Some alarming figures have been banded about with regard to America’s infrastructure. It is estimated that over 700,000 bridges are rated as structurally deficient. In 2009 Americans lost approximately $78 billion to traffic delays – inefficient use of time and petrol costs. Also crashes which to a large extent have been caused by road conditions, cost a further $230 billion.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers the US needs to spend $2.2 trillion bring their infrastructure up to standard. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2011 that for every dollar the federal government spent on infrastructure the multiplier effect was up to 2.5. Other indicators state that every $1 billion spent on infrastructure creates 18,000 jobs, almost 30% more than if the same amount were used to cut personal income taxes. – The Economist
Positive Externalities from infrastructure.
Investment in infrastructure has a lot of positive externalities – faster traveling time for consumers and companies, spending less time on maintenance. Research has shown that the completion of a road led to an increase in economic activity between 3 and 8 times bigger than it initial outlay with eight years after its completion. But what must be considered is that now is the best time to invest in infrastructure as it is very cheap – much cheaper than it will be when the economy is going through a boom period.
The race for countries to devalue their currency (make their exports more competitive) has led to massive increase in monetary stimulus into the global financial system. We are all aware of the three rounds of Quantitative Easing from the US Fed and the indication that they would keep the Fed Funds Rate at virtually zero until 2015. To add fuel to the ‘dim embers’, in 2013 the US is going to inject US$1 trillion into the circular floe. However in China they have also embarked on some serious stimulus:
* More infrastructure development – US$60bn
* Additional credit – US$14 trillion in extra credit since 2009 (equal to entire US banking system)
Nevertheless even with all this artificial stimulus there might be some short-term growth but I can’t see it being sustainable when you consider the extent of global deleveraging. Also IMF figures show that the world saving rates are on the increase (* forecast):
With increased saving rates accompanied by significant austerity measures in many parts of Europe where is the consumer demand going to come from? Unemployment in Spain is 26% and predicted to hit 30% this year- more worrying is 50% of those under 25 are unemployed. Spanish protesters chanted “We don’t owe, we won’t pay” in a march against austerity. So in the US we have massive fiscal stimulus but across the water in Europe it’s all about “tightening the belt” and cutting government spending. Neither seems to be working and are we just putting off a significant downturn for a later date?
Part of the Cambridge A2 syllabus studies Macro Economic conflicts of Policy Objectives. Here I am looking at GDP, Unemployment, and Inflation (improving Trade figures is another objective also). The objectives are:
* Stable low inflation with prices rising within the target range of 1% – 3% per year
* Sustainable growth – as measured by the rate of growth of real gross domestic product
* Low unemployment – the government wants to achieve full-employment
New Zealand Growth, Jobs and Prices — 3 Key Macro Objectives Inflation, jobs and growth
1. Inflation and unemployment:
From the graph above you can see that low levels of unemployment have created higher prices – demand-pull inflation. Also note that as unemployment has increased there is a short-term trade-off between unemployment and inflation. Notice the increase in inflation in 2010-2011 as this is when the rate of GST was increased from 12.5% to 15%. Also today we have falling inflation (0.8% below the 1-3% band set by the RBNZ) and unemployment in on the rise – 7.3%
2. Economic growth and inflation
With increasing growth levels prices started to increase in 2007 going above the 3% threshold in 2008. This suggests that there were capacity issues in the economy and the aggregate supply curve was becoming very inelastic. In subsequent years the level of growth has dropped and with it the inflation rate.
3. Economic Growth and Unemployment
Usually you find that with increasing levels of GDP growth unemployment figures tend to gravitate downward. This was apparent between 2006-2008 – GDP was positive and unemployment did fall to approximately 3.6%. However from 2009 onwards you can see that growth has been positive but unemployment has also started to rise.
Some figures for September show that the Chinese economy is tentatively starting to come out of its slowdown.
Exports rose to 9.9%
GDP for Q3 rose by 7.4%
CPI – 1.9%
The CPI figure is encouraging in that it gives the Peoples’ Bank of China plenty of room to ease monetary policy if they need to as the Inflation target rate is 4%. They have also pumped an additional US$42.15bn into the economy in order to stimulate growth. According to the National Australia Bank (NAB) the use of these measures appears to be the preferred method of monetary easing ahead of the start of the Communist Party Congress which starts on 8 November, where a new leadership team is set to be installed. The installation of the new leadership team could pave the way for a cut to the reserve requirement ratio and for fiscal stimulus. Many commentators envisage a soft landing for China.
Michael O’Sullivan wrote an interesting chapter in “Understanding Ireland’s Economic Crisis” about Ireland’s bubble. He talked about the anatomy of a bubble and went through various examples from history. There are 3 stages of the bubble which he describes:
Stage 1 – Favourable shock
The Favourable Shock – in many cases this a change in economic policy or a technological shift. Examples:
The Mississippi bubble – the creation of paper money
Railways booms in the US and UK during the 19th Century
Dot.com bubble – 1990’s
Foreign Direct Investment – Ireland 1990’s
The above events enhance expectations of future economic growth and earning potential. What helps turn the boom into a bubble is the ease of credit – expansionary monetary policy (low interest rates), relaxed lending conditions etc. This then leads to rising asset values which allows corporate and the household sector the ability to take on more debt (leverage). In Ireland real interest rates (Interest rate – CPI) was 0% in 1998-2001 and was approximately -4% in 2000.
Stage 2 – Speculative growth
The Speculative Stage is one where the ecstatic enthusiasm for risk chases high returns and investment becomes speculation. A quote from J.M.Keynes describes the change in mood:
As the bubble gains momentum some people come to believe there is a greater fool who would buy their inflated assets. With this aura of confidence and supporting arguments from the periphery – e.g. “the world has changed” or “this time it’s different” – a mood of speculative optimism becomes rampant. An example of this positive rhetoric was from former Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern. He stated that those warning of the property bubble should “commit suicide”.
Stage 3 – Irrational Exuberance
Irrational Exuberance starts to dominate the “herd” and often this stage sees the sharpest and most bewildering rise in asset prices. However, there comes a time when this sort of frenzied activity cannot be maintained and eventually the bubble bursts. Most bubbles end with a tightening of monetary policy – higher interest rates – credit controls – limited borrowing potential. For Ireland, as was the case with other economies, the global financial crisis was the “lighting of the fuse”
The Irish Credit Bubble
Morgan Kelly wrote a paper on this and below is a chart from the book “Understanding Ireland’s Economic Crisis” which shows how bank lending assisted the bubble. In 1997 Irish bank lending to the non-financial private sector was only 60% of GNP compared with 80% in most eurozone economies and the UK. By 2008 bank lending grew to 200% of national income. Irish banks were lending 40% more in real terms to property developers alone in 2008 than they had been lending to everyone in Ireland in 2000, and 75% more as mortgages.
It is important that you are aware of current issues to do with the New Zealand and the World Economy. Examiners always like students to relate current issues to the economic theory as it gives a good impression of being well read in the subject. Only use these indicators if it is applicable to the question.
Indicators that you might want to mention are as follows:
The New Zealand Economy
The New Zealand economy expanded by 0.6 percent in the June 2012 quarter, while economic growth in the March quarter was revised down slightly to one percent. Favourable weather conditions leading to an increase in milk production was a significant driver of economic growth over the June quarter. The current account deficit rose to $10,087 million in the year ended June 2012, equivalent to 4.9 percent of GDP. Higher profits by foreign-owned New Zealand-operated banks and higher international fuel prices were factors behind the increase in the deficit during the year. Unemployment is currently at 6.8% but is expected to fall below 6% with the predicted increase in GDP. Annual inflation is approaching its trough. It is of the opinion that it will head towards the top end of the Reserve Bank’s target band (3%) by late next year.
The Global Economy
After the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) the debt-burdened economies are still struggling to reduce household debt to pre-crisis levels and monetary and fiscal policies have failed to overcome “liquidity traps”. Rising budget deficits and government debt levels have become more unsustainable. The US have employed the third round of quantitative easing and are buying US$40bn of mortgage backed securities each month as well as indicating that interest rates will remain at near zero levels until 2015. Meanwhile in the eurozone governments have implemented policies of austerity and are taking money out of the circular flow. However in the emerging economies there has been increasing inflation arising from capacity constraints as well as excess credit creation. Overall the deleveraging process can take years as the excesses of the previous credit booms are unwound. The price to be paid is a period of sub-trend economic growth which in Japan’s case ends up in lost decades of growth and diminished productive potential. The main economies are essentially pursuing their own policies especially as the election cycle demands a more domestic focus for government policy – voter concerns are low incomes and rising unemployment. Next month see the US elections and the changing of the guard in China. In early 2013 there is elections in Germany. The International Monetary Fund released their World Economic Outlook in which they downgraded their formal growth outlook. They also described the risk of a global recession as “alarmingly high”.
Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz came out strongly against the recent QE3 by the US Fed and the ECB’s announcement that it would buy government bonds of indebted eurozone member countries. With this announcement stock prices in the US reached post-recession highs although some worried about future inflation and significant government spending. According to Stiglitz these concerns are unwarranted as there is so much underutilisation and no serious risk of inflation. But the US Fed and the ECB sent three clear messages:
1. Previous actions didn’t work – ie QE1 and 2
2. The US Fed announcement that it will keep rates low until 2015 and buy $40bn worth of mortgage backed securities suggested the recovery is not going to take place soon.
3. The Fed and the ECB are saying that the markets won’t restore full employment soon – fiscal stimulus is needed.
In textbook economics increased liquidity means more lending, mostly to investors thereby shifting the AD curve to the right and thereby increasing demand and employment. But if you consider Spain an increase in liquidity will be cancelled out by an austerity package.
For both Europe and America, the danger now is that politicians and markets believe that monetary policy can revive the economy. Unfortunately, its main impact at this point is to distract attention from measures that would truly stimulate growth, including an expansionary fiscal policy and financial-sector reforms that boost lending. Joseph Stiglitz
Here is a cool graphic from the WSJ that looks at the impact of the US Fed’s monetary policy of dumping trillions of dollars into the economy in order to stimulate economic activity – it covers the period from September 2008 through to today. The graphic shows the impact on the following:
* 10 year treasury yields
* DJIA – Dow Jones Industrial Average
* WSJ US dollar index
Click WSJ Interactive Graphic to go to the page.
You will no doubt have seen the Keynes v Hayek Rap which was produced by econ stories. Now the debate turns to the Chinese economy – which of these economist’s policies is more prevalent? The Economist Free exchange column addressed this issue recently.
In order to maintain the level of economic activity in an economy Keynes believed in investment spending to maintain aggregate demand and employment. However, Hayek believed that investment spending might be directed in the wrong areas and would leave the economy poorly coordinated and workers stranded in the wrong jobs. Economist Andrew Batson has argued that Hayek seems to be gaining the upper hand in the battle of ideas as China is now keen to avoid the Hayek malinvestment even if there is less aggregate demand and growth which Keynes favoured. As mentioned in previous posts there has been huge investment in China in areas that normally stimulate growth in downturns – eg. creation of new cities or infrastructure projects.
There are others that say the Chinese economy has areas of its infrastructure that need to be developed. Cities like Beijing and Shenzen are congested and need investment spending on them. Although Hayek believed that malinvestment would result in a worse downturn what is different in China is that their high investment is backed by even higher savings. This means that investment projects don’t need to generate high returns in order pay back external creditors. According to The Economist the real cost of malinvestment is with the empty shopping malls, vacant apartments etc when there are poor medical facilities and overcrowding in housing. Might a more market approach be a better driver of the economy rather than that of central planning?
With continued global weakness the RBA is becoming increasingly worried about the prospects for the Australian economy. According to the National Bank of Australia there are 3 factors that the RBA are concerned with:
1. Although house prices are stabilising there are some sectors of the economy that remain in a depressed state – residential construction has a record low capacity utilisation (see graph).
2. A tightening of state and federal fiscal policy has meant that there is less aggregate demand in the economy.
3. The high value of the AUS$ affects the competitiveness of exports. However business now see the high AUS$ as permanent rather than cyclical. This is important as the RBA is not expecting lower rates to significantly lower the AUS$ but rather is trying to offset some of the economic damage to the economy.
It could be that a rate cut by the RBA is an insurance policy in an environment where inflation appears stable. The graph below looks at the RBA Cash Rate and the Taylor Rule.
The Taylor Rule
This is a specific policy rule for fixing interest rates proposed by the Stanford University economist John Taylor. Taylor argued that when:
Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) = Potential Gross Domestic Product and
Inflation = its target rate of 2%,
then the Federal Funds Rate (FFR) should be 4% (that is a 2% real interest rate).
If the real GDP rises 1% above potential GDP, then the FFR should be raised by 0.5%.
If inflation rises 1% above its target rate of 2%, then the FFR should be raised by 0.5%.
This rule has been suggested as one that could be adopted by other central banks – ECB, Bank of England, etc for setting official cash rates. However, the rule does embody an arbitrary 2% inflation target rather than, say 3% or 4%, and it may need to be amended to embody alternative inflation targets at different times or by different central banks. The advantages of having such as explicit interest rate rule is that its very transparency can create better conditions for business decisions and can help shape business people’s and consumers’ expectations. Central banks prefer to maintain an air of intelligent discretion over the conduct of their policies than to follow rules, but to some extent they do unwittingly follow a Taylor rule. This makes the rule a useful benchmark against which actual policies can be judged.
The Chinese authorities have cut interest rates for the time since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). One year lending and deposit rates were cut by 0.25%.
Lending rate – 6.31%
Deposit rate – 3.25%
Although this should encourage spending with an increase in the money velocity in the circular flow some commentators are concerned that the Chinese authorities know something about their economy that the rest of world is in the dark about.
It is interesting to see the reaction of main central banks in the aftermath of the GFC and how aggressive they were in cutting rates – US, EU, UK – relative to the other countries on the graph, namely China, India and Australia. Furthermore notice that some economies seem to have been at a different part of the economic cycle namely Australia, India, and the EU as their central bank rates have risen in order to slow the economy down. This is especially in India as they have had strong contractionary measures in place but have now started to ease off on the cost of borrowing.
Indian growth has slowed to 5.3% this year and although this seems very healthy it is the lowest level in 7 years. A developing nation like this needs higher levels of growth to create the jobs for their vast working age population and without employment there could be a situation not unliike that of Spain where over 50% of those under 25 don’t have a job. The main cause of the slowdown seems to be from a lack of private investment.
Also look how low rates are in the US, UK, and EU. With little growth in these economies the policy instrument of lower interest rates has been ineffective and they are in a liquidity trap. Increases or decreases in the supply of money do not affect interest rates, as all wealth-holders believe interest rates have reached the floor. All increases in money supply are simply taken up in idle balances. Since interest rates do not alter, the level of expenditure in the economy is not affected. Hence, monetary policy in this situation is ineffective.
Robert Frank author of “The Economic Naturalist” and “The Darwin Economy” recently wrote a piece in The New York Times advocating tradiitonal Keynesian stimulus policy. With the US election on the horizon both Obama and Romney will be focusing on how to kick-start the economy. Obama has been a keen believer in infrastructure investment as a way to get American back into work whilst Romney has recognised the clear link between spending and employment.
In 2009 it was estimated that US roads, bridges and other infrastructure were in disrepair by the order of $2 trillion. There are many with the skills to do these jobs that are currently unemployed. Furthermore the longer you leave the repairs the more expensive it becomes. Some have said that this just puts the government into further debt but Frank argues that:
The same logic applies to overdue infrastructure investments. Yes, paying for them requires more government debt. And while austerity advocates fret that such projects will impoverish our grandchildren, they concede that the investments can’t be postponed indefinitely, and that they’ll become much more expensive the longer we wait.
It seems that there is great opportunity to stimulate growth in the economy.
The Economist ran an article that focused on the global imbalance in the world economy. We have been accustomed to hearing about the USA being great spenders and running large deficits and the Chinese being big savers and running large surpluses. However those that have been running even bigger surpluses are the oil exporting countries which have enjoyed a huge windfall from high oil prices – according to the IMF $740bn of which 60% will come from the Middle East. This compares to China’s suprlus of $180bn.
The Economist stated that only a fraction of this oil surplus has gone into official reserves and therefore hasn’t attracted much attention. A lot the money has been put into equities, hedge funds etc through intermediaries in London. The affect of higher oil revenues on the world economy depends on whether the money earned is then spent on buying goods and services from oil importing countries – this maintains demand and the velocity of the circulation of money in the circular flow. In the oil crisis years of 1973 (400% increase) and 1979 (200% increase) 70% of the revenue earned by oil exporting countries was injected back into the circular flow on purchasing goods and services. The IMF estimates that less than 50% will be spent in the three years to 2012. For each dollar spent on oil from OPEC countries in 2011 there was the following spent on the exports from that country:
USA – 34 cents came back into the economy
EU – 80 cents came back into the economy
China – 64 cents came back into the economy
Normally a large current account surplus would be eroded over time by a stronger domestic spending and a higher exchange rate. However the Gulf currencies are pegged or closely linked, to the US$. The best way to reduce the current account surplus of the oil exporting countries is to increase public spending and investment which might reduce dependence on oil revenues and therefore less likely to become part of the resource curse.
Here is Paul Solman of PBS disucussing the issue of humans becoming obsolete in the years to come. There is an interview with Will.i.am, lead singer of the Black Eyed Peas,
who is also director of creative innovation at Intel and someone who worries about the so-called digital divide between those who know how to capitalise on technology and those who don’t have a clue.
He uses the concept of “Star Trek,” as people don’t seem to care about those that “Star Trek” left behind in the ghettos.
It was like, what was the life like for the people that “Star Trek” left? They never even put a perspective on homeboy’s family with the little visor. So technology can go either way, right? It can be the prize for humanity, the thing that we created, like, whoa, check this out, or it could be the doom.
Solman goes on to talk about Emperor Vespasian who built the Coliseum without labour-saving technology as it would displace manual labour. Also in 19th Century the Luddites who sabotaged the textile machinery that was displacing them. However technology just continued to be developed and today we have trainers being printed in 3-D with no human input. One of the problems in the global economy today is that we think that education ends when we graduate from University. Education actually starts when you enter the workforce. Well worth a look.
In a recent edition of The New York Times magazine Paul Krugman wrote an article discussing the role of Ben Bernanke as an academic versus that of being the Fed Chairman.
When the financial crisis happened in 2008 it seemed that there could be no better person to be Fed Chairman. Having studied the Great Depression and written various academic papers on this and the crisis in Japan in 1990’s economists felt that Bernanke was the man for the job. Although the Fed has done a lot to rescue the financial system there is still major concerns about the labour market and the rising long-term rate of unemployment. Remember that the Fed has a dual mandate of Price Stability and Maximum Employment. In order to stimulate growth in the economy, especially when inflation is low, central banks lower interest rates but when the Fed Funds Rate reached 0 – 0.25% on the 16th December 2008 they basically ran out of ammunition as rates couldn’t go any lower. Here you tend to get stuck in what we call a “liquidity trap” in that monetary policy is no longer effective. When Japan was going through very slow growth in the 1990‘s, in which it experienced deflation, Professor Bernanke stated that Japanese policy makers should be a lot more active in trying to stimulate growth and inflation. With interest rates already at 0% he suggested that monetary authorities were not proactive enough to experiment with other policies even though they might have been radical. This all harks back to the days of FDR (Franklin D Roosevelt) in which he created work schemes, infrastructure projects etc, in order to boost employment. I have summarised Paul Krugman’s article below in a table format which shows Bernanke policies for the US economy as a Professor v Chairman.
this is the effect of bullies and the Fed Borg*, a combination of political intimidation and the desire to make life easy for the Fed as an institution. Whatever the mix of these motives the result is clear: faced with an economy still in desperate need of help, the Fed is unwilling to provide that help. And that, unfortunately, make the Fed part of the broader problem.
*Krugman is a keen “Star Trek” fan and compares the Federal Reserve to a Borg — a race of beings that act based on the wishes of a hive mind, and present major threats to the Starfleet and the Federation.
The Financial Times has produced a series of three interactive 3D infographics covering business, economic and technological topics demonstrating the global breadth and expertise of the Financial Times. What is unique about these is that they are displayed in the Vanderbilt Hall in New York’s Grand Central Station so commuters can catch a glimpse of them on their way to catch that train. It is brilliantly done by David McCandless. If you heading to New York soon you must go to Grand Central and see for yourself. You can view the 3 presentations at FT Graphic World. They are on the following topics :
Recession & Recovery – see below.
The world economy still struggles to release itself from the shackles of recession. The US economy has had only a very small increase in growth and European economies still struggle with the sovereign debt issue. However, Australia continues to grow, largely as a result of the strong demand for its commodities from the number two economy in the world, China (see graph for Australian export destinations).
In the October 2010 edition of econoMAX (online magazine of Tutor2u) I discussed the boom in the Australian economy and the challenges that lay ahead – bottlenecks in the labour market and a need for huge investment in ageing infrastructure, and a widening of income disparities between states and sectors in the so-called two-speed economy. But what would be the impact on the Australian economy if China started to contract and their growth levels slowed? How dependent is Australia on China’s insatiable demand for commodities?
A recent IMF paper simulated the impact of a Chinese economic downturn and looked at three
1 A change in the export-led economy to one that more domestic consumption based;
2 A temporary slowdown caused by an over-inflated property market or financial distress;
3 A recession in leading developed countries
Although the Australian economy will be affected by a downturn in the Chinese economy it does have the policy instruments (monetary and fiscal policy) available to be able to stimulate growth and return the economy to the positive slope of the business cycle.
The above is a brief extract from an article published in this month’s econoMAX – click below to subscribe to econoMAX the online magazine of Tutor2u. Each month there are 8 articles of around 600 words on current economic issues.
James Surowiecki of The New Yorker recently looked at the so-called rebound of the US economy. In February this year 200,000 new jobs were created and real incomes were growing also. Other indicators have been positive, for instance new car purchases have increased and the their are signs that aggregate demand is going up. But this demand is not necessarily coming from higher incomes from greater hours worked but the increasing number of young adult Americans living at home – see graph. This means that they have more income to spend on other items rather than rent/mortgage etc. In the article Surowiecki mentions data relating to the number of households.
1947 to 2007 – number of households in the US increased every year,
2008, 2010 and 2011 – number of households dropped even as the population grew.
Economist Scott Sumner came up with the expression Demographic Depression which has been a major cause of the weak recovery. The construction of new homes normally contributes greatly to the level of economic activity but when people are doubling up, there’s little demand for owning or renting. This also impact on peripheral items such as white wear items etc. However when doubling up ceases then we can say that there should be an increase in demand for housing, rentals, and white wear items. Research of past recessions shows that when unemployment falls household formation rebounds quite strongly. But global conditions and commodity prices could lead the Fed to tighten monetary policy but this would be going against what their stand of 0% interest rates to 2014.
Below is one of many really good presentations on macro and micro economics from the Khan Academy. They are particularly useful for the more theoretical parts of the course and include just about every topic in the AS/A2 syllabus as well as other presentations on current economic issues like the one below. Here they are looking at the difference between quantitative easing in the US and in Japan. Well worth a look.
Following on from the poster set, “Tracking the Credit Crisis” from the Museum of American Finance in New York, there is another which is well worth a look. I mentioned the book “This Time is Different” on a previous blog which maps the cyclical history of financial crisis from 1810 to 2010 for sixty-six countries representing 90% of world GDP. Click below to go to the site to order a poster or you can view it online by zooming in.
The giant wave in the top section of the graphic depicts the percentage of world GDP by region in crisis during the 200 year period. It includes the four major financial crisis types (sovereign default, banking, currency, and inflation) along with stock market crashes.
The bottom section provides a detailed chart of all sovereign defaults by country, region and year. It shows the repeating nature of sovereign default, a central theme of Reinhart and Rogoff’s book.
Created in partnership with the Princeton University Press, this graphic provides a comprehensive yet accessible view into the historical and current cycles of financial crises.