Friday, April 17, 2015

My New Book - Is The Euro Crisis Really Over?

The euro zone crisis is not back --, at least not yet it isn’t.

Despite the great progress which has been made over the last few years, the latest bout of market tensions over Greece serve to illustrate the degree of uncertainty which still hangs over the future of monetary union - will a so-called Grexit scenario will finally occur?

Certainly the most notable feature of the current Greece crisis is the way in which bond yields in the other Euro periphery countries have continued to head downwards, leading many to conclude that the “contagion” threat is now a thing of the past. But doubts remain: how much of this bond yield stability is due to the ECB QE programme? And what will happen if the ECB eventually terminates the bond purchases, or even tries to end them early under a Federal Reserve type “tapering” process? What will happen to bond spreads then? And what about the growing political instability in the region, as unemployment remains unacceptably high despite the apparent recovery.

More details here.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Brief Bio

"Economists hitherto have tried hard enough and often enough to change the world, the real difficulty however is to understand it." 

"In a world where expectations are (nearly) everything, to change our understanding is already to change our reality. Not only that, changing things this way is the most plausible, most cost effective and least destructive way of doing so" 

Read more........

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Speaking Engagements

European Identity and The Euro Crisis: Fiscal Limitations For Federalist Aspirations – ‘Sovereignty Formulas between Autonomy and Independence: Towards a Reconfiguration of Europe?’ Workshop on the Dynamics of Nationalist Evolution in Contemporary Europe,Foresight Centre, University of Liverpool, 14-15 May 2015

The Demographic Challenges Facing Greece, A New Growth Model For the Greek Economy, 3 June 2015, Conference (here) organised by the Greek Chamber of Commerce and the Greek Parliamentary Budget Office

List of speaking engagements continued here

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Is The Crisis Now History In Spain?

Mariano Rajoy is a man who is not shy when it comes to being controversial, as the storm surrounding his stance over the recent Greek bailout negotiations clearly illustrates (and here). So it is perhaps not surprising that he did not notably blush when he informed a Madrid audience recently that "In many ways, the crisis is history." Such was the storm that followed that he was forced to at least partially retract the offending phrase after a meeting with union officials some four days later. "In many ways the crisis is history, but its consequences are not," he clarified.

Of course all of this is mainly political rhetoric at the start of what is set to be an election year, but still, it does raise interesting questions. Where exactly is Spain? What is the outlook for the future? Is the country still in crisis, or is it, as Rajoy 2.0 suggests simply suffering from the legacy of an earlier one? These questions are not as easy to answer as they seem at first sight, nonetheless in what follows I will take a shot at it.
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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Is Finland's Economy Suffering From Secular Stagnation?

Finland's economy has been attracting a lot of interest of late. And not for the right reasons, unfortunately. The economy in a country previously renowned for being highly placed in the World Bank's "Ease of Doing Business Index" has just contracted for the third consecutive year. Once famous for being a symbol of "ultra competitiveness" (it came number 4 in the latest edition of the WEF Global Competitiveness Index) the country is now fast becoming the flagship example of another, less commendable, phenomenon: secular stagnation.The origins of the theory of secular stagnation go back to the US economist Alvin Hansen (see here) who first used the expression in the 1930s. The hallmark of secular stagnation, he said, was a series of sick "recoveries which die in their infancy and depressions which feed on themselves and leave a hard and seemingly immovable core of unemployment." This seems to fit the Finish case to a T.
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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Why Is Spain's Population Loss An Economic Problem?

"Growth theory was invented to provide a systematic way to talk about and to compare equilibrium paths for the economy. In that task it succeeded reasonably well. In doing so, however, it failed to come to grips adequately with an equally important and interesting problem: the right way to deal with deviations from equilibrium growth……..if one looks at substantial more-than-quarterly departures from equilibrium growth……….. it is impossible to believe that the equilibrium growth path itself is unaffected by the short- to medium-run experience…….So a simultaneous analysis of trend and fluctuations really does involve an integration of long-run and short-run, or equilibrium and disequilibrium. "
Robert Solow, Nobel Acceptance Speech

When the IMF said last year that Spain's unemployment level was unacceptably high, I was pretty critical of the fact that they didn't spell out the consequences of this, or offer any substantial policy alternative. The most obvious impact of this failure to find an alternative is being seen right now, with the emergence of political movements which could well turn the country's two party system completely upside down, and the steady flow of talented young people out of the country in search of work.
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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Does The Arrival Of Negative Interest Rates Change the Attractivess of Euro Membership?

This is the second in a series of posts (first one here) in  which I try to argue that the balance between costs and benefits of belonging to the European monetary union has shifted in the post crisis world, especially for heavily indebted countries such as those to be found on the European periphery.

