(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Federal Reserve

“Symmetry is not the way of the world in all times and places”*…

What a difference a couple of decades make…

Asymmetries are back. Rising market power, the sudden ubiquity of global digital networks, hierarchical hub-and-spoke structures in international trade and finance and the enduring dominance of the US dollar, despite the transition to floating exchange rates, all point to their resurgence. The remarkable decay of economic multilateralism in the very fields – trade and development finance – where global rules and institutions were first tried and reigned supreme for decades, is paving the way to a redefinition of international relations on a bilateral or regional basis, with powerful countries setting their own rules of the game. This transformation is compounded by the strengthening of geopolitical rivalry between the US, China and a handful of second-tier powers.

Donald Trump’s attempt to leverage US centrality in the global economy to extract rents from economic partners was short-lived. But US policy has certainly changed permanently. For all its friendly intentions, the Biden administration leaves no doubt about its overriding priorities: a foreign policy for the (domestic) middle class – to quote the title of a recent report (Ahmed et al, 2020) – and the preservation of the US edge over China. China, for its part, has set itself the goal of becoming by 2049 a “fully developed, rich and power-ful” nation and does not show any intention to play by multi-lateral rules that were conceived by others. In this context, the rapid escalation of great power competition between Washington and Beijing is driving both rivals towards the building of competing systems of bilateral or regional arrangements.

What is emerging is not only an asymmetric hub-and-spoke landscape. It is a world in which hubs are controlled by major geopolitical powers – in other words, a multipolar, fragmented world. Nothing indicates that these asymmetries will fade away any time soon. On the contrary, economic, systemic and geopolitical factors all suggest they may prove persistent. We will have to learn to live with them.

There are several consequences. First, this new context calls for an analytical reassessment. Recent research has put the spotlight on a series of economic, financial or monetary asymmetries and has begun to uncover their determinants and effects. Analytical and empirical tools are available that make it possible to gather systematic evidence and to document the impact of asymmetries on the distribution of the gains from economic interdependence. We are on our way to learning more about the welfare and the policy implications of participating in an increasingly asymmetric global system.

Second, the relationship between economics and geopolitics must now be looked at in a more systematic way. For many years – even before the demise of the Soviet Union – international economic relations were considered in isolation, at least by economists. They were looked at as if they were (mostly) immune from geopolitical tensions. This stance is no longer tenable, at a time when great-power rivalry is reasserting itself as a key determinant of policy decisions. Whatever their wishes, economists have no choice but to respond to this new reality. They should document the potential for coercion by powers in control of crucial nodes or infrastructures and the risks involved in participating in the global economy from a vulnerable position.

Third, supporters of multilateralism need to wake up to the new context. They have too often championed a world made up of peaceful and balanced relations that bears limited resemblance to reality. Because power and asymmetry can only be forgotten at one’s own risk, neglecting them inevitably fuels mistrust of principles, rules and institutions that are perceived as biased. Multilateralism remains essential, but institutions are not immune to the risk of capture.

Asymmetry, however, does not imply a change of paradigm. Even if it affects the distribution of gains from trade, it does not abolish them. And in a world in which global public goods (and bads) have moved to the forefront of the policy agenda, there is no alternative to cooperation and institutionalised collective action. The prevention of climate-related disasters, maintenance of public health and preservation of biodiversity will remain vital tasks whatever the state of inter-national relations. What asymmetries call for is an adaptation of policy template. The multilateral project should not be ditched, but it must be rooted in reality.

Understanding the emerging new global economy: from the conclusion of Jean Pisani-Ferry‘s (@pisaniferry) paper, “Global Assymetries Strike Back,” eminently worth reading in full. [Via @adam_tooze]

*  Charles Kindelberger, economic historian and architect of the Marshall Plan

###

As we find our place, we might send tight birthday greetings to Paul Adolph Volcker Jr.; he was born on this date in 1927. An economist, he was appointed Federal Reserve Chair by President Carter in 1979, and reappointed by President Reagan. He took that office in a time of “stagflation” in the U.S.; his tight money policies, combined with Reagan’s expansive fiscal policy(large tax cuts and a major increase in military spending), tamed inflation, but led to much larger federal deficits (and thus, higher federal interest costs) and increased economic imbalances across the economy. In the end, Reagan let Volcker go; as Joseph Stiglitz observed, “Paul Volcker… known for keeping inflation under control, was fired because the Reagan administration didn’t believe he was an adequate de-regulator.”

