The IMF In Greece

The IMF has released a report with an ex-post evaluation of Greece’s 2012 Extended Fund Facility (Exceptional Access under the 2012 Extended Arrangement under the Extended Fund Facility with Greece).

A critical discussion by Charles Wyplosz on VoxEU.

The Greek authorities are more optimistic than IMF staff about the economy’s outlook.

“Secular” Stagnation, A Return to Trend

On Bank Underground, Gene Kindberg-Hanlon criticizes the secular stagnation hypothesis:

Real interest rates have fallen by around 5 percentage points since the 1980s.  Many economists attribute this to “secular” trends such as a structural slowdown in global growth, changing demographics and a fall in the relative price of capital goods which will hold equilibrium rates low for a decade or more (Eggertsson et al., Summers, Rachel and Smith, and IMF).  In this blog post, I argue this explanation is wrong because it’s at odds with pre-1980s experience.  The 1980s were the anomaly … The decline in real rates over the 1990s and early 2000s simply reflected a return to historical norms from an unusually high starting point.  Further falls since 2008 are far more plausibly related to the financial crisis than secular trends.

Munich Security Report 2017

Topics discussed in the report include:

  • Support for a “strong leader” as opposed to checks and balances has increased in many countries.
  • The share of households with flat or falling market incomes during the 2005-14 period has been around 65% in advanced economies, and 97% in Italy. In the preceding decade, it had been negligible.
  • The Eurasia Group’s top ten risks for 2017:
    1. Independent America
    2. China overreacts
    3. A weaker Merkel
    4. No reform
    5. Technology and the Middle East
    6. Central banks get political
    7. The White House vs. Silicon Valley
    8. Turkey
    9. North Korea
    10. South Africa
  • More than 60 percent of Americans want to keep or increase US commitments to NATO.
  • “Europe” could save 30% of its defense investments by cooperating more closely.
  • “Europe” operates many more weapon systems than the US.
  • In 2016, 94%, 73%, and 20% of US-led, Turkish, and Russian airstrikes in Syria targeted Daesh/ISIS.
  • China and Russia have strongly increased the number of their cultural institutes abroad.
  • Wikileaks has strongly gained support among Republican voters.
  • Most attacks on health care infrastructure are deliberate.

Monetary Policy Implementation in China

The Economist reports that implementation gradually changes:

[T]he way in which the People’s Bank of China conducts monetary policy is changing. It is beginning to look a little more like central banks in developed economies as it shifts towards liberalised interest rates. Rather than simply ordering banks to set specific lending or deposit rates—the focus for many years in China—it is altering the monetary environment around them. China does not yet have an equivalent of the federal-funds rate in America or the refinancing rate in Europe, but it has a few candidates for its new benchmark interest rate. The seven-day bond-repurchase rate, which influences banks’ funding costs, is in pole position.

There is also an element of political intrigue in this transition to a more mature monetary framework. The Chinese central bank sits under the State Council, or cabinet, which has the final say over lending and deposit rates as well as other big policy decisions. Repo rates, by contrast, are seen as sufficiently abstruse for the central bank to decide on its own when it wants to change them.

Re-Denomination Risk in France and Italy

On the FT Alphaville blog, Mark Weidemaier and Mitu Gulati argue that re-denomination risk in the Euro zone is most prominent in France and Italy. Bonds with CACs trade at higher prices.

Most French and Italian [but not Greek] debt is governed by local law. … the governments could pass legislation redenominating their bonds from euros to francs or lira.

… [But] some French and Italian bonds — bonds issued after January 1, 2013, with maturities over a year — have Collective Action Clauses (CACs). … Importantly, these CACs require a super-majority of investors (in principal amount) to approve any changes to the currency of the bond.

… But it’s also possible a local law bond is no different than a local law bond with a CAC. After all, both are ultimately subject to the whims of the local legislature, and the courts may side with them.

The markets seem to have a view, though: CAC bonds in the countries with heightened redenomination risk seem to be valued significantly more.

Vollgeld, the Blockchain, and the Future of the Monetary System

Presentation at the Liechtenstein Institute about the Vollgeld initiative, the blockchain revolution, and their possible effects on banks and the monetary system.

Report in Liechtensteiner Vaterland, February 1, 2017. HTML.

Interview in Wirtschaft Regional, February 4, 2017. PDF.

Re-denomination Constitutes Default

In a letter to the editor of The Economist, Moritz Kraemer, sovereign chief ratings officer of S&P Global Ratings, clarifies what it would mean for France to re-denominate French debt:

Buttonwood wondered whether Marine Le Pen’s plan to re-denominate French government euro bonds into new francs might constitute a sovereign default (January 14th). There is no ambiguity here: it would. If an issuer does not adhere to the contractual obligations to its creditors, including payment in the currency stipulated, S&P Global Ratings would declare a default. Our current AA rating on France suggests, however, that such a turn of events is highly unlikely.

