Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

ECB policy is tightening – has been for some time

Update: Nouriel Roubini front pages this post on Euromonitor here.

The ECB dove in and hiked its policy rate by 25 basis points to 1.25%. I had the pleasure of listening to Wolfgang Munchau on Thursday, and he reiterated what I reluctantly understood: the ECB’s strict inflation target is ridiculously simple for such a complex region; but more importantly, the Governing Council is just itching to tighten.

Eurointelligence blog highlights the various interpretations of the ECB’s shift in policy: Thomas Mayer at Deutsche Bank suggests that the ECB’s normalization is appropriate, while David Beckworth and others (links at Beckworth’s site) are more sympathetic to the impact on the Periphery. They highlight that relative price fluctuations could facilitate the much-needed redistribution of capital flows (i.e., the current account); and furthermore, that ECB policy is even too tight for the core (a google translation of Kantoos Economics). Yours truly has written extensively about this – among others, here’s one, another, and another. Who’s right? Ultimately time will tell.

But I do suspect that we haven’t seen the end of this crisis. The ECB is squeezing out liquidity when more liquidity is needed. Furthermore, the core remains subject to export shocks via external demand; and there’s building evidence that global growth will slow (see this excellent post on global PMIs by Edward Hugh).

It’s ironic, too. While the ECB is currently being heralded or chastised for raising rates, monetary and financial conditions in Europe have been tight for some time, both on a relative and stand-alone basis!
(read more after the jump!)

First, the ECB’s bond purchase programs, the Securities Market Programme and the Covered Bond Purchase program, amount to just 1.4% of 2010 Eurozone GDP. In stark contrast, the size of the Fed’s program broke 16% (and is rising) and the Bank of England’s purchase program remains firm at around 13% of GDP.

The asset purchase programs are emergence liquidity programs and are not normal monetary policy tools. But while the Fed and the BoE do not sterilize their flows, the ECB does. And my interpretation of ECB rhetoric and policy as of late is that they want out of the secondary-bond purchase business. For example, they’ve slowed their SMP purchases markedly in 2011 (see the ad-hoc announcements here).

Second, Eurozone financial conditions have been tightening since August 2010, while those in the US and England loosened up. Goldman Sachs constructs a financial conditions index, which is comprised of real interest rates (long and short), real exchange rates, and equity market capitalization. I love this index (subscription required), as it represents a broad measure of monetary policy pass-through.

Even though the ECB just started its rate-hiking cycle, they’ve been effectively tightening for some time.

I would say that Eurozone (as a whole) growth prospects are seriously challenged at this time, especially by comparing monetary policy to that in England and the US. We’ll see if the ECB’s able to push its target rate back to 2.5-3% through 2012 – I suspect that may be just a pipe dream, as tight liquidity and a slowing global economy drag economic growth.

The ECB’s actions imply to me that they still do not understand the following: Europe faces a banking crisis not a fiscal crisis!

Rebecca Wilder

Tags: , , , , , Comments (6) | |

Guest Post: RJs Aggregator – The Ryan Plan

Today RJs Aggregator presents opinion across the web regarding proposed Republican budget cuts for fiscal year 2012. Of note, AB authors Ken Houghton and Kash also contributed to the debate.

Guest Post: The RJs Aggregator – The Ryan Plan

by RJ

House Republicans Propose $4 Trillion in Cuts Over Decade – “House Republicans plan this week to propose more than $4 trillion in federal spending reductions over the next decade by reshaping popular programs like Medicare1, the Budget Committee chairman said Sunday in opening a new front in the intensifying budget wars2. Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” the chairman, Representative Paul D. Ryan3 of Wisconsin, also said Republicans would call for strict caps on all government spending that would require cuts to take effect whenever Congress exceeded those limits. “We are going to put out a plan that gets our debt on a downward trajectory and gets us to a point of giving our next generation a debt-free nation,””

The Republican budget: Praising Congressman Ryan - The Economist – “BARACK OBAMA, as we unhappily noted when he produced his budget in February, has no credible plan for getting America’s runaway budget deficit under control. Up to now the Republicans have been just as useless; they have confined themselves to provoking a probable government shutdown in pursuit of a fantasy war against the non-security discretionary expenditures that make up only an eighth of the total budget, rather than tackling the long-term problem posed by the escalating costs of entitlements. Now that has changed. On April 5th Paul Ryan, the young chairman of the House Budget Committee, laid out a brave counter-proposal for next year’s budget and beyond (see article)—brave both in identifying the scope of the problem and in proposing the kind of deeply unpopular medicine that will be needed to cope with it. It is far from perfect; but it is the first sign of courage from someone with actual power over the budget.”

(Read much more after the jump!)

Paul Ryan To Boldly Take On Big Poor - “You know how you have been reading for weeks and weeks about how the bold Republican budget, crafted by Prince of Boldness Paul Ryan, will boldly address the deficit problem that President Obama refuses to address? . First, reports the Hill, Ryan will not touch Social Security, which is immensely popular with the middle class. Second, reports Politico, he will take a huge whack out of Medicaid, which primarily benefits the poor: Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has made clear to POLITICO in February that he intends to target Medicaid and Medicare for savings. While Medicaid is easiest to win consensus on, Medicare is the biggest debt driver. I love the part about how Medicaid the the “easiest to win consensus on.” Why is that? Because it’s wasteful? No, Medicaid is super-cheap — so cheap the program routinely has trouble finding doctors willing to accept it. It’s easiest to win consensus on because its beneficiaries have the least political power.”

What Paul Ryan’s budget actually does - “Paul Ryan’s plan for Medicare and Paul Ryan’s plan for Medicaid rely on the same bait-and-switch: They use a reform to disguise a cut. In Medicare’s case, the reform is privatization. The current Medicare program would be dissolved and the next generation of seniors would choose from Medicare-certified private plans on an exchange. But that wouldn’t save money. In fact, it would cost money. As the Congressional Budget Office has said (pdf), since Medicare is cheaper than private insurance, beneficiaries will see “higher premiums in the private market for a package of benefits similar to that currently provided by Medicare.” In Medicaid’s case, the reform is block-granting. Right now, the federal government shares Medicaid costs with the states. That means their payments increase or decrease with Medicaid’s actual rate of spending. Under a block grant system, that’d stop. They’d simply give states a lump sum at the beginning of the year and that’d have to suffice. And if a recession hits and more people need Medicaid or a nasty flu descends and lots of disabled beneficiaries end up in the hospital with pneumonia? Too bad.”

Moment of Blather – “David Brooks’s commentary on Paul Ryan’s “budget proposal” is entitled “Moment of Truth.” Brooks falls over himself gushing about his new man-crush, calling it “the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes.” “Ryan is expected to leap into the vacuum left by the president’s passivity,” he continues. Gag me. First of all, Ryan’s plan is not “comprehensive” by any stretch of the imagination. Ryan’s plan does limit taxes to 19 percent of GDP and outlays to 14.75 percent of GDP by by 2050, producing a huge surplus. How does he achieve this budgetary miracle? In part, he does it by waving his magic wand. This is what the CBO has to say (emphasis added):“The proposal specifies a path for all other spending [other than Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security] (excluding interest) that would cause such spending to decline sharply as a share of GDP—from 12 percent in 2010 to 6 percent in 2022 and 3½ percent by 2050; the proposal does not specify the changes to government programs that might be made in order to produce that path.”

Rivlin: ‘I don’t support the version of Medicare premium support in the the Ryan plan’ – Ezra Klein – ““Alice Rivlin and I designed these Medicare and Medicaid reforms,” Paul Ryan said on “Morning Joe” yesterday. “Alice Rivlin was Clinton’s OMB director… she’s a proud Democrat at the Brookings institution. These entitlement reforms are based off of those models that she and I worked on together.” But Rivlin — who is all that Ryan says she is, in addition to a former vice chair of the Federal Reserve — is not supporting the reforms as written in Ryan’s budget. I spoke with her this morning to ask why. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.”

Generational Divide Colors Debate Over Medicare’s Future – “The Republican budget released on Tuesday1 is a daring one in many ways. Above all, it would replace the current Medicare2 with a system of private health insurance plans subsidized by the government. Whether you like3 or loathe that idea4, it would undeniably reduce Medicare’s long-term funding gap — which is by far the biggest source of looming federal deficits. Yet there is at least one big way in which the plan isn’t daring at all. It asks for a whole lot of sacrifice from everyone under the age of 55 and little from everyone 55 and over. Representative Paul Ryan5, the Wisconsin Republican who wrote the plan, calls the budget deficit an “existential threat” to the United States. Then he absolves more than one-third of all adults from responsibility in dealing with that threat.”

The cost of Medicaid savings - “Already Rep. Ryan’s budget plan has received a lot of attention. By now you well know that one way it aims to save money is by turning Medicaid into a state block grant program. It is important to recognize that there is a cost to those savings: worse health for low-income individuals. Yet some proponents of Medicaid cuts deny this cost, citing evidence that does not support their case. In a NEJM paper by Harold Pollack, Uwe Reinhardt, and two of us (Austin and Aaron) that published today at 5PM, we emphasize just that. It’s short and ungated, so please read it. In it, we press those who claim Medicaid is worse for health than being uninsured to cough up their causal theory as to how this could be the case.”

