Tag Archives: Exchange rate

Marvin Goodfriend, the Fed’s Board of Governors, and Negative Rates

In the FT, Sam Fleming and Demetri Sevastopulo report that the White House considers Marvin Goodfriend for the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors.

He has criticised the Fed’s crisis-era balance sheet expansion, saying the central bank should generally not purchase mortgage-backed securities, and has advocated the use of monetary policy rules to guide policy, as has Mr Quarles. …

At the same time, however, Mr Goodfriend has been willing to contemplate the use of deeply negative rates to stimulate growth — something that the Fed has thus far not embarked upon. In 1999 he wrote that negative rates were a feasible option, years before central banks started actually experimenting with them.

To implement negative rates while preserving cash, Goodfriend has advocated a flexible exchange rate between deposits and cash. On Alphaville, Matthew Klein quotes from a recent paper of Goodfriend’s:

The zero bound encumbrance on interest rate policy could be eliminated completely and expeditiously by discontinuing the central bank defense of the par deposit price of paper currency. … the central bank would no longer let the outstanding stock of paper currency vary elastically to accommodate the deposit demand for paper currency at par. …

The reason to abandon the pegged par deposit price of paper currency is analogous to the … reasons for abandoning the gold standard and fixed exchange rate: it is to let fluctuations in the deposit demand for paper currency be reflected in the deposit price of paper currency so as not to destabilize the general price level … the flexible deposit price of paper currency would behave as it actually did when the payment of paper currency for deposits was restricted in the United States during the banking crises of 1873, 1893, and 1907.

The SNB’s Currency Interventions

On the FT’s Alphaville blog, Matthew Klein reviews Swiss monetary policy over the last years and its effect on the real economy. He concludes that

it seems the SNB’s relentless accumulation of foreign assets has been pointless — at best. More likely, the behaviour qualifies as predatory mercantilism at the expense of the rest of the world, especially Switzerland’s hard-hit neighbours.

Swiss Franc Exchange Rate Index

The Swiss National Bank has updated its exchange rate indices. In an SNB Economic Studies paper, Robert Müller describes how. The upshot is that the SNB considers the Swiss Franc slightly less overvalued than before. From the abstract:

The key aspects of the revision are: the application of the weighting method used by the IMF, which takes into account so-called third-market effects; continuous updating of the countries incorporated into the index; and calculation of a chained index. The methodological changes in the calculation of the new index have only a slight effect on the development of the nominal index. However, the difference between the nominal and real index (CPI-based) has increased with the new calculation. This is explained by the fact that countries with a greater weighting in the new index have higher average rates of inflation than those whose weighting has been reduced.

Currency Denomination Risk in the Euro Area

In the FT (Alphaville), Marcello Minnena explains what type of currency denominations of Euro area sovereign debt constitute credit events; and how markets assess the risk of such denominations.

After the Greek default in 2012

new ISDA standards entered into force: contracts made since 2014 protect against euro area countries redenominating their debt into new national currencies [unless the debt is redenominated] into a reserve currency: the US dollar, the Canadian dollar, the British pound, the Japanese yen, or the Swiss franc. In all other cases, the only way to avoid the triggering of a credit event is if the switch to the new currency does not result in a loss for the investor: “no reduction in the rate or amount of interest, principal or premium payable”.

Since 2014 two types of sovereign CDS therefore coexist: the old (ISDA 2003) and the new (ISDA 2014). The latter has always traded at spreads wider than the CDS-2003, but the difference (the ISDA basis) has generally been small: 15-20 bps for Italy, 8-12 bps for Spain, 2-4 bps for France, and 1-2 bps for Germany.

Since January 2017, the spread difference for Italy and France has increased by roughly 20 basis points.

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.