To Best Serve the Nation and the World

L. Rafael Reif, President of MIT, in an open letter to the MIT community:

The Executive Order on Friday appeared to me a stunning violation of our deepest American values, the values of a nation of immigrants: fairness, equality, openness, generosity, courage. The Statue of Liberty is the “Mother of Exiles”; how can we slam the door on desperate refugees? Religious liberty is a founding American value; how can our government discriminate against people of any religion? In a nation made rich by immigrants, why would we signal to the world that we no longer welcome new talent? In a nation of laws, how can we reject students and others who have established legal rights to be here? And if we accept this injustice, where will it end? Which group will be singled out for suspicion tomorrow? …

Yet I would like us to think seriously about the fact that both within the MIT community and the nation at large, there are people of goodwill who see the measures in the Executive Order as a reasonable path to make the country safer. We would all like our nation to be safe. I am convinced that the Executive Order will make us less safe. Yet all of us, across the spectrum of opinion, are Americans.

In this heated moment, I urge every one of us to avoid with all our might the forces that are driving America into two camps. If we love America, and if we believe in America, we cannot allow those divisions to grow worse. We need to imagine a shared future together, if we hope to have one. I am certain our community can help work on this great problem, too, by starting right here at home.

Liechtenstein Fact Check

In the NZZ, Simon Gemperli offers a fact check on Liechtenstein.

  • GDP per employed person: CHF 144’000 (Switzerland: CHF 125’000).
  • 10 countries are even smaller.
  • The people can vote the monarch out of office.
  • Banks contribute a quarter of GDP.

 

NAFTA’s Effects on the US

On his blog, Dani Rodrik comments on NAFTA’s implications for US manufacturing and jobs.

So here is the overall picture that these academic studies paint for the U.S.: NAFTA produced large changes in trade volumes, tiny efficiency gains overall, and some very significant impacts on adversely affected communities.

… Mexico has been one of Latin America’s underperformers.

So is Trump deluded on NAFTA’s overall impact on manufacturing jobs? Absolutely, yes.

Was he able to capitalize on the very real losses that this and other trade agreements produced in certain parts of the country in a way that Democrats were unable to? Again, yes.

Collateral Values in ECB Operations

In the NZZ, Kjell Nyborg questions whether the collateral values of the securities the ECB accepts in monetary policy operations reflect market values. He argues that the valuation is discretionary and politicized.

Meine Analyse macht deutlich, dass der Besicherungsrahmen in der Euro-Zone in unterschiedlicher Ausprägung unter all diesen Problemen leidet. Das öffentliche Verzeichnis der zulässigen notenbankfähigen Sicherheiten enthält 30 000 bis 40 000 verschiedene Wertpapiere, von Staatsanleihen bis hin zu unbesicherten Bankanleihen und forderungsbesicherten Wertpapieren (Asset-Backed Securities). Die überwiegende Mehrheit dieser Wertpapiere hat keinen Marktpreis. Ungefähr ein Drittel all dieser Sicherheiten wird in nichtregulierten Märkten gehandelt. Zudem können Banken nichtmarktfähige Anlagen und Wertpapiere mit «privaten Ratings» verwenden, die nicht im öffentlichen Verzeichnis sind. Daher basieren die Werte der Sicherheiten mehrheitlich auf Modell- statt auf Marktpreisen. Interessanterweise ziehen Banken es vor, Sicherheiten zu benutzen, bei denen häufiger theoretische Preise verwendet werden. Generell tendiert die Besicherungspolitik der Euro-Zone zu risikoreichen und illiquiden Sicherheiten. Die untergeordnete Rolle des Marktes sieht man auch an der Häufigkeit, mit welcher die Sicherheitsabschläge für die Repo-Geschäfte des Euro-Systems aktualisiert werden: Dies geschieht lediglich alle drei bis vier Jahre.

Im Kern des Geldsystems in der Euro-Zone gibt es somit wenig Spielraum für Marktkräfte oder Marktdisziplin. Insgesamt kann die Besicherungspolitik des Euro-Systems als expansiv beschrieben werden. Die Liste notenbankfähiger Sicherheiten ist äusserst umfangreich und oft auf die «Bedürfnisse» von Banken in verschiedenen Ländern zugeschnitten. Sicherheiten können, zum Beispiel, durch Staatsgarantien aufgewertet werden. … Weil es im Kern des Euro-Geldsystems an Marktkräften und Marktdisziplin fehlt, entsteht ein Vakuum, das von anderen Kräften, wie Rating-Agenturen und der Politik, aufgefüllt wird.