Medicaid Savings in Ryan’s Plan Would Come At the Expense of the Poor » “The “Path to Prosperity” budget proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), includes a plan to revamp Medicaid —which currently provides federal funding to states on an “as-needed” basis to help cover the health care costs of the poor and disabled—into a block grant program. This one initiative alone, according to the budget bill’s supporters, would save $750 billion over ten years. There is little in Ryan’s budget proposal to support just where these savings will come from, but it’s easy to imagine that state caps on Medicaid enrollment, cuts in covered benefits and lowered physician reimbursement, along with an increase in co-pays for beneficiaries will all play an essential role.”

Death Panels are starting to sound awfully good right about now – “Jill – Think about it: How would you rather check out of this God-forsaken level of reality? Would you rather be in a warm bed somewhere, perhaps lying on sheets nice and warm out of the dryer, with the sun streaming in your window and soft music playing into your room, perhaps with the aroma of peppermint, or fresh bread, or whatever your favorite aroma might be, while a doctor slips a needle into your arm and you wooze into a delightful drowsiness and then unconsciousness, and then another needle containing the drug that stops your heart is administered…or would you prefer to die out in the street, old, sick, and alone, huddling from a bitter wind, because you have no home, no shelter, no food, and no medical care? I know which one I’d take. But it’s hard to imagine that the GOP will be kind and compassionate enough to offer the elderly the first one, not if the current House majority gets its way: House Republicans are preparing to introduce a 10-year budget Tuesday that will eliminate Medicare and replace it with a private insurance system that closely resembles the new health care law, and end Medicaid as an entitlement program all together.”

Ryan plan to slash Medicaid will cost the economy nearly two million private sector jobs – “Currently, Medicaid provides comprehensive health coverage to the elderly, disabled, children, and low-income adults.[1] The cost of providing health care coverage is split between the federal government and the states. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R.-Wisc.) released a budget resolution this week that would “block grant” Medicaid, meaning that it would give states a fixed amount of money rather than provide a fixed share of the total costs. Because these grants would grow more slowly than the expected inflation rate for health care costs, this proposal would have the federal government shift an increasing amount of the coverage costs onto states, who will be in turn forced to cut health benefits and other services, cut public investments such as education and transportation, or raise taxes. Using a standard macroeconomic model that is consistent with private- and public-sector forecasters, we find that a $207 billion cut would result in a loss of 2.1 million jobs over the next five years, or 2.9 million full-time equivalent jobs.[3]

Challenge to the Heritage Foundation; Preposterous Unemployment Estimate Revisited – Mish – “In No Path to Prosperity: Ryan’s Incredulous Budget-Balancing Proposal, Preposterous Unemployment Estimate I blasted the Heritage Foundation’s estimate of 4% unemployment rate by 2015. In the above referenced article, I did unemployment math two different ways to show just how silly a 4% unemployment projection is. In an effort to be as fair to the Heritage Foundation as possible, I will do the math a third time factoring in a few more variables. Before doing so, please note that Bernanke estimates it takes 125,000 jobs a month to hold the unemployment rate steady. Thus, in a Bernanke scenario we would need 1.5 million workers a year to break even. I find that number reasonable.”

Long-Term Analysis of a Budget Proposal by Chairman Ryan – “CBO Director’s Blog – In response to a request from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, CBO has conducted a long-term analysis of a proposal to substantially change federal payments under the Medicare and Medicaid programs, eliminate the subsidies to be provided through new insurance exchanges under last year’s major health care legislation, leave Social Security as it would be under current law, and set paths for all other federal spending (excluding interest) and federal tax revenues at specified growth rates or percentages of gross domestic product (GDP). CBO analyzed major provisions of the proposal as they were described by the Chairman’s staff. CBO has not reviewed legislative language for the proposal, so this analysis does not represent a cost estimate for legislation that might implement the proposal.”

CBO: GOP Budget Would Increase Debt, Then Stick It To Medicare Patients - “The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s initial analysis of the House GOP budget released today by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is filled with nuggets of bad news for Republicans. In addition to acknowledging that seniors, disabled and elderly people would be hit with much higher out-of-pocket health care costs, the CBO finds that by the end of the 10-year budget window, public debt will actually be higher than it would be if the GOP just did nothing. Under the so-called “extended baseline scenario” — a.k.a. projections based on current law — debt held by the public will grow to 67 percent of GDP by 2022. Under the GOP plan, public debt would reach 70 percent of GDP in the same window. In other words, the spending cuts Republicans would realize in the first 10 years would be outpaced by deficit increasing tax-cuts, which Ryan also proposes. After that, debt projections under the plan improve decade-by-decade relative to current law. That’s because 2022 would mark the beginning of the Medicare privatization plan. 04 05 Ryan Letter (scribd)”

Ryan’s Budget Plan Is Ridiculous, But It Could Shift the Debate – “Ezra Klein has helpfully assembled a summary of the Ryan GOP budget. As you can see, while everyone’s talking about the privatization of Medicare and block-grant of Medicaid, there are plenty of other pieces worth discussing here even without any of that. Ryan would reduce discretionary spending to pre-2008 levels and freeze it for five years. He would repeal the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank entirely. He would block grant the food stamp program, giving a set amount of money indexed to inflation, regardless of economic conditions. He would eliminate all changes to Pell Grants, kicking them back to 2008 levels. And he would use the savings from all that to make the Bush tax cuts effectively permanent, but actually do worse than that, by changing the tax code to lower the top individual and corporate tax rates to 25% and making up the revenue on the poor. So this is a pretty pathetic budget. And it also happens to be a complete fiction. The numbers are not to be trusted at all. Ryan assumes $1.4 trillion in savings from health care repeal when the Congressional Budget Office scores repeal as increasing the deficit. He uses “dynamic scoring” to perpetuate a fiction that tax cuts will increase tax revenue. He sets unrealistic spending caps without determining how to get there or how future Congresses not bound by his budget will abide by them. Worst, he assumes a world-historical low unemployment rate based on a Heritage Foundation study that claimed the Bush tax cuts would lead to the same kind of prosperity (hint: they didn’t). Indeed, by 2021, Ryan assumes a 2.8% unemployment rate, which is how he achieves the revenue needed to make the numbers work. Included with this projection is an implausible housing boom.”

Magical thinking won’t create jobs: Heritage forecasts for Ryan plan are fantasy – “Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has produced a magical budget that “strengthens the safety net” by slashing trillions of dollars from Medicaid and Medicare. He also proposes to “strengthen” Social Security by dismissing the $2.4 trillion Social Security trust fund as valueless, based on “dubious accounting.” It is no surprise, therefore, that the economic analysis Ryan holds up to support his plan is pure fantasy. According to Ryan: “A study just released by the Heritage Center for Data Analysis projects that The Path to Prosperity will help create nearly one million new private-sector jobs next year, bring the unemployment rate down to 4% by 2015, and result in 2.5 million additional private-sector jobs in the last year of the decade.” The Heritage Center’s forecasts for the Ryan plan are even bolder in the out years: It predicts unemployment will fall to an unprecedented 2.8% by 2021.”

Memory Hole Alert – Krugman – “Wow. Yesterday afternoon I downloaded the tables from that Heritage report that’s the basis for the Ryan plan. The first page looked like this: You can see the unemployment forecast, with the amazing 2.8 percent prediction, in the fourth set of figures. But go to the same place right now, and you get this: Yep — they took the offending number out. I mean, really, guys — this is all over the blogosphere; did you really think you could get away with pretending it was never there? Anyway, you now know what kind of people we’re dealing with. Update: For reference, here they are (pdf files): As of yesterday. As of today.”

Paul Ryan Does Wall Street’s Bidding In Budget - “House Republicans — led by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) — released their 2012 budget today. The plan includes a giant tax cut for the wealthy, as well as a complete dismantling of Medicare and Medicaid. But it also includes a gift for Wall Street, in the form of a repeal of the provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that protect taxpayers from having to bail out failed financial institutions.The provisions in question — which Ryan dubbed “permanent bailout authority” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today, reviving a key GOP talking point from the financial reform debate — are actually two distinct parts of the financial reform law.”

Why is Paul Ryan’s Budget Trying to Dismantle Financial Reform?“It’s not enough to gut programs for low-income Americans. Paul Ryan wants to roll the clock back on Wall Street to 2008. The budget Paul Ryan released yesterday has huge cuts that are likely to fall on the poorest Americans while offering all kinds of bonuses to the top 1%. Others will be talking about how it eliminates Medicare and Medicaid. I want to talk about how it dismantles one of the few regulations put on Wall Street post-crisis. Let’s back up with a high-level overview.”