World War I Turned the Swiss Franc Into a Strong Currency

In Die Volkswirtschaft, Ernst Baltensperger and Peter Kugler summarize the history of the Swiss Franc since the mid 19th century:

  • After 1973, the Swiss Franc has been strong. Swiss Franc yields have been lower than what uncovered interest parity would suggest.
  • Before 1914, the Swiss Franc was weak in the sense that it enjoyed only limited credibility. In periods with fixed exchange rates, Swiss Franc yields typically exceeded yields in French Franc or Sterling.
  • Throughout the 20th century, the Swiss Franc appreciated by more than what inflation differentials would suggest, potentially reflecting the Balassa-Samuelson effect.

How Does the Blockchain Transform Central Banking?

The blockchain technology opens up new possibilities for financial market participants. It allows to get rid of middle men and thus, to save cost, speed up clearing and settlement (possibly lowering capital requirements), protect privacy, avoid operational risks and improve the bargaining position of customers.

Internet based technologies have rendered it cheap to collect information and to network. This lies at the foundation of business models in the “sharing economy.” It also lets fintech companies seize intermediation business from banks and degrade them to utilities, now that the financial crisis has severely damaged banks’ reputation. But both fintech and sharing-economy companies continue to manage information centrally.

The blockchain technology undermines the middle-men business model. It renders cheating in transactions much harder and thereby reduces the value of credibility lent by middle men. The fact that counter parties do not know and trust each other becomes less of an impediment to trade.

The blockchain may lend credibility to a plethora of transactions, including payments denominated in traditional fiat monies like the US dollar or virtual krypto currencies like Bitcoin. An advantage of krypto currencies over traditional currencies concerns the commitment power lent by “smart contracts.” Unlike the money supply of fiat monies that hinges on discretionary decisions by monetary policy makers, the supply of krypto currencies can in principle be insulated against human interference ex post and at the same time conditioned on arbitrary verifiable outcomes (if done properly). This opens the way for resolving commitment problems in monetary economics. (Currently, however, most krypto currencies do not exploit this opportunity; they allow ex post interference by a “monetary policy committee.”) A disadvantage of krypto currencies concerns their limited liquidity and thus, exchange rate variability relative to traditional currencies if only few transactions are conducted using the krypto currency.

Whether blockchain payments are denominated in traditional fiat monies or krypto currencies, they are always of relevance for central banks. Transactions denominated in a krypto currency affect the central bank in similar ways as US dollar transactions, say, affect the monetary authority in a dollarized economy: The central bank looses control over the money supply, and its power to intervene as lender of last resort may be diminished as well. The underlying causes for the crowding out of the legal tender also are familiar from dollarization episodes: Loss of trust in the central bank and the stability of the legal tender, or a desire of the transacting parties to hide their identity if the central bank can monitor payments in the domestic currency but not otherwise.

Blockchain facilitated transactions denominated in domestic currency have the potential to affect central bank operations much more directly. To leverage the efficiency of domestic currency denominated blockchain transactions between financial institutions it is in the interest of banks to have the central bank on board: The domestic currency denominated krypto currency should ideally be base money or a perfect substitute to it, directly exchangeable against central bank reserves. For when perfect substitutability is not guaranteed then the payment associated with the transaction eventually requires clearing through the traditional central bank managed clearing mechanism and as a consequence, the gain in speed and efficiency is relinquished. Of course, building an interface between the blockchain and the central bank’s clearing system could constitute a first step towards completely dismantling the latter and shifting all central bank managed clearing to the former.

Why would central banks want to join forces? If they don’t, they risk being cut out from transactions denominated in domestic currency and to end up monitoring only a fraction of the clearing between market participants. Central banks are under pressure to keep “their” currencies attractive. For the same reason (as well as for others), I propose “Reserves for All”—letting the general public and not only banks access central bank reserves (here, here, here, and here).

“Dirk Niepelt über die Folgen eines Brexit für die Schweiz (What Brexit Means for Switzerland),” SRF, 2016

SRF, Tagesgespräch, June 16, 2016. HTML with link to MP3.

  • Half-hour-long interview on the Swiss news channel.
  • Topics include monetary policy, exchange rates, financial stability, Brexit.