… Ich dokumentiere, dass DBRS eine ausschlaggebende Rolle innehatte, indem sie über eine lange Zeit hinweg Italien und Spanien ein Rating von A– und Portugal ein solches von BBB– gab. Das hob den Wert der in diesen Ländern begebenen Sicherheiten um ungefähr bis 200 Mrd. € an und kann als unterstützende Massnahme für indirekte Bail-outs interpretiert werden.

Im Dezember 2011 und Februar 2012 hat die EZB eine ihrer wichtigsten geldpolitischen Massnahmen vor dem Beginn des Quantitative Easing implementiert. … Um aus dieser Möglichkeit Vorteil zu schlagen, hat die italienische Regierung gleichzeitig eine präzedenzlose Anzahl von Garantien für Bankanleihen mit niedrigem oder gar keinem Rating gesprochen. Damit erhöhte sie deren Besicherungswert. Darüber hinaus hat die EZB mehr als 10 000 unbesicherte, auf nichtregulierten Märkten gehandelte Bankanleihen der öffentlichen Liste notenbankfähiger Sicherheiten hinzugefügt, obwohl der aggregierte Wert notenbankfähiger Sicherheiten die Nachfrage von Banken nach Zentralbankgeld schon bei weitem überstieg.

Krypto Currencies and Privacy

On Wired, Andy Greenberger discusses Monero, Dash, and Zcash, krypto currencies that provide more privacy than bitcoin and its derivatives.

Unlike commercial services like PayPal, Bitcoin allows anyone to spend money online without providing identifying details. But if someone’s Bitcoin address is linked with their real identity, any transaction from that address is entirely visible on the public blockchain … Hiding those transactions requires taking extra steps, like routing bitcoins through “tumblers” that mix up coins with those of strangers—and occasionally steal them—or using techniques like “coinjoin,” built into some bitcoin wallet programs, that mix payments to make them harder to trace. “If I pay my rent in Bitcoin, it wouldn’t be that hard for the landlord to figure out how much money I earned if I don’t take extra precautions” …

Monero … implements a few features that Bitcoin still can’t offer. It uses a technique called “stealth addresses” to generate addresses for receiving Monero that are essentially encrypted; the recipient can retrieve the funds, but no one can link that stealth address to the owner. It employs a technique called “ring signatures,” which means every Monero spent is grouped with as many as a hundred other transactions, so that the spender’s address is mixed in with a group of strangers, and every subsequent movement of that money makes it exponentially more difficult to trace back to the source. And it uses something called “ring confidential transactions,” which hides the amount of every transaction.

Monero isn’t the first cryptocurrency designed to offer a financial privacy panacea: Dash, formerly known as Darkcoin, integrates the “coinjoin” technique that allows bitcoin users to mix their transactions with a few other spenders in what Todd calls a weaker form of anonymity than Monero offers. More recently, Zcash debuted with the strongest anonymity promises yet—it uses cryptographic tricks designed to make tracing a transaction not only unlikely, but mathematically impossible. Zcash has yet to be integrated into dark web markets, though, and still requires wielding the command line to use.

Ageing Economies Grew Faster

That’s what Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo document in an NBER working paper.

Figure 2 [below] provides a glimpse of the relevant pattern by depicting the raw correlation between the change in GDP per capita between 1990 and 2015 and the change in the ratio of the population above 50 to the population between the ages of 20 and 49. … even when we control for initial GDP per capita, initial demographic composition and differential trends by region, there is no evidence of a negative relationship between aging and GDP per capita; on the contrary, the relationship is significantly positive in many specifications.
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In an article published in 2012 with Martín Gonzalez-Eiras (see also the VoxEU column), we provide a theory that can account for this finding.

Happiness

In the FAZ, molecular biologist and Tibetan monk Matthieu Ricard advises to find “happiness” (“Glück, innere Zufriedenheit”) by acquiring certain attitudes:

Wir Buddhisten, aber auch Psychologen, verstehen unter Glücklichsein keinen für sich alleinstehenden Gefühlszustand, sondern eine Gruppe von menschlichen Eigenschaften. Dazu zählen innere Freiheit, emotionale Ausgeglichenheit, altruistische Liebe, Mitgefühl. Für mich kann Glück nicht eigennützig sein. Wer sich selbst die ganze Zeit ins Zentrum stellt, fühlt sich mit der Zeit elend und ist obendrein verwundbar. Denn auch ich-zentrierte Personen kommen nicht ohne andere Menschen aus.

