Archive for the ‘Speech / Interviews’ Category

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.

 

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The policymakers also join the deflation chorus in India..

August 22, 2017

The deflation chorus keeps coming in India. A drop in inflation is termed as deflationary by media every now and then. Former ECB member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi had earlier warned that one should use the two D words – deflation and depression with caution. The reason is that both suggest really difficult times for both economy and policy. However, we seem to be using the word deflation with little caution.

For instance, this time around even Economic Survey says India suffers from deflationary impulses atleast in short term:

Optimism about the medium term and gathering anxiety about near-term deflationary impulses simultaneously reign over the Indian economy. Optimism stems from the launch of the historic Goods and Services Tax (GST), the decision in principle to privatize Air India; actions to address the Twin Balance Sheet (TBS) challenge; and growing confidence that macro-economic stability has become entrenched. Optimism, even exuberance,
is manifested in financial markets’ high and rising valuations of bonds, and especially stocks. At the same time, anxiety reigns because a series of deflationary impulses are weighing on an economy yet to gather its full momentum and still away from its potential. These include: stressed farm revenues, as non-cereal food prices have declined; farm loan waivers and the fiscal tightening they will entail; and declining profitability in the power
and telecommunication sectors, further exacerbating the TBS problem. For the year ahead, the structural reform agenda will be one of implementing actual and promised actions— GST, Air-India, and critically the TBS. The macro-economic challenge will be to counter the deflationary impulses through key monetary, fiscal, and agricultural policies. The opportunities created by the “sweet spot” that recent Economic Surveys have highlighted
must be seized and not allowed to recede.

Even in RBI MPC Minutes, both Governor and Deputy Governor mention deflation in food prices:

Statement by Dr. Viral V. Acharya

Inflation prints since the last policy have turned out even lower, though there are emerging signs that certain deflating food items are on a price rebound. 

Statement by Dr. Urjit R. Patel

…….An assessment of whether the recent deflation in food items is sustainable, despite a normal monsoon, would require more hard data going forward.

There is always this confusion when the term deflation is mentioned. What people perhaps mean is disinflation but they end up calling it deflation.

Robert Ophele, then Deputy GOvernor of Banque de France clarified:

Inflation refers to a sustained increase in the general price level in an economy. It is not an instantaneous shock limited to the prices of certain goods. It is a persistent and general process. Inflation is fuelled by expectations – when workers and companies expect prices to rise, they adjust upwards their prices and wages accordingly.

Conversely, deflation is a sustained decrease in the general price level in an economy. If only certain prices fall, it is not deflation. For example, the price of laptop computers or hi-fi equipment may decrease due to technological progress, but this is not deflation.

Disinflation is a reduction in the rate of inflation or a temporary decrease in the general price level in an economy. For example, if inflation falls from 3% to 1% per year, this is disinflation. If, however, the rate of inflation falls into negative territory, to 1% per year for example, and this decrease is expected to last, this is deflation.

In a recent piece Tandit Kandu of Mint clarifies the so called deflation only on account of fruits and veggies:

The second volume of the Economic Survey released a little over a week ago by the Union finance ministry warned that the Indian economy faces deflation risks owing to the problem of over-leveraged private sector balance sheetsand other headwinds such as GST and rural distress. Concerns over deflation risks are understandable, given the recent downward trend in retail price inflation.

However, a Mint analysis suggests that the sharp drop in inflation below the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI’s) 4% target has been driven by only two items—pulses and vegetables. The analysis shows that consumer price index (CPI), excluding pulses and vegetables, rose at the rate of 3.8% in July, much higher than the official headline figure of 2.4% inflation for the month. The re-calculated CPI is based on adjusted weights after excluding pulses and vegetables from the basket of goods and services.

…..

Thus, there does not seem to be any imminent threat of deflation in India. A more apt characterization of the recent trends in prices may be ‘disinflation’ (a fall in the inflation rate) rather than deflation (falling prices) given that overall inflation, excluding pulses and vegetables, is close to the RBI target of 4%.

