Global financial integration and the linkages between the financial and the real sides of economies are sources of huge policy challenges. This is now beyond doubt, after what we saw in the run-up to and the unfolding of the 2008 global financial crisis. As a consequence, the established wisdom regarding monetary policies and prudential regulation has been subject to a deep critical review, including a demise of the belief that they should be maintained as fully independent functions.
Monetary policy is widely considered as an effective tool for short-term stabilization. However, in recent decades, evidence suggests that its effectiveness in the US has been somewhat dampened. What is the reason behind this trend? Can it inform us about the relationship between monetary policy transmission and the complexity of the financial system?
In a recent paper, Alessandro Barattieri, Dalibor Stevanovic, and I document a rising trend in the fraction of financial claims which have direct counterparts in the financial sector (rather than the non-financial sector, which includes traditional borrowers such as firms, households and governments). We estimate that, up until the 1970s, close to 100% of financial assets had direct non-financial counterparts; today these traditional claims represent a mere 70% of financial assets, while the rest represent loans between financial institutions. We point out that this trend roughly coincides with the declining impact of monetary policy shocks, and propose a model that links these two trends.
- monetary policy
Sovereign difficulties have divided financial markets in the Euro area, thereby increasing differences in bank lending rates across countries. Policy makers in both Brussels and Frankfurt are concerned about an uneven transmission of policy interest rate cuts by the European Central Bank (ECB) to bank lending rates across the region.
Based on this situation, a key question stands out: is the link between official, market, and retail interest rates broken?
When markets are functioning properly, interest rates on loans follow the policy rate in a uniform way across countries (granted with some lag). But, in the context of the ongoing crisis, markets became somewhat irresponsive – resulting in ECB rate cuts being unevenly passed on to borrowers across Euro-area countries. This uneven distribution has meant that those countries facing greater financial difficulties had to endure tougher financing conditions than those facing fewer difficulties – as exemplified when comparing Spanish and Italian retail rates to the much-lower French and German ones.
So far, the economic literature has been relatively robust in arguing that government bond yields or credit default swaps (CDSs), given their stability, do not exert much influence on the way banks set their interest rates for their clients. However, the crisis has shown that because of the interconnectedness of central bank and sovereign balance sheets, developments in sovereign markets affect retail interest rates.
How has this played out in the EU11 countries? Have retail interest rate decreased in those countries where central banks reduced their policy rates? Or, was this a reaction on downward movement of CDSs?
Figure 1. Interest rates on new lending to enterprises (in Percent) and CDS spreads (in basis points) in selected EU11 countries
If the global financial crisis -- and the events that led up to it -- have taught us anything, it is,“No complacency with asset price booms”. We know first hand the dire consequences of bubbles, so it is clear monetary policy makers can no longer passively observe the evolution of asset prices. If an economy is to pursue macroeconomic and financial stability, they should coordinate with financial supervisors – in an economic marriage of convenience – to ensure financial regulation and monetary policies are complementary, and implemented in an articulated way.
In a previous installment, we explored one particular past financial crisis which resembles the current tensions in the Euro Zone in key aspects—specifically, the 2001 collapse of Argentina’s currency board. Taking history as our guide, we discuss the lessons that can be learned from past crises and potential steps policymakers can take.
Implications for the euro zone
Until even as short as a month ago, the possibility of a breakdown of the European monetary union triggered by an exit of one or more of its members had been considered no more than a tail risk scenario. The odds of such an outcome are now seen to have grown, as market concerns continue to focus on economic and financial fundamentals of the peripheral Euro Area members that, similar to Argentina, failed to satisfy the preconditions of a sustainable membership in the currency union. Given the significant economic and financial interlinkages within the Euro Area, and the key role of Europe in the global economy (Figure 1), potential fallout from such a breakdown would be much more profound for the region as a whole and the rest of the world, compared to any crisis experienced in the past.
Figure 1. Exposure to Peripheral European Countries
The very foundations of the European monetary union have been severely shaken by the ongoing financial crisis and doubts surrounding its future have intensified. In this two part series, we explore the following issues: What are the key vulnerabilities underlying a shared currency union? What can we learn from past experiences and what would the impact be if the crisis escalates? And what policy measures should be taken?
Fragility of “hard” exchange rate pegs
A monetary union can bring large benefits in terms of trade, low inflation, and lower borrowing costs, but it comes with tight strings attached. As an extreme form of a hard exchange rate peg, it is vulnerable to “sudden stops” (De Grauwe, 2009 ). History is full of illustrations of the demands placed on an economy by hard exchange rate pegs, such as dollarization and currency boards. To be sustainable, a hard peg must be accompanied by fiscal discipline and labor and product market flexibility, since monetary and exchange rate policies can no longer be used to respond to shocks and safeguard competitiveness. The lack of these preconditions not only undermines the sustainability of the regime, but also impedes the recovery from an ensuing crisis in the wake of its collapse.
Recent debate over the optimal form of regulatory architecture for increasingly integrated and interconnected financial systems has largely focused on redefining the balance between regulators and the universe of financial institutions they regulate. This piece identifies a less “fashionable” – though no less significant – contributor to the global financial crisis, that is, the dysfunctional relationship which often existed between financial regulators and monetary policy authorities. The fact that this dysfunction has not been discussed in depth suggests that its negative consequences are no less likely to re-emerge in the future.