Archive for September 19th, 2017

The truth about the Indian economy…

September 19, 2017

The GoldStandard blog by Anantha Nageshwaran has 4 posts on truth/state of Indian economy. In the process, he links to several articles/pieces on Indian economy (which is also the trademark of his blog).

Phew!

What is also interesting to note is how quickly the narrative changes. All this while, we were saying things are stable in Indian economy and so on. Demon is a blip. GST is a blip etc etc.

Now, one is reading quite a few pieces on the need to pass fiscal stimulus to shore Indian economy! For instance see this, this and this. Once the government bites the fiscal bullet and things go haywire (as they usually do with most governments), the same articles will start criticising the Government! Some will say eased too much, some will say too soon and some will suggest that instead of easing this component, that component should have eased..

So much so for all the macro analysis which keeps going in circles….

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Bundesbank at 60: each country gets the inflation it deserves…

September 19, 2017

I just wrote y’day about how much Bundesbank matters to ECB policy and yet no German central banker is primed for the top job at ECB.

Least did I realise that year 2017 happens to be 60th anniversary of Bundesbank. Jens Weidmann, the chief of the central bank pays tribute and shares some fascinating history:

The Bundesbank first saw the light of the world on 4 July 1957, the day on which Germany’s Bundestag adopted the Bundesbank Act – alongside the Antitrust Act. Writing at the time, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper remarked that this day had witnessed “the adoption of two crucially important pieces of basic legislation for our entire economic system”.

When the Bundesbank Act came into force on 1 August 1957, the Bank deutscher Länder, the Land Central Banks and the Berlin Central Bank were merged to form a single institution, the Deutsche Bundesbank.

This new institution took over the headquarters of the Bank deutscher Länder in Frankfurt am Main. I wonder if you are aware that it almost ended up being based in Hamburg. Back then, the British forces were pushing for the Bank deutscher Länder to make Hamburg its home. But as it turned out, the Americans got their way, and the institution was established in their preferred location of Frankfurt, inside the US occupation zone.

That marked a major turning point for Frankfurt. The city evolved into Germany’s financial centre and later also succeeded in attracting the European Central Bank. But I don’t think Hamburg lost out in any way – Hamburg is an appealing, vibrant and economically successful location as it is.

He says though location of Frankfurt has little to do with Bundesbank’s success:

One thing I am quite certain about is that the choice of location did not influence the Bundesbank’s success, which I think can be put down to three key factors:

  • Its narrow mandate to preserve price stability,
  • Its independence, which allows it to pursue this objective even against political influence, if need be, and
  • An appreciation of the need for stability throughout much of the German population, which gave the Bundesbank the popular backing it needed to pursue its monetary policy objectives.

Ladies and gentlemen, the fundamental problem facing monetary policymakers is that they are caught in a conflict of objectives. In the short run, staving off inflation can sap economic momentum and drag on employment. On the other hand, the central bank can temporarily dampen unemployment if it tolerates a higher rate of inflation. This phenomenon is what economists call the Phillips curve relationship. It is a concept which crops up in a famous remark uttered by Helmut Schmidt in the early 1970s, when he once said that “I would rather have 5% inflation than 5% unemployment”.

An inverse relationship exists between inflation and joblessness because an unexpected increase in inflation pushes down real wages, lowers the price of labour, and thus tends to lead to a drop in unemployment.

But that only happens in the short run. Because employees will push for the higher rate of inflation to be offset, thus moving real wages and unemployment back to where they were before. There is a shift in the Phillips curve.

And if the unions, fearing a further increase in the rate of inflation, push through even higher wage increases, unemployment will rise as a result.

Let me use an everyday situation to shed more light on how this principle works. Imagine a person who is habitually late for work. Now, their partner might be able to outsmart them once by moving the hands of the kitchen clock forward by five minutes. But in the long run, that person will get used to the new time, so the clock will have to be put forward even more to prevent that person from leaving the house late in future.

That’s exactly how it is with monetary policy. If you fire up the printing presses to fend off unemployment, you will end up mired in high inflation and high unemployment.

He brings some episodes from German history which affirmed this fight for price stability:

Bearing that in mind, it was undoubtedly crucial that the Bundesbank, just like its predecessor, the Bank deutscher Länder, had independence from political control. Because German post-war history also bears witness to a number of situations in which the Bank was forced to head off political demands to loosen monetary policy.

One such situation that springs to mind is the famous “Gürzenich speech” which Konrad Adenauer delivered shortly before the Bundesbank was established. At that time, the Bank deutscher Länder had switched to a tight monetary policy stance because there was a risk that the brisk external demand might cause Germany’s economy to overheat. Konrad Adenauer, speaking in 1956 at Cologne’s Gürzenich Hall, warned that the tight policy would be “disastrous … for the man on the street”. A year later, the SPIEGEL magazine looked back at these events and wrote: “What is more, the credit constraints later turned out to be absolutely correct; they came just in time to prevent the boom from morphing into an inflationary economic gallop.”