This is pretty much the story each time deflation is mentioned in India. One or two items/categories lead to decline in inflation levels and we call it deflation in India and clamoring for monetary and fiscal stimulus.  Whereas deflation is persistent decline in most prices (if not all) and there is nothing of this sort happening here.

Comparing central banking to symphonies..

August 21, 2017

Nice speech by  Mr Nestor A Espenilla, Jr, Governor of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

He cites several awards given to the Philippines central bank recently and says it is all due to team work:

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Looking at the Stars while making economic policy…

July 26, 2017

John K Galbraith famously said: “The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.” 

Least did he know economists would take this seriously!

RBNZ Deputy Governor titles his speech: Looking at stars! Just that these stars are the unobserved variables which economists try along which economists shape the economy:

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Lessons from a Bank-Robbing Law Professor..

July 11, 2017

Well a bank robber first and is currently a law professor at Georgetown University. Thy name is Shon Hopwood.

Here is his unbelievable story via his interview (a really long but worth it):

Sample these answers:

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Competition for US Dollar note design in 1850s

July 3, 2017

Natasha Ahmedaj of Central Bank if Albania in this speech says:

In mid 1800s, announcing the competition on American banknote, the US Secretary of the Treasury, specified two obligatory requirements to participants about the design:

  • it had to be original, and unpublished previously, and
  • have a national character.

Since at the beginning, the banknote is thought as not only a means of exchange, but also as an education tool for the public. As such, it should bear important moments of the history. The banknote performs this function through complicated techniques of subtly fine lines, to prevent reproduction, attributable also to robust security features.

Although we frequently have these valuable papers on our hands, seldom do we concentrate for a few minutes and enjoy the art embedded in them. We very rarely focus on examining how the work of a talented painter is intertwined in a sort of a miniature canvas with that of a talented engraver, turning that piece of paper into an elegant expression of creative art. The image is familiar, but it is hard to believe that 14% of interviewers in advanced countries are able to remember recognise the picture designed on each banknote. Even less people may recognise the portrait depicted on 1000 Leke or 2000 Leke Albanian banknotes.

Museums and various activities organised in light of promoting national values and raising the public awareness help to better transmit the message embedded in banknotes, and educate the public through the art in banknotes, featuring elements of our national identity.

For this particular reason, numismatists take delight in the subtleties of colours and images of the banknotes. In the apparently just pieces of paper, they are able to distinguish and recognise different ages, and the degree of social freedom.

In addition, banknotes may also depict concerns of a society, of course, when the artist was able to properly read this concern. Hence, the green of US dollar was chosen as a symbol to express the need of the stability in the period of civil war. The 2017 series of Norwegian currency reflects the concern on the return to the human basic needs, which are taken away by digitalisation. In reflection to this concern, the portraits of distinguished people of art and science are replaced with the symbols of natural resources, strongly related with the identity of the Norwegian people, such as the Viking ship, fish or the lighthouse.

All these facts show that nothing has threatened the educational and national mission of the banknote….

Competition on the 1850s sound really interesting..

What right does Finance Minister have to deny loan waivers to farmers?

June 20, 2017

Interview of Prabhakar Kelkar, Vice-President of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.

He says the country is sitting on a volcano with farmer unrest everywhere.

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Insights into the future of cash: View of chief cashier of Bank of England…

June 14, 2017

Interesting speech by Victoria Cleland who is the chief cashier and director of notes at Bank of England. Chief cashier is such a traditional title which no one wants to be associated with these days. Interesting , BoE maintains the job title. After all they are one of the key players which has shaped the monetary world where cash has played a key role.

She is optimistic that cash will continue to remain in the system despite technology developments. Its share has declined but still remains important:

While reliance on cash is less significant than in the past, it is still crucial to everyday life and I encourage the cash industry to continue to innovate, to evolve, and to keep cash relevant and fit for purpose. To quote Jane Austen, or more precisely Mr. Knightley in her novel ‘Emma’, “Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and inconvenience is often considerable”. Understanding the drivers in demand for cash will help us to avoid surprises.

