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.
I am old enough to remember the days when Latin America was the land of inflation. Hyperinflation in Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina made the news in the 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, Asia was seen as immune to the Latin disease. Since then, much water has gone under the bridge. Inflation came under control in the majority of Latin American countries. Today the median inflation rate in South Asia is more than twice the size of the median inflation rate in Latin America and the Caribbean. (See chart below)
Should South Asia’s policymakers look at this information and wonder whether they are doing something wrong?
In general, the recipe for hyperinflation is the monetization of budget deficits in countries afflicted by political instability or conflict. Even if the threat of mega inflation is far removed from the South Asia scenarios, the combination of big budget deficits and loose monetary policy seems to be present in some countries of the region.
As China’s economy seems to be recovering, many people here have expressed concerns about inflation. I was able to air my views on the subject in an Op-Ed in China’s main English language newspaper, the China Daily, together with two other experts.
Getting a clear view on where China’s economy is heading is not easy at the moment, as evidenced by large variations in GDP growth forecasts. One of the confusing developments is that while exports have continued to do badly recently, the domestic economy has exceeded most observers’ expectations by a wide margin.
Working in recent weeks on the World Bank’s new China Quarterly Update, released today, we have been trying to determine how the economy has been doing on balance, what the prospects are, and what this means for economic policy. In this blog, I will summarize our understanding of recent developments and prospects, leaving the upshot for economic policies for a later discussion (keep reading after the jump).
A few days ago, our country director David Dollar blogged about the two-sided picture we see when we look at China's economic growth. The economy saw very weak export demand, which partly carried over into weak investment in manufacturing and other "market-based" sectors. Continued growth in other parts of the domestic economy was supported by policy stimulus.
China has weathered the crisis better than many other countries because it does not rely on external financing, its banks have been largely unscathed by the international financial turmoil, and it has the fiscal and macroeconomic space to implement forceful stimulus measures. China’s government has made use of this policy space by pursuing pretty forceful fiscal and monetary stimulus. From early November last year onwards, the government's 10-point plan ("RMB 4 trillion package") is being implemented. This plan emphasizes infrastructure and other investment, financed in part by government budget spending, and in part by bank lending. And the government has taken some additional, more consumption-oriented measures.
The question of whether China is overwhelmed by capital inflows has been asked for quite a while now. If a question continues to be asked, there is probably a good reason for it. Whether the answer is yes or no depends on how you look at it.