Um zu innerer Zufriedenheit zu gelangen, muss man den entgegengesetzten Weg gehen, und zwar die anderen Menschen ins Zentrum stellen, indem man diesen mit Wohlwollen, Großzügigkeit, Mitgefühl und Altruismus begegnet. Großzügig und freundlich zu sein, erzeugt ein Gefühl von innerer Harmonie. Diese Form von Glücklichsein nutzt sich zudem nicht ab, wie das bei den hedonistischen Freuden der Fall ist, sondern wird mit der Zeit immer stärker und verringert außerdem die Verletzlichkeit.

BIS Research Review

In an Independent Review of BIS Research, Franklin Allen, Charles Bean and José De Gregorio conclude that

… BIS research clearly ‘punches above its weight’ compared to its central bank peers. Finally, the relative performance of the BIS has clearly improved over the past five years, a tribute to the influence of the previous (Steve Cecchetti) and current (Claudio Borio and Hyun Shin) leadership …

They recommend, among other points:

The research programme should have a more clearly defined long-term focus, be less driven
by short-term needs, and seek to be more holistic in approach.

The internal culture should be more open to challenge and research should avoid focussing
on generating results to support the ‘house view’.

Redistribution at the EU Level

On VoxEU, Paolo Pasimeni and Stéphanie Riso argue that at the EU level, cross-border redistribution is limited:

The EU budget accounts for roughly 1% of the EU’s GDP. Around 80% of it, on average, returns back to each country in the form of various allocated expenditures, and only a limited part is actually redistributed among countries. On average over the past 15 years, the redistribution operated by the budget at the level of the EU was equal to 0.2% of the Union’s GDP. As a matter of comparison, the average yearly cross-border flows operated through the federal budget in the US between 1980-2005 was equal to 1.5% of GDP (d’Apice 2015).

“Ishmael”

In Daniel Quinn’s “Ishmael,” a gorilla offers his perspective on human civilization and the narratives surrounding it.

Ishmael—the gorilla—characterizes the early agricultural revolution as the takeoff of the nowadays-dominant “Takers’” culture, a culture that does not only reject the hunter-gatherer and herder life of “Leaver” tribes but also finds it acceptable to eradicate the latter. The Takers reject the notion that man is part of a balanced, competitive and evolving natural system; but this rejection places humanity on a trajectory ultimately leading to self-destruction.

The gods realized that “of all the trees in the garden, only the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil could destroy Adam.” (9, 6) And so they forbid Adam to taste the fruit of that tree. (He tasted anyway.) The ban constitutes a mystery for Takers. For they think of themselves as destined to rule the world, and “knowledge of good and evil is fundamentally the knowledge the rulers of the world must exercise, because every single thing they do is good for some but evil for others.” (9, 7)

According to Ishmael, the mystery is solved by noting that Genesis reflects a narrative of the Semites, a Leaver people, who experienced the expansion of the Taker culture as Cain slaughtering his brother Abel. The Hebrew later adopted the tale but could no longer make sense of it because they had adopted the Taker culture.

Ishmael makes some other points: “The Takers accumulate knowledge about what works well for things. The Leavers accumulate knowledge about what works well for people.” (10, 8) “The Takers are those who know good and evil, and the Leavers are … those who live in the hands of the gods.” (11, 6) The Leavers are in a position to evolve; they are part of the general community of life, while Takers believe that creation came to an end with man. (12, 3) “The Takers’ story is, ‘The gods made the world for man, but they botched the job, so we had to take matters into our own, more competent hand.’ The Leavers’ story is, ‘The gods made man for the world …; this seems to have worked pretty well so far, so we can take it easy and leave the running of the world to the gods.’” (12, 6)

How Derivatives Markets Responded to the De-Pegging of the Swiss Franc

In a Bank of England Financial Stability Paper, Olga Cielinska, Andreas Joseph, Ujwal Shreyas, John Tanner and Michalis Vasios analyze transactions on the Swiss Franc foreign exchange over-the-counter derivatives market around January 15, 2015, the day when the Swiss National Bank de-pegged the Swiss Franc. From the abstract:

The removal of the floor led to extreme price moves in the forwards market, similar to those observed in the spot market, while trading in the Swiss franc options market was practically halted. We find evidence that the rapid intraday price fluctuation was associated with poor underlying market liquidity conditions, in particular the limited provision of liquidity by dealer banks in the first hour after the event. Looking at longer-term effects, we observe a reduced level of liquidity, associated with an increased level of market fragmentation, higher market volatility and an increase in the degree of collateralisation in the weeks following the event.