Taking Note: Congressman Ryan’s Doublethink – “One of the main reasons that the conservative movement continues to dictate the terms of domestic policy debates is its mastery at applying language that resonates favorably with the public to deeply unpopular ideas. Representative Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity,” starting with the title, is full of more instances of “holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously” than George Orwell himself could have conjured. Some examples of doublespeak (a term Orwell did not coin) in Ryan’s plan, along with translations into plain English that would more accurately inform the public:”

Representative Ryan’s Roadmap: Interesting Implied Macro Impacts – “I’ve read and re-read the Heritage Foundation’s analysis of how the projections for the Ryan plan were developed. I’m sure it’s my own failing, but I still don’t quite understand what is going on. And this is after Heritage took down their original documentation that indicated unemployment would eventually hit 2.8%.[0] (Here is National Journal’s take on the original Heritage analysis.) Even ignoring the unemployment number (which seems to have moved a bit, although not reported in the document), I thought it worthwhile to mention the other oddities of the report. First, it is important to note that the simulation forecasts relative to the CBO alternative fiscal scenario, rather than extended baseline, as would typically be the case. Obviously, this makes the Ryan plan “look better” in terms of budget deficits and (given Heritage’s modeling approach incorporating substantial supply side effects) in terms of growth. Second, it is very interesting to take a look at the forecasts. For GDP (Figure 1), the forecasts imply a noticeable increase, amounting to a 2.4% higher GDP (in log terms, relative to baseline) by 2021. Perhaps reflecting the assumptions built into the model, despite reduced effective personal tax rates (see Appendix 3 tables), personal tax receipts are higher (Figure 2).”

The Ryan Plan Is “Fundamentally Immoral” – “Even people not particularly enamored with government involvement in health insurance hate the Ryan plan for Medicare: You put the load right on me, Democracy in America: Paul Ryan’s plan to replace Medicare with a system of vouchers for seniors to buy health care on the private market … ends the guarantee that all American seniors will have health insurance. The Medicare system we’ve had in place for the past 45 years promises that once you reach 65, you will be covered by a government-financed health-insurance plan. Mr. Ryan’s plan promises that once you reach 65, you will receive a voucher for an amount that he thinks ought to be enough for individuals to purchase a private health-insurance plan. … If that voucher isn’t worth enough for some particular senior to buy insurance, and that particular senior isn’t wealthy enough to top off the coverage, or is a bit forgetful and neglects to purchase insurance, there’s no guarantee that that person will be insured. It’s up to you; you carry the risk.”

Ryan Plan Unconstitutional Under Senate GOP Balanced Budget Amendment – “Under the balanced budget amendment proposal unveiled last Thursday with all 47 GOP senators on board, the blueprint presented by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan on Tuesday would be unconstitutional until sometime after 2030. It’s not that Ryan’s budget plan doesn’t balance; excluding interest payments, it would balance starting 2015, which does clear the bar set by the balanced budget amendment. But primary (or noninterest) spending, though down sharply from close to 23% of GDP this year, would remain at 17% of GDP or higher beyond 2030. Never mind that Ryan and his GOP cohorts have just taken on tremendous political risk by proposing to turn Medicare into a fixed-payment voucher for buying private health coverage or that he would cut $750 billion in Medicaid costs this decade while providing flexibility — and shifting responsibility — to the states.”

Ryan Plan’s “Path to Prosperity” Is Just for the Wealthy, CBPP: “House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s name for his budget — “The Path to Prosperity” — is a cruel joke. For the last three decades, nearly all the gains of economic growth have gone to the tiny sliver of people at the top of the income scale. The challenge for policymakers is how to restore opportunity for middle- and lower-income Americans by once again widening the path of prosperity. Unfortunately, Chairman Ryan’s plan would narrow it further.For the wealthy, Ryan’s proposals are pure gold:

  • A typical hedge fund manager would benefit from Ryan’s extension of the Bush tax cuts for high-income people; the average person making at least $1 million a year would get $125,000 a year in tax breaks.
  • Heirs to multi-million-dollar estates would benefit from Ryan’s estate tax proposal, which would let them inherit the first $10 million in estate value entirely tax-free.
  • High-income investors would benefit from Ryan’s elimination of Medicare taxes on their investment income.
  • And large numbers of high earners would benefit from Ryan’s call to cut the top rate to 25 percent, the lowest in 80 years.”

$3 Trillion Here, $3 Trillion There – “Krugman OK, $2.9 trillion. Anyway, pretty soon you’ll be talking about real money. Richard Rubin and Stephen Sloan direct us to a new Tax Policy Center assessment of the tax cuts in the Ryan plan (all, repeat all, of which go to top incomes and corporations) The people at TPC are careful to say that this is not a full assessment of the Ryan plan, because The proposed resolution includes measures to broaden the individual and corporate tax bases, but lacks sufficient detail for an estimate including those provisions. I’ll say. In fact, the proposal says it will broaden the tax base, but says nothing whatsoever about how. And it would take an awful lot of broadening to make up for the revenue losses, which are estimated at $2.9 trillion. As Rubin and Sloan point out, even completely eliminating the mortgage interest deduction wouldn’t be enough to close more than a fraction of the gap.And what does the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee have to say? His spokesperson says, The pro-growth tax reform proposal included in Chairman Ryan’s budget proposal is both revenue neutral and holds revenue at historical norms. I believe that translates as, “We believe in voodoo. Also, arithmetic has a well-known liberal bias.””

RJ: In all, Paul Krugman has 18 blog posts on the Ryan plan in addition to his regular column, which for the most part I haven’t included here; for his complete analysis, drill back through his blog to the Apr 5th post titled Groundhog Day on the Budget.

Comments (24) | |

Germany is competitive on a relative basis as measured by productivity, standard of living or prices

The point of this article is to demonstrate that Germany has enjoyed increased ‘competitiveness’ as measured by productivity levels and relative prices. But the clarity of Germany’s ‘competitiveness’ cannot be established by using German data in the form of a black box – a bird’s-eye view of the region is the only way to see this.

In a very well written piece, Kantoos highlights that the German current account surplus is more a function of reduced investment and productivity passing through to low market-clearing wages than it is ‘competitiveness’, per se. While I agree with his economic analysis, I disagree that Germany is not competitive – Italy, yes; Germany, no.
(read much more after the jump!)

The term ‘competitiveness’ is rather non-discriminatory. It can refer to a lot of things. Below, I discuss national competitiveness, i.e., measuring a country’s relative position in the global market place. In contrast, micro-level competition – firms compete in various industries for market share and profits – is not really relevant here. The fact that we’re talking about a nation’s competitiveness means that it’s not clear how to measure competitiveness. Let’s explore.

In order for Germany to be deemed sufficiently ‘uncompetitive’ globally, relatively weak productivity gains would have left German wages relatively low compared to major trading partners. And by extension, Germany’s standard of living must also have suffer compared to its trading partners. From what I can see, only relative wages have been surpressed. Therefore, I conclude that Germany is competitive.

Exhibit 1: German productivity gains over the last decade – I use the period 2000-2008, so as to not bias the results downward from the global recession – have not been striking, but positive nevertheless.

German productivity has increased on a cumulative basis compared to Euro area trading partners, like France and Italy. Notably, the Euro area average is down, which is probably biased by Italy’s 8.7% cumulative drop in productivity. So on a relative basis, Germany’s productive and second only to Spain in this sample (notably Spain gained a whopping 4.1%!). (Also, please see Chart 18 of this ECB research paper for a broader comparison – it’s a .pdf file).

Exhibit 2: Despite the relatively weak productivity gains, albeit positive I remind you, the standard of living has increased in line with other Eurozone economies, like France, and surpassed others, like Italy.

This chart, to me, illustrates that productivity gains have been ‘competitive’ enough to support decent growth in the average standard of living (as measured by real per-capita GDP from the IMF).

And to really hammer down the point, please see page 24 in a recent ECB research report, Chart 18 referenced above, on the impact of the global recession on Euro area competitiveness. Germany’s 2000-2008 annual average productivity gains are in line with many other European economy, but wage compensation is relatively muted. In fact, German average annual compensation per employee is the lowest of the cross-section (according to Chart 18). My point is, that productivity gains were not fully passed on to workers via nominal compensation gains (probably a better comparison would be real compensation per employee).

Exhibit 3: It’s all about levels; and Germany’s 2010 average income is relatively high (measured in GDP per-capita PPP dollars for comparability across exchange rate regimes).

The German standard of living (i.e., relative per-capita GDP) fairs well against a cross-section of developed economies in Europe and abroad. Average income (standard of living) is the fourth highest behind Norway (for comparison to Kantoos’ article), the US, and Canada. Italy runs low current account deficits (trade is pretty well balanced), and average income falls at the bottom of this sample. That’s very uncompetitive in the relative sense.

The second issue that I mentioned is measurement – i.e., there’s a problem with using just unit labor costs to measure ‘competitiveness’ (see a recent Naked Capitalism article to the point).

However, no matter how you look at relative prices – the real exchange rate, relative export prices, relative unit labor costs, relative GDP deflators, etc. – Germany stands out as very ‘competitive’, or at least ‘exportable’. I have no direct chart to support my previous statement; but the European Commission does. The EC publishes a quarterly report on price and cost competitiveness; and according to the most recent report, 2Q 2010 (.pdf), Germany is very competitive by any measure of relative prices(see pages 15-16 of the .pdf).