Volcker returned to government service in 2009 as the chairman of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. In 2010, Obama proposed bank regulations which he dubbed “The Volcker Rule,” which would prevent commercial banks from owning and investing in hedge funds and private equity, and limit the trading they do for their own accounts (a reprise of a key element in the then-defunct Glass-Steagell Act). It was enacted; but in 2020, FDIC officials said the agency would loosen the restrictions of the Volcker Rule, allowing banks to more easily make large investments into venture capital and similar funds.

source

“A fair day’s-wage for a fair day’s work: it is as just a demand as governed men ever made of governing.”*…

As low-wage employers struggle to find workers, it seems as that labor– which has been left behind over the last several decades, as the economic benefits of growth have flowed to executives and owners– may be about to have its day. But will it? And what might that mean?

In her first statement as Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen said that the United States faced “an economic crisis that has been building for fifty years.” The formulation is intriguing but enigmatic. The last half century is piled so high with economic wreckage that it is not obvious how to name the long crisis, much less how to pull the fragments together into a narrative. One place to start is with the distribution of national income between labor and capital (or, looked at another way, between the wage share and the profit share of national income). About fifty years ago, the share of income going to labor began to decline, forming a statistical record of the epochal collapse of working class power. Episodes of high employment in the 1990s and the late 2010s did not reverse the long-term pattern. Even today, with a combination of easy money and fiscal stimulus unprecedented since World War II, it is unclear what it would take to reverse the trend in distribution.

Few would seriously dispute that hawkish Federal Reserve policies have played a direct role in the decline of the labor share since the 1970s. This is the starting point for thinking about monetary policy and the income distribution, but many questions remain. Today’s expansionary program extends beyond monetary policy to include fiscal stimulus and even industrial policy, but the first sign of an elite rethinking was the Fed’s dovish turn around 2016. (The Fed chair then was Yellen, whose current tenure as Treasury Secretary has been marked by close coordination with her successor, Jerome Powell.) In a fundamental sense, the entire Biden program hangs on the Fed: low interest rates made possible a reevaluation of the cost of massive government debt, which has in turn opened new horizons for a would-be activist government. 

If the age of inequality was the product of a hawkish Fed, could a dovish central bank reverse the damage? Today, there is more reason to speak of a “pro-labor turn” than perhaps at any time over the last half century. But history is not so easily reversed. The new policy regime is not a simple course correction to decades of misguided neoliberalism. There is evidence that the current experiment was made possible by a recognition that workers had suffered a secular defeat—specifically, that they had lost the ability to increase or even defend their share of the national income. What would happen if labor became stronger?…

Tim Barker (@_TimBarker) explores: “Preferred Shares,” in Phenomenal World (@WorldPhenomenal).

On a related note: “The economics of dollar stores.”

[Image above: source]

* Thomas Carlyle

###

As we re-slice the pie, we might send acquisitive birthday greetings to Claude-Frédéric Bastiat; he was born on this date in 1801 (though some sources give tomorrow as his birthday). An economist and writer, he was a prominent member of the French Liberal School. As an advocate of classical economics and the views of Adam Smith, his advocacy for free markets influenced the Austrian School; indeed, Joseph Schumpeter called him “the most brilliant economic journalist who ever lived”… which is to say that Bastiat was a father of the neo-liberal economic movement that’s been central to creating the situation we’re in.

source

“The essence of investment management is the management of risks, not the management of returns”*…

Paris Bourse

In 1754, the infamous scam artist, diarist, and womanizer Giacomo Girolamo Casanova reported that a certain type of high-stakes wager had come into vogue at the Ridotto. The bet was known as a martingale, which we would immediately recognize as a rather basic coin toss. In a matter of seconds, the martingale could deliver dizzying jackpots or, equally as often, ruination. In terms of duration, it was the equivalent of today’s high-speed trade. The only extraordinary fact about the otherwise simple martingale was that everybody knew the infallible strategy for winning: if a player were to put money on the same outcome every time, again and again ad infinitum, the laws of probability dictated that not only would he win back all he may have previously lost, he would double his money. The only catch was that he would have to double down each time, a strategy that could be sustained only as long as the gambler remained solvent. On numerous occasions, martingales left Casanova bankrupt.

