As Mario Draghi’s tenure at the helm of the ECB draws to a close, he becomes (slightly) more pointed and looser with his public statements. On Friday (October 11, 2019), he gave a speech – Policymaking, responsibility and uncertainty – at the Università Cattolica in Milan on the occasion of receiving the Laurea Honoris Causa (honorary degree). He broadened the scope of his policy ambit by saying that “I will not focus strictly on monetary policy or the business of central banking, but I would like instead to share my thoughts on the nature of policy responsibility.” In the same week, the Eurogroup (the European Finance Ministers) of the European Commission released a press release – Remarks by Mário Centeno following the Eurogroup meeting of 9 October 2019 (October 10, 2019) – which announced that they had agreed to a “a budgetary instrument for the euro area – the so-called BICC”. Don’t get too excited. The BICC will only achieve the status of an “Inter-Governmental Agreement”, meaning it will not be embodied in the Treaties. Also, the Member States will have to contribute funds in advance and must “co-finance” withdrawals. And, as usual, there was no mention of the fund size, which will be miniscule if history tells us anything. But this is all context for Mario Draghi’s Speech.
In last week’s blog post – Leading indicators are suggesting recession (October 3, 2019) – we saw some conflicting signals about the state of the US economy. The PMI data was looking quite awful whereas another composite index was telling a different story. On Friday (October 4, 2019), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – September 2019 – which reveals a slowing labour market, but, one that is still adding jobs. The commentators claim it is operating below expectation but the current trend is fairly predictable given the slowdown in overall economic growth. The US labour market is still adding jobs, albeit at a slower pace than last year. The Broad labour underutilisation ratio (U-6) remains high (but fell in September by 0.3 points) even though the official unemployment is now hovering around levels not seen since the late 1960s. The worry is that the jobs being added represent a significant hollowing out of jobs in the median wage area (the so-called ‘middle-class’ jobs), which is reinforcing the polarisation in the income distribution and rising inequality. There is no hint, yet in the data, that a recession is coming any time soon.
In the last two days, some major leading indicators have been released for the US and Europe, which have suggested the world is heading rather quickly for recession. It seems that the disruptions to global trade arising from the tariff war is impacting on US export orders rather significantly. The so-called ISM New Export Orders Index fell by 2.3 percentage points in September to a low of 41 per cent. The ISM reported that “The index had its lowest reading since March 2009 (39.4 percent)”. This is the third consecutive monthly fall (down from 50 per cent in June 2019). Across the Atlantic, the latest PMI for Germany reveals a deepening recession in its manufacturing sector, now recording index point outcomes as low as the readings during the GFC. Again, exports are being hit by China’s slowdown. However, while export sectors (for example, manufacturing) are in decline and will need the trade dispute settled quickly if they are to recover, the services sector in Japan, demonstrates the advantages of maintaining fiscal support for domestic demand. Japan’s service sector is growing despite its manufacturing sector declining in the face of the global downturn. The lesson is that policy makers have to abandon their reliance on monetary policy and, instead, embrace a new era of fiscal dominance. With revenue declining from exports, growth will rely more on domestic demand. If manufacturing is in decline and that downturn reverberates through the industry structure, then domestic demand will falter unless fiscal stimulus is introduced. It is not rocket science.
Last week’s (August 2, 2019) release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – August 2019 – reveals a labour market performance that is below the performance achieved in 2018 although there has been considerable month-to-month volatility. The US labour market is still adding jobs, albeit at a slower pace than last year. The Broad labour underutilisation ratio (U-6) remains high even though the official unemployment is plumbing new (recent) lows. And there has been a significant hollowing out of jobs in the median wage area (the so-called ‘middle-class’ jobs), which is reinforcing the polarisation in the income distribution and rising inequality.
It is now clear that to most observers that the use of monetary policy to stimulate major changes in economic activity in either direction is fraught. Central bankers in many nations have been pulling all sorts of policy ‘rabbits’ out of the hat over the last decade or more and their targets have not moved as much or in many cases in the direction they had hoped. Not only has this shown up the lack of credibility of mainstream macroeconomics but it is now leading to a major shift in policy thinking, which will tear down the neoliberal shibboleths that the use of fiscal policy as a counter-stabilisation tool is undesirable and ineffective. In effect, there is a realignment going on between policy responsibility and democratic accountability, something that the neoliberal forces worked hard to breach by placing primary responsibility onto the decisions of unelected and unaccountable monetary policy committees. And this shift is bringing new players to the fore who are intent on denying that even fiscal policy can stave off major downturns in non-government spending. These sort of attacks from a mainstream are unsurprising given its credibility is in tatters. But they are also coming from the self-proclaimed Left, who seem opposed to a reliance on nation states, and in the British context, this debate is caught up in the Brexit matter, where the Europhile Left are pulling any argument they can write down quickly enough to try to prevent Britain leaving the EU, as it appears it now will (and that couldn’t come quickly enough).
