This morning I was reading the – The euro area bank lending survey – for the first quarter of 2016, published by the European Central Bank (ECB). This is a quarterly survey that the ECB conducts which was first published in 2003. It seeks to assess the extent to which banks are lending and the factors that are influencing that behaviour. The results published in the April 2016 edition relate to the first three months of 2016 and “expectations of changes in the second quarter of 2016”. Of particular interest was the inclusion of several ‘ad hoc’ questions (outside the normal survey design) that were designed to gauge “the impact of the ECB’s expanded asset purchase programme” and the “impact of the ECB’s negative deposit facility rate”. The results are fairly clear if you delve into the detail. From the April 2016 bank lending survey (BLS) we can conclude that the massive asset purchasing program and the negative interest rates have not significantly increased bank lending. We know why. It is a pity that the majority of commentators have not yet worked out the answer!
As the years have passed, I have become inured to the depths of absurdity that the European Commission and the political elites its nurtures go to justify their existence. The Maastricht exercise in the late 1980s and early 1990s was comical. The convergence process towards Phase III of the Economic and Monetary Union in the 1990s was established a new norm for craziness. Who would believe the stuff that went on. Then the Goldman Sachs fiddle to allow Greece to enter the Eurozone two years later than the rest. What! Then the Stability and Growth Pact fudges in 2003 when Germany (and France) were clearly in violation of the rules they had bullied the other Member States into accepting. Look the other way and whistle! Then the GFC and the on-going mess. By now the Commission and the Council were outdoing themselves in pursuing absurdity. It was a pity that millions of innocent citizens have had their lives wrecked through unemployment and poverty as a result. And, now, perhaps, this lot have exceeded their own capacity for nonsense. I refer to the latest Convergence Reports published by the European Commission and the European Central Bank. Hypocrisy has no limit it seems. The Eurozone and EU is now firmly entrenched in austerity and deflation and the policy makers think that is the desirable benchmark for others to aspire to. Who could have invented this stuff! And, in relation to the upcoming vote in Britain – how the hell would any reasonable citizen want to be part of this sham outfit (EU) if they had a choice.
On January 25, 2015, the press release heading read – ECB announces expanded asset purchase programme. The ECB had decided to ramp up its quantitative easing (QE) program by adding “the purchase of sovereign bonds to its existing private sector asset purchase programmes in order to address the risks of a too prolonged period of low inflation”. We now have sufficient data to assess what has been going on under this program, and specifically under the public sector purchase programme (PSPP) components (one of three parts to the overall policy initiative). The conclusion is that the scheme has had very little impact on growth and inflation – which is no surprise. However, the pattern of purchases makes it clear that the ECB and the relevant National Central Banks (NCBs) have been engaged in a fiscal operation which has provided extensive debt relief to all Member States other than Greece. This is a demonstration of the European institutions once again engaging in smoke and mirrors (pretending to be operating within the ambit of the Treaties but openly doing the opposite) and behaving belligerently towards one nation (Greece) to ensure it stays subjugated.
I am in Barcelona today until later then I am off to Valencia for two days. More on the Spanish tour later. The latest edition of the ECB’s Economic Bulletin released on May 5, 2016 carried and – Update on economic and monetary developments – provides more evidence, as if any was needed, that the current reliance on monetary policy – standard or otherwise – to reboot the stagnant economies of Europe has failed and will continue to fail. Why? It is the wrong policy tool. Journalists are increasingly writing that policy options are exhausted because central bankers ‘have fired all their shots’ and the “more shots they fire, the less effective they become”. The implication is that the world is locked into a future of secular stagnation with elevated levels of unemployment and low productivity growth. They seem to have forgotten that fiscal policy remains effective if it is used properly. There is no secular stagnation – just irresponsible fiscal policy use.
Several new articles have appeared in the last few weeks in the major media outlets expressing surprise that central banks have had little effect on economic growth despite the rather massive buildup of their ‘balance sheets’ via various types of quantitative easing programs. I have indicated before that I am coming to the view that most of the media, politicians, central bankers and other likely types (IMF and European Commission officials etc) seem to be in a constant state of ‘surprise’ as each day of reality fails to confirm what they said yesterday or last week (allowing for lags :-)). What a group of surprised people we have to effectively run our nations on behalf of capital. Poor souls, constantly be shocked out of their certainties. That is what Groupthink does – creates mobs that deny reality until it smacks them so hard in the face that they can only utter “that was surprising!” And in that context, the latest media trend appears to be something along the lines of ‘well let’s get the turbines moving’ or ‘those helicopters are about to launch’ and when we read that and what follows we learn that the media input into our lives only reinforces the smokescreen of ignorance that we conduct our daily lives within.
