stimulus

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Barnaby Calls For More Stimulus For Swinging Voters In Tuesday’s Budget

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 28/03/2022 - 7:00am in

Australia’s deputy Prime Minister and aspiring minister for home affairs Barnaby Joyce has called on Treasurer Josh Frydenburg to allow for more stimulus to the Nation’s swinging voters in Tuesday’s budget.

”Swingers often get overlooked in the budget,” said the Member for New England. ”But, not as long as I’m part of the Government.”

”I pledge to provide more subsidies for glass bowls, free key rings and of course no GST on frangers.”

When asked why he took such a keen interest in stimulating swingers, the deputy PM said: ”I believe in providing strong stimulus to all people, especially young fit lady voters.”

”Besides, there is no mention of swingers in the PM’s bonk ban.”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, I saw a lovely couple of swingers down the road that I am very keen to go and poll.”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

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Zombie Arguments Against Fiscal Stimulus

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/01/2021 - 10:58pm in

Busy days. I just want to drop a quick note on a piece just published on the Financial Times that is puzzling on many levels. Ruchir Sharma pleads against Joe Biden’s stimulus on the ground that it risks “exacerbating inequality and low productivity growth”. The bulk of the argument is in this paragraph:

Mr Biden captured this elite view perfectly when he said, in announcing his spending plan: “With interest rates at historic lows, we cannot afford inaction.”

This view overlooks the corrosive effects that ever higher deficits and debt have already had on the global economy. These effects, unlike roaring inflation or the dollar’s demise, are not speculative warnings of a future crisis. There is increasing evidence, from the Bank for International Settlements, the OECD and Wall Street that four straight decades of growing government intervention in the economy have led to slowing productivity growth — shrinking the overall pie — and rising wealth inequality.

If one reads the two papers cited by Sharma, they say, in a nutshell, (a) that expansionary monetary policies have deepened income inequality via an increase in asset prices (while for low interest rates and bond prices there is no clear link); (b) that the increasing share of zombie firms drags down the performance of more productive firms thus slowing down overall productivity growth.

So far so good. So where is the problem? Linking these results to excessive debt and deficit, to the “constant stimulus”, is stretched (and I am being kind). A clear case of Zombie Economics.

Let’s start with monetary policy and its impact on inequality (side note: the effect is not so clear-cut). One may see expansionary monetary policies as the consequence of fiscal dominance, excessive deficit and debt that force central banks to finance the government. But, they can also be seen as the consequence of stagnant aggregate demand that is not properly addressed by excessively restrictive fiscal policies, forcing central banks to step in. Many have argued in the past decade that especially in the Eurozone one of the causes of central bank activism was the inertia of fiscal policies. Don’t take my word. Read former ECB President Mario Draghi’s Farewell speech, in October 2019:

Today, we are in a situation where low interest rates are not delivering the same degree of stimulus as in the past, because the rate of return on investment in the economy has fallen. Monetary policy can still achieve its objective, but it can do so faster and with fewer side effects if fiscal policies are aligned with it. This is why, since 2014, the ECB has gradually placed more emphasis on the macroeconomic policy mix in the euro area.

A more active fiscal policy in the euro area would make it possible to adjust our policies more quickly and lead to higher interest rates.

This is as straightforward as a central banker can be: in order to go back to standard monetary policy making, fiscal policy needs to step up its game. Notice that Draghi also hints to another source of problems: the causality does not go from expansionary policies to low interest rates, but the other way round. We have been living in a a long period of secular stagnation, excess savings, low interest rates and chronic demand deficiency which monetary policy expansion can accommodate by keeping its rates close to “the natural” rate, but not address. Once again, fiscal policy should do the job.

Regarding zombie firms, it is unclear, barring the current and very special situation created by the pandemics, why this would prove that stimulus is unwarranted. The paper describes a secular trend whose roots are in insufficient business investment and a drop in potential growth rate (that in turn the authors link to a drop in multi-factor productivity). The debate on the role of fiscal policy in these matters is as old as macroeconomics. In the past ten years, nevertheless, the cursor has moved against the Sharma’s priors and an increasing body of literature points to crowding-in effects: especially when the stock of public capital is too low (as is the case in most advanced countries), an increase of public investment — “constant stimulus”– has a positive impact on private investment and potential growth (see for reference the most recent IMF fiscal monitor and the chapter by EIB economists of the European Public Investment Outlook). Lack of public investment is also widely believed to be one of the factors keeping our economies stuck in secular stagnation.

Fifteen years ago one could have read Sharma’s case against fiscal policy on many (more or less prestigious) outlets. Even then, it would have been easy to argue that it was flawed and fundamentally built on an ideological prior. Today, it seems simply written by somebody living in another galaxy.