In conclusion, it’s difficult for me to see how Germany is not ‘competitive’ on a relative basis, if ‘competitive’ is either (1) standard of living and relative productivity gains, or (2) in a relative prices sense.

I would state here that within the Eurozone, a healthy rebalancing of current accounts is underway (i.e., typical creditors dissaving and typical debtors saving). This would be made much easier if the ECB would run looser policy and allow German inflation to overshoot, effectively facilitating the relative price adjustements. Please see David Beckworth’s article to this point.

Rebecca Wilder

Tags: , , , Comments (4) | |

Guest Post: The RJS Aggregator – Government deficits and MMT

Introduction: Here’s another timely compilation of economic commentary by Rj from the Global Glass Onion. His thread highlights a recent interchange between straight Keynesian economists, Paul Krugman, for example, and Modern Monetary Theorists (MMT), like Jamie Galbraith, Bill Mitchell, Randy Wray, and Warren Mosler.

I’ll add just one link to The RJS Aggregator today. At his Benzinga column , Randy Wray describes the monetary mechanics of MMT, which is the cornerstone of several theories (like how government deficits drive down short rates through reserve creation). Rebecca Wilder

Guest Post: RJs Analysis: The debate about government deficits – MMT

by RJ

The Austerity Delusion, by Paul Krugman - “Portugal’s government has just fallen in a dispute over austerity proposals. Irish bond yields have topped 10 percent for the first time. And the British government has just marked its economic forecast down and its deficit forecast up.What do these events have in common? They’re all evidence that slashing spending in the face of high unemployment is a mistake. Austerity advocates predicted that spending cuts would bring quick dividends in the form of rising confidence, and that there would be few, if any, adverse effects on growth and jobs; but they were wrong.It’s too bad, then, that these days you’re not considered serious in Washington unless you profess allegiance to the same doctrine that’s failing so dismally in Europe.Why not slash deficits immediately? Because tax increases and cuts in government spending would depress economies further, worsening unemployment. And cutting spending in a deeply depressed economy is largely self-defeating; any savings achieved at the front end are partly offset by lower revenue, as the economy shrinks.”(Read more after the jump!)

Krugman Is Wrong: The United States Could Not End Up Like Greece – Dean Baker – “I have to disagree with Paul Krugman this morning. In an otherwise excellent column criticizing the drive to austerity in the United States and elsewhere, Krugman comments: “But couldn’t America still end up like Greece? Yes, of course. If investors decide that we’re a banana republic whose politicians can’t or won’t come to grips with long-term problems, they will indeed stop buying our debt.” Actually this is not right for the simple reason that the United States has its own currency. This is important because even in the worst case scenario, where the deficit in United States spirals out of control, the crisis would not take the form of the crisis in Greece. Greece is like the state of Ohio. If Ohio has to borrow, it has no choice but to persuade investors to buy its debt. However, because the United States has its own currency it would always have the option to buy its own debt.”

Deficits and the Printing Press – Paul Krugman – “Right now, deficits don’t matter — a point borne out by all the evidence. But there’s a school of thought — the modern monetary theory people — who say that deficits never matter, as long as you have your own currency. I wish I could agree with that view — and it’s not a fight I especially want, since the clear and present policy danger is from the deficit peacocks of the right. But for the record, it’s just not right. Suppose that we eventually go back to a situation in which interest rates are positive, so that monetary base and T-bills are once again imperfect substitutes; also, we’re close enough to full employment that rapid economic expansion will once again lead to inflation. Suppose, now, that we were to find ourselves back in that situation with the government still running deficits of more than $1 trillion a year, say around $100 billion a month. And now suppose that for whatever reason, we’re suddenly faced with a strike of bond buyers — nobody is willing to buy U.S. debt except at exorbitant rates. So then what? The Fed could directly finance the government by buying debt, or it could launder the process by having banks buy debt and then sell that debt via open-market operations; either way, the government would in effect be financing itself through creation of base money. So we’re talking about a monetary base that rises 12 percent a month, or about 400 percent a year. Does this mean 400 percent inflation? No, it means more — because people would find ways to avoid holding green pieces of paper, raising prices still further.”

Krugman, Galbraith, and others debate MMT – “Paul Krugman slugs it out with our colleague Jamie Galbraith and many other “modern monetary theory” partisans at Krugman’s New York Times blog website. Jamie’s most recent retort is at the top of this page of the blog site. Many of the points raised in the discussion there are central to our work here at the Levy Institute and to the views of Galbraith and others in our macro research group”.

A Further Note On Deficits and the Printing Press – Paul Krugman – “A followup on my printing press post: I think one way to clarify my difference with, say, Jamie Galbraith is this: imagine that at some future date, say in 2017, we’re more or less at full employment and have a federal deficit equal to 6 percent of GDP. Does it matter whether the United States can still sell bonds on international markets? As I understand the MMT position, it is that the only thing we need to consider is whether the deficit creates excess demand to such an extent to be inflationary. The perceived future solvency of the government is not an issue. I disagree.”

Paul Takes Another Swipe at MMT - The Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) approach to economics must be starting to make some waves, because today, Paul Krugman, followed his earlier attack on it and his debate with Jamie Galbraith and others last summer, with another swing at MMT. The debate last summer was an extensive one at Paul’s blog site at the New York Times, and, in addition, there were a number of posts at other sites replying to Paul. The debate was a classic in the developing conflict of views between the “deficit doves” (represented by Paul) and the “deficit owls” (represented by Jamie Galbraith and other MMT writers). Given the earlier debate, you’d expect that Paul’s second try at MMT would reflect a bit of learning on his part, and also a characterization of the views of MMT practitioners that is a little more fair than he provided in his first attempt. This post will analyze Paul’s new attack and assess how much he’s learned. But first, I’ll review the earlier debate.

The Euro Straitjacket – Paul Krugman – I think Dean Baker and I are converging on deficits and independent currencies. He asserts that having your own currency makes a big difference — you can still end up like Zimbabwe, but not like Greece right now. I’m fine with that. Specifically, the reason Greece (and Ireland, and Portugal, and to some extent Spain) are in so much trouble is that by adopting the euro they’ve left themselves with no good way out of the aftereffects of the pre-2008 bubble. To regain competitiveness, they need massive deflation; but that deflation, in addition to involving an extended period of very high unemployment, worsens the real burden of their outstanding debt. Countries that still have their own currencies don’t face the same problems. I like to use this picture, showing deficits and debt as of the end of 2010: Source.
Dear Paul Krugman, You Do Not Understand MMT – Paul Krugman is out with another misrepresentation of MMT. For some reason, he has come to the false conclusion that MMTers believe deficits don’t matter. He says:“Right now, deficits don’t matter — a point borne out by all the evidence. But there’s a school of thought — the modern monetary theory people — who say that deficits never matter, as long as you have your own currency. But for the record, it’s just not right.”This is an absurd misrepresentation of the MMT position and proves that he has not taken the time to fully understand MMT. In my treatise on the subject I specifically say this is not the case:“Some people claim that MMTers say deficits don’t matter. That is a vast misrepresentation of MMT. No MMTer would ever say such a thing. Deficits most certainly do matter. Maintaining the correct level of deficit spending is, in many ways, a balancing act performed by the government. It is best to think of the government’s maintenance of the deficit like a thermostat for the economy.

The MMT solvency constraint - Steve Randy Waldman – “It is good to see Paul Krugman prominently discussing “modern monetary theory”, although I don’t think his characterization is quite fair. I am an MMT dilettante, so I’ll apologize in advance for my own mischaracterizations. But I think the MMT view of stabilization policy can be summed up pretty quickly: …I think this is a clever and coherent view of the world. I do not fully subscribe to it — in my next post, I’ll offer point-by-point critiques. But first, let’s see where I think Paul Krugman is a bit off in his characterization: A 6 percent deficit would, under normal conditions, be very expansionary; but it could be offset with tight monetary policy, so that it need not be inflationary. But if the U.S. government has lost access to the bond market, the Fed can’t pursue a tight-money policy — on the contrary, it has to increase the monetary base fast enough to finance the revenue hole. And so a deficit that would be manageable with capital-market access becomes disastrous without.

More on Modern Monetary Theory – “I view this debate as another round of “deficits don’t matter,” which was the hue and cry from both the left and the right a decade or so back as we were digging the hole we’re now in. Let me say at the outset that I sympathize with the goals of Jamie Galbraith and others who would like to see the Fed finance Great Depression-type jobs programs, education, and other investments in human and physical capital. It is what the country needs.However, I view the problem not as insufficient aggregate demand but as our broken social contract, our broken government, our broken American dream. Printing more money will just go into the pockets of the plutocracy if the banking bailouts and the Stimulus are any indication. MMT is a joke in the present monetary historical context.”