Covered Interest Parity and the Risk-Taking Channel

In a speech, Hyun Song Shin points out that CIP increasingly fails to hold: the Dollar interest rate implied by FX swaps vis-a-vis the Euro, Yen, Pound or Swiss Franc is “too high.” Moreover, the deviation is negatively correlated with the Dollar’s spot exchange rate: When the Dollar appreciates, the deviation from CIP widens.

Shin argues that bank behavior explains the deviation:

… the US dollar is used widely throughout the global banking system, even when neither the lender nor the borrower is a US resident. … The consequence of the dollar’s international role in transactions is that the global banking system runs on dollars.

… key feature of the risk-taking channel is that when the dollar depreciates, banks lend more in US dollars to borrowers outside the United States. Similarly, when the dollar appreciates, banks lend less, or even shrink outright the lending of dollars. In this sense, the value of the dollar is a barometer of risk-taking and global credit conditions.

… The breakdown of covered interest parity is a symptom of tighter dollar credit conditions putting a squeeze on accumulated dollar liabilities built up during the previous period of easy dollar credit. During the period of dollar weakness, global banks were able to supply hedging services to institutional investors at reasonable cost, as cross-border dollar credit was growing strongly and easily obtained. However, as the dollar strengthens, the banking sector finds it more challenging to roll over the dollar credit previously supplied.

One way to summarise the finding is that there is a “triangle” that links a stronger dollar, more subdued dollar cross-border flows, and a widening of the cross-currency basis against the dollar.

With the Euro’s rising role as an international funding currency CIP deviations also show up for the Euro.

… the risk-taking channel for the euro is starting to show the tell-tale negative relationship between a weaker currency value and expanding cross-border lending in that currency; it was not there before the crisis, but has emerged since the crisis.

The upshot:

The financial channel of exchange rates operates when currency appreciation elicits valuation changes on borrower balance sheets. …

When we do international finance, we often buy into the “triple coincidence” where the GDP area, decision-making unit and currency area are one and the same … Currency appreciation or depreciation then acts on the economy through changes in net exports. [But that’s misleading.]

“Zinsen, Inflation und Realismus (Interest, Inflation and Realism),” FuW, 2016

Finanz und Wirtschaft, April 30, 2016. PDF. Ökonomenstimme, May 6, 2016. HTML.

The winners and losers of the current monetary environment are not that easy to identify. Investors holding long-term, non-indexed debt gain as unexpectedly low inflation shifts wealth from borrowers to lenders. Governments suffer from increased real debt burdens and reduced revenue due to effectively lower capital income tax rates. Policies that succeed in affecting the real exchange rate entail redistribution.

Exchange Rate Predictability

In a Study Center Gerzensee working paper, Pinar Yesin argues that the IMF’s Equilibrium Real Exchange Rate model (ERER) helps predict medium term exchange rate changes. The reduced form equation relates the real effective exchange rate to macroeconomic fundamentals.

… one of the models, namely the ERER model, outperforms not only the other two in predicting future exchange rate movements, but also the (average) IMF assessment. … the IMF assessments are better at predicting future exchange rate movements in advanced economies than in emerging market economies. Controlling for the exchange rate regime does not yield different results. … the IMF assessments have higher predictive performance in open economies than in closed economies. … safe haven currencies close the misalignment gap predicted by the models faster than other currencies.

… To assess exchange rates only a modified version of the ERER model is being used since 2012. The modified versions of the MB and ES models, while still being utilized, do not have a direct link to the exchange rate anymore. That is, the IMF ceased making a direct link from equilibrium current accounts to equilibrium exchange rates for now.

“Neue Geldpolitik, alte Optionen (New Monetary Policies, Old Policy Options),” FuW, 2016

Finanz und Wirtschaft, January 20, 2016. PDF. Ökonomenstimme, January 21, 2016. HTML.