The benefits of belonging (in terms of debt support given via ECB QE) have risen, while the disadvantages of being outside - as has been seen in countries like Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland - have also grown. This is not a complete cost/benefit balance sheet, but a limited exploration of just one area. That being said it is an area where exploration may help those who simply can't understand the recent determination shown by the Greeks to maintain their Euro membership, a determination which I think is difficult for those in London or the US (who are using a traditional deleveraging and monetary policy framework) to understand.
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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

EuroGroup - Money For Nothing And Your Debt For Free?

There's an interesting question about "analysis" which confronts anyone who seriously wants to engage in it: do you organize your focus around what you want to happen (practical policy emphasis) or do you concentrate your efforts in detailing and outlining what you think will happen? Naturally the closer you are to having an ideological discourse the harder this distinction is to either see or maintain. But even for "non ideological" thinking the issue is far from being an easy one. Whether or not there is any such thing as "objectivity" is a complex philosophical question and attempts to achieve it fraught with all manner of difficulty, but surely we at least have to try?

I raise this point, because while those who write what is called "sell side" analysis do no more (and no less) than the name suggests - no one would really think such work was either objective or independent - we shouldn't abandon too easily the objective as being unattainable.
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Monday, February 16, 2015

Spain's "Good" Deflation?

Spain's domestic economy is booming, or so the story goes, and in no small part this boom comes thanks to the arrival of what is being termed the "good kind of deflation", the sort everyone would like to have, a world where prices fall, real incomes rise, jobs are created, and everyone gets to live happily ever after. Let's not worry that in the process the boom is steadily transforming an export lead recovery into a domestic consumption - or import driven -  one.

"Deflation is like cholesterol", Economy Minister Luis De Guindos told CNBC at the WEF in Davos, "There are two kinds.....The bad one and the good one. In Spain, you know, we have the good kind," So appealing was the story he told I'm surprised many of those in his audience didn't immediately get on a plane to visit the country to try to discover what the secret was. After all, sounds like the next best thing to a free lunch. Wouldn't anyone want some of that?
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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It's Baaack: Looming Greek Elections Threaten To Re-ignite the Euro Crisis

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again......  aka third time unlucky.

The Euro crisis has all the signs of being back amongst us, and this time it may be here to stay. After two earlier false alerts - one in July around the collapse of the Portuguese Banco Espirito Santo, and another in October over the state of the Greek bailout negotiations - the announcement in early December that the Greek presidential selection process was being brought forward to the end of the month sent  markets reeling off into a complete tizzy.

In a development reminiscent of the heady days of 2012 yields on Greek 10yr bonds surged over a percentage point in the two days following the announcement, while the stock market fell by the most on a single day since 1987. 5yr CDS on Greek debt were also up sharply, and even more significantly, the yield curve inverted with 3 year debt started to move above that on ten year debt. Yield inversion on sovereign bonds is often seen as a symptom of potential default as investors demand ever more for holding short term debt.
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Does The Secular Stagnation Theory Have Any Sort of Validity?

In a number of blog-posts (Paul Krugman's Bicycling Problem, On Bubble Business Bound, The Expectations Fairy) I have examined some of the implications of the theory of secular stagnation. But I haven't up to now argued why I think the hypothesis that Japan and some parts of Europe are suffering from some kind of secular stagnation could well be a valid one.

Strangely, while I would suggest the most obviously affected countries are those mentioned above, most of the debate has centered around the US economy. Since it is not at all clear that the US economy is actually suffering from either a liquidity trap or secular stagnation at this point, this has lead many to question whether the idea might not be ill-founded. The Economist, for example, in a revue article (Fad or Fact) of Teulings and Baldwin's Vox e-book  on the topic conclude the concept "remains a baggy one", one which is "arguably too capacious for its own good".
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Monday, October 13, 2014

Eurocrisis Round Two, Blame the Germans Edition

"What strikes me, also, is the extent of intellectual confusion that remains." - Paul Krugman, Europanic 2.0

“The problem is that Germany has continued to maintain highly competitive labor costs and run huge surpluses since the bubble burst — and that in a depressed world economy, this makes Germany a significant part of the problem.” – Paul Krugman, German Surpluses: This Time Is Different

According to one fairly widespread (and recently much in vogue) theory about the Euro crisis, Germany bears a large part of the responsibility for the current mess. The view is met with a variety of responses inside the country, ranging from horror to amazement. Naturally, if the argument were simply about the way Angela Merkel has handled the crisis – no Eurobonds, no debt forgiveness, systematic fiscal austerity – then possibly some of it could be understood. But no, things go beyond that, Germany has been too successful, too competitive, and this has presented a big problem for its partners who simply haven’t been able to keep up.
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Friday, September 19, 2014

