Archive for January 24th, 2014

Bernanke’s Monetary Mess and why he deserves zero stars on the Michelin guide

January 24, 2014

Prof Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University thinks experts are being kind to Bernanke by giving him grades from B to C.

He says the outgoing Chair has created a huge monetary mess:

Most who have graded Prof. Ben Bernanke’s twelve years at the Federal Reserve have issued marks which range from A to a gentleman’s C. I think those marks are much too generous. Indeed, I think a failing mark would be more appropriate.

In the ramp up to Britain’s Northern Rock bank run in 2007 and the Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy in September 2008, Bernanke and the Fed created a classic aggregate demand bubble: when final sales to domestic purchasers — a good proxy for aggregate demand — surge well above the trend rate of growth consistent with modest inflation. The Fed also facilitated the spawning of many market-specific bubbles in the housing, equity, and commodity markets. True to form, Fed officials have steadfastly denied any culpability for creating the bubbles that so spectacularly burst during the Panic of 2008-09.

The pre-2008 crisis bubble was set off by the Fed’s liquidity injections which were initially designed to fend off a false deflation scare in late 2002. That’s when then-Fed Governor Bernanke sounded a deflation alarm in a dense and noteworthy speech before the National Economists Club. Bernanke convinced his Fed colleagues that a deflation danger was lurking. As then-Chairman Alan Greenspan put it, “We face new challenges in maintaining price stability, specifically to prevent inflation from falling too low”.

This was followed by an ultra easy mon pol:

To fight the alleged deflation threat, the Fed pushed interest rates down sharply. By July 2003, the Fed funds rate was at a then-record low of 1 percent, where it stayed for a year. This artificially low interest rate — compared to the natural or neutral rate at that time, in the 3-4 percent range — induced investors to aggressively speculate by chasing yield in “risky” venues and to ramp up their returns by increasing the amount of leverage they applied. These activities generated asset bubbles and created hot-money flows to developing countries.

However, as the accompanying chart shows, the Fed’s favorite inflation target—the consumer price index, absent food and energy prices—increased by only 12.4 percent over the entire 2003–08 (Q3) period. The Fed’s inflation metric signaled “no problems”.

But, as the late Prof. Gottfried Haberler emphasized in 1928, “the relative position and change of different groups of prices are not revealed, but are hidden and submerged in a general [price] index”. Unbeknownst to the Fed, abrupt shifts in major relative prices were underfoot. For any economist worth his salt, these relative price changes should have set off alarm bells. Indeed, sharp changes in relative prices are a signal that, under the deceptively smooth surface of a general price index of stable prices, basic maladjustments are probably occurring. And it is these maladjustments that, according to Haberler, hold the key to Austrian business cycle theory — and, I would add, a key to understanding the current crisis.

Just which sectors realized big swings in relative prices during the last U.S. aggregate demand bubble? Housing prices, measured by the Case-Shiller home price index, were surging, increasing by 45 percent from the first quarter in 2003 until their peak in the first quarter of 2006. Share prices were also on a tear, increasing by 66 percent from the first quarter of 2003 until they peaked in the last quarter of 2007. The most dramatic price increases were in commodities, however. Measured by the Commodity Research Bureau’s spot index, commodity prices increased by 92 percent from the first quarter of 2003 to their pre-Lehman Brothers peak in the second quarter of 2008.

Hmm.. He goes onto criticise inflation targeting which ignored exchange rate risks:

While operating under a regime of inflation targeting and a floating U.S. dollar exchange rate, Chairman Bernanke also saw fit to ignore fluctuations in the value of the dollar. Indeed, changes in the dollar’s exchange value did not appear as one of the six metrics on “Bernanke’s Dashboard”—the one the chairman used to gauge the appropriateness of monetary policy. Perhaps this explains why Bernanke has been so dismissive of valid questions suggesting that changes in the dollar’s exchange value influence either commodity prices or more broad-based gauges of inflation.

As Nobelist Prof. Robert Mundell — one of the founding fathers of modern supply-side economics — has convincingly argued, changes in exchange rates transmit inflation (or deflation) into economies, and they can do so rapidly. This was the case during the financial crisis.

Another thing he says is that though Fed has infused large amounts of base money but has not done enough to increase  money supply:

The problem is that central banks only produce what Lord John Maynard Keynes referred to in 1930 as “state money”. And state money (also known as base or high-powered money) is a rather small portion of the total “money” in an economy. The commercial banking system produces most of the money in the economy by creating bank deposits, or what Keynes called “bank money”.

Since August 2008, the month before Lehman Brothers collapsed, the supply of state money has more than quadrupled, while bank money has shrunk by 12.1 percent — resulting in an anemic increase of only 4.5 percent in the total money supply (M4) (see the accompanying chart). The public is confused — as it should be. After all, the Fed has embraced contradictory monetary policies. On the one hand, when it comes to state money, the Fed has been ultra-loose. But, on the other hand, when it comes to the largest component of the money supply, bank money, a tight monetary stance has been embraced.

Prof. Bernanke’s days at the Fed have been marked by monetary misjudgments and malfeasance. Since the proof of the pudding should be in the eating, zero stars in the Michelin Guide.

Not sure what Prof means by did not do enough to create so called bank money. That should be the role of banks..

What a tenure Bernanke had. Some say he staved off a certain second great depression and others who say he failed to resurrect the economy. Then there are others like Prof Hanke who say his policies in 2003 started it all…

Will developing countries leapfrog on their energy consumption needs?

January 24, 2014

There is a group of experts who believe that today’s developing world has lesser energy intensity than advanced economies which were once developing themselves. This implies that as today’s developing world develops. they will require lesser energy than the developed world. This means lesser demand for energy in future and hence a less impact on environment.

K@W discusses recent research work of Prof. Arthur van Benthem, of Wharton. He analyzed data on energy consumption, prices and GDP for 76 countries in an effort to answer these and other questions about patterns of energy use worldwide.

The findings are not as rosy as projected:

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Building a Think-and-Do Tank: Lessons from the First 12 Years of the CGDEV

January 24, 2014

Lawrence MacDonald and Todd Moss of Center for Global Development(CGDEV) reflect on the 12 years since this think and do tank was formed. Nice way to call it think and do tank..:-)

They say it has been quite an experience:

(more…)


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