Paul Krugman gets it wrong…. Again. – I’d say the deficit debates were heating up again, but I don’t think they’ve let up since before last year’s Peterson Foundation Fiscal Summit (orthodoxy for neoliberal deficit hawks) and the grass roots Fiscal Sustainability Teach-In and Counter-Conference, both held on April 28, 2010. The Teach-In provided an important corrective, known as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), to the false narratives of both deficit hawks and deficit doves. Yesterday, Paul Krugman’s blog post Deficits and the Printing Press (Somewhat Wonkish), once again showed his ignorance of MMT, and in the process misinformed his readers (my emphasis): Right now, deficits don’t matter.. But there’s a school of thought — the modern monetary theory people — who say that deficits never matter, as long as you have your own currency. I wish I could agree with that view. But for the record, it’s just not right. The bolded statement, as I’ll show below, is completely false.

James-Galbraith-responds-to-Paul-Krugman – There are many excellent comments on the recent Paul Krugman vs. MMT story (see an excellent summary of the comments here), but I wanted to highlight the comment by James Galbraith, which really cuts to the chase: What do you mean, exactly, by the phrase, “solvency of the government”? According to my dictionary (Webster’s Third New International) an entity is “solvent” when it is “able… to pay all legal debts.” If you will look in your wallet, you will find, on any Federal Reserve Note: “This Note is Legal Tender for All Debts Public and Private.” Can we agree that the United States government, of which the Federal Reserve is a part, can always produce the Federal Reserve Notes required to pay its public debts? It follows, without any possibility of misunderstanding or error, that the United States Government is always going to be solvent.

billy blog » Letter to Paul Krugman – “Dear Paul..We are both academics and have been trained to PhD level in economics. We should therefore understand the difference between good scholarship and bad scholarship whether the final outcome is a peer-reviewed journal article, published book or Op-Ed piece for a popular media publication (such as the New York Times). Examples of poor scholarship:

  • 1. Representing an argument by relying on statements by critics of the argument as a reliable construction of the argument.
  • 2. Creating a stylisation of an argument that is could not be constructed from a thorough reading of the primary sources in the field. This is the, straw person tactic.
  • 3. Presenting analytical arguments to support an attack on a school of thought which are erroneous.
  • 4. Making stuff up – this embraces the previous three examples. I refer to your two articles in the New York Times:
  • (a) Deficits and the Printing Press (Somewhat Wonkish) – March 25, 2011 and then what seems to be a qualifying article –
  • (b) A Further Note On Deficits and the Printing Press – March 26, 2011.”

Paul Doubles Down On Ignorance, Misconstrual, and Vague Scenarios – “After the scorching he received in many of the comments on his printing press post Paul Krugman decided to dig his MMT blogging hole even deeper. He says: “. . . I think one way to clarify my difference with, say, Jamie Galbraith is this: imagine that at some future date, say in 2017, we’re more or less at full employment and have a federal deficit equal to 6 percent of GDP. Does it matter whether the United States can still sell bonds on international markets? The most important thing to note about this scenario illustrates Paul’s penchant for simplistic examples that mean nothing without further context. There are many ways in which Paul’s scenario can be fulfilled, and they would make a big difference in the reactions of the bond markets, even if the Government chose not to manage bond interest rates to drive them down to zero. For example, let’s say that the world still desires to send the United States more goods and services than it receives from us, about 3% of US GDP more, and let’s also say that the US private sector wants to run a surplus of 3% of GDP; then the Government will be running a deficit of 6% because its deficit must equal the sum of the absolute value of the negative current account balance, and the private sector savings surplus. In that realization of Paul’s scenario, would the US have any trouble selling bonds? It’s very doubtful, since what would those who exported to us do with USD they received in payment for their goods and services, except to buy our bonds?”

If you like large error bounds - “And lousy correlation coefficients, then the Modern Money Theorists are right. We can regulate money with printing and taxes. Unfortunately, 90% of the economy has much better estimates of taxes and printing then the MMT folks. The economy figures this stuff out before taxes go haywire. The economy is much more accurate about itself than Martin Wolf, Paul Krugman or the MMTs. If you want to be a good economist, I suggest you would have at least the same accuracy as the economy. How can we have an economic theory that depends on economic agents reading our columns? I get that entanglement is part of economics, the same as in physics. But it is too far fetched to go from a NYT op ed to the demand for eggs. The economy lives on information, suggest the economists keep up.”

US Employment and Wages, Modern Monetary Theory, Trade, and Financial Reform – Jesse – “On another note, there is renewed discussion of ‘Modern Monetary Theory,’ and some have asked me again to address this, as I have done previously. I have only this to add. I see no inherent problem with the direct issuance of non-debt backed currency as there is sufficient evidence that it can ‘work.’ Indeed, my own Jacksonian bias toward central banking would suggest that.I think the notion that the Fed is some objective judge of what is best for the public welfare without effective oversight or restraint is anti-democratic and probably un-Constitutional, at least in spirit, as it has been implemented. And this notion that the FED and the discipline of the interest markets could reliably emulate an external restraint on excessive money creation is deeply flawed.The problem becomes then how to implement a fiat currency without the discipline of issuing debt through private markets. This is the important point that most MMT adherents seem to ignore, but it is their greatest area of strength.”

What’s the difference between government bonds and bank notes? – Ed Harrison – “In light of a recent post by Randy Wray, I’d love to have some readers here answer my question. The Treasury doesn’t have to issue [government] bonds at all. In fact, since the Treasury does control the electronic printing press, it could legitimately buy stuff with money it prints out of thin air. Sounds a bit like counterfeiting, doesn’t it? But, let’s step back for a second: what is the functional difference for the federal government between Treasury securities and bank notes? Both are liabilities of the federal government. But liabilities of what? The only obligation they enforce on the government is the promise to repay with more paper (or electronic bank credits, if you will). For all intents and purposes, bank notes, reserve deposits, and Treasury securities are fungible: they are obligations to be repaid in the same fiat currency.”

Comments (74) | |

Greece is not Argentina

I politely disagree with the conclusions of the article written by my Angry Bear colleague, Kash, where he envisages Greece defaulting in 2011 similarly to Argentina in 2001.

I do agree, that the macroeconomic initial conditions in Greece scream default (actually, if you focus just on the measurable factors, like the current account, debt levels, or fiscal imbalances, Greece is much worse than Argentina in 2001 – see Table 4 of this IMF paper to see Argentina’s initial conditions and compare them to Greece in 2009 using the IMF World Economic Outlook Database).

Where I disagree, arguing that Greece is not like Argentina, is that the debt crisis in Argentina didn’t bring down the banking system of Latin America overall. In contrast, the default of Greece has the potential to do just that in Europe.

Update: see David Beckworth’s Macro Market Musings includes Rebecca’s thoughts on ECB

In Argentina, the Latin American banking system (and sovereign bonds, for that matter) was quite resilient in the face of the sovereign default in Argentina. Uruguay was the exception, whose two largest private banks, Banco Galicia Uruguay(BGU) and Banco Comercial (BC), which account for 20% of the country’s total, saw near-term liquidity pressure and an ensuing banking crisis in 2002 (see this IMF paper for a history of banking crises). All else equal, the IMF reports only minor impact to the region as a whole:

With the possible exception of Uruguay, economic and financial spillovers from the Argentine crisis appear to have been generally limited to date—as indicated, for example, by the muted reactions of bond spreads in most other regional economies and their declining correlation with those of Argentina, together with other favorable trends in financial market access and the general stability of exchange rates over recent months.

In contrast, the European banking system is highly interconnected. For example, according to the German Bundesbank, Germany’s bank exposure to Spain was roughly 136 bn euro in December 2010, where most of it is held in the form of Spanish bank paper, 56.4 bn euro, and Spanish enterprises, 58.3 bn euro; the rest is in sovereign debt. Furthermore, German banks are sitting atop 25 bn euro in (worthless) Greek paper, primarily in the form of sovereign debt. Euro area countries are exposed to other banks AND the sovereign; but more importantly, the ones that save (run current account surpluses) are the ones holding the worthless (in some cases) bank and government debt. (read more after the jump)

Bank risk is a big risk in Europe. Based on the consolidated banking data at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), German banks hold 22% of the Greek external debt load i.e., bank debt + sovereign debt + corporate debt), while French banks hold 32% (see Tables below). Furthermore, German banks accumulated 20% of all Irish external debt, 14% of Italy’s, and 21% of Spain’s.

So the question is, not what will happen if Greece defaults, per se; but will a Greek default set off a chain reaction liquidity crunch that challenges asset valuations in the other Euro area banking systems (for bank paper and sovereign paper)? I suspect that it will, since the European banks are still building their capital buffers.

My point is, the Germans are partial to NOT letting Greece default. All fiscal austerity aside, the Germans have demonstrated that they’d rather write a check than take the writedowns, at this time. Therefore, from this perspective, I find it very unlikely that Greece defaults this year (or next, really).

Now, you’re probably thinking: well, it’s in Greece’s best interest to default. Willem Buiter calls Greece leaving the Euro area ‘irrational’. An irrational chain of events must be put in place in order to presage such a disorderly default (see 8. ‘Break-Up Scenarios for the euro area’ in the publication). We’re not there yet, since Greece is still in asset-selling austerity mode.

It’s political repression.