Does Abenomics Work? - The Doubts Grow

Is something in the air? Do I detect a change in consensus on the way things are going in Japan? Certainly a slew of articles have been published in the financial press over the last month questioning where the Abenomics experiment is headed for. The general conclusion seems to be that wherever it is it is certainly not the originally designated endpoint. Thus the Economist.
"It is crisis mode in the Kantei, the office of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister. A succession of awful data has pummelled his economic programme, which consists of three “arrows”: a radical monetary easing, a big fiscal stimulus and a series of structural reforms. On September 8th revised figures showed that GDP shrank by 1.8% in the second quarter, or by 7.1% on an annualised basis, even worse than the initial estimate of 1.7%."
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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Secular Stagnation Part III - The Expectations Fairy

The classic solution to the problem posed by a demand slump when monetary policy becomes ineffective due to the operation of a liquidity trap is a credible commitment to future inflation (see for example Paul Krugman's 1998 Japan's Trap). This commitment reduces the real interest rate despite the presence of a zero bound and thus stimulates spending, and it does so through the impact of the commitment on expectations about future inflation.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Secular Stagnation Part II - On Bubble Business Bound

"I now suspect that the kind of moderate economic policy regime...... that by and large lets markets work, but in which the government is ready both to rein in excesses and fight slumps – is inherently unstable."
Paul Krugman - The Instability of Moderation

"Conventional macreconomic theory leaves us in a very serious problem, because we all seem to agree that whereas you can keep the federal funds rate at a low level forever it's much harder to do extraordinary measures that go beyond that forever. But the underlying problem may be there forever. It's much more difficult to say, well we only needed deficits during the short period of the crisis if equilibrium interest rates can't be achieved given the prevailing rate of inflation."
Larry Summers - IMF 14th Annual Research Conference In Honor Of Stanley Fisher

Read more here.

The Italian Runaway Train

There has been lot's of debate in the press and in academic circles over the last week or so about whether Italy's latest contraction constitutes a triple dip recession or simply a continuation of what's been going on over many many years. This is an interesting theoretical nicety, but in fact what is happening in Italy at the moment goes a lot further than problems faced by a recession dating committee. The real issue that arises in the context of the Euro Area at the moment is a far more specific one. Will the ECB do QE? And if it does when will it push the button? And what could happen if it doesn't. Perhaps a case study of the Italian case is worth the effort here. What is likely to happen to Italian debt if there is no ECB intervention soon? Let's take a look at the dynamics.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

What Is The Risk The Euro Crisis Will Reignite?

The euro zone crisis is not back -- at least not yet.

Recent movements in global markets following concerns about Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo really had as much to do with market nerves after a long spell of repressed volatility as it did with the state of the bank’s balance sheet. Despite the current calm, everyone knows that volatility will return one day, and no one wants to be caught on the back foot when it does arrive. So the initial response is to hit the “sell” button and then ask questions.

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Secular Stagnation Part 1 - Paul Krugman's Bicycling Problem

"What’s really happening fast is the demographic transition, with Europe very quickly turning Japanese."
Paul Krugman - For Bonds, This Time is Different

Ever since Larry Summers gave his game-changing speech at last autumn's IMF research conference the back-and-forth flow of arguments about secular stagnation has been almost non-stop (indeed Larry himself now has a webpage dedicated to the topic). First to dive into the swimming pool after the sounding of the starting pistol was Paul Krugman, with a series of blogposts and NYT articles (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).  These were followed/accompanied by a series of commentaries (both for and against), and then finally we got to one of the potential end points of the argument, the "negative natural interest rates for ever and ever" model produced by Gauti Eggertsson and Neil Mehrotra (here) - summarised by Krugman in his memorable "Stagnation Without End, Amen" post.   A fuller bibliography of major milestones in the secular stagnation issue can be found at the foot of this post, but I'm going to eat up most of the column space here looking at just one Krugmans arguments - the one contained in Demography and the Bicycle Effect - since in many ways in goes right to the nub of the issue.

Read more......

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Spain and the IMF: Round the Bend or Out of the Woods?

"Spain has turned the corner". With this stark statement the IMF opened it's annual Article IV consultation report for 2014. Naturally the statement rankled, with this author among others, because at first sight it seems to be saying something which on closer reading of the report you find it isn't. At best it's misleading, possibly from a PR point of view intentionally so, but then Article IV reports are supposed to be more sober, measured assessments.

