Greg Ip

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

Archive for the ‘Bank of England’ Category

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 »


Written by gregip

November 3, 2011 at 9:20 am

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.

Ben Bernanke’s reappointment: The very model of a modern central banker

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Aug 27th 2009 | WASHINGTON, DC
From The Economist print edition

An academic background stood the chairman of the Federal Reserve in good stead during his first term. Political skills may be more important in his second



AS THE financial crisis gathered force in August 2007, Jim Cramer, a hyperbolic market commentator on cable television, hurled the worst epithet he could muster at the chairman of the Federal Reserve: “Bernanke is being an academic. It is no time to be an academic!” By August 25th this year, when Barack Obama nominated Ben Bernanke to a second, four-year term, what had once been an epithet had become a source of strength. Read the rest of this entry »

Central banks:The monetary-policy maze

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 The original story is linked here.


Apr 23rd 2009 | WASHINGTON, DC
From The Economist print edition



The simple rules by which central banks lived have crumbled. A messier, more political future awaits

Illustration by Derek Bacon


IN THE world that existed before the financial crisis, central bankers were triumphant. They had defeated inflation and tamed the business cycle. And they had developed a powerful intellectual consensus on how to do their job, summarised recently by David Blanchflower, a member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, as “one tool, one target”. The tool was the short-term interest rate, the target was price stability.

This minimalist formula fitted the laissez-faire temper of the times. A growing array of financial markets could price risk and allocate credit efficiently. Central bankers had merely to calibrate their interest-rate tools and all other markets would automatically adjust. Central banks still cared about financial stability and full employment, but could argue these were best served by stabilising prices—without, if you please, interference from politicians.


The financial crisis has upended all that. Read the rest of this entry »

Economics focus: Money’s muddled message

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The original story is linked here.

Mar 19th 2009
From The Economist print edition

Today’s fattened central-bank balance-sheets evoke fears of inflation. Deflation is the bigger worry


BACK in 2002 Ben Bernanke, then still a Federal Reserve governor, declared that “under a paper-money system, a determined government can always generate higher spending and hence positive inflation.” That does not mean it is easy.

On March 18th America’s inflation rate was reported at 0.2%, year on year, in February. The same day the Fed said “inflation could persist for a time” at uncomfortably low levels. Yet some economists and investors insist high inflation, even hyperinflation, is lurking in the wings. They have two sources of concern. The first is motive: the world is deleveraging, ie, trying to reduce the ratio of its debts to income. Policymakers might secretly prefer to do that through higher inflation, which lifts nominal incomes, than through the painful processes of cutting spending and retiring debt, or default. The second is captured by the Fed’s announcement that it plans to purchase $300 billion in Treasury bonds and an additional $850 billion of mortgage-related debt, bringing such purchases to $1.75 trillion in total, all paid for by printing money. It is not alone: around the world, central-bank balance-sheets have ballooned (see chart).


This is scary stuff to those who swear by Milton Friedman’s dictum that “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” But the role of the money supply in creating inflation is less obvious than monetarism suggests.

The quantity theory of money holds that the money supply, multiplied by the rate at which it circulates (called velocity), equals nominal income. Nominal income in turn is the product of real output and prices. But does money supply directly boost nominal income, or does nominal income affect velocity and the demand for money? The mechanism is murky. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

March 19, 2009 at 4:45 pm