Limits of Arbitrage and Covered Interest Parity

In a BIS working paper, Dagfinn Rime, Andreas Schrimpf, and Olav Syrstad analyze the apparent breakdown of covered interest parity (CIP). They argue that

CIP holds remarkably well for most potential arbitrageurs when applying their marginal funding rates. With severe funding liquidity differences, however, it becomes impossible for dealers to quote prices such that CIP holds across the full rate spectrum. A narrow set of global top-tier banks enjoys risk-less arbitrage opportunities as dealers set quotes to avert order flow imbalances.

The IMF “In Principle” Approves Funding For Greece

In the FT, Mehreen Khan reports about the IMF’s conditional acceptance to lend to Greece.

The IMF’s “agreement in principle” (AIP) tool draws on a practice where the fund is able to greenlight its involvement in a debtor country, conditional on the government and its creditors agreeing to future debt relief measures.

Of course, the dispute about the merits of debt relief is unresolved. The IMF thinks Greek debt is ‘unsustainable’ and the European creditors should bear more losses, earlier on while some Euro area countries disagree. (For the numbers, see here).

Earlier in July, the European Stability Mechanism had approved a new cash injection (FT). This followed a dodgy compromise in June, as reported by Jim Brunsden in the FT:

Euro area ministers and the International Monetary Fund unveiled a deal … that will … sav[e Greece] … from default this summer. The IMF will join the bailout as a partner but withhold any money until euro area finance ministers give more detail on what debt relief they might offer Athens. …

Euro-area policymakers have been trying to reconcile competing EU and IMF visions of the €86bn programme and, crucially, whether it will make Greece’s debts sustainable.

Programme conditions set by euro area governments in 2015 included budget surplus targets that the IMF said were punishingly ambitious and unlikely to be met. The fund set out a different vision: lower primary surplus targets for Athens, coupled with comprehensive pension and tax reform and, crucially, far-reaching debt relief.

At the centre of the puzzle was Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, who has insisted that the IMF must join if Greece is going to continue receiving tranches of bailout aid — but has also resisted significant debt relief commitments.

Given that the fund could not join up unless convinced that Greece’s debts were being put on to a sustainable path, the euro area and IMF had to find another solution — and it came in the form of asking Athens to do more.

To give the IMF confidence that Greece could hit budget surplus targets set by the euro area, Athens was asked to widen its income tax base and cut pensions. The measures, adopted in May, are estimated to be worth about 2 percentage points of gross domestic product.

In the meantime, Greece plans to regain market access by 2018 (FT).

The Reformation, Education, and Secularization

In a paper, Davide Cantoni, Jeremiah Dittmar, and Noam Yuchtman argue that the Protestant reformation after the year 1517 triggered major reallocation, due to religious competition and political economy.

[T]he Reformation produced rapid economic secularization. … shift in investments in human and fixed capital away from the religious sector. Large numbers of monasteries were expropriated … particularly in Protestant regions. This transfer of resources shifted the demand for labor between religious and secular sectors: graduates from Protestant universities increasingly entered secular occupations. … students at Protestant universities shifted from the study of theology toward secular degrees. The appropriation of resources by secular rulers is also reflected in construction: … religious construction declined, particularly in Protestant regions, while secular construction increased, especially for administrative purposes. Reallocation was not driven by pre-existing economic or cultural differences.

The Black Death and Atmospheric Lead Concentration

During the black death epidemic (1349–1353), atmospheric lead concentration collapsed as mining ceased. This is the result of a study by Alexander More, Nicole Spaulding, Pascal Bohleber, Michael Handley, Helene Hoffman, Elena Korotkikh, Andrei Kurbatov, Christopher Loveluck, Sharon Sneed, Michael McCormick, and Paul A. Mayevski on lead levels in an Alpine glacier. They write that

[c]ontrary to widespread assumptions, … resolution analyses of an Alpine glacier reveal that true historical minimum natural levels of lead in the atmosphere occurred only once in the last ~2000 years. During the Black Death pandemic, demographic and economic collapse interrupted metal production and atmospheric lead dropped to undetectable levels.