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Japan Inflation At A 32 Year High?

Just in case anyone was in any doubt last weeks newspaper  headlines blared it out for us loud and clear - Japanese inflation is back, and has even hit levels last seen in 1982.

In fact consumer prices in Japan rose at an annual rate of 3.4% in May according to the Bank of Japan's preferred measure, driven higher from one month to another by the growing impact of the April sales tax hike. The May surge in inflation follows a previous jump to 3.2%  in April, up from 1.3% in March. Apart from the tax hike, the delayed impact of last years yen devaluation is still being felt: electricity charges rose 11.4% year on year in May, gasoline was up 9.6%, while fresh seafood prices climbed 14.3%.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Will Japan Re-enter Deflation in April 2015?

Reading the most recent statements from Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda or Finance Minister Taro Aso you would get the impression that the days of deflation are now well and truly numbered in Japan. Martin Schulz, economist at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo, goes even further. “Deflation is over in Japan,” he told Bloomberg Television First Up’s Angie Lau . Even Japan’s industrial leaders now believe inflation is here to stay: the country’s inflation rate will be 1.5 percent in the spring of 2015, and 1.7 percent in 2017, according to average forecasts in a Bank of Japan survey conducted in March this year.

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Monday, June 23, 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The A-b-e Of Economics

And the world said "Let Shinzo Abe be", and all was light.

A new craze is sweeping the planet. The image I have in mind isn't exactly that of the community of central bankers all dancing the Harlem Shake in unison, but for all the economic sense it has it might as well be. In fact the craze is called "Abenomics" and it is gathering adepts in financial markets across the globe. A precursor in Japanese history has already been found for the movement, Korekiyo Takahashi, who was the country's finance minister during the key years of the 1930s depression. Even a book has been written to extol his virtues entitled “From Foot Soldier to FinanceMinister: Takahashi Korekiyo, Japan’s Keynes." Unsurprisingly it was an immediate hit with Japanese academics when it came out in 2010.

Read more about my new Japan book......

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The "Hot Labour" Phenomenon

Strong growth. Rising real estate prices. Rapid job creation. Surging immigration. This list sums up the Switzerland of 2014 down to a tee. However, it also sounds like a description of what things were like in Spain in 2007 - shortly before the country's economy fell off a cliff. What follows is a conversation between financial journalist Detlef Gürtler and economist and crisis expert Edward Hugh about possible parallels and differences between the two booms, and the role of a new phenomenon which Hugh describes as "Hot Labour".

Hugh argues that this is a new phenomenon, and on the increase as a result of central bank bubble inducing activity. While immigration is a vital tool aiding economies to manage the population ageing process, it is important that economic activities be balanced. Immigration fueling boom/bust cycles is far from innocuous, and harm a country just as much as a sudden stop in capital flows if the immigration is followed by emigration.   

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

As Good As It Gets In Latvia?

For Maurice Pialat, champion of the marginal centre.
"This raises a final question, which, while not central to the issues of this paper, is nevertheless intriguing: How can a country with a low minimum wage, weak unions, limited unemployment insurance and employment protection, have such a high natural rate [of unemployment]?"

"To summarize, the actual unemployment rate is still probably higher than, but close to the natural rate of unemployment. Latvia may well want to take measures to reduce its natural rate, but the recovery from the slump is largely complete."
Boom, Bust, Recovery Forensics of the Latvia Crisis, Olivier Blanchard, Mark Griffiths and Bertrand Gruss

Read More....

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Czech Economy That Didn't Bounce?

The Czech republic has been making the news recently. On the one hand the country has been on the receiving end of massive, devastating floods, while on the other the country's government was brought to the brink of collapse (and beyond)  by the resignation  of Prime Minister Petr Necas following the arrest of one of his most trusted aides on corruption charges. After the deluge I suppose.

Curiously both these events serve to highlight one important underlying reality - Czech voters are deeply dissatisfied and in a highly skeptical mood, since following seven quarters without growth the country's economy is evidently stuck in the doldrums. The worst part is things look highly unlikely to improve anytime soon.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Suitcase Mood

Suitcase mood is a Russian website with travel and tourism content. The term is also a popular expression widely used within Russian culture to describe the state of mind which grips a voyager on the brink of a journey. The mood is often associated with a ritual which involves the departing person sitting, sometimes accompanied by family or friends, in the vicinity (when not actually on top of) the packed suitcase, ostensibly to try to remember if there is anything they have forgotten to take and bid loved ones farewell. Sometimes, however,  the phrase can take on a different, and rather darker, meaning. It can be used to describe someone who is fed up with the status quo, has become footloose and decided they simply want out. "This will never change," might be the thought, "I'm leaving". In my mind's eye I even see the person having the thought seated on their suitcase adopting the posture of Rodin's thinker, turning over and over again whether they are doing the right thing, even while those around them vent their sadness in a bath of tears and alcohol. Or maybe I have just been watching too many Russian movies.

