Very good video from Ray Dalio in which he believes that the three main forces that drive most economic activity are:
1) trend line productivity growth,
2) the long-term debt cycle and
3) the short-term debt cycle.
What follows is an explanation of all three of these forces and how, by overlaying the archetypical short-term debt cycle on top of the archetypical long-term debt cycle and overlaying them both on top of the productivity trend line, one can derive a good template for tracking most economic/market movements. While these three forces apply to all countries’ economies, in this study we will look at the U.S. economy over the last 100 years or so as an example to convey the Template.
Here is a chart from WSJ Graphics which shows the level of interest rates in the US from 1980 to today. With the stagflation of the 1970′s Paul Volcker was faced with some very tough decisions. Below is an extract from an interview with him on the PBS Commanding Heights documentary.
It came to be considered part of Keynesian doctrine that a little bit of inflation is a good thing. And of course what happens then, you get a little bit of inflation, then you need a little more, because it peps up the economy. People get used to it, and it loses its effectiveness. Like an antibiotic, you need a new one; you need a new one. Well, I certainly thought that inflation was a dragon that was eating at our innards, so the need was to slay that dragon.
If you had told me in August of 1979 that interest rates, the prime rate would get to 21.5 percent, I probably would have crawled into a hole. I would have crawled into a hole and cried, I suppose. But then we lived through it.
Below is a graphic from the WSJ which outlines inflation and unemployment under the last 3 Fed Chairmen – Paul Volcker, Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke. From the stagflation that was slain by Volker to the irrational exuberance of the Greenspan years and finally the financial contraction under Ben Bernanke. In the 1970′s Volcker tightened the money supply, the economy slowed and contracted – unemployment reached 10 percent. By August 1979 the prime interest rate got to 21.5% but by 1982 the inflation problem had been extinguished. However this was after 3 years of real hardship for the American people. Today we see that inflation isn’t the problem that it used to be and that stimulating growth and job creation is required.
Here is a great video explaining hyperinflation by KAL, The Economist’s resident cartoonist and animator.
“The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead.”
Should investors focus on the short run or long run? The majority are looking at short run gains rather than a long term focus as they are most likely driven by instant financial rewards after the GFC.
Investors are also looking to see if the significant monetary expansion over the last 5 years will lead to inflationary pressures. Niels Jensen of Credit Writedowns has been writing on this for awhile and has come up with a couple of reasons why we shouldn’t be worried about it. Firstly many investors don’t seem to have grasped the difference between the monetary base and the money supply.
The monetary base is the total amount of a currency that is either circulated in the hands of the public or in the commercial bank deposits held in the central bank’s reserves.
The money supply is the entire stock of currency and other liquid instruments in a country’s economy as of a particular time. The money supply can include cash, coins and balances held in checking and savings accounts.
See above for some figures from Neils Jensen
As he points out it is the money supply, not the monetary base, which influences inflation. The chart below shows that there is no growth in bank lending despite the QE measures of printing money.
“As so aptly demonstrated in a recent IMF paper, the interaction between inflation and the economic cycle is very different today when compared to the 1975-1994 period. Whereas inflation back then was pro-cyclical, it is largely non-cyclical today with inflation well anchored around 2% regardless of the underlying economic conditions – see chart below. The obvious implication of this is that inflation should behave relatively well even as (if) economic fundamentals improve.” Source: Credit Writedowns
Brian Gaynor in the NZ Herald recently stated why there could be a sustained period of low inflation. He came up with the following reasons. You will notice that most refer to the supply curve shifting to the right. The last one relates to a reduction in demand.
• Labour-saving technologies have reduced costs.
• Union militancy has dissipated, particularly as far as wage increases are concerned.
• There has been a massive increase in the production of goods and services and this has led to some oversupply.
• More competitive marketplaces have made it difficult for suppliers to raise prices.
• The mass production of cheap consumer goods in China and other Asian countries has kept a lid on prices.
• Technological advances have seen the price of some products, particularly telecommunications and electronics, drop sharply.
• A significant reduction in import duties and tariffs has created more import competition and put pressure on high-cost domestic producers.