BIS data representation I: in Shares of external debt outstanding (click to enlarge)

BIS data representation II: in levels of external debt outstanding (click to enlarge)

Rebecca Wilder

Tags: , , , , Comments (3) | |

Guest Post: "RJS Analysis – Japanese Disaster Impact"

RJS had been a long-time commenter at my blog, News N Economics, and has joined Angry Bear’s thread of comments. RJS runs his own blog, Global Glass Onion, where he publishes a weekly newsletter encompassing news from around the world for his readership. Collaborating with Dan, we asked RJS to make a similar contribution to Angry Bear, where he has kindly agreed to format the topics and style to fit our needs. The style of rj’s Analysis is evolving, so please comment with your feedback. Rebecca Wilder

A guest post by RJS: “RJS Analysis – Japanese Disaster Impact”

Although some east coast Japanese ports were damaged by the tsunami, and most of the infrastructure in a primary agricultural region has been destroyed, it appears the major problem facing Japan right now is lack of electrical generating capacity; Citigroup analysts say it may be “irreversible”Tokyo has been warned of blackouts during cold weather; this is not so much because of the loss of the infrastructure; rather the 9.7 GW taken out of service with the six closed reactors is a lion’s share of the electric power in the east. These operate on US style 60Hz power, while the generating capacity in the west of Japan is a legacy of 19th century German generators, which run at 50Hz, and the two systems don’t talk to each other… We now learn that rolling blackouts will likely continue into the summer because TEPCO will only be able to supply 50 million KW per day, whereas typical peak summer usage is 60 million KW… The shortfall may eventually be made up by spare gas and diesel generating capacity; but as of yet, I’ve yet to see a timeline as to when. So at present, even many of the Japanese manufacturers who were not damaged by the quake have shut down their production lines; and as many are the sole makers of various automotive & electrical components, manufacturing around the globe is starting to be affected… How bad this can become globally is still anyone’s guess; but in the one similar experience we had with a resin plant fire in japan in 1993, prices of semiconductors doubled in a matter of days. In just one example illustrative of the problem, making the i-phone alone involves 9 different companies, in Korea, Japan, Taipei, China, Germany, and the US…
(Read more after the jump)

Stress Test for the Global Supply Chain – “Day in and day out, the global flow of goods routinely adapts to all kinds of glitches and setbacks. A supply breakdown in one factory in one country, for example, is quickly replaced by added shipments from suppliers elsewhere in the network. Sometimes, the problems span whole regions and require emergency action for days or weeks. When a volcano erupted in Iceland last spring, spewing ash across northern Europe and grounding air travel, supply-chain wizards were put to a test, juggling production and shipments worldwide to keep supplies flowing. But the disaster in Japan, experts say, presents a first-of-its-kind challenge, even if much remains uncertain. Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, and a vital supplier of parts and equipment for major industries like computers, electronics and automobiles. The worst of the damage was northeast of Tokyo, near the quake’s epicenter, though Japan’s manufacturing heartland is farther south. But greater problems will emerge if rolling electrical blackouts and transportation disruptions across the country continue for long.”

Made in Japan: What Is Country Exporting? – “The crisis in Japan triggered by the March 11 earthquake hasn’t just disrupted domestic production, but also poses problems to trading partners that rely on Japanese goods. (See an interactive graphic showing Japan’s exports.) Japan is the world’s fourth-largest exporter and most of the products it sends overseas are machinery and transportation equipment, which include everything from heavy industrial machinery and semiconductors to refrigerators and cars. The country accounts for about 14% of world exports of automotive products. Japan exported some $469.64 billion of machinery and transportation equipment in 2010. Japan also is a key supplier of advanced components to Asian nations that specialize in the final assembly phase of manufacturing. China depends on Japan for 13% of its imports, largely capital goods such as machine tools and electronic parts for manufacturing. Filed under miscellaneous goods are such products as precision instruments, particularly scientific, optical instruments.”

Japan Quake Could Have Big Impact on U.S. Output – “Investors counting on robust manufacturing data for March may be in for an unpleasant surprise next month. When the March data come out in mid-April it will likely mark the second month in a row of declining U.S. industrial output and could mark the start of a worrying trend. Industrial output slipped 0.1% in February. Why will this decline likely happen? It’s because the after-effects of the March earthquake in Japan are disrupting automobile manufacturing in North America in a hefty way. This matters because, despite popular belief, automobile manufacturing still is a meaningful part of the industrial sector. Here’s how it’s playing out: Japan still is a major supplier of parts to U.S.-based car factories. It isn’t just Japanese car brands, like Toyota and Honda, which both announced they would temporarily halt production at some plants in the U.S. General Motors has been impacted by the problem, notably furloughing workers in New York state and Louisiana. It doesn’t take a supply disruption of many car parts to mean that a auto maker has to halt output for an entire plant, at least temporarily.”

Supply Shortages Stall Auto Makers – “General Motors Co. will stop some work at two European factories and is mulling production cuts in South Korea, amid growing uncertainty over how its plants around the world will be affected by the crisis in Japan. A shortage of Japanese-built electronic parts will force GM to close a plant in Zaragoza, Spain, on Monday and cancel shifts at a factory in Eisenach, Germany, on Monday and Tuesday, the company said Friday. Both factories build the Corsa small car. Meanwhile, the company’s South Korean unit said it is considering cutting production to deal with a potential shortage.”

Toyota: Quake to affect US – “Toyota Motor Corp. says it is likely to experience production interruptions at its North American factories because of the disruption in supplies of auto parts coming from quake-ravaged Japan. Toyota’s automaking operations in Japan have been halted since March 14 as it reviews the condition of suppliers providing the 20,000 or more components that make up vehicles. Auto engineers scouring the northeastern region have found many facilities that were damaged and others that were destroyed, and most automakers haven’t completed their assessments. Toyota’s U.S. manufacturing subsidiary in Erlanger, Ky., told its U.S. employees, plant workers and dealers Wednesday that some production interruptions in North America were likely. The automaker said it could not predict which sites would be affected or for how long. Most of the components used in Toyota’s North American assembly operations come from some 500 suppliers in the region.”

Libya war, Japan disaster putting brakes on auto industry‎ – “There are about 15,000 parts in most cars, but the absence of just one can wreak havoc. That’s especially true when it comes to microprocessors, which control everything from an engine’s fuel mix to the car’s global positioning system.About one in every five microprocessors is made in Japan, and many are made at plants that were severely damaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. So just as U.S. auto sales gather steam, the unexpected war in Libya, surging gas prices and now production cuts triggered by the earthquake have thrown uncertainty into automakers’ rosy 2011 outlook. Automakers could lose production of up to 5 million vehicles in the next four months,”

Automakers Still Reeling From Japan Quake – “The earthquake and tsunami in Japan are still disrupting the auto industry worldwide, and it could be harder to find that car you want as a result. Toyota (TM) says it will probably idle a truck plant in Texas because it can’t get enough parts, according to Reuters. “It is likely that we will see some nonproduction days coming,” a spokesman said. “At this point, we are still not sure of when those might hit or, if they do it, what the duration may be.” The entire sector is feeling aftershocks from the tragedy. Even American automakers are not immune, as they import parts from Japan. General Motors (GM) temporarily stopped production at a plant in Louisiana and laid off more than 50 workers at a plant in New York. But the Japanese automakers are the hardest hit, with recovery efforts hampered by widespread power outages. Post continues after video about Toyota and Honda production:

Toyota and Ford to stop making cars in certain colors – “Automakers may run low on certain paint colors because of a shortage of a pigment produced in an area close to the damaged Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan. Ford Motor Co. has alerted dealers to stop ordering vehicles in tuxedo black and three shades of red. Toyota Motor Corp. and Chrysler Group LLC also are among automakers that will be affected by the pigment shortage. The German pigment manufacturer Merck Group confirmed that the Japanese plant that makes a pigment called Xirallic had halted production because it was in the exclusion zone around the damaged nuclear power complex…once engineers can get inside the plant, the company believes production can be restarted in four to eight weeks.”

Panic buying raises prices on Prius, Fit – “Americans have begun snapping up Toyota Prius, Honda Fit and other fuel-efficient models made only in Japan almost the way shoppers denude bread and milk shelves in a supermarket when a storm is predicted. The intensity first spurred by rising gas prices has been amplified by predicted shortages of many models as the Japanese auto industry remains disrupted by the March 11 earthquake and its aftermath. “We’ve gone from 60 (Priuses) in stock to 16″ over the last two months, . A dozen are coming, “but we are told they are going to dwindle” quickly after that. Indicating the shortages may not be brief, Honda has told dealers it’s not taking orders for any vehicles made in Japan in May. March and April orders already were delayed.”

Japan crisis could prompt Ind. autoworker layoffs -”Shortages of auto parts from earthquake-stricken Japan could lead to layoffs at some Indiana factories in the coming weeks. Business analysts don’t expect large cutbacks, but anticipate that some Indiana plants that employ about 50,000 autoworkers will use short workweeks, scattered short-term layoffs and slower line speeds to keep workers busy during the downturn. “I’m not sure it’s going to be a major event. It’s not clear yet,” said economist Thomas Klier of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago told The Indianapolis Star. “We still don’t know what the extent of the damage actually is in Japan.” Trying to determine which plants might be affected by the tumult in Japan is made difficult by the global supply chain that has developed in recent years. Subaru, Toyota and Honda assemble vehicles in Indiana, but the supply system runs to almost every major automaker.”