The public’s perception of central banks has changed during the crisis—and has created expectations that cannot be met. Beyond the buzzwords, the fundamental options for monetary policy makers are the same as always.

Sterilized Exchange Rate Intervention

In a Baker Institute working paper, Jeffrey Frankel reviews the Plaza Accord 30 years ago. Regarding the effectiveness of sterilized intervention, he argues that

… purchases and sales on the scale that governments are generally prepared to make will not have much effect if the market is already firmly convinced of the proper value of the currency. … The successful effect of intervention comes when the market holds weak views as to the true worth of the currency, particularly in the case of a speculative bubble, and is willing to be led by the authorities. A good example of this was the dollar in 1985.

The effort generally has an effect within the first few days or weeks if it is going to have an effect at all.

… operations are more likely to be effective if they are “concerted,” i.e., coordinated among a number of major central banks as they were in 1985 and subsequent years. It is particularly important that the U.S. be one of the countries participating.

… the major effect comes via expectations.

… authorities are not necessarily able to affect the exchange rate for a long period, absent a corresponding change in fundamentals.

In recent years, interventions in foreign exchange markets have mostly been confined to emerging markets.

Europe, Monetary Union and Fiscal Union

In a recent blog post, John Cochrane criticizes the common wisdom that, on economic grounds, the Euro was a bad idea for Europe.

He responds to an earlier New York Times article by Greg Mankiw who argued that conventional wisdom: A monetary union requires (1) cross-subsidization/insurance across regions (“fiscal union”) or (2) significant labor mobility across regions. The US has both, Europe does not; Europe therefore needs regional monetary policy instruments and fluctuating exchange rates to dampen the consequences of adverse regional economic shocks.

Cochrane retorts

I am a big euro fan. … I am also a big meter fan. I don’t think each country needs its own measure of length, or to shorten it when local clothiers are having trouble and would like to raise cloth prices.

Cochrane takes aim at the “deeply old-Keynesian” notion that small regions with fewer inhabitants than the Los Angeles metro area (Greece or Ireland say) are exposed to regional “demand” shocks which require regional fiscal or monetary policy responses. In his view, these are small open economies, and demand shocks arise externally.

Cochrane questions the characterization of the US as “fiscal union.”

In the US, we have Federal contributions to social programs such as unemployment insurance. Europe has the common agricultural policy and many other subsidies. We do not have systematic, reliably countercyclical, timely, targeted, and temporary local fiscal stimulus programs. Just how big is the local cyclical variation in state or local level government spending or transfers? (And why does fiscal union matter so much anyway? If you’re a Keynesian, then local borrow and spend fiscal stimulus should be plenty. The union matters only when countries near sovereign default and can’t borrow.) … Yes, both US and Europe have some pretty large cross-subsidies. But most of these are permanent. … Monetary policy has at best short-run effects, so the argument for currency union has to be about local cyclical, recession-related variation in economic fortunes, not permanent transfers.

He also points out that US monetary union far precedes US “fiscal union.” (And he questions the notion that “tight fiscal policy” lies at the root of Greece’s problems and easy monetary policy would have helped.)

Regarding labor mobility, Cochrane emphasizes again that it is cyclical labor mobility which should matter according to the conventional wisdom. He doubts that there are large differences in cyclical labor mobility between the US and Europe.

Not only are the gains from monetary decentralization in Europe small, according to Cochrane, but the benefits from monetary centralization are large, because of gains in credibility.

When Greece and Italy joined the euro, they basically said, defaulting and inflating now will be extremely costly. They were rewarded for the precommitment with very low interest rates. They blew the money, and are now facing the high costs they signed up for. But that just shows how real the precommitment was.

