Greg Ip

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

Archive for the ‘European Central Bank’ Category

Lehman, PSI and the consequences of credit policy: The third lever of macroeconomics

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May 2nd 2013, 19:20  by G.I. | WASHINGTON, D.C.

By credit policy (or banking policy or financial policy) I mean anything that affects how the financial system influences aggregate demand. Of course, we’ve always known aggregate demand depends on both the central bank’s policy rate and the spread over that rate paid by households and firms. But before the cirisis the relationship between the policy rate and what borrowers paid was assumed to be either constant, or endogenous to monetary policy or the business cycle.

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May 2, 2013 at 12:05 pm

The ECB’s new bond purchase programme: Not too little, possibly too late

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Sep 6th 2012, 15:23 by G.I. | WASHINGTON

[Greg Ip]

SINCE the euro crisis erupted, the European Central Bank has been torn between its legal and philosophical aversion to financing governments and its duty as lender of last resort. Today, it appears to have reconciled the two, erring on the side of the latter.

At the end of its governing council meeting today, the ECB announced the much-anticipated details of how it would resume intervening in the region’s government bond markets. Using its newly christened Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT), it will buy sovereign bonds of one- to three-year maturity, provided the issuing country has agreed to a fiscal adjustment programme with either the European Financial Stability Facility, or its successor, the European Stability Mechanism. Read the rest of this entry »

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September 6, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Greece and the euro: What Argentina tells us about Greece

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Feb 16th 2012, 19:16 by G.I. | WASHINGTON D.C.

[Greg Ip]The Free Exchange column in this week’s print edition is a guest article by Mario Blejer and Guillermo Ortiz, former central-bank governors of Argentina and Mexico respectively. They note that some advocates of Greek exit from the euro cite Argentina’s abandonment of its currency board in 2002. The peso devaluation that followed the collapse of the currency board led to a boom in Argentine exports and growth. Mr Blejer and Ortiz say these advocates understate the chaos that occurred in Argentina, and how much worse it would be in Greece: Read the rest of this entry »

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February 16, 2012 at 9:41 am

It’s not about Berlusconi

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Nov 11th 2011, 16:51 by G.I. | WASHINGTON

ASK any pundit why Italy is in crisis and they will mention some combination of Silvio Berlusconi, a towering national debt, and a moribund economy. The explanation resonates since all three have undeniably been enormous negatives for Italy. Today’s market action seems to vindicate the reasoning: with the prospect of a new government under Mario Monti and speedy implementation of a new budget, Italian bond yields have plummeted below 7%, and stocks around the world have rallied.

But these factors are not the root cause of the crisis and as long as Europeans behave as if they are, a resolution will elude them.

Italy has been burdened by Mr Berlusconi, a large national debt and a moribund economy for most of the past decade. As Daniel Gros points out, some of Italy’s key fundamentals—investment, R&D, educational attainment—have actually improved relative to Germany in that time. Yes, its debt remains a problem but, unlike Greece, it did not suddenly spiral out of control and was not, as far as we know, systematically underreported. As recently as 2009 Italy’s debt was 97% of GDP (it’s 100% now) and its deficit was 5% (compared to 4% this year, according to the IMF). Yet that year Italy could borrow at 4%, not much more than Germany, whereas now it must borrow at 6-7%, triple what Germany pays.

What changed is not Italy’s political or economic fundamentals but how investors perceive Italian debt. Read the rest of this entry »

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November 11, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Economics focus: Pulling for the home team

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Central-bank lending to government serves a valuable, though risky, purpose

Nov 5th 2011 | from the print edition

[Greg Ip] IT CANNOT be pleasant to start a new job with a continent’s fate resting on your shoulders. On November 1st, Mario Draghi’s first day as president of the European Central Bank (ECB), peripheral-government bond yields shot up and stockmarkets sank on fears that Greeks might reject a rescue plan agreed days earlier. On November 3rd, as The Economist went to press, Mr Draghi was presiding over his first policy meeting. Much is riding on what the ECB decides then and in coming weeks because it alone currently has the means to stem the intensifying crisis. It has bought Greek, Portuguese and Irish debt; since early August, it has also purchased Spanish and Italian bonds. But its purchases have been intermittent and begrudging. Without a firm commitment to buy as much as needed to prevent yields on Italian and Spanish bonds rising so high that both countries become insolvent, investors have less incentive to return. The ECB’s reluctance to make such a commitment is understandable: its legal mandate and doctrinal persuasion bar it from directly supporting governments. Yet throughout history central banks have been lenders of last resort to their governments. In 1694 the English monarchy was broke and in need of a loan so that it could wage war with France. A group of financiers agreed to lend the crown £1.2m in return for a partial monopoly on the issue of currency. Thus was born the Bank of England. Read the rest of this entry »

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November 3, 2011 at 9:20 am

The illustrated euro crisis: Multiple equilibria

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Oct 7th 2011, 18:37 by G.I. | WASHINGTON

Italian bond yields rise. Credit rating agencies worry that higher yields make Italy’s debt unsustainable. They cut Italy’s bond rating. Italy promises to curtail its deficit (i.e. sell fewer bonds). Italian growth suffers. Investors worry that makes Italy’s debt less sustainable at current interest rates. Demand for Italian bonds falls, their yields rise. You get the picture.

But  in case you don’t, look at this one. Read the rest of this entry »

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October 7, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Financial markets: Solvency can wait, for now deal with liquidity

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Sep 15th 2011, 16:12 by G.I. | WASHINGTON

[Greg Ip] CENTRAL banks are once again coming to the financial system’s rescue. In a move coordinated with its counterparts in America, Japan, Switzerland and Britain, the European Central Bank today announced it would make special, three-month dollar loans to euro-zone banks to cover funding needs over the year-end.

This has delivered a shot in the arm to European stock markets, and bank stocks in particular. European banks regularly borrow in dollars to make dollar loans and finance dollar-denominated inventory. But concerns about the banks’ solvency should their holdings of peripheral sovereign debt sour have prompted the American money market funds and others who lend to the banks to pull back. European banks have lost access to $700 billion in dollar funding in the last year, according to this excellent analysis in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Today’s operation is a bandage, not a cure. Read the rest of this entry »

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September 15, 2011 at 10:47 am

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.

The global economy: Another year of living dangerously

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Turmoil in the Middle East and disaster in Japan arouse economic angst. Central banks must not make it worse

[Greg Ip] Mar 24th 2011 | from the print edition

THIS was supposed to be a stress-free year for the global economy. By January the financial crisis had faded and Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis seemed less acute. America’s economy was resurgent. Investors piled into equities and sold some of the government bonds they’d bought for troubled times. If there was a worry, it was that emerging economies would grow too quickly, inflating commodity prices.

The year without crisis is not to be. First, Arabian upheaval put oil markets on edge. Then earthquake, tsunami and a nuclear accident clobbered the world’s third-largest economy. How much of a setback to growth do these twin crises represent? And how should economic policymakers react to them?

The entire article is linked here.

Written by gregip

March 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm

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.

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