At different times, the manias spread through the world’s financial and economic commentariat. We have had regular predictions that Japan was about to collapse, with a mix of hyperinflation, government insolvency, Bank of Japan negative capital and more. During the GFC, the mainstream economists were out in force predicting accelerating inflation (because of QE and rising fiscal deficits), rising bond yields and government insolvency issues (because of rising deficits and debt ratios) and more. And policy makers have often acted on these manias and reneged on taking responsible fiscal decisions – for example, they have terminated stimulus initiatives too early because the financial markets screamed blue murder (after they had been adequately bailed out that is). In the last week, we have had the ‘inverted yield curve’ mania spreading and predictions of impending recession. This has allowed all sorts of special interest groups (the anti-Brexit crowd, the anti-fiscal policy crowd, the gold bug crowd, anti-trade sanctions crowd) to jump up and down with various versions of ‘I told you so’. The problem is that the ‘inverted yield curve’ is not signalling a future recession but a total failure of the dominant mainstream macroeconomics. The policy world has shifted, slowly but surely, away from a dependence on monetary policy towards a new era of fiscal dominance. We are on the cusp of that shift and bond yields are reflecting, in part, the sentiment that is driving that shift.
Last week (August 9, 2019), the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) – GDP first quarterly estimate, UK: April to June 2019 – told us that the UK economy contracted by 0.2 per cent in the June-quarter 2019 after having grown by 0.5 per cent in the March-quarter. The UK Guardian pundits and the Remain cheer squad all screamed Brexit and were heard to be walking around in circles saying “see, we told you so”. Meanwhile (August 7, 2019), not far away (according to the Remain crowd’s much-loved gravity trade models), Germany’s Statistisches Bundesamt (Destatis) press release – Production in June 2019: -1.5% seasonally adjusted on the previous month – told a sorry tale. In annual terms, Germany’s industrial production has contracted by 5.2 per cent. We also learned that Germany is probably in recession. According to the Remain-logic, that must be Brexit too, n’est-ce pas? Meanwhile, just a bit further south, Italy is in turmoil. Obviously, Brexit uncertainty. I jest of course (well a bit). But in a real sense, this is all tied into Brexit in one way – and it is not the way the Remain camp would like us to believe. In fact, what I have in mind gives more weight to the Leave position and reflects on how intransigent the European Union elites are in dealing with the Member States.
Last week’s (August 2, 2019) release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – July 2019 – reveals a steady labour market with month-to-month volatility. The US labour market is still adding jobs, albeit at a slower pace than last year. The unemployment rate remains low (at 3.71 per cent) and the participation rate has moved up a tick, which is a good sign. It is also clear that there is still a substantial jobs deficit remaining and considerable scope for increased participation. Significantly, the bias toward jobs in below-average pay sectors being produced in the recovery has intensified during 2019.
The epithets being used as put-downs for Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) are growing. But some of the good old terms – that one might actually apply to mainstream macroeconomics – are also in currency. An article in Project Syndicate (May 27, 2019) – Japan Then, China Now – declared MMT to be “the latest strain of voodoo economics” that is “alluring for the Trump administration”. The article by a Yale University lecturing staff member (and former investment banker) really just reminds us why students should avoid studying economics at that university. The voodoo, I am afraid is actually on the other foot! There are some fundamental errors in the logic in the article that highlight why MMT is a superior paradigm for understanding how the monetary system actually operates in comparison to the mainstream logic that the author uses against it.
Last week’s (July 5, 2019) release by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – June 2019 – reveals a steady labour market with month-to-month volatility. The US labour market is still adding jobs, albeit at a slower pace than last year. The unemployment rate remains low (at 3.67 per cent) and the participation rate has moved up a tick, which is a good sign. It is also clear that there is still a substantial jobs deficit remaining and considerable scope for increased participation.