And Cochrane makes the point that policy should address underlying frictions:

The case for separate currencies is to protect the economy from sticky wages, sticky prices, and sticky people. But none of these stickinesses are written in stone. A plausible answer to my question about pre-new deal US is that prices and wages were not sticky (whatever that means) before the era of regulation. Well, that is a loss, and only very imperfectly addressed by artful devaluation of the currency.  Not every block can have its own currency, so local and industry variation within a country remains hobbled by sticky prices, wages, and people. If sticky wages,  prices and people are the central economic problem, we ought to have a lot of policies to unstick them. We do the opposite, and Europe even more so. The very social programs that Greg implicitly praises for fiscal stimulus tie people to location and undermine labor market flexibility.

He concludes:

So I think a lot of the conventional view seems to think implicitly of fairly closed economies, operating in parallel. But Europe’s economies are open. Moreover, the whole point of the eurozone is to open them further. Small open economies are much worse candidates for their own currency.

“Der starke Franken (Strong Swiss Franc),” SRF, 2015

“Der starke Franken: Des einen Freud, des anderen Leid,” SRF 4 News, July 15, 2015. HTML, AUDIO.

  • Who knows whether the Franc is overvalued.
  • The SNB lost credibility in the short run (and this renders reinstating an exchange rate floor difficult), but not in the long run.
  • Some of the current problems are problems of distribution. The SNB may not be the appropriate institution to address them.
  • Switzerland wants an independent monetary policy. Here are some disadvantages.

The Euro/Swiss Franc Exchange Rate

Was it wise for the Swiss National Bank (SNB) to abandon the exchange rate floor vis-a-vis the Euro (EUR) half a year ago (see the blog entry on the decision and on the critique by Willem Buiter)?

Here are some considerations to keep in mind.

  • Is the Swiss France (CHF) overvalued? The following graph plots the nominal and real exchange rates since 1981 (the real rate is computed based on Swiss and Euro area producer price indices, 2010=100; data file).
    chf eur nom real exch rate
    Relative to the long-term average, the CHF currently is overvalued in real terms by 14%. In December 2014, it was overvalued by 4%; and in August 2011, by 11%. But in December 2007, it was undervalued by 21%. According to the real exchange rate metric, importers (households) thus suffered more in 2007 than exporters suffer today. For a related assessment based on consumer (Big Mac) prices, see this blog post.
  • The real exchange rate is just one metric to assess whether a currency is overvalued. There are many others, see for example this IMF paper or this book. Also, foreign exchange market participants are willing to buy and hold CHFs and EURs at the going market rate; they seem to think that the price is right.
  • If the price were right and policy weakened the CHF, then Switzerland would trade off “competitiveness” of the export sector on the one hand, and expected capital losses on the country’s EUR holdings that would have to be purchased to temporarily strengthen the EUR on the other. Back-of-the-envelope calculations by my colleague Harris Dellas suggest that weakening the CHF would not be worth it, financially speaking.
  • Even if, for whatever reason, society favored a weaker CHF it is not clear that the SNB should intervene. The SNB should only act if its mandate of pursuing price stability calls for such action. In the short run, a weaker CHF would indeed help to push the inflation rate in the desired range. In the longer run, however, a further lengthening of the SNB’s balance sheet (resulting from forex market interventions) could undermine the SNB’s flexibility, in particular if political constraints were to bind.
  • This does not rule out, however, that other institutions in Switzerland could or should enter the exchange rate business. In principle, fiscal policy makers could institute a sovereign wealth fund that is financed by issuing CHF bonds and invested in EUR assets. Fiscal policy makers could also try to redistribute from those currently benefiting to those suffering from the CHF/EUR exchange rate. Export subsidies could be an instrument. They would be hard to implement though if one wanted to account for intermediate inputs.
  • That Switzerland has an independent currency is a choice that reflects repeated, in depth deliberations. Advantages of pursuing an independent monetary policy include the option value to pursue price stability even if other currency blocs don’t; and the ensuing credibility benefits for Switzerland as a whole. Disadvantages include temporary, but potentially long-lasting real exchange rate misalignments that strain some groups (e.g., workers in the export sector) while benefiting others (e.g., consumers). These advantages and disadvantages do not come as a surprise; Switzerland has chosen them.