Lots of data in the speech discussing role of cash..

Hmm..

Reflection on professionalism, Hippocratic oath and the banking industry

June 7, 2017

Mr Muhammad bin Ibrahim, chief of the Central Bank of Malaysia asks bankers to be more trustworthy and ethical in their approach:

When we reflect about professionalism, the medical profession often comes to mind for its dedication, devotion, care and interest for society. Over 2,000 years ago, the Hippocratic Oath was first introduced to the world. Today, most medical school students profess some form of the oath upon graduation.

While written in antiquity, its principles are held sacred by doctors to this day. Its words have evolved with history. But its message remains the same: treat the sick to the best of one’s ability, preserve patient privacy, teach the secrets of medicine to the next generation, and much more.

What is interesting is not the oath itself, but the principles it expounds and the deep philosophical values that have firmly grounded the medical profession over the years. With it has also come an unwavering sense of identity, ethics and purpose for medical practitioners.

The numbers are equally telling. Polls such as Gallup and Ipsos have consistently ranked doctors among the most competent and ethical professionals worldwide. In 2016, 65% of people surveyed believed that medical doctors had either a high or very high level of honesty and ethical standards. The corresponding number for bankers was a mere 24%. A sad reflection of the state of affairs in the banking industry.

We trust doctors with the most intimate details of our health problems, complications and issues. We adhere to their instructions and advice, often assuredly and willingly. Few professions enjoy such stature, respect and trust. This is the epitome of professionalism.

Professionalism matters. Like the medical field, professionalism ought to form the cornerstone of the banking sector. It can be fostered. It should be practiced. And above all, it must be earned. As intermediaries in the economy and guardians of public funds, banking sector cannot hope to perform its role effectively if the respect and trust of the people is not earned.

As we commemorate this graduation today, there’s no better time to ask ourselves what it means to be a professional banker. Drawing from the medical profession and the Hippocratic Oath, let us ponder on the traits to guide our pursuit of developing high calibre and trustworthy bankers, and professionalising the banking industry. Three traits come to mind; Competence, Character and Calling.

From a banker to bankster..what a turnaround for banking industry…most countries are worried about conduct of the profession..

The Norwegian economy, sea and banknotes

May 31, 2017

Norway has released new banknotes – 100 kroner and 200 kroner. I had earlier pointed to this superb video on its banknotes.

The new notes are inspired from sea as the Norwegian economy gets much from the seas:

The motifs on all of the new banknote series denominations show the importance of the sea for the prosperity and welfare of the people of Norway. The primary motif on the front side of the 100-krone banknote is a Viking ship, while on the 200-krone note, a cod is portrayed facing left. On the back sides, abstract representations of a cargo ship (100-krone note) and a fishing boat (200-krone note) can be seen on the horizon.

The banknotes were designed by Norges Bank’s banknote designers Arild Yttri and Morten Johansen. The designs on the front sides of the banknotes are based on the proposal from Metric Design and Terje Tønnessen. The proposals for the back of the notes were submitted by Snøhetta Design. The primary motifs were drawn by the artist Sverre Morken. The Atlantic puffin watermark motif is based on a photo taken by photographer Tom Schandy.

The new 100-krone and 200-krone banknotes were printed by Oberthur Fiduciare in France.

There is a speech by the central bank chief who links Norway economy to the sea:

This is a day I have been looking forward to for a long time – it’s not every day a new banknote series is put into circulation. The last time was in 1994. And being able to hold the launch here in the Lofoten islands is an added bonus. The sea and the Lofoten islands are inextricably linked – the sea is a defining feature of the landscape and a key source of food, employment and recreation.

Norway’s coastline is embraced by the sea from the northernmost point to the southernmost tip. The sea has shaped our history and our economy, and from today onwards, it will also feature on Norwegian banknotes. Norges Bank has been governed by our elected representatives since 1816 under a clear mandate: to safeguard the monetary system and the value of our money. Norges Bank’s banknotes and coins are the community’s money, and our trust in the value of our banknotes is closely linked to our trust in each other. With this in mind, it was important to design banknotes that would tell a story about us as a community of people. As the sea is a key dimension in that story, it was chosen as the theme of the new banknote series.