Connecting Central Bank Payments Systems

In the FT, Martin Arnold reports about a new cross-border payment method tested by the Bank of England. The “interledger” program transfers money “near-instantaneously and without settlement risk.” The Bank of England

set up two simulated RTGS systems on a cloud computing platform, using the Ripple interledger to simultaneously process “a successful cross-border payment”.

This is not necessarily good news for the blockchain community. The Bank of England’s proof of concept is

“about connectivity between central bank systems rather than replacing the central bank systems with the blockchain,” [according to] Daniel Aranda, head of Europe at Ripple.




Arguments Against Strict Monetary Policy Rules

In its July 2017 Monetary Policy Report, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System discusses monetary policy rules. On pp. 36–38, the Board argues that

[t]he small number of variables involved in policy rules makes them easy to use. However, the U.S. economy is highly complex, and these rules, by their very nature, do not capture that complexity. …

Another issue related to the implementation of rules involves the measurement of the variables that drive the prescriptions generated by the rules. For example, there are many measures of inflation, and they do not always move together or by the same amount. …

In addition, both the level of the neutral real interest rate in the longer run and the level of the unemployment rate that is sustainable in the longer run are difficult to estimate precisely, and estimates made in real time may differ substantially from estimates made later on …

Furthermore, the prescribed responsiveness of the federal funds rate to its determinants differs across policy rules. …

Finally, monetary policy rules do not take account of broader risk considerations. … asymmetric risk has, in recent years, provided a sound rationale for following a more gradual path of rate increases than that prescribed by policy rules.

“Monetary Economic Issues Today,” Panel, 2017

Panel discussion with Ernst Baltensperger, Otmar Issing, Fritz Zurbrügg and Mark Dittli (moderator) on the occasion of the publication of the Festschrift in honour of Ernst Baltensperger, Bern, June 16, 2017. SNB press release. Video (SNB Forschungs-TV).

Financial Intermediation and Standardization

On his blog, John Kay speculates about the future of financial intermediation:

The paradox of modern capital markets is that although there is less and less need for market activity from the point of view of either the end users of finance, or the investors who are the ultimate beneficiaries of finance, the volume of market activity has increased exponentially. …

The growth of secondary market trading at the expense of an understanding of the underlying exposure led to disaster in the global financial crisis of 2008, just as it had earlier led to disaster at Lloyd’s. …

Standardisation is not an answer to the problem of information provision in financial markets, nor is pervasive information asymmetry successfully resolved by insistence on the provision of detailed financial information on a standardised basis, whether in company accounts or key features documents.

… it is time to raise question marks over the entire market based model of financial services provision. We should be talking about risk management and capital allocation without any presumption that markets are the best way of handling these issues.

On Cheques

On his blog, JP Koning discusses the versatility of cheques:

  • A cheque instructs a bank to transfer deposits.
  • It is a derivative on bank deposits.
  • A post dated cheque serves as debt instrument, e.g., vis-a-vis pay day lenders.
  • An uncashed cheque may serve as money if marked “to bearer” or endorsed by the recipient. Laws grant cheques currency status.
  • A cheque may be used for payments even if other payment mechanisms break down. During the Irish banking strike of 1970, “for six months post-dated cheques circulated as the main form of money.”
  • A cheque can be used by the unbanked.

This combination of negotiability, robustness, openness, and decentralization means that long before bitcoin and the cryptocoin revolution, we already had a decentralized payments system that allowed pretty much everyone to participate and, indeed, fabricate their own personal money instruments! …

… a whole language of cheques has emerged, allowing for significant customization. By putting crossings on cheques, like this the cheque writer is indicating that the only way to redeem it is by depositing it, not cashing it. This means that the final user of the cheque will be easy to trace, since they will be associated with a bank account. Affix the words non-negotiable within the cross on the front of the cheque and it loses its special status as currency. Should it be stolen and passed off to an innocent third-party, the victim can now directly pursue the third-party for restitution. To even further limit the power of subsequent users to use the cheque as money, the writer can indicate the account to which the cheque must be deposited. This language of checks can be used not only by those that have originated the cheque, but also by those that receive it in payment. On the back of any check, any number of endorsements can be written, effectively allowing for the conversion of someone else’s payment instructions into your own unique medium of exchange.