Bracing for the pinch on auto parts from Japan – “The disaster in Japan already is affecting the U.S. auto industry. Two key questions now are, how much and for how long? Toyota’s 13 factories in the United States, Canada and Mexico have been told to expect shortages of parts made in Japan, and U.S. makers that use Japanese parts also are expecting supply disruptions. And that could mean a temporary drop in inventoriesfor some high-demand vehicles in Texas showrooms. “The biggest unknown in the industry is the parts supply chain,” said Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends at, a new car pricing site. Parts shortages could reduce global auto production by about 30 percent”

Automakers May Lose 600000 Vehicles as Quake Hits Parts, Paint‎ — “Global automakers may lose production of 600,000 vehicles by the end of the month as the earthquake in Japan halts assembly lines and work at suppliers including the maker of a paint pigment. About 320,000 vehicles may have been lost worldwide as of March 24, and manufacturing at plants in North America may be affected when parts supplies start running out as soon as early April, said Michael Robinet, vice president of Lexington, Massachusetts-based IHS Automotive.“The next surge of shutdowns comes when the pipeline of parts that were already built dries up,” Robinet said yesterday in a telephone interview. “The rate of lost production will accelerate once North American plants join in.” Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s largest automaker, said it has lost output of 140,000 vehicles, and Honda Motor Co. has lost 46,600 cars and trucks and 5,000 motorcycles. Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s was lowered by 15,000. Ford Motor Co. hasn’t lost any output, said Todd Nissen, a spokesman.”

Global auto output may fall 30 percent due to quake‎ – “(Reuters) – A shortage of auto parts stemming from Japan‘s earthquake may cut global vehicle output by 30 percent within six weeks in a worst-case scenario, research firm IHS Automotive said on Thursday. This translates to a drop of as many as 100,000 vehicles per day, IHS analyst Michael Robinet said, adding there could be more North American plant shutdowns in the meantime. “We’re already feeling the impact in Japan,” “North America, Europe, China: those three areas for sure will feel some impact.” Last week, General Motors Co (GM.N) idled its pick-up truck plant in Shreveport, Louisiana. Toyota Motor Co is likely to idle its own pickup truck plant south of San Antonio.The delivery of parts from transmissions to electronics to semiconductors is being hampered by the Japanese earthquake and subsequent infrastructure problems. About 13 percent of the global auto industry output has been lost now because of parts shortages, Robinet said.The slowdowns could grow even more severe by the third week of April.”

Toyota, Sony Disruptions May Last Weeks After Japan Earthquake – “Toyota Motor Corp. and Sony Corp., two of Japan’s biggest manufacturers, are facing worst-case scenarios of long-term production shortfalls as scores of plants remain closed and workers are idled in the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. “The current situation is still difficult,” . The company has shut eight plants in Miyagi, Ibaraki and Fukushima prefectures, and workers are inspecting equipment and facilities, he said. Toyota has said it will keep 21 auto and components plants closed until March 22. Sony and Toyota’s efforts to resume production are complicated by the need for hundreds of different components to build TVs and cars from a variety of different suppliers that may have suffered plant damage in the earthquake and tsunami. Japan is also facing electricity shortages because a nuclear- power plant was crippled by the temblor. “This will be played out not in days, but in weeks,” . “Nothing on this scale has really occurred before.””

Shockwaves reverberate from mobiles to jewelery -”Nokia on Monday became the latest company to warn of disruption to its supply chain, highlighting Japan’s role in producing crucial components for a rangeof global manufacturing industries. The Finnish mobile phone maker, which sources about 12 per cent of its components in Japan, said the disaster was likely to affect its manufacturing and supply schedules. “Nokia expects some disruption to the ability . . . to supply a number of products due to the currently anticipated industry-wide shortage of relevant components and raw materials sourced from Japan,” the company said. The Japanese disaster has exposed the risks associated with modern global supply chains, in which companies rely on just-in-time deliveries from a network of global suppliers with little surplus inventory to cushion them from any disruption. Technology manufacturers are particularly exposed to Japan because of its importance as a supplier of semiconductors and other critical components in products such as mobile phones and computers. Several big Japanese technology companies, including Panasonic, Hitachi, Nikon, NEC and Sony, have reported disruption either from earthquake damage or power shortages since the disaster. Ericsson, the Swedish network equipment maker, and Sony Ericsson, its mobile phone joint venture with Sony, are among other non-Japan-based companies which have so far warned of supply chain problems.”

Sony | Japan Disasters Could Hit Consumer Electronics Hard… “Sales of consumer-electronics items, including television sets, DVD players, cameras, personal computers, and video-game players are likely to be impacted by the devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Advertising Age observed today (Thursday). The trade publication observed that while the final assembly of those products takes place in other Asian countries, the components are made in Japan. With Sony, Nintendo, Panasonic, Canon, Nikon and other Japanese-based electronics companies forced to shut down plans, parts shortages are likely to increase prices of many items and produce product scarcity even into the holiday season, AdAge observed. Earlier this week research group iSuppli reported that two Japanese plants that account for 25 percent of the global supply of silicon wafers had been forced to suspend operations. Moreover, two other companies that account for 70 percent of the worldwide supply of the main raw material used to make printed circuit boards have also temporarily shut down.”

Tags: , Comments (15) | |

Europe’s industrial new orders: 3 very different stories

Spain vs. Germany vs. UK: production trends showing holes in some growth stories

Eurostat reports new orders for January:

In January 2011 compared with December 2010, the euro area1 (EA17) industrial new orders index2 rose by 0.1%. In December 20103 the index grew by 2.7%. In the EU271, new orders increased by 0.2% in January 2011, after a rise of 2.9% in December 20103. Excluding ships, railway & aerospace equipment4, for which changes tend to be more volatile, industrial new orders increased by 1.6% in the euro area and by 1.9% in the EU27.

This was a disappointing report, as Bloomberg consensus was expecting a 1% monthly gain. The Eurostat press release reports new orders by country and production type only(capital, consumer, intermediate, durable, and nondurable). However, I look at the origination of orders by region: domestic, non-domestic extra-euro (which is the same as non-domestic for the Euro area as a whole), and non-domestic intra-euro.

The idea is, that with ubiquitous fiscal austerity, Euro area countries rely on external demand for growth. So here’s my question: how’s Spain to survive? (more after the jump)

Exhibit 1: Spain’s industrial sector is barely growing amid fiscal austerity

No industrial production growth = a big problem. It’s not just fiscal austerity, per se, it’s that the economy needs plenty of nominal income gains to improve the cyclical budget deficit in order to even see the benefits of structural adjustment. The structural balance cyclically adjusts the government deficit (or surplus) for non-structural items to leave just the structural deficit (net spending on pension payments, unemployment insurance, normal capital expenditures, etc.).

Without growth to increase nominal revenues, the negative cyclical balance will keep the overall balance very much in the red. Spain needs growth! Apparently, it’s not coming from the industrial sector.

Spain was deriving quite a bit of industrial demand from within the Eurozone (the red line in the chart above) through the end of September 2010; however, that source of order growth is tapering off. Now, it seems that extra-euro industrial orders growth (the green line) may start a sideways trend, too. Normally I wouldn’t put too much stock in one data point – but with tightening across Asia and possibly the UK (not the US for a bit), slower orders growth is inevitable.

Exhibit 2: The German industrial machine

The German machine is also deriving industrial production growth from extra-euro orders. Notably, too, domestic orders have been strong. But for all of the talk about Germany’s overheating export sector, industrial production is still near 6% below its Q1 2008 level.

And finally,

Exhibit 3: The poster child for fiscal austerity, the UK.

Why? Because they’re nominal exchange rate depreciated quite markedly, allowing the trade-sensitive industrial base to find a very shallow bottom. On a trade-weighted basis, the British pound is 24% lower than in mid-2007, according to the JP Morgan nominal effective exchange rate index.

I’d like to hear how you all think that Spain’s going to get through this as the ECB raises short-term rates (for those of you who do not know my Euro-centric commentary, you can see a list of my recent commentary on the Eurozone, which includes articles on the ECB by my name on the AB sidebar), Germany slows, the US struggles to keep the consumer alive, and emerging Asia tightens its belt.

Spain’s a trillion dollar economy, and the fourth in terms of GDP in the Eurozone…

Rebecca Wilder

Tags: , , , , Comments (3) | |

It’s not structural unemployment, it’s the corporate saving glut

Mark Thoma rightly points out the hypocrisy of the deficit hawks’ intent to cut spending while approving military spending in the same sentence. Ryan Avent furthers the dicussion by stating that Washington has used the ‘dire fiscal’ rhetoric to sell short-term cuts that were unwarranted, given that the fiscal problems are structural in nature.

