Wednesday, July 14, 2010

>Thinking ‘outside the box’ on economic policy

• The markets are currently imposing on Europe a more brutal tightening of fiscal policy earlier than expected. But that does not mean that the two other constraints have disappeared: central banks should normalise the settings of their monetary policy as soon as conditions are met, while there is a ‘strong obligation’ to maintain a certain level of growth. How this can be done is not at all clear, and there are fears that the markets will find it difficult to extract themselves from this new ‘Bermuda Triangle’ – not forgetting that the triangle can easily shift from one place to another within the region formed by the advanced countries.

• Recent European experience shows that the management of fiscal policy appears to be a more complicated issue than previously thought: how is the decision made when to cut off stimulus and start coming back to fiscal discipline? Cutting it off too soon is taking the risk of the economy plunging into a new downturn; letting it run for too long could build more investor fears and create a hard landing scenario. Defining the main risk between Scylla and Charybdis is
never easy. Perhaps the choice should depend on the importance of both private domestic savings and the ability to attract foreign capital.

• The decision of the ECB to purchase government bonds on the secondary market has triggered a debate about the impact on its credibility. The latter would be reduced because of too close proximity to the behaviour of governments. From an academic standpoint, a distinction has to be made between an environment of high inflation or of very limited inflation. In the face of high inflation, often related to excessive monetisation of government debt, a central bank’s
independence is its cardinal virtue; if very limited inflation is associated with weak growth and fiscal austerity, greater co-operation between the central bank and the government is more easily understandable.

• The link between the sovereign debt crisis and banking crisis has been borne out historically. However, the aim of the rescue plan for member states from the European Union, with IMF support, no doubt changes the nature of that link. In fact, the plan is designed to head off for a period (almost two years in the case of Greece) the emergence of liquidity risk for the Greek Treasury, with the breathing space gained being devoted to reducing solvency risk via credible public account rebalancing plans. For a short time, therefore, the plan staves off the transfer of risk from the sovereign to the banking sector. It is, in fact, a sort of ‘mutualisation’ of risk between sovereigns: from the weaker to the healthier. In this respect, it is probably not entirely legitimate to link the two types of risk so strongly.

To read the full report: MACRO PROSPECTS