Greg Ip

Articles by The Economist’s U.S. Economics Editor

Archive for the ‘Central banking’ Category

Central banking and the crisis: Emergency manoeuvres

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With developed economies in dire straits, central bankers have taken the tiller. Not all of them are happy about that.

Aug 13th 2011 | from the print edition

[Greg Ip]

COMETH the hour, cometh the central bankers. On August 8th the European Central Bank (ECB) began buying Italian and Spanish bonds in an effort to stop the sovereign-debt crisis from crippling two of the continent’s largest economies. And a day later America’s Federal Reserve made an unprecedented commitment to keeping interest rates at more or less zero for two more years to keep a stalling economy out of recession.

In both cases the dramatic steps were taken in the face of political failures to get to the heart of the problems at hand. The fact that they took both banks well outside their normal zones of operation was underscored by the internal dissent both moves faced, dissent rarely seen in the consensus-driven world of central banking.

The initial market reaction was positive, at least on one side of the Atlantic. Yields on Italian and Spanish bonds fell sharply relative to Germany’s. In America Treasury yields fell and stocks rose—but not for long, as equity markets fell again on August 10th. No one should see this as a fundamental turnaround. The ECB’s earlier bond-buying hasn’t saved smaller countries from punitively high government-bond yields; the Fed’s previous interventions haven’t spurred a robust recovery. The big issues of America’s stagnant economy and Europe’s debt crisis remain in the hands of elected politicians who still seem inadequate to the task. But at least central banks have shown themselves ready and able to act.

The entire article is linked here.

Central banks: A More Complicated Game

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The West’s financial crisis has shaken public confidence in its leading central banks. Yet it has also led to an expansion of their duties and powers

Feb 17th 2011 | WASHINGTON, DC | from the print edition

[Greg Ip] IN TWO days, two prominent central bankers, one on each side of the Atlantic, headed for the exit. Few people were surprised when Kevin Warsh tendered his resignation from the Federal Reserve on February 10th. Rather more people were taken aback when rumours started to fly that Axel Weber would stand down as president of Germany’s Bundesbank and thus rule himself out as the next president of the European Central Bank (ECB), a job for which he had been the front-runner. The rumours were confirmed on February 11th.

The timing was coincidental. Yet the two men have something in common. Both were uneasy about changes in the way that central banks conduct themselves—specifically, about the unprecedented forays into financial markets by the Fed and the ECB. Mr Weber publicly opposed the ECB’s decision last May to start buying the bonds of member countries’ governments. His colleagues, he believed, were intruding dangerously into fiscal policy. Mr Warsh, similarly though more quietly, fretted that the Fed’s policy of quantitative easing (QE)—the purchase of government bonds with newly printed money—was fomenting new imbalances in the global economy and steering the Fed into treacherous political waters.

Since the financial crisis in 2007 central banks have expanded their remits, either at their own initiative or at governments’ behest, well beyond conventional monetary policy. They have not only extended the usual limits of monetary policy by buying government bonds and other assets (see chart). They are also taking on more responsibility for the supervision of banks and the stability of financial systems. Their new duties require new “macroprudential” policies: in essence, this means regulating banks with an eye on any dangers for the whole economy. And their old monetary-policy tasks are not getting any easier to perform. Central banking is becoming a more complicated game.

The entire article is linked here.

Five myths about the Federal Reserve

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By Greg Ip
Friday, November 12, 2010;

Washington Post Outlook

The Federal Reserve’s announcement on Nov. 3 that it will buy $600 billion worth of Treasury bonds to help boost the struggling U.S. economy reverberated around the world this past week, with condemnation from critics as varied as Sarah Palin and the president-elect of Brazil. Yet much of what the Fed and its chairman, Ben Bernanke, have done is shrouded in confusion and misperceptions.

1. By printing money, the Fed will create runaway inflation.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman issued a famous dictum nearly 50 years ago: “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” His belief has become widespread over the years, to the point that even many non-economists assume that when the Fed prints money, higher prices inevitably result. But the link between money and inflation is weaker than people think. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

November 14, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Economics focus: Level Worship

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Price-level targeting could make monetary policy more potent—or just more confusing

Oct 28th 2010

[Greg Ip] EVER since Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, signalled in the summer that he stood ready to keep using unconventional monetary policy to shore up America’s fragile economic recovery, expectations have been building that the Fed will launch a second programme of quantitative easing (QE)—the purchase of bonds with newly printed money. That moment is likely to come at the Fed’s meeting on November 2nd-3rd. Whether QE2 can live up to the hype is another matter. QE aims to stimulate demand by lowering nominal long-term interest rates, much as conventional monetary easing works by lowering short-term nominal rates. But with short-term rates already close to zero and long-term rates also very low, the room for further reductions in nominal rates is tight.

There may in any case be another way to achieve the same stimulus. What matters for boosting demand is the real interest rate—the nominal rate minus expected inflation—since inflation reduces the burden of repaying debt. If nominal rates cannot fall any further, why not raise expected inflation? Central bankers have roundly rejected the most obvious way to do that. Raising official inflation-rate targets, they say, would destroy years of hard-won credibility. But they are more receptive to another idea: targeting the level of prices rather than the inflation rate.

The entire article is linked here.

Written by gregip

October 28, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Global monetary policy: The central bankers’ burden

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 Deflation is not imminent but the rich world’s central banks must be ready to do what they can to fend it off

Jul 15th 2010

[Greg Ip] FOR people who pride themselves on being boring and cautious, the rich world’s central bankers have in the past few years proved to be a flamboyant bunch. Responding aggressively to financial panic, recession and the threat of deflation, they lowered short-term interest rates close to zero and many then plunged into the realm of the unconventional, buying government debt and extending vast new loans to banks. For the most part, they have avoided the rancorous disagreement that now consumes the debate over fiscal policy.

That consensus is fraying. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

July 15, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Economics focus: A winding path to inflation

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Even if governments could create inflation, they may not want to

Jun 3rd 2010

 [Greg Ip] IN THE short run inflation is an economic phenomenon. In the long run it is a political one. This week The Economist asked a group of leading economists whether they reckoned inflation or deflation was the greater threat; this was our inaugural question in “Economics by invitation”, an online forum of more than 50 eminent economists. The rough consensus was that in the near term, as Western economies struggle to recover, the bigger worry there is deflation. But as the time horizon lengthened, more experts cited inflation, because it seems the most plausible exit strategy for governments trying to deal with crushing debts. “Deflation is not a lasting threat,” wrote Arminio Fraga, a former president of Brazil’s central bank. “The more interesting question is whether they can manage to keep inflation down over time under the regime of fiscal irresponsibility now prevailing almost everywhere.”

  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

June 3, 2010 at 3:18 pm

The Federal Reserve: Back from the Fed

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The central bank loses a vice-chairman but starts to regain its standing

Mar 4th 2010 | WASHINGTON, DC | From The Economist print edition

 Kohn and Bernanke, no mugs

[Greg Ip] THE Federal Reserve, accused by critics of monetary and regulatory malpractice, has seen its standing plummet. The House of Representatives has passed one bill to audit its monetary decisions and proposed others to strip it of regulatory duties. Almost a third of the Senate voted against confirming Ben Bernanke to a second term as chairman.

It appears, however, that its rehabilitation has begun. As part of negotiations on a financial-reform bill, Chris Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, is considering a proposal that would let the Fed retain most of its regulatory duties. Mr Dodd originally wanted to take oversight of banks away from the Fed and other regulators and give it to a new body. He wanted to hand oversight of consumer protection to another new creation, the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

March 4, 2010 at 4:00 pm

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