• Strong currencies, particularly the New Zealand and Australian dollars, have also helped put downwards pressure on prices.
• Better price discovery, mainly through the internet, has enabled consumers to identify the cheapest products.
• High house prices in New Zealand have meant that a high percentage of income is committed to meeting interest payments instead of being available for consumption.
The BNZ publish a report entitled “NZ at a Glance” which summarises the current state of the NZ economy. Here are some of the main points:
GDP – Construction is the main driver of growth over the next couple of years – mainly residential. Net exports is likely to take a hit as import penetration starts to build with as the economy recovers. GDP is forecast to increase to 3.6% in 2014 from 2.9% in 2013.
Unemployment – the current rate is 6.2% and the labour market is tightening with the increase in economic activity. Forecast to fall to 5.2% by March 2015. Tighter labour market will mean higher wage growth but also because of higher inflationary expectations as the economy recovers.
Inflation - quite subdued and the annual rate has been 1% or less over the last four quarters. A strong NZD, weakening commodity prices and low inflation globally are conspiring to offset domestic-demand driven price increases. Low inflation also becomes self-fulfilling to the extent that it moderates inflation expectations and price-setting behaviour elsewhere.
Current Account - The current account deficit appears to be stabilising in a 4.0% to 5.0% of GDP range. This is thanks largely to a resurgence in the commodity prices of the goods that New Zealand exports. This is a welcome development to the extent that it may appease nervous rating agencies for a year or so.
The New Zealand economic expansion is gaining in momentum. The rebuild of Christchurch is now building up a head of steam and this is supporting increasingly widespread confidence. Very low interest rates and a booming housing market are playing their part too. Eventually this will necessitate a response from the central bank but while annual inflation remains below 1.0% (and set to stay there for a while) it suggests that any such response might be some time in coming. Meanwhile, the NZD remains supported by money printing elsewhere and the relative strength of the economy here.
Just published on their website, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand has prepared a short video explaining inflation. The video, featuring the Bank’s Head of Economics, John McDermott, explains how inflation is measured and how it manifests itself in everyday life. It also explains the importance of maintaining price stability. Well worth a look.
The media last week were championing the fact that America most-cited benchmark, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (consists of the biggest 30 companies on Wall Street), had surpassed the peak that it reached prior to the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. Although the DJIA has doubled since March 2009 the American economy has only grown over the same period by 7% in real terms. Ultimately there is no real correlation between GDP growth and stock market returns The Economist stated main reason for this is that central banks worldwide have been forcing down the returns on Government bonds hoping to get investors to put money into more risky assets and therefore restore confidence amongst businesses and consumers.
Do the figures stack up?
Although the DIJA has hit a record high numerically, has inflation been factored into the calculation? If you look at the real figures (adjusted for inflation) the Dow Jones is approximately 9% below where it was in October 2007. Therefore the purchasing power of your shares in October 2007 is greater than that of today.
In real terms DIJA would be around 12,900 instead of the peak of 14,253.77 on Tuesday 5th March.
Justin Lahart in the Wall Street Journal stated last week that when you included the dividends earned (with investments in the DIJA) over the past five and half years and if they were reinvested the DIJA would be at 16,000. Adjusting for both inflation and dividends would put the DIJA around 15,000 – up approximately 5%.
Another consideration that he alluded to was that the DIJA doesn’t really reflect how well the average stock is doing. Companies with high market capitalisations like Apple are worth more than others also stocks like International Business Machines are worth more than others. Therefore stocks with the largest weightings have tended to weigh on the DIJA. If you put all stocks on the same footing since DIJA’s old record, and the index would have performed much better. The equal-weighted DIJA now stands at 16,683.44 which is 2,518.91 points higher than its 2007 high of 14,164.53 – see graph below.
Nouriel Roubini wrote a piece on the Project Syndicate site focusing on the costs of QE. After three rounds of QE one wonders about its effectiveness. Roubini came up with 10 potential costs.
1. QE policies just postpones the necessary private and public sector deleveraging and if this is left too long it can create a zombie economy – institutions, firms, governments etc lose their ability to function.
2. Economic activity in the circular flow may become clogged with bond yields being so low and banks hoarding liquidity. Therefore the velocity of money circulation grinds to a halt.
3. With more money in the economy this implies a weakening of the currency but this is ineffective if other economies use QE at the same time. QE becomes a zero-sum game as not all currencies can fall simultaneously. QE = Currency Wars
4. QE leads to excessive capital to emerging markets. This can lead to a lot of extra liquidity and feed into domestic inflation creating asset bubbles. Furthermore an appreciation of the domestic currency in emerging markets makes their exports less competitive.
5. QE can lead to asset bubbles in an economy where it is implemented. It is especially prevalent when you’ve had an aggressive expansionary monetary policy (1% in USA after 9/11) already present in the economy for many years prior.
6. QE encourages Moral Hazard – governments put off major economic reforms and resort to a band aid policy. May delay fiscal austerity and ill discipline in the market.
7. Exiting QE is important – too slow an exit could mean higher inflation and assets and credit bubbles are created.
8. Long periods of negative real interest rates implies a redistribution of income and wealth – creditors and savers to debtors and borrowers. QE damages pensioners and pension funds.
9. With QE excessive inflation accompanied by slow credit growth, banks are faced with very low net interest-rate margins. Therefore, they might put money into riskier investments – remember the sub-prime crisis, oil prices up $147/barrel
10. QE might mean the end of conventional monetary policy. Some countries have discarded inflationary targets and there is no cornerstone for price expectations.
Recent growth and inflation figures spell bad news for the Brazilian economy. You would normally associate inflation as a consequence of higher growth rates but this looks like potential stagflation – stagnant growth and inflation. Although it is not as threatening as the stagflation era of the 1970’s, one wonders how the economy will get on hosting the World Cup and the Olympics games. You would have thought with these forthcoming events that economic growth would be generated with the huge infrastructure development required.
I have being going over the theory behind the output gap and here is an explanation – written a few years ago. Probably not so applicable to the economic environment today
Just as Messrs Friedman and Phelps had predicted, the level of inflation associated with a given level of unemployment rose through the 1970s, and policymakers had to abandon the Phillips curve. Today there is a broad consensus that monetary policy should focus on holding down inflation. But this does not mean, as is often claimed, that central banks are “inflation nutters”, cruelly indifferent towards unemployment.
If there is no long-term trade-off, low inflation does not permanently choke growth. Moreover, by keeping inflation low and stable, a central bank, in effect, stabilises output and jobs. In the graph below the straight line represents the growth in output that the economy can sustain over the long run; the wavy line represents actual output. When the economy is producing below potential (ie, unemployment is above the NAIRU), at point A, inflation will fall until the “output gap” is eliminated. When output is above potential, at point B, inflation will rise for as long as demand is above capacity. If inflation is falling (point A), then a central bank will cut interest rates, helping to boost growth in output and jobs; when inflation is rising (point B), it will raise interest rates, dampening down growth. Thus if monetary policy focuses on keeping inflation low and stable, it will automatically help to stabilise employment and growth.
Back into after the summer break in New Zealand – and to start the academic year a very amusing presentation by the only economics stand up comedian.
It was presented at the 2013 American Economic Association Humor Session by Yoram Bauman, a young environmental economist at the University of Washington. Bauman wavers between different opinions – the economics of hell and heaven. In the afterlife he talks about burning joss paper as an ancient Chinese practice which passes on money to those family members that are deceased. He also talks about massive increases in M4 as a major contributor to hyperinflation.
From the Australian Markets Weekly:
The Chinese indicators released on Sunday showed further signs of recovery, with better than expected outcomes for industrial production and retail sales. Industrial production rose 10.1%yoy in November (median 9.8%) from 9.6%, continuing to trend
higher after the 3-year low of 8.9% seen in August. Retail sales were up 14.9%yoy in November (median 14.6%) from 14.5%. Meanwhile inflation was subdued, up just 0.1% in November and 2.0%yoy (median 2.1%), meaning the PBoC has room to stimulate the economy further if growth unexpectedly slows again.
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.