Currency Status

On his blog (here and here), JP Koning discusses currency status:

… laws that … grant … currency status. … Say that person A is carrying some sort of financial instrument in their pocket and it is stolen. The thief uses it to buy something from person B, who accepts it without knowing it to be stolen property. If the financial instrument has not been granted currency status by the law, then person B will be liable to give it back to person A. If, however, the instrument is currency, then even if the police are able to locate the stolen instrument in person B’s possession, person B does not have to give up the stolen [instrument] to person A. We call these special instruments negotiable instruments.

Border Adjustment Tax

On VoxEU, Mary Amiti, Emmanuel Farhi, Gita Gopinath, and Oleg Itskhoki discuss a border adjustment tax and its consequences.

… a border adjustment tax … would make export sales deductible from the corporate tax base, while expenditure on imported goods would not be deductible … Therefore, if the border adjustment extends to all imports and exports, it is akin to a combination of a uniform import tariff and an export subsidy on all international trade …

… it would limit the incentives for profit shifting across countries by means of transfer pricing towards lower tax jurisdictions … the border adjustment tax is a destination-based tax, linking the tax jurisdiction to the location of consumption, rather than the location of production.

Under certain circumstances … the border adjustment tax has no effects on economic outcomes … Lerner (1936) symmetry [implies] … that a uniform tariff on all imports is equivalent to a uniform tax of the same magnitude on all exports. As a corollary … a combination of a uniform import tariff and an export subsidy of the same magnitude … [has] no effect on imports, exports and other economic outcomes … results in an increase in the home relative wage and domestic cost of production by the amount of the tariff. … the relative cost of domestic production increases proportionally with the cost of imports, as well as with the subsidy to exports, leaving no relative price affected, nor the real wage. … As a result, tax policies that feature a border adjustment, such as the value added tax (VAT), do not have to systematically promote or demote trade.

Amiti, Farhi, Gopinath, and Itskhoki discuss several conditions for neutrality:

  • Flexible wages. If wages are sticky, a nominal exchange rate appreciation may partly substitute.
  • Uniformity of the border adjustment tax. This condition would likely not be met. Exchange rate fluctuations thus would affect some sectors more than others. And imports by non-incorporated businesses would be favored.
  • Foreign currency denomination of gross foreign assets and liabilities. (Not met, see below.)
  • Unexpected, permanent policy change, to prevent anticipation effects and currency appreciation before the fact.
  • Unchanged monetary policy stance, also in other countries, in spite of the exchange rate shock. This condition would likely not be met.

If the conditions for neutrality are met the border adjustment tax generates no international transfer. The fiscal implications depend on the sign of the trade balance. A home country exchange rate appreciation (that keeps relative trade prices and flows unchanged) generates a lump-sum transfer from households to the public sector when households hold net external assets which they use to pay for imports. When households have net external debt and thus, export on net, then the fiscal implications are reversed.

Since the US has currently a negative net foreign asset position, the US must run a cumulative trade surplus in the future. … the overall transfer would be away from the government budget and towards the private sector …

When some gross positions are denominated in domestic currency an appreciation transfers wealth internationally.

Since for the United States, the foreign assets are mostly in foreign currency, while foreign liabilities are almost entirely in dollars, this would generate a massive transfer to the rest of the world and a capital loss for the US of the order of magnitude of 10% of the US annual GDP or more.

US imports and exports are predominantly invoiced in dollars. With sticky pricing a border adjustment tax would raise the relative cost of imported inputs and consumer prices.