Lagarde: A Rookie Mistake?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 13/03/2020 - 5:51am in

So the ECB has spoken in response to the Coronavirus crisis, and it was a problematic response to say the least. I watched Christine Lagarde’s Q&A with journalists, which as usual was the most interesting part of the press conference. But boy, I wish today it had not taken place…

The bottom line is that Lagarde made a huge misstep in stating that the ECB is not going to close the spreads. I hope it is just a communication misstep, otherwise Italy (and probably other countries) will pay a heavy price.

But let’s see what happened today.

First, there is an attempt to put on the Eurozone governments’ shoulders most of the burden of reacting to a shock that will be “significant even if temporary”. Lagarde said clearly, towards the end of the press conference, that what she fears most is insufficient fiscal response coming out from the Eurogroup meeting next Monday:

It is hard to disagree with this approach. To target firms’ liquidity problems one cannot count on banks alone, (especially in countries where they have still not completely recovered from the sovereign debt crisis). As a side note, I welcome the provisions contained in the Italian €25bn package, such as the temporary lifting of short-term businesses obligations towards the government (VAT, social contributions, taxes). These seem to be the right measures to ease short term liquidity constraints.

But let’s look into what the ECB itself commits to do. Besides technicalities that I did not study yet, there will be two sets of measures:

  1. The first set concerns (continued) provision of cheap liquidity to banks, in order to ensure continuing supply of credit to the real economy. This will be ensured through a new and temporary long-term refinancing scheme (LTRO), together with significantly better terms for the existing targeted loan programs. This amount to a large subsidy to banks. Loans conditions will be more favorable for banks lending to Small and Medium Enterprises, which are the ones more likely to become strapped for liquidity in the current situation. Furthermore, as a supervisor, the ECB engages in operational flexibility when implementing bank specific regulatory requirements, and to allow full utilization of the capital and liquidity buffers that financial institutions have built. I am unclear on how much this will work in order to keep the flow of credit flowing, but overall, my sentiment is that on cheap and easy financing to banks and (hopefully) to firms, there is little more ECB could do.
  2. The second set of measure is a ramping up of QE, with additional €120bn (until the end of the year). Lagarde seemed to suggest that the ECB could use flexibility to deviating from capital keys, the quota of bonds the ECB can buy from each country. This means that maybe more help will be given to countries like Italy, and the ambiguity was probably on purpose.

But then came the Q&A, and with it, disaster. At a question by a journalist on Italian debt and yields, Lagarde replied the following:

This also made it on the ECB twitter feed:

This simple sentence was a reversal of Mario Draghi 2012 “whatever it takes“. Mario Draghi, in 2012, had basically announced that the ECB would act as a crypto-lender of last resort (conditional, way too conditional, but still), and since then the scope for speculation has been greatly reduced. Spreads have been much less variable since then (I wrote a paper with Roberto Tamborini, on that, that just came out).

Protection from the ECB against market speculation is what countries like Italy would need most. Fiscal policy is the tool that can be better targeted towards supporting the supply side of the economy and preventing liquidity problems from evolving into bankruptcies. Lagarde herself stated it many times in the past few days, and again today.

So, governments should be put in the conditions not to worry, at least for a while, of market pressure. Lagarde should have said the exact opposite: “we commit to freezing the spreads for n months so that governments can focus on supporting their productive sector, and restoring more or less normal aggregate demand conditons”. Lagarde said the opposite. And here is the effect of that on Italian ten year rates. Look what happened at around 3pm, when she answered the question:

The yields Other Eurozone peripheral countries had similar behaviours. Why did Lagarde say that? Maybe Because she wanted to appease fiscal hawks ahead of the Eurogroup meeting of next week, so that they are more willing to agree on a fiscal stimulus? Or because she was afraid to be accused to be too soft on Italy? Or to actually care about one single country, which is what the ECB is not supposed to do? Or was it simply a communication misstep? A rookie mistake? Whatever the reason, it is clear that Lagarde made a huge mistake, and even apparently she partially backpedaled in a NBC interview shortly thereafter, this is what remain of today’s press conference.

So, my assessment of today’s ECB move is mixed. It was as good as it gets on financing the banking sector, and we just have to cross finger that this is enough to keep credit flowing.

But it is disappointing on the support of expansionary fiscal policies. All the more disappointing that the ECB and Lagarde have insisted on the need for a fiscal response “first and foremost”.

My only hope is that that was a misstep, or just lip service to fiscal responsibility. If market pressure prevents governments from supporting their firms, and if liquidity problems evolve into solvency problems, a “significant but temporary” shock will become a permanent hit to long-term growth capacity. And let’s not forget that the Eurozone economy is today more diverse and less resilient than it was in 2008.

Brace yourself

ps. You can find my live tweeting during the Q&A (a bit confused at times. Live tweeting is not my thing!) here: