- Oct 22 Fri 2010 23:47
- Oct 17 Sun 2010 02:14
Currencies dominated this year’s annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund. More precisely, two currencies did: the dollar and the renminbi, the former because it was deemed too weak and the latter because it was deemed too inflexible. But, behind the squabbles, lies a huge challenge: how best to manage the global economic adjustment.
In his foreword to the new World Economic Outlook, Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s economic counsellor, states: “Achieving a ‘strong, balanced and sustained world recovery’ – to quote from the goal set in Pittsburgh by the G20 – was never going to be easy . . . It requires two fundamental and difficult economic rebalancing acts.”
The first is internal rebalancing – a return to reliance on private demand in advanced countries and retrenchment of the fiscal deficits that opened in the crisis. The second is external rebalancing – greater reliance on net exports by the US and some other advanced countries and on domestic demand by some emerging countries, notably China. Unfortunately, concludes, Professor Blanchard, “these two rebalancing acts are taking place too slowly”.
We can consider this rebalancing on two dimensions. First, the erstwhile high-spending, high-deficit advanced countries need to de-leverage their private sectors on the journey to what Mohamed El-Erian of Pimco, the investment company, called “the new normal”, in his Per Jacobsson lecture. Second, the real exchange rates of economies with robust external positions, strong investment opportunities, or both, need to appreciate, while expansion of domestic demand offsets the consequent drag from net exports.
Aggressive monetary policy by reserve-issuing advanced countries, particularly the US, is an element in both processes. The cries of pain now heard around the world, as markets push currencies up against the dollar, partly reflect the uneven impact of US policy. Still more, they reflect the stubborn unwillingness to accept the needed changes, with each capital recipient trying to deflect the unwanted adjustment elsewhere.
To put it crudely, the US wants to inflate the rest of the world, while the latter is trying to deflate the US. The US must win, since it has infinite ammunition: there is no limit to the dollars the Federal Reserve can create. What needs to be discussed is the terms of the world’s surrender: the needed changes in nominal exchange rates and domestic policies around the world.
If you wish to understand how aggressive US policy might become, read a recent speech by William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He notes that, “in recent quarters the pace of growth has been disappointing even relative to our modest expectations at the start of the year”. Behind this lies deleveraging by US households, in particular. So what can monetary policy do about it? His answer is that “very low interest rates can help smooth the adjustment process by supporting asset valuations, including making housing more affordable and by allowing some borrowers to reduce debt interest payments. Beyond this . . . to the extent that monetary policy can ‘cut off the tail’ of the distribution of potential adverse economic outcomes . . . it can help encourage those households and businesses with money to spend to do so”.
Above all, today’s low and falling inflation is potentially calamitous. At worst, the economy might succumb to debt-deflation. US yields and inflation are already following the path of Japan’s in the 1990s (see chart). The Fed wants to stop this trend. That is why another round of quantitative easing seems imminent.
- Apr 13 Tue 2010 11:06