Fascinating stuff..

Prof. Tyler Cowen interviews Prof. Raj Chetty…

May 25, 2017

Prof Cowen does such a good job of bringing all kinds of aspects in his interviews.

His reecnt one with Raj Chetty does not disappoint:

……If we look at your papers, they’re about topics people have already thought about. The data work is completely state of the art, but I don’t think it would be said you’re doing something other people can’t do, and yet several times a year, you come out with papers of great import that make a big splash, and the results seem to hold up. So what in fact is your competitive advantage? [laughs]

CHETTY: That’s a tough question. Part of what we try to do is exactly as you said: take old questions. I think some of the most important questions in economics and social science have not yet been fully answered, and the recent availability of big data of various types allows us, for the first time, to tackle those classic questions. What our research group tries to do is bring those two things together.

COWEN: But those both sound replicable, right? What’s the non-replicable asset?

CHETTY: What hopefully our contribution and scale is, is showing how you can take those large datasets and not get lost in them, and bring out the key lessons that are relevant for thinking about these classic questions.

It’s very easy — students often have this reaction, that all I need to do is get access to this big dataset, and then I’m going to be all set for my thesis. And what you end up finding is that that is often not the case. It’s very easy to write a paper that is not that good, even with cutting-edge data and modern techniques. So one of the things that I try to do — and the easiest way to see this is if you internally, within our research group, see the iterations of the papers we’ve been working on — where we start out is often very far away from the papers that people see as the finished product. We work hard to try to write a paper that ex post seems extremely simple: “Oh, it’s obvious that that’s the set of calculations you should have done.”

Being realisitic about cash vs digital payments debate

May 19, 2017

Interesting speech by Bank Negara Malaysia’s Deputy Governor – ncik Abdul Rasheed Ghaffour. He speaks on the burning issue of cash vs digital payments.

He says there are three aspects to this debate:

 

As a policy maker, I would think that there are three elements, or the ‘3S’, that we should consider in determining an optimal balance of paper and digital, cash and cashless.

Security
The first consideration is security. Counterfeiting is as old as money itself. However, cash has become more secure in recent years. In Malaysia, the amount of counterfeits discovered reduced by 25% in the past year. The currency industry is continuing to make good progress in enhancing security features. I am particularly pleased to note the recent efforts to make such features intuitive – so that the man on the street is likely to notice when something is amiss

The security challenge will not disappear by going cashless. The latest being the recent Ransomware attack. Cyber risk remains a real threat that must be managed. Significant efforts have been made to strengthen resilience against cyberattacks. The banking and payments systems industry has made this a key priority in recent years. However, cybersecurity is ultimately a shared responsibility between the provider and the consumer. Even the most robust systems can be breached if consumers do not exercise adequate caution or are deceived by fraudsters. In this regard, consumer education plays an important role in keeping cashless payments secure.

In addition, cash is also a choice payment instrument for illicit activities. Unlike digital transactions which almost always leave a trail to the parties, payments in cash are anonymous. In his recent book, The Curse of Cash, Kenneth Rogoff points out a very sobering reality – the amount of US Dollars in circulation outside of banks suggests that each American should have around USD4,200 in their wallet. This is not the case. According to him, most of this money is used to hide transactions.

However, this alone does not warrant moving away from cash entirely. Rogoff himself acknowledges this, and proposes the solution of eliminating large denomination notes – such as the United States’ hundred dollar bill. The logic is simple. With the next largest bill being USD50, such a move would immediately make it twice as cumbersome to hoard and pass around suitcases of cash. This is in fact a policy call which Malaysia has made, when we phased out the RM1000 and RM500 notes in 1999. At the same time, the case for removing large denominations becomes weaker as each year goes by. This is because the effect of inflation plays a similar role in making cash transactions more difficult for illegal activities.

