risk-taking by lower-capitalised banks and greater liquidity risk exposure.
A question under intense academic and policy debate since the start of the ongoing severe financial crisis is whether a low monetary-policy rate spurs excessive risk-taking by banks. From the start of the crisis in the summer of 2007, market commentators were quick to argue that, during the long period of very low interest rates from 2002 to 2005, banks had softened their lending standards and taken on excessive risk.
International finance Monetary policy
interest rates, monetary policy, risk-taking, subprime loans
Monetary policy before the crisis
Stefan Gerlach, Laura Moretti 26 August 2011
Many observers argue that excessively expansionary monetary policy led to the recent global financial crisis. On the day of Ben Bernanke’s speech in Jackson Hole, this column agrees with the Fed chair that monetary policy was not the main cause. It argues that non-monetary forces drove down real interest rates and lowering nominal rates was the correct response. But central bankers and other regulators vastly underestimated the risks accompanying low short-term interest rates.
Many observers argue that excessively expansionary monetary policy led to the recent global financial crisis. Taylor (2007) claims, for example, that the Fed set the interest rates far below the correct rate (as suggested by the so-called Taylor rule).1 Excessively low interest rates reduced borrowing costs, inducing financial institutions to over leverage their balance sheets in pursuit of returns. This involved holding riskier assets, including the famous “toxic assets” (structured financial products), which offered high returns with solid credit ratings.
Global crisis Monetary policy
interest rates, monetary policy, global crisis