With the Cambridge A2 exam on Wednesday here are some revision notes on inflation and a diagram that I have found useful. As well as cost-push and demand-pull inflation remember:
In recent years more attention has been paid to the psychological effects which rising prices have on people’s behaviour. The various groups which make up the economy, acting in their own self-interest, will actually cause inflation to rise faster than otherwise would be the case if they believe rising prices are set to continue.
Workers, who have tended to get wage rises to ‘catch up’ with previous price increases, will attempt to gain a little extra compensate them for the expected further inflation, especially if they cannot negotiate wage increases for another year. Consumers, in belief that prices will keep rising, buy now to beat the price rises, but this extra buying adds to demand pressures on prices. In a country such as New Zealand’s before the 1990′s, with the absence of competition in many sectors of the economy, this behaviour reinforces inflationary pressures. ‘Breaking the inflationary cycle’ is an important part of permanently reducing inflation. If people believe prices will remain stable, they won’t, for example, buy land and property as a speculation to protect themselves.
The New York Times recently reported that the Japanese authorities are once again trying to stimulate a rather moribund economy with injecting more money into the circular flow.
* A ¥11 trillion is to be added to an asset buying programme
* The Bank of Japan will supply banks with cheap long-term funds in the hope of stimulating borrowing.
* Base interest rate to stay at 0-0.1% – see graph below
* These measures will stay in place until inflation has reached at least 1% – Bank of Japan forecast of this figure is March 2014.
There has been some return to growth with the reconstruction after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. However global demand has declines and the issue of territory with China hasn’t helped – Japanese goods are not being favoured by Chinese consumers. Japan’s deflationary decade hasn’t been helped with a contracting population and monetary policy needs to be accompanied by government fiscal policy as private sector companies don’t have the confidence to invest in major expansions. To this end the government have thrown money at the economy to the tune of ¥422.6 billion (in the form of government spending) but this is already twice the size of the Japanese economy. A strengthening yen hasn’t helped matters as exporters find their products uncompetitive.
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.
Coming from Ireland I took a keen interest in the book entitled “Understanding Ireland’s Economic Crisis” edited by Stephen Kinsella and Anthony Leddin. It is a series of papers written by Irish academics which focuses on the causes of the largest destruction of wealth of any developed economy during the 2007-2010 global financial crisis. One paper on “The Phillips Curve and the Wage-Inflation Process in Ireland” lent itself to the Unit 6 of the A2 CIE syllabus. Remember the Phillips curve:
Bill Phillips, a New Zealander who taught at the London School of Economics, discovered a stable relationship between the rate of inflation (of wages, to be precise, rather than consumer prices) and unemployment in Britain over a long period, from the 1860s to the 1950s. Higher inflation, it seemed, went with lower unemployment. To the economists and policymakers of the 1960s, keen to secure full employment, this offered a seductive trade-off: lower unemployment could be bought at the price of a bit more inflation.
Notice the following:
1987: – 17% unemployment with over 3% inflation
1988-99: – unemployment falls to 5% and inflation 1.5%
1999-2000: – inflation increases from 1.5% to just over 7%. This increase was largely due to expansionary fiscal policy (demand-pull inflation) and capacity constraints that led to higher costs of production (cost-push). This led to a classic Phillips Curve situation as unemployment was at 4% and the unexpected increase in inflation had caused workers to ask for higher wages. With the low rate of unemployment their bargaining position was very strong.
2001-2004: – during this period we see the typical Phillips Curve wage-price spiral. When there is an unexpected rise in inflation this is accompanied by inflationary expectations and Ireland saw a dramatic upsurge in nominal pay awards. As demand-pull inflation fed into cost-push Irish inflation remained relatively high over the next 3 years.
2005-2008: – with unemployment still around 4% wages continued to rise significantly as inflation remained around the 5% level.
2008-2011: the global financial crisis hits the world economy and unemployment in Ireland hits 15% in the space of 2 years. Meantime the trade-off with inflation starts with the CPI reaching over -6% at the end of 2009. More recently we see inflation getting up to 3% with the rate of unemployment increasing at a diminishing rate.
Although economic indicators are improving in Ireland there is still a long way to go before they can be more confident about its outlook.
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”.