Greg Ip

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

Archive for the ‘European Central Bank’ Category

The dangers of deflation: The pendulum swings to the pit

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Politicians and central bankers are not providing the world with the inflation it needs; some economies face damaging deflation instead

Oct 25th 2014 | WASHINGTON, DC | From the print edition: IT IS a pernicious threat, all the more so because, at its onset, it seems almost benign. After two generations of fighting against inflation, why be worried if the victory looks just a bit too complete, if the ancient enemy is so cowed as to no longer strain against the chains in which it is bound? But the stable low inflation fought for in the 1980s and 1990s and inflation hazardously close to zero are not so far apart. And as inflation drops, slipping into deflation becomes ever easier. It is in that dangerous position that the world now stands.

In America, Britain and the euro zone central banks have a 2% target for inflation. In all three, it is below that target. In Italy, Spain and Greece, which have experienced wrenching crises and recessions, it is below zero (as it also is in Sweden and Israel). Japan, which finally escaped from deflation in 2013 after more than a decade of struggle, is battling not to return. Leave out the effects of a consumption-tax increase and inflation there is barely half way to its 2% target. Even in China inflation is below 2%, compared with a 4% central government target (see chart 1).

The lowflation of being consistently below an already low target is bad in itself; the deflation it could easy lead to is even worse. There are several reasons. The belief that money made tomorrow will be worth less than money today stymies investment; the belief that goods bought tomorrow will be cheaper than goods bought today chokes consumption. Central bankers can no longer set real (that is, inflation-adjusted) interest rates low enough to restore demand.

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November 17, 2014 at 9:54 am

ECB, heal thyself: How Europe’s low inflation impedes fiscal and structural reform

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Sep 8th 2014, 16:22 by G.I. | WASHINGTON, D.C

Europe does not yet have its equivalent of Japan’s Abenomics, but Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, pretty much advocated it in his press conference last week. Europe, he said, needs fiscal, monetary and structural policy working together, the three arrows of Abenomics. He acknowledged the ECB’s duty of getting inflation, now 0.3%, back up to its target of near 2%. But the ECB, he said, can’t rescue Europe alone: it needs help from fiscal and structural reforms.

Of course, he’s right that monetary policy can’t initiate fiscal consolidation or liberalize product and labour markets, and that both those things are essential to Europe’s long term health. But the ECB can help determine whether either of those things succeeds. For Europe’s fiscal and regulatory policy makers to do their jobs, it will help immensely if the ECB does its own.
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September 8, 2014 at 9:08 am

Be bold, Mario

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The European Central Bank should learn from the success of unconventional policies in America and Britain

In America and Britain, output and employment have surpassed their pre-crisis peaks and are growing solidly. But the picture in the rich world’s other two big economies is darker. In the second quarter Japanese output shrank sharply, largely because consumers had accelerated purchases in the first quarter in order to avoid a consumption-tax rise. The euro zone’s woes are harder to dismiss: second-quarter output was flat, and it remains no higher than it was in 2011. Read the rest of this entry »

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August 23, 2014 at 9:17 am

A less dovish Yellen, a more dovish Draghi

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Aug 23rd 2014, 4:14 by G.I. | JACKSON HOLE, WY.

The contradictory signals generated by American labour market data in the last year have provided grist for both hawks and doves at the Federal Reserve. For hawks, the rapid decline in the unemployment rate shows slack in the economy is disappearing so the Fed should tighten soon. For doves, the low rate of wage growth suggests there’s plenty of slack and tightening should wait.

Since becoming chair, Janet Yellen has usually been in the second camp, on balance interpreting the data as suggesting there wasn’t any urgency about raising rates. Her speech to the Kansas City Fed’s Economic Symposium on Friday in Jackson Hole, Wyoming struck a different tone. True, it covered both sides of the debate without coming down on either; Ian Shepherdson counted “1 coulds, 20 buts, 11 woulds, 7 mights, and a magnificent 56 ifs.” But she raised enough questions about the dovish case to suggest her own convictions are weakening. She was not telegraphing the case for raising rates soon. But it should be a wake-up call for investors who assume she would spin all the labour data that comes her way in a dovish direction. Read the rest of this entry »

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August 23, 2014 at 9:00 am

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