Me, I’d argue that the fiscal deficit is simply the consequence of corporate America’s excess saving: the corporate saving glut - no I didn’t mean the ‘global saving glut’. Furthermore, the corporate saving glut is manifesting itself into the labor market, creating high and persistent unemployment. Some economists are wrongly referring to this as higher structural unemployment.

Exhibit 1: The 3-sector financial balance model demonstrates that elevated excess private saving (firms and households) keeps the government deficit in the red. For a discussion of the 3-sector financial balances, see Scott Fullwiler and Rob Parenteau; and I’ve written on this as well.

The excess saving rate for the public sector, external sector, and household sector is constructed using the Federal Reserve’s Flow of Funds accounts as: (Gross Saving – Gross Investment)/GDP. The excess corporate saving rate is the residual of the Current Account (external saving) net of government and household excess saving. If the corporate excess saving rate is positive, then investment spending falls short of asset purchases (financial or tangible).

* In Q4 2010, the household excess saving rate dropped to +3.5% of GDP
* In Q4 2010, the government excess saving rate dropped to -10.4% of GDP
* In Q4 2010, the current account deficit dropped to -3% of GDP
* In Q4 2010, the corporate excess saving rate jumped to 3.9% of GDP – this is the Corporate Saving Glut because while firms are investing, they’re saving more, thereby breaking the positive feedback loop.

The positive feedback loop remains broken: higher demand increases sales rates, revenues and production which grows firm profits that are translated into wage and income gains, only to drive demand further upward. It’s broken right between ‘grows firm profits’ and ‘translated into wage and income gains’.

The funny thing is, too, that economists sell this broken feedback loop as rising structural unemployment. Actually, unemployment is not structurally higher, it’s that when firms do not reinvest corporate profits, the lack of income flow manifests itself into the unemployment rate.

Exhibits 2 and 3. It’s not structural unemployment, it’s the corporate saving glut!

The chart below illustrates a simple univariate regression of the unemployment rate on the corporate saving glut. The correlation is very strong, 85%, and suggests that the structural unemployment rate is less than 5.8%. Furthermore, while the unemployment rate seems to be perpetually higher than normal (the upper-right circle), that perfectly coincides with a high corporate saving glut.

If the corporate excess saving glut just equaled zero, i.e., firms invested and saved at the same rate, the unemployment rate would be 5.8%. Now, if the corporate saving glut fell below zero to -2%, i.e., firms reinvested in the economy by way of capital investment in excess of saving, the simple model implies an unemployment rate of 4.7%.

The government doesn’t need to add jobs, per se, the government needs to figure out how to get corporate America to drop the saving glut and re-invest in the economy.

Rebecca Wilder

Tags: , , Comments (60) | |

It’s lonely at the top: now it’s up to the Bank of Japan to hold the yen down

Wow, FX space is totally rattled this week: the yen hit 76.25 against the dollar at the end of the day on March 16 and has since rebounded to current levels 80.90 (1:50pm in NY on 3/18). What happened over this time span? Mass speculation on yen appreciation due to earthquake-related repatriation, followed by technical levels being hit that drove the yen up against the dollar, and a collapse of the dollar against the yen (spike downward in the chart below). And then yesterday the G7 central banks (the Bank of Japan, Bank of England, European Central Bank, the Federal Reserve, and the Bank of Canada) agreed to coordinate a weak-yen effort. Today the yen is off 2.7% against the dollar.

Note: In the chart above, a decline in the USD/YEN is an appreciation of the Japanese yen and a depreciation of the US dollar. The chart above illustrates the daily fluctuation of USD/Yen since the Tōhoku earthquake on March 11.

The coordinated depreciation of the yen against its major trading partners is ‘concerted’, and such an effort has not occurred since September 2000 when the G7 bid up the euro. The yen effort is very different, as I’ll explain below. Furthermore, ongoing weakness in the yen against the rest of the G7 currencies depends on further actions by the Bank of Japan into next week and beyond.

Some thoughts:

* In 2000 the wedge between the eurodollar spot and its PPP estimate of fair value diverged throughout the year. The spot rate became increasingly undervalued, hitting a wide in October 2000 (according to Bloomberg estimates of PPP). This seems to be a traditional initial condition for intervention. In contrast, though, the USD/YEN spot is seriously overvalued according to a similar measure of PPP fair value. I should note that currency fair value is a contentious topic. (more after the jump)

* The NY Fed makes available balances through 1999 only, so I am unable to ascertain the impact on the Fed balance sheet of the coordinated efforts from the 1987 Louvre Accord nor the 1985 Plaza Accord . I digress. In the 2000 effort, the euro bottomed in 9/21 at 0.8460 in dollars during the day, reaching an intra-day high of 0.8992 on 9/22. The closing impact of the G7 coordination was roughly a 2.7% appreciation of the euro against the USD. Efforts, however, were quickly retraced (see chart below).

* We are already there in yen space: the yen is down 2.7% in just one 24-hour session. It’s likely that this effort lasts throughout next week, since (1) a retrenchment of the dollar would challenge global central bank credibility, and (2) the statement is more explicit in its mention of “readiness to provide any needed cooperation”.

* In 2000 the Fed purchased roughly 10% of its stock of euro holdings, or $1.3 bn worth of euros (see second table below). Using 2000 as a guide, this would imply that the Fed purchases roughly $2.3bn this time around. However, given the size of the ‘model’ trading flows and technical barriers, this time’s flows are likely to be bigger. We’ll see in coming months when the Fed releases its FX holdings update.

* There is a limit to the Fed’s buying of yen, since the Fed is selling yen assets. The Fed and the Treasury (the Fed manages two accounts of FX holdings, the SOMA and ESF account for the Treasury) hold $23 bn in yen-denominated assets (see second table below) – that’s an absolute upper bound on purchases, although FX swaps do allow some room for maneuvering (although I find it very unlikely that the Fed would print currency for this effort). In 2000, the Fed purchased roughly $1.3 bn euro – that number should be at least doubled this time around, given that FX markets are bigger now. In comparison, Wall Street estimates that the BoJ bought $12bn-$40bn..

If there’s going to be succes, it depends on the Bank of Japan’s flows, not those of the other central banks.

My take is that given the size of today’s move, the 2000 effort was not nearly as concerted as has been demonstrated thus far. Next week will be interesting. The goal, I guess, is to get the currency back into a range that will not be prone to technical bounces. I think that the BoJ’s going all in.

Rebecca Wilder

Chart and Table Appendix:

Eurodollar in 2000

FX holdings in 2000

FX holdings in 2010

Tags: , , Comments (13) | |

Q4 2010 Flow of Funds: Household leverage down, wealth effect dead, and equities surge

The Federal Reserve released the Q4 2010 Flow of Funds Accounts for the US. On the household balance sheet, net worth (total assets minus total liabilities) was estimated at $56.8 trillion, which is up $2.1 trillion over the quarter. Notably, household net worth has increased $6.4 trillion since the recession’s end (Q2 2009). Moreover, personal disposable income increased another $918 billion over the quarter, which dropped household leverage (total liabilities/disposable income) 1.1% to 116%.

Personal saving as a percentage of disposable income rose markedly in Q4 2010 to 10.9% (based on the BEA’s measurement of saving using flow of funds data – see Table F.10, lines 49-52).

The chart above illustrates the the wealth effect – the wealth effect is the propensity to consume (save) as wealth increases/decreases. In the Flow of Funds data, this is best approximated by the ratio of net worth (wealth) to disposable income. In Q4 2010, wealth rose 0.15 times disposable income to 4.9, while the saving rate surged 6 pps to 10.9%.

I conclude from the near-term times series illustrated above, that the wealth effect is very weak, and the incentive to save outweighs the desire to consume one’s wealth. Better put: households are increasing consumption, but that’s due to increased income not wealth.

Of note, since 1997 the volatility of household net worth to disposable income is near 2.5 times that which preceded 1997. Households are fed up; and at least for the time being, the positive wealth effect may be effectively dead.

As an aside, I put something out there: the ‘measure’ of saving is becoming increasingly unreliable. Spanning the years 2008-current, the average discrepancy between the Flow of Funds measure of saving and the BEA’s measure of the same definition of saving (the NIPA construction) is more than 2 times what it was in the 2 years leading up to the recession. This is worth more investigation; but historically, the FOF measure (the change in net worth) has been more reliable.

Breaking down household assets from liabilities, you see what’s driven most of the cumulative gain in net worth: financial assets, which are up near 16% since the recession’s end. During the recovery to Q4 2010, pension fund assets are up 22%; mutual fund holdings gained 32%; and here’s the Fed’s baby, corporate equities (stocks) surged 41% (and more, of course, since this data is truncated at December 2010). Credit market instruments are up 6%.

The asset gains outweigh the drop in liabilities, as mortgages and consumer credit have dropped near 4% and 2%, respectively, since the end of the recession. Consumer credit is making a comeback, though, growing 1% over the quarter, while households continue to reduce mortgage liabilities.

I will comment sometime over the weekend or next week about corporate excess saving, which also is constructed using the Flow of Funds data.

Rebecca Wilder

Tags: , , Comments (10) | |