Social cost
The second element for consideration is the social cost imposed by the form of currency chosen. On the surface, cash may appear to be costless. Consumers do not have to worry about subscription fees and exorbitant interest rates lying in wait. Retailers are not required to pay fees to accept cash, and so need not pass on any servicing charges to the consumer. There is no need for banks and merchants to invest in and maintain sophisticated software and hardware to support digital payments.

However, cash does not come cheap. Money needs to be printed and minted, and then transported, counted and guarded – several times over. Each step here poses a significant cost to various actors within the economy. Central banks have to deal with the rising cost of producing secure and durable money. Storing and moving money around under tight security can be expensive for both commercial banks and retail businesses. This does not yet account for the losses relating to under-reported taxes which is directly enabled by a cash economy – a cost borne by society as a whole. A 2005 study estimated this figure to be USD100 billion annually in the United States alone

The task of calculating the relative total cost of cash and cashless payments is a difficult one. Apart from the methodological challenges, the findings for each study are also likely to differ according to the nuances of each country. Nonetheless it is a worthwhile endeavour. Policy makers around the world have made positive progress in this area, and I believe we will see more efforts on this front in the coming years.

This leads to another dimension of the social cost consideration, which is the impact on financial inclusion. Millions of people live in rural areas globally, with little or no access to the modern infrastructures necessary to facilitate cashless solutions. The availability of cash is therefore paramount in ensuring that they continue to be seamlessly included in the financial system. At the same time, the success of mobile payments operator M-Pesa in rural Kenya has demonstrated that cashless alternatives can in fact be a means to promote financial inclusion for the unbanked. Here in Malaysia, where mobile banking transactions have tripled in the past year, there is potential to leverage the high mobile penetration rate to improve financial inclusion.

Stability
The third element is stability. The ability to make retail payments reliable is crucial for the effectiveness of the financial system. As discussed earlier, we have come a long way in developing a reliable way of transacting electronically – through solutions such as credit cards, mobile transfers and prepaid balances. Central banks are now carefully monitoring newer developments, particularly digital currencies based on the use of a distributed ledger. Digital currencies have tended to be volatile and subject to speculative hoarding. This raises the potential for runs on the digital currency, triggered for instance by a loss of confidence in the currency itself or a third party provider like an exchange. This risk is likely to be augmented where the digital currency is not backed by an issuer, and where there is no lender of last resort function. If digital currencies are widely used, such a shock could have systemic repercussions. At the same time, some of these concerns may be addressed if the digital currencies used are issued by a central bank. Many policymakers are studying this option.

In addition to facilitating payments, cash has been a powerful instrument for central banks to build trust and credibility with the public. The notes issued by central banks provide us with a direct and tangible link to the people – making it a key branding tool. Trust and confidence in the central bank are crucial for us to effectively deliver our mandate. This dynamic is augmented in jurisdictions like Malaysia, where the central bank is responsible for promoting both monetary and financial stability. If we were to go completely cashless, central banks might lose this traditional means of maintaining a strong brand.

Hmm..

Why don’t our economic experts/CEOs/analysts/media speak their minds on Indian economy?

May 15, 2017

After a long time, one gets to read a speech which talks about one of the most fundamental problems facing Indian economy: lack of healthy criticism (not negative) of government/RBI policy. It is unbelievable to see these days how often the view of all so called independent minds is similar to the government. Pick the newspaper post any budget or monetary policy and you see so called independent minds praising the policy. Thankfully I am not the only one saying this.

Most do not even mention that their view  before policy was very different from what happened in the policy and just shamelessly switch sides. Those few that admit the divergences call the policy prudent and cleverly shift to other side. There are just very very few who are willing to question the move. But then some of them remain silent fearing trolling. All in all, there are just a handful who are willing to speak their minds and they are not liked.

