Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Time up for QE

No one really understands it and because of this opinions are all the more divided and intransigent. Despite this incoherence the market has understood enough to know that it drives asset prices and confidence in future prices.  It is QE – quantitative easing.

Ben Bernanke - the Godfather of QE

QE is where Central Banks print themselves some money to buy bonds and other instruments from the banks, the idea is that this puts cash / liquidity into the economy increasing the money supply and making credit more freely available.  Under “normal” conditions of growth (+2-3% annually)and inflation (around 2% annually) equilibrium this would drive up aggregate demand (growth)  and inflation as the banks push this extra liquidity out into the market in the form of loans.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Solving Secular Stagnation

There is now a sense of gloom that pervades the corridors of power in the developed world, six years on from the Lehman Brothers' default and the ensuing “great recession” we are still in the economic dead-zone.  In particular Europe is marred by low growth, high unemployment, falling prices and the worry is that this is the “new normal”.  Most economist are satisfied that the problem is poor aggregate demand, caused by falling investment in both the private and public sectors combined with diminishing disposable income - wages have been flat for years.  This malaise has been characterised as “Secular Stagnation” (SS), a term made famous by Larry Summers a former Head of the US Treasury department.
Larry Summers - feeling the torpor of Secular Stagnation

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The IMF gives more poor advice

The IMF have made some interesting pronouncements over the last few years – having missed the credit crunch and the “great recession” that followed they at first endorsed the UKs plan A and then decried it just as it was starting to work – so we shouldn’t hold up too much hope that the Fund will have anything sensible to say on the matter of European recovery.  No one was too interested when they published their World Economic Outlook, which is normally like a school report – “the UK could try harder”, “France needs to apply herself and complete home work on time” – you get the picture.  But this time round it was a bit more specific and surprisingly so; normally the IMF is reasonably hawkish, looking to solve problems through monetary policy (what would expect, it’s a bank) but in this report the IMF suggest substantially increased public spending on infrastructure investment, and across much of the world.   It asserts that when unemployment is high and interest rates are low, the benefits will be greater if investment is paid for by increased borrowing, rather than cutting other spending or raising taxes. Most interestingly, the IMF declares that good infrastructure investment will reduce rather than increase government debt burdens as public infrastructure investments pay for themselves.  Confusingly the whole 44 page synopsis of the WEO highlights a number of risks to the world economy – political risk in Russia, property bubbles, shortages of natural gas, etc;  but report hardly mentions the debts run up by governments and leverage in the banking system - convenient eh!
Christine Lagarde Head of the IMF points the way forward

Monday, 6 October 2014

Cutting Taxes and Axing Osborne

In 2010 the Tories had plan A, deficit reduction, and by and large the British public bought the idea, which was simple, “We have to cut the deficit because sky-high public debt will kill growth and investment and lead to long term depression”.  Some of this proved to be wrong but enough of the narrative still works.  In all polls that ask the question “who do you trust to manage the economy?” the Tories are in a comfortably lead. We Brits have a long memory and the Brown / Balls bubble will not be forgotten and more recently Ball’s idiotic call for a plan B made him the laughing stock of Westminster.

Despite the Tory’s hard talk on deficit reduction the reality is that progress has been hampered by the coalition’s bargaining (with the illiberal Lib Dems), which ring fenced welfare, the NHS and pensions from the ravages of austerity.  Nearly all the cuts imposed in this Parliament have been born by spending departments that receive less 40% of the entire public sector budget.  There have been some interesting results – less spending on police has reduce crime, less spending on “enterprise” has helped growth take off, lower spending on Europe has made Europe even less popular and a huge increase in international aid has seen our stock in the world fall dramatically!

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