Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday Roundup

Some more bond vigilante-unsustainable debt commentary for the UK. The analysis is peculiar because the question is why so many people are willing to invest in UK bonds now. If expectations for the future are dour, why would investors have faith now? This may be linked to the story on a possible bubble in US government bonds. Current demand for safe assets is because of collateral needs; once the economy recovers borrowing costs are going to skyrocket.

Koo takes a close look at Eurozone fiscal and monetary union dynamics, and concludes that neither system deals with balance sheet recessions effectively, especially as they are often asymmetric shocks. An interesting point is that monetary policy, when it tries to ease the impact of these shocks for certain states (ie Germany), the cheap credit causes new problems in other countries. For as much as the ECB pursues "Deutschland über alles", there may be nothing left to be over if the monetary union doesn't develop a system of interstate transfers.

Demand for safe assets doesn't necessarily lead to a shortfall in aggregate demand...only if monetary policy can function as an offset. Is the German current account surplus sucking up your country's growth? Not if your central bank holds tight to a nominal aggregate and keeps growth on track. Just as Scott Sumner says, if your central bank is doing a good job, there are no "depression economics"; fiscal policy doesn't boost output, and current account deficits don't hurt growth. The article does outline a pretty scary chain of events for why demand shocks matter

If demand still fails to materialise, economies go on to restructure via the supply-side.
A vicious circle ensues as capacity is reduced at the expense of the least efficient businesses. Unemployment rises. The economy contracts.
All the while those who still have wealth are encouraged to hoard even more, a fact which only exentuates the contraction in broad money supply, preventing liquidity from reaching those who would most likely be prepared to spend.

Is there really that much regulation holding back the natural gas energy boom? It doesn't look like it. If anything, regulation looks to be too lax, with large scale environmental concerns just shoved under the rug. The NYT piece does bring up an interesting point. Companies, at this point, have an incentive to just get the gas out as fast as possible, before the regulations start coming into effect. Sounds like a dangerous starting point with massive first mover advantages.

Greater transparency in European repo markets would be helpful, but to what extent would it actually solve anything? No doubt more aggregate statistics would help with systemic regulation, but there's still concern that unknown unknowns could crop up. Especially since there's no legal way to force every piece of data from firms, there could always be off-sheet risks building up. And when individual transactions can lose billions of dollars, these unknown risks could break the bank.

Also on the transparency front, European governments are resisting shifts to more transparent accounting standards. It looks like many European states, especially Germany, are concerned about hidden pension debts that may rise to the surface. This does not bode well for the Eurozone in the medium-term, even if national leaders can't wade through the politics to an agreeable solution.

On the topic of the Eurozone, there's an interesting new VoxEU article on the tragedy of the commons problem with regard to the ECB and the peripheral central banks. In a nutshell, the authors argue that since national banks could determine what collateral was considered "safe", they would have an incentive to be too lenient on their own banks in order to gain an advantage in lending costs in the Eurozone. In effect, each national bank's action had a negative risk externality that would be born by the entire Eurozone. This means that fiscal solutions to the crisis are not sufficient. The problem goes deeper, starting with the conflicting incentives of sovereign central banks and the European central bank.

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