So it is interesting that the Chief Economic Adviser has raised issues about this behavior in a recent much talked about speech. The speech is provocatively titled as: Competence, Truth and Power: Macro-economic Commentary in India. He says:

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Lessons on ethical investments from Norway’s Pension Fund Global

May 5, 2017

Speech from  Mr Øystein Olsen, Governor of the Norges Bank:

Norges Bank aims to be at the forefront of global efforts in the area of responsible investment. Responsible investment is an integral part of the investment strategy and includes the exclusion of companies on an ethical basis. In 2016, the Ministry of Finance, at the request of the Storting, introduced two new criteria for ethics-based exclusions: a climate criterion and a coal criterion. Norges Bank has conducted extensive research to collect data and perform analyses to identify the companies that fall under the coal criterion. Based on the results, the Executive Board decided to exclude 69 companies and place 13 companies under observation in 2016. On the advice of the Council on Ethics, the Board also decided to exclude a further eight companies and place one company under observation, while the exclusion of one company was revoked. The exchange of information and division of responsibilities between Norges Bank and the Council on Ethics functions smoothly.

Hmm..

Why Europe still needs cash…

May 3, 2017

Yves Merschodf European Central Bank argues why Europe still needs cash.

He says there are 3 camps which argue for digital payments. However, their arguments are off the curve:

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How Fiji Central bank honored and celebrated the country’s first Olympic Gold medal win in Rio..

April 28, 2017

An interesting speech on how central bank and governments keep the feeling of nationalism going.

Fiji won its first medal ever in Rio Olympics in the sport of Rugby 7.  The central bank decided to honor the win by issuing a colored coin but the project got into difficulty as only one side could be colored. This led to delay leading to some compromises.

The episode is nicely covered in this speech by the central bank governor Barry Whiteside:

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Now central banks are weary of private digital money: How history is being repeated the other way round..

April 28, 2017

Before central banks became monopolies of currency issuance, private banks started issuing their own notes. These notes were backed by gold/silver. However, some banks could overissue currency leading to mismatch between currency and metal base.

It so happened that a Swede bank – Stockholms Banco- over issued its banknotes. This led to a kind of run on the bank leading to all kinds of crisis. The bank was shut leading to jailing of its founder  Johan Palmstruch. But the seeds had been sown and the King established another bank called Bank of the Estates of the Realm in 1668. This bank eventually became Riksbank, known as the first central bank of the world. (Much more here)

So basically, early central banks were formed for two purposes. Prevent this overissuance of private bank money (as in Riksbank) or financing wars (as in Bank of England and Banque de France). They were not really central banks right at the beginning. The Central bank we know today came via evolution over multiple years as Governments realised the power of money and concentrated most powers under a central bank financed by them.  Though early central banks were private banks which were eventually nationalised.

Fast forwarding to today. With digital money, it is becoming possible for private players to once again enter the money space. And not surprisingly central bankers are worried as a monopoly would be.

Norway’s central bank  Deputy Governor Jon Nicolaisen gives a speech cautioning against these private money. He gives an example:

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Life lessons from a Bacardi: remember your roots and be frugal

March 30, 2017

Nice interview of Facundo L. Bacardi, the great grandson of founder of Bacardi.

Facundo L. Bacardi had little interest in joining the family business, which happens to be the largest privately held spirits company in the world, with a portfolio of more than 200 brands, including Bombay Sapphire, Grey Goose and Dewars.

The great-great grandson of Bacardi company founder Don Facundo Bacardţ Massū had other plans.

“When I was young, I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said. “When I got to my teens, I started thinking, Boy, I’d really love to be a baseball player.”

As Bacardi got older, his family legacy began calling him. Now 50, he has been chairman of the board of Bermuda-based Bacardi Limited since 2005 and a director since 1993. He spoke with Reuters to share some of the life lessons he has learned from his family — and the family business — over the years.

He says the most important lesson is to be frugal and rooted:

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Reforming Culture (in financial services) for the Long Term

March 22, 2017

I just blogged about why importance of preserving local culture and values as SBI merges its associate banks.

So, one just came across this NY Fed chief William Dudley Speech in London on reforming culture in finance. In evening he participates in a panel discussion titled: Worthy of Trust? Law, ethics and culture in banking.

Dudley who was under fire for corporate misgovernance a NY Fed has earlier also made remarks on culture.