In 2014, it was apparent that the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) had made itself part of the ideological wall that was blocking any reasonable recovery from the GFC. I wrote about that in this blog – The BIS remain part of the problem. I was already concerned in 2013 (see this blog – Since when did the BIS become the Neo-liberal Ministry of Misinformation?). Things haven’t improved and the latest statements from the Bank in the BIS Quarterly Review (March 6, 2016) – Uneasy calm gives way to turbulence – demonstrates two things that are now obvious. First, that the neo-liberal Groupthink that created the crisis in the first place, and, which has prolonged the malaise continues to dominate the leading international financial institutions. Second, not only are these institutions (and I include the OECD, the IMF, to BIS, among this group) impeding return to prosperity as a result of their continued adherence to failed macroeconomics, but worse, their patterned behaviour actually introduces new instabilities that ferment further crises. Someone should be held accountable for the instability these organisations cause, which, ultimately leads to higher rates of unemployment and increased poverty rates.
In September 2010, The Project Syndicate, which markets itself as providing the “Smartest Op-Ed Articles from the World’s Thought Leaders” gave space to Martin Feldstein – Japan’s Savings Crisis. Like a cracked record, Feldstein rehearsed his usual idiotic claims that interest rates in Japan would rise because “of the continuing decline in Japan’s household saving rate” and that “the higher interest rate would eventually raise the government’s interest bill by about 4% of GDP. And that would push a 7%-of-GDP fiscal deficit to 11%”. Then, so the story goes, “This vicious spiral of rising deficits and debt would be likely to push interest rates even higher, causing the spiral to accelerate”. At which point, Japan sinks slowly into the sea never to be seen again. It turns out that the real world is a little different to what students read about in mainstream macroeconomics textbooks. At the risk of understatement I should have said very (completely) different. Better rephrase that to say – what appears in mainstream macroeconomics textbooks bears little or no relation to the reality we all live in. Anyway, events over the last week in Japan have once again meant that this has been just another week of humiliation for mainstream macroeconomics – one of many.
After yesterday’s marathon blog, today will be easier going (and shorter). I was reading John Maynard Keynes recently – circa 1928 – that is, 8 years before the publication of the General Theory with his Treatise on Money intervening. He was railing against the principles and practice of ‘sound finance’, which he noted had deliberately caused billions of pounds in lost income for the British economy. He urged the Treasury and the Bank of England to abandon their conservative (austerity) approach to the economy and, instead, embark on wide-scale fiscal stimulus to create jobs and prosperity. He concluded that with thousands of workers idling away in mass unemployment that it was “utterly imbecile to say that we cannot afford” to stimulate employment via large-scale public works – building infrastructure etc. He considered the policy makers who opposed such options were caught up in “the delirium of mental confusion”. The stark reality is that 88 years later, he could have written exactly the same article and would have been ‘right on the money’. We are being led (euphemism) by imbeciles.
This week, I seem to have been focused on central banking this week, which is not my favourite topic, but is all the rage over the last several days given the decision of the Bank of Japan to use negative interest rates on any new bank reserves and then continue to pump reserves into the system via its so-called QQE policy (swapping public and corporate bonds for bank reserves), and then imposing a tax on the reserves so created. Crazy is just one euphemism which comes to mind. So still on that theme and remembering that the Bank of Japan explicitly stated that the combination of QQE and the tax on reserves (they call it a negative interest rate – same thing) was introduced to increase the inflation rate back up towards its target of 2 per cent per annum, I thought the following paper was interesting. The paper from the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis (published July 2015) – Current Federal Reserve Policy Under the Lens of Economic History: A Review Essay – considers the unconventional monetary monetary policy interventions taken by the US Federal Reserve Bank between 2007 and 2009 and comes to the conclusion that “there is no work, to my knowledge, that establishes a link from QE to the ultimate goals of the Fed inflation and real economic activity”. Maybe the Bank of Japan and the ECB bosses should sent this researcher an E-mail and request his evidence. They don’t seem to have been able to escape from the straitjacket of their neo-liberal Groupthink.
As the Bank of Japan began its hopeless quest to stimulate growth with negative interest rates (see my blog yesterday – The folly of negative interest rates on bank reserves), the latest data from the ECB came out on lending to households and non-financial institutions. It tells an interesting story. The story has to be framed within the knowledge that oil prices have now fallen by some 77 per cent. But the major factor that is not usually mentioned when commentators talk about ECB policy changes and the likely impacts is the on-going and manic fiscal austerity in the Eurozone, which puts the whole region in a recession-type straitjacket, where monetary policy changes, weak in impact at best, have little hope of achieving anything positive. The logic of the reliance on monetary policy for counter-stabilisation is also built on a failure to understand what drives the economic cycle. The belief that banks will suddenly lend just because the central bank imposes a tax on their reserve deposits (negative interest rates) or offers them cheap loans to on-lend to households and firms is misplaced. Banks do not loan out their reserves and firms will not borrow from banks no matter how cheap the money is if there are no profitable opportunities to pursue. It is time the authorities abandoned their neo-liberal myths and got real. The Eurozone needs a massive fiscal expansion and it needed it 7 or 8 years ago. The ECB is the only institution in the flawed system that can provide the financial resources to make that happen and it could, with Brussels approval, bypass the ‘no bailout’ clauses in the Treaty to make that happen. It won’t, and the Eurozone will muddle on with increased poverty rates and rising social instability. What folly!