In modern finance, the coin toss has come to represent a great deal more than heads or tails. The concept of the martingale is a bulwark of what economists call the efficient-market hypothesis, the meaning of which can be grasped by an oft-repeated saying on Wall Street: for every person who believes a stock will rise—the buyer—there will be some other equal and opposite person who believes the stock will fall—the seller. Even as markets go haywire, brokers and traders repeat the mantra: for every buyer, there is a seller. But the avowed aim of the hedge fund, like the fantasy of a coin-tosser on the brink of bankruptcy, was to evade the rigid fifty-fifty chances of the martingale. The dream was heads I win, tails you lose.

One premonition as to how such hedged bets could be constructed appeared in print around the time when gambling reached an apex at the Ridotto casino, when an eighteenth-century financial writer named Nicolas Magens published “An Essay on Insurances.” Magens was the first to specify the word “option” as a contractual term: “The Sum given is called Premium, and the Liberty that the Giver of the Premium has to have the Contract fulfilled or not, is called Option . . .” The option is presented as a defense against financial loss, a structure that would eventually make it an indispensable tool for hedge funds.

By the middle of the next century, large-scale betting on stocks and bonds was under way on the Paris Bourse. The exchange, located behind a panoply of Corinthian columns, along with its unofficial partner market, called the Coulisse, was clearing more than a hundred billion francs that could change volume, speed, and direction. One of the most widely traded financial instruments on the Bourse was a debt vehicle known as a rente, which usually guaranteed a three-per-cent return in annual interest. As the offering dates and interest rates of these rentes shifted, their prices fluctuated in relationship to one another.

Somewhere among the traders lurked a young man named Louis Bachelier. Although he was born into a well-to-do family—his father was a wine merchant and his maternal grandfather a banker—his parents died when he was a teen-ager, and he had to put his academic ambitions on hold until his adulthood. Though no one knows exactly where he worked, everyone agrees that Bachelier was well acquainted with the workings of the Bourse. His subsequent research suggests that he had noted the propensity of the best traders to take an array of diverse and even contradictory positions. Though one might expect that placing so many bets in so many different directions on so many due dates would guarantee chaos, these expert traders did it in such a way as to decrease their risk. At twenty-two, after his obligatory military service, Bachelier was able to enroll at the Sorbonne. In 1900, he submitted his doctoral dissertation on a subject that few had ever researched before: a mathematical analysis of option trading on rentes.

Bachelier’s dissertation, “The Theory of Speculation,” is recognized as the first to use calculus to analyze trading on the floor of an exchange, and it contained a startling claim: “I have in fact known for several years that it would be possible . . . to imagine transactions where one of the parties makes a profit at all prices.” The best traders on the Bourse knew how to establish an intricate set of positions designed to protect themselves no matter which way or at what speed the market might move. Bachelier’s process was to separate out each element that had gone into the complex of bets at different prices, and write equations for them. His committee, supervised by the renowned mathematician and theoretical physicist Henri Poincaré, was impressed, but it was an unusual thesis. “The subject chosen by M. Bachelier is rather far away from those usually treated by our candidates,” the report noted. For work that would unleash billion-dollar torrents into the capital pools of future hedge funds, Bachelier received a grade of honorable instead of très honorable. It was a B.

Needless to say, Bachelier’s views of math’s application to finance [published in 1900] were ahead of his time. The implications of his work were not appreciated, much less exploited, by Wall Street until the nineteen-seventies, after his dissertation was discovered by the Nobel Prize winner Paul Samuelson, the author of one of the best-selling economics textbooks of all time, who pushed for its translation into English. Two economists, Fischer Black and Myron Scholes, read the work and, in a 1973 issue of the Journal of Political Economy, published one of the most famous articles in the history of quantitative finance.

Based on Bachelier’s dissertation, the economists developed the eponymous Black-Scholes model for option pricing. They established that an option could be priced from a set-in-stone mathematical equation, which allowed the Chicago Board Options Exchange (C.B.O.E.), a new organization, to expand their business to a new universe of financial derivatives. Within a year, more than twenty thousand option contracts were changing hands each day. Four years after that, the C.B.O.E. introduced the “put” option—thus institutionalizing the bet that the thing you were betting on would lose. “Profit at all prices” had joined the mainstream of both economic theory and practice…

From the remarkable story of the French dissertation that inspired the strategies that guide many modern investors ad al that it has wrought: “A Brief History of the Hedge Fund.”