Another situation I can think of occurred in the year 1979, when the government drummed up sentiment against an increase in the discount and Lombard rates. Manfred Lahnstein, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Finance, presented his critique before the Central Bank Council and then went public with his misgivings. He expressed concerns that the policy rate hikes might endanger the economic upswing. As it turned out, the German economy expanded at a real rate of 4½% in 1979, even though policy rates were increased. The Bundesbank, then, did well to prevent the global inflationary tendencies from spilling over into Germany more strongly than they did.

Because the Bundesbank held its ground in both these cases and refused to be knocked off course, the Die Welt newspaper once dubbed it in retrospect the “bulwark on the Main”.

That was praise indeed for the Bundesbank, of course. For it had resisted the political pressure not because it was indifferent to the macroeconomic prospects, but it firmly believed, even back then, that monetary stability is the best contribution a central bank can make in the long run towards high levels of employment and sustained economic growth.

He also adds that what is also central to this is people’s appreciation of merits of stable currency.

But I am convinced that the Bundesbank only prevailed in its skirmishes with politicians because it could count on the general public’s appreciation of the merits of a stable currency. This brings me to the third of the key factors in the Bank’s success which I mentioned earlier on. A policy strictly geared to stability only stands a chance of success if the general public is sufficiently aware of the merits of stability. That’s because, in the long run, it is not right for democratic states to have a monetary policy which runs counter to public opinion.

On this topic, Otmar Issing once said that each country gets the inflation it deserves.

This is mainly due to German hyperinflation of 1920s continue to remain etched in people’s memories…

He then goes on to discuss current crisis and ECB’s role so far…

Superb throughout.

 

How a rare murder case is changing a nation’s attitudes towards law and order: Case of Iceland

September 19, 2017

Fiona Weber-Steinhaus has a moving piece on how a rare  murder in Iceland is changing so many attitudes in the country.

Iceland mourned Brjansdottir’s loss. Many people used the slogan “I am Birna” while posting on social media about her death. Around 10,000 people marched in a vigil in her honour—a staggering number, given that Iceland’s population is less than 350,000. Both the country’s president and prime minister went to her funeral, which was held in Reykjavik’s main church. In the service, which I attended, a group of Brjansdottir’s friends carried her white coffin. A cameraman of the public broadcaster RUV cried while filming them.

The case of Brjansdottir’s killing has convulsed Iceland so intensely, in part, because of how rare such events are in the country. According to national police statistics, on average, 1.8 murders were committed annually in Iceland between 2000 and 2014—with some years, such as 2008, having none recorded at all. The nation is also one of the least martial in the world, with no standing army, and police officers who largely patrol unarmed. In response to Brjansdottir’s case, however, a wave of anxiety has swept Iceland, starting a public debate about, and perhaps even changing, the small country’s attitudes towards public safety.

One of the first issues up for debate was that of the safety of young women. In general, in Iceland, it is not considered dangerous for women to walk home alone in the early hours. It is even common for them to hitch rides with strangers via Skutlarar, an open Facebook group through which people offer rides in their cars to strangers travelling in the same direction as them. After Brjansdottir’s body was found, some women started a female-only Skutlarar group. When I visited Reykjavik in early February, many women told me that they would refrain from using the conventional Skutlarar in the future.

I met Gudrun Kristinsdottir, a 27-year-old engineering student, in the cafeteria of Reykjavik University. “This case is such a reality check,” she said. “We always thought, nothing happens here.” She now carries pepper spray in her handbag and said she would avoid walking home alone.

Seventeen-year-old Birta Mjöll works as a waitress in an upmarket restaurant. “My mother wants me to call her as soon as I sit in the car after work,” she told me, while polishing cutlery during her shift. “Everyone in Iceland knows the Geirfinnur case,” she added, referring to the mysterious disappearances of two men in Iceland, in 1974. “And now everyone knows Birna’s case.”

The second aspect of public debate focussed on the issue of CCTV surveillance. The footage of Brjansdottir had been too blurry to identify the car, and some argued that this indicated the need for a technical upgrade. In the January press conference, a journalist had asked Chief Superintendent Ásgeirsson: “Isn’t it clear that this security system downtown and here on Laugarvegur would have come to better use if it were in order? Don’t we need a better system?” Ásgeirsson affirmed the journalist’s point: “I can say that I would have liked clearer footage to work with.”

 

Primer on Islamic Banking

September 19, 2017

Superb primer by Arshadur Rahman of Bank of England. It explains the basics of Islamic Banking and does a great job.

Also interesting to know BoE planning to introduce a Shari’ah compliant facility. This will faciliate UK Islamic banks hold central bank assets:

  • ​Islamic banking is a relatively young but growing sector of the broader financial services industry. Numerous banks around the world offer Islamic, or Shari’ah compliant, financial products.
  • Some central banks offer Shari’ah compliant liquidity facilities to Islamic banks, affording them similar flexibility to other firms in managing their liquidity. Such facilities avoid the payment or receipt of interest, which is otherwise the most common basis for operating a liquidity facility.
  • The Bank is establishing a Shari’ah compliant facility, specifically a deposit facility to allow UK Islamic banks to hold central bank assets as part of their liquid assets buffer. This article explores the various ways in which this can be done, along with the model the Bank has chosen to adopt.

How religions have shaped all these banking and financing cultures and institutions..


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