US exports … will likely fall together with US imports in the short run, with no clear effect on the trade balance. As trade prices adjust over time, both imports and exports will recover, resulting in a neutral long-run effect of the border adjustment tax on trade.

“Die Vollgeld-Initiative und eine Alternative (The Swiss Sovereign Money Initiative, and an Alternative),” SNB, 2017

In: Thomas Moser, Carlos Lenz, Marcel Savioz and Dirk Niepelt, editorial committee, Monetary Economic Issues Today, Festschrift in Honour of Ernst Baltensperger, Swiss National Bank/Orell Füssli, Zürich, June 2017. PDF of draft.

The sovereign money initiative (Vollgeldinitiative) seeks to gain greater control over the money and credit supply, to increase financial stability and to achieve a fairer distribution of seigniorage income. The initiative’s suggested approach – a ban on active money creation – is inefficient and may even prove ineffective, as it fails to address the core problems. A variant of the initiative, which would allow the public access to electronic central bank money on a voluntary basis, would offer greater benefit at lower cost.

“Monetary Economic Issues Today,” Orell Füssli, 2017

Festschrift in Honour of Ernst Baltensperger, Swiss National Bank/Orell Füssli, Zürich, June 2017, with Thomas Moser, Carlos Lenz, and Marcel Savioz, editorial committee. Publisher’s website.

From the publisher’s website:

»Eine Welt ohne ein gut funktionierendes Zahlungssystem, ohne Geld- und andere Wertaufbewahrungsanlagen, ohne zuverlässige Recheneinheit, das wäre eine Welt mit einem viel tieferen Wohlstandsniveau,in der wir nicht mehr leben möchten.«
Ernst Baltensperger

Ursachen und Folgen der Finanzkrise sind komplex. Zentralbanken und Regulatoren sahen sich gezwungen, in vielerlei Hinsicht unbekanntes Terrain zu betreten. Die ökonomische Forschung wurde mit vielen neuen, oft grundlegenden Fragen zum Finanzsystem und zur Wirtschaftspolitik konfrontiert und ringt bis heute um Antworten.

Diese Festschrift gibt zehn Jahre nach dem Ausbruch der Finanzkrise einen Einblick in die Fragen, mit denen sich die monetäre Ökonomie heute befasst. Sie wird von der Schweizerischen Nationalbank zum 75. Geburtstag von Ernst Baltensperger – einem international renommierten Experten der Geldpolitik und Geldtheorie – herausgegeben.

Elektronisches Geld, unkonventionelle Geldpolitik, negative Zinsen – mit welchen Fragen befasst sich die Wirtschaftswissenschaft heute, und welche Antworten liefert sie?

27 Beiträge von Experten der Makro-, Geld-, Banken und Finanzmarktökonomie für ein besseres Verständnis der Zusammenhänge und Strukturen.

Die kurze und allgemein verständlichen Texte sind für den interessierten Laien – auf Deutsch, Französisch oder Englisch verfasst.

“Sovereign Bond Prices, Haircuts, and Maturity,” IMF, 2017

IMF Working Paper 17/119, May 2017, with Tamon Asonuma and Romain Ranciere. PDF.

Rejecting a common assumption in the sovereign debt literature, we document that creditor losses (“haircuts”) during sovereign restructuring episodes are asymmetric across debt instruments. We code a comprehensive dataset on instrument-specific haircuts for 28 debt restructurings with private creditors in 1999–2015 and find that haircuts on shorter-term debt are larger than those on debt of longer maturity. In a standard asset pricing model, we show that increasing short-run default risk in the run-up to a restructuring episode can explain the stylized fact. The data confirms the predicted relation between perceived default risk, bond prices, and haircuts by maturity.

Legal Tender

Dave Birch blogs about the concept of legal tender: a means to discharge debt.