Naturally such a custom does not exist along Europe's Southern fringe, which doesn't mean it couldn't be invented since the young and educated are increasingly leaving much to the chagrin of those they leave behind.

But the "packing up and leaving" variant has now become the predominant one in another country suffering brain flight, one which has does have significant historical associations with traditional Russian culture: Ukraine. The suitcase mood is alive and well among a growing number of young Ukrainians, as journalist Vitaly Haidukevych discovered when he conducted an online survey on the subject via his facebook page,
"The suitcase mood is there. [...] Young, promising people have it. [...] Since they are young, they are leaving not for the sake of immediate earnings [...], but to grow roots for the future. [...] I assume that these people asked themselves whether it was possible to change the state of things in the country – and the answer was ‘no'. [...] Some are leaving for exactly the same reason others are reluctant to join [the anti-regime] protests – they care about themselves, their families and their future. [...] “what are those rapid movements for, you've got kids, think about them” – this is what those who've stayed think. And those who are leaving [...] do not want to wait for the tax authorities to come and take away their last pair of underpants. [...]"

Read more......

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Great Portuguese Hollowing Out

With every passing day Portugal has less and less economy left, while fewer and fewer people remain to try to pay down the debt.

As Portuguese President Aníbal Cavaco Silva once put it, "A country without children is a nation without a future." He was, of course, referring to his country’s ultra-low birth rate, which is just over 1.3 (Tfr) and has been below replacement level (2.1Tfr) since the early 1980s. In 2012 only just over 90,000 children were born in the country, the lowest number in more than a century – you need to go back to the nineteenth century to find numbers like the ones we have been seeing since the crisis really took hold.

But added to this longstanding, yet unaddressed, problem there is now another, just as dangerous, one. High unemployment levels and the lack of job opportunities are leading an ever increasing number of young Portuguese to emigrate. The numbers are large, possibly a million over the last decade, victims of the country’s ridiculously low growth rate – under 1% a year. And the departures are accelerating. Jose Cesario, secretary of state for emigrant communities, estimated recently that up to 240,000 people may have left since the start of 2011.

Read more....

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Shortgage of Bulgarians Inside Bulgaria

According to Angela Merkel, speaking in the German city of Mainz in mid February,  European countries struggling with the fallout of the euro-area debt crisis have much to learn from East Germany’s experience with economic overhaul following the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the main she was speaking about the need for reform, something on which we can all agree. “At the beginning of the 21st century", she said, "Germany was the sick man of Europe and that we are where we are today also has to do with reforms we carried out in the past. That’s why we can say in Europe that change can lead to good.”

But there was one tiny little detail she forgot to mention. During the post unification period East Germany's population went into melt-down mode. New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kulish put it like this:
Unemployment in the former East Germany remains double what it is in the west, and in some regions the number of women between the ages of 20 and 30 has dropped by more than 30 percent. In all, roughly 1.7 million people have left the former East Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall, around 12 percent of the population, a continuing process even in the few years before the economic crisis began to bite.

And the population decline is about to get much worse, as a result of a demographic time bomb known by the innocuous-sounding name “the kink,” which followed the end of Communism. The birth rate collapsed in the former East Germany in those early, uncertain years so completely that the drop is comparable only to times of war, according to Reiner Klingholz, director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development. “For a number of years East Germans just stopped having children,” Dr. Klingholz said.

The newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported recently that although 14,000 young people would earn their high school diplomas this year in Saxony, only 7,500 would do so next year. Since 1989, about 2,000 schools have closed across the former East Germany because of a scarcity of children.
Now this situation is quite serious, and needs a long term solution, but it is not as serious as what is currently happening to Latvia, or Bulgaria, or a number of the other former communist states. Unless, of course, the lesson Angela would like to draw our attention to is that East Germany managed to salvage something from what would otherwise be population wreckage by sneaking in under the shelter of another state, with a centralized system of support for pensions and health care. Somehow I doubt it, but perhaps this is what we need to think more about. The EU needs a pan European health and pension system, to distribute the burden equitably. This is the conclusion I reached during my last visit to Riga. It isn't just a Euro related issue, it is to do with having a unified labour market, with people able to move to where the jobs exist, and the pay is better. For years people complained about the absence of labour mobility in the EU. Now we have it, the flaw in the institutional infrastructure is obvious.

Read more here.