In the recent speech he says:

As I have argued before, incentives shape behavior, and behavior drives culture.  If you want a culture that will support your long-term business strategy, you need to align incentives with the behaviors that will sustain your business over the long haul.6

Incentives—compensation and promotion, in particular—are powerful tools for communicating the conduct and culture you desire for your firm.  Of course, the cultures of firms can and should vary.  But, the culture of every bank should share a common theme: stewardship—a word that implies professional care, exercised year after year for the benefit of the firm and its stakeholders.  A commitment to the long term must be at the core of banking.  Incentives within a firm should support that goal, not undermine it.

My emphasis on incentives is not new, but it bears repeating.  Bad incentives were a key contributing factor in the financial crisis.  In the United States, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded that “Compensation systems—designed in an environment of cheap money, intense competition, and light regulation—too often rewarded the quick deal, the short-term gain—without proper consideration of long-term consequences.”7   This theme applied to all levels of banking organizations.  One notable example was mortgage brokers, who were paid based on the volume of loans they generated, not their quality.8

The financial crisis came to a head in the fall of 2008.  Fast forward eight years to the fall of 2016.  Wells Fargo’s chairman and CEO resigned after regulators uncovered what appeared to be widespread fraud in the retail bank.  Compensation, once again, seems to be at the center of a scandal.  Neighborhood bankers were paid based on the volume of new accounts opened, apparently with utter disregard for whether customers wanted them or even knew about them.  And, like mortgage brokers in the early 2000s, it appears that job security depended almost exclusively on meeting targets, regardless of how those targets were met.  There was a serious mismatch between the values Wells Fargo espoused and the incentives that Wells Fargo employed.9  

Investigations into what happened at Wells Fargo are continuing, so I will wait before drawing more definitive conclusions.  For now, though, it is sufficient to note the powerful role—for good or for bad—that incentives can play in an organization.  I understand that making progress on culture is difficult.  But, if you want the next round of metrics to look better than the last, use a powerful lever—use incentives. 

Today’s discussions—here at Mansion House and later at the Bank of England—are evidence that the issue of culture is important to the private and public sectors alike.  We have to keep working on this.  The public sector must continue to shine a spotlight on the issue, and the industry must continue to demonstrate that it is taking responsibility for its culture.  And, culture cannot be a subject that only receives attention because bad conduct has occurred in the recent past. 

I am convinced that a good or ethical culture that is reflected in your firm’s strategy, decision-making processes, and products is also in your economic best interest, for a number of reasons:

  • Good culture means fewer incidents of misconduct, which leads to lower internal monitoring costs.
  • Good culture means that employees speak up so that problems get early attention and tend to stay small.  Smaller problems lead to less reputational harm and damage to franchise value.  And, habits of speaking up lead to better exchanges of ideas—a hallmark of successful organizations.
  • Good culture means greater credibility with prosecutors and regulators—and fewer and lower fines. 
  • Good culture helps to attract and retain good talent.  This creates a virtuous circle of higher performance and greater innovation, and less pressure to cut ethical corners to generate the returns necessary to stay in business. 
  • Good culture builds a strong organizational story that is a source of pride and that can be passed along through generations of employees.  It is also attractive to clients.
  • Good culture helps to rebuild public trust in finance, which could, in turn, lead to a lower burden imposed by regulation over time.  Regulation and compliance are expensive substitutes for good stewardship.

Good culture is, in short, a necessary condition for the long-term success of individual firms.  Therefore, members of the industry must be good stewards and should seek to make progress on reforming culture in the near term. 

Well, there was a time when NY Fed would never discuss such issues. They were seen as soft and not of any importance. NY Fed was more about hard finance and fancy stuff.

 

Demand for Virtual currencies replacing traditional currency has always been there…Is this time any different?

March 2, 2017

RBI DG R Gandhi has a speech on two upcoming opportunities/threats in finacial industry – fintech and virtual currency (VC).

On VCs (there was a time when VC meant Venture Capital) he says this idea that VC will lead to death of currency is hardly new. These ideas have been there for a while:

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