… you cannot force a retailer to accept legal tender or indeed any other form of tender. If, however, you buy something from them and there is no contractual barrier to the use of any form of tender, and you offer legal tender in payment, and they refuse it, then they cannot enforce the debt in court. That’s what legal tender means: it’s about discharging debts. If you incur a debt you can discharge it with legal tender, but you cannot be forced to incur the debt in the first place …


Monte dei Paschi Bail-X

The Economist reports about plans for Monte dei Paschi’s future:

… retail investors in the bank’s junior bonds, many of them ordinary customers. European state-aid rules say that they should lose their money along with shareholders. Technically, they will. In fact, to preserve their savings and avoid a political outcry, they will be deemed to have been “mis-sold” the bonds: they will receive shares which will in turn be swapped for new, safer bonds.

Italy has to come up with a restructuring plan, likely to involve job losses and branch closures, for the commission’s approval. (The ECB must also certify the bank’s solvency.) Bosses’ pay will be capped at ten times the staff average. And Monte dei Paschi must sell its sofferenze, the worst category of non-performing exposures, which in March amounted to 24% of all its loans. A state guarantee will cover senior tranches of these securitised debts. Atlante 2, a fund backed by Italian financial institutions, and others are negotiating with the bank over more junior slices.

Sources of Low Real Interest Rates

In a (December 2015) Bank of England Staff Working Paper, Lukasz Rachel and Thomas Smith dissect the global decline in long-term real interest rates over the last thirty years.

A summary of their executive summary:

  • Market measures of long-term risk-free real interest rates have declined by around 450bps.
  • Absent signs of overheating this suggests that the global neutral rate fell.
  • Expected trend growth as well as other factors affecting desired savings and investment determine the neutral rate.
  • Global growth was fairly steady before the crisis but may (be expected to) fall after the financial crisis. Recently, slower labor supply (demographics) and productivity growth may account for a 100bps decline in the real rate.
  • Desired savings rose, due to demographics (90bps), higher within country inequality (45bps), and higher savings rates in emerging markets following the Asian crisis (25bps).
  • Desired investment fell, due to a lower relative price of capital goods (50bps) and less public investment (20bps).
  • The spread between the return on capital and the risk-free rate rose (70bps).
  • These trends look likely to persist and the “global neutral real rate may settle at or slightly below 1% over the medium- to long-run”.

From page 2 of the paper:

See also the summary by James Hamilton; the White House CEA report; and the 17th Geneva report.

ECB Collateral Framework

In an ECB occasional paper, Ulrich Bindseil, Marco Corsi, Benjamin Sahel, and Ad Visser review the European Central Banks’s collateral framework.

From the executive summary, on misconceptions:

… differences e.g. with interbank repo markets: first, central banks are not subject to liquidity risk in the way “normal” market participants are, and can therefore accept less liquid collateral. Second, as the central bank has a zero default probability in its domestic market operations, collateral providers are willing to accept severe haircuts to obtain credit. …

According to the authors the ECB is the most transparent central bank when it comes to its collateral framework. But the latter is also complicated:

However, it is true that the ESCF is relatively broad in terms of the scope of eligible collateral and rather complicated. This is inevitable because of the diversity of financial institutions and markets in the euro area.

The Swiss Phillips Curve

On VoxEU, Stefan Gerlach reviews the case for tilting Phillips curves in Switzerland.

Previous research had suggested that the Swiss Phillips curve had steepened in the second half of the 20th century. Gerlach estimates a Phillips curve model that includes lagged inflation, an output gap measure, and a measure of import price inflation. His model suggests several structural breaks:

The first structural break occurs in 1936-37. The estimated Phillips curves indicate that inflation became much more inertial, as evidenced by the fact that the parameter on lagged inflation more than doubled.

The second break occurs in 1970-71 … While the sensitivity of inflation to the output gap essentially doubles, other parameters are broadly unchanged. This impies that the Phillips curve steepened sharply in the 1970s.

The third break occurs in 1993-94 … The parameter on the output gap falls to zero and becomes insignificant. The parameter on lagged inflation also falls sharply and loses significance. This implies that between 1994 and 2015 inflation in Switzerland was insensitive to the output gap and displayed little persistence, and seems to have fluctuated only in response to changes in import prices.