Spoiler alert: it hasn’t always worked out so well (c.f. Long-Term Capital Management)… at least for investors. As Janet M. Tavakoli observed in Structured Finance and Collateralized Debt Obligations: New Developments in Cash and Synthetic Securitization

Hedge funds have made massive leveraged credit bets, knowing that their upside is billions in fees and their downside is millions in fees.

Benjamin Graham

###

As we ruminate on risk, we might recall that it was on this date in 2020 that the Federal Reserve rode in to rescue financial markets to prevent their complete freezing up– which could have entered history books as another global mega-crash. The Dow Jones stock market index had hit an all-time record of 29,551 on February 12, 2020. Then, the coronavirus emerged in earnest in the U.S., unemployment soared, and on March 9 the DJIA took a dive of over 2,000 points; it continued to fall, down to 18,321 on March 23… at which point the Fed intervened, pouring vast sums of cash into the financial system, resulting in a stock market bonanza in the midst of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. The Dow stands at this writing at over 35,000.

source

“Since the nation is defined by its inherent virtue rather than by its future potential, politics becomes a discussion of good and evil rather than a discussion of possible solutions to real problems”*…

Nathan Tankus (@NathanTankus) put his undergraduate studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on hold to become a full-time economics writer and researcher (he is Research Director at The Modern Money Network). He has been a visiting researcher at the Fields Institute and a research assistant at the University of Ottawa. He has also written for the Review of Keynesian Economics, Truthout and the financial blog Naked Capitalism. But he’s perhaps best known for (and most closely-followed on) his newsletter Notes on the Crises, from whence…

The election has come and gone, a winner has been announced and now the fallout begins. While the details are still being hashed out, and president Trump along with most of the Republican party are not accepting the results (at least not yet), my interest is not so much in the near term partisan fights but the implications of what’s happened for the future of the Coronavirus Depression. To understand this, we must look to the results in the U.S. senate. What we find there is an exceedingly mixed result. Republicans have 50 seats, Democrats have 48 seats and the final results will come from two senate runoff elections in Georgia. Even if the Democrats win those two races, that thin margin would require each and every senator to agree to pass whatever they want to pass. As I said in my pre-election piece:

This means we could possibly go until February 2021 before seeing another economic package. Worse, that package may even require a Democratic senate to become law. It’s possible that even that scenario is optimistic — it could then take a significant amount of time for Democrats to agree on a package among themselves. What happens to millions upon millions of people in that agonizing waiting period? A winter filled with a third wave of Coronavirus and no economic support to individuals is a recipe for absolute disaster — over 200,000 Americans have already died.

Since I wrote this the third wave of Coronavirus has taken off and it seems more likely than ever that we will not have an economic package passed in February. In other words, I worry that fiscal cliffication is just going to intensify. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine anything being able to break it at this point. The 2022 midterms are a long time away and there is no guarantee that the outcome would break the deadlock. We’ll likely see some sort of package go through congress in 2021 but it will very likely not be timely as the most optimistic scenarios laid out above had hoped. Meanwhile, the need is no less…

There are some overly rosy possible scenarios circulating financial twitter that make reviewing the unemployment situation important. Headline unemployment is still elevated but it is no longer at the high levels of the spring. However, this hides the damage that is happening underneath. Headline unemployment has mostly been driven by the behavior of temporary layoffs… But the real damage is in the permanent job losses.

The distinction between temporary layoffs and permanent job losses is very underemphasized in economic reporting and has led to the underlying economic damage from being missed in a lot of economics coverage. My colleagues Alex Williams and Skanda Amarnath at Employ America did a great job of making this point in their piece “The Shock and The Slog” last month. While there has been a lot of recovery in temporary layoffs, there has been a steady increase in permanent layoffs and it will likely keep on increasing as more businesses shutter and the effects of expanded benefits start filtering through the economy (and our economic data). It’s also important to emphasize that labor force participation of individuals 15-64 has only partially recovered from a very steep drop, which makes headline unemployment appear rosier than it is.

Worse still, the third wave of Coronavirus is in full swing. New York City schools could be shut as early as Monday, and indoor dining should probably already be shut. This second wave of shutdowns will be more economically harmful than the first wave because any savings they had were exhausted by the first wave and it is most likely that most affected businesses have already exhausted their access to credit (and perhaps even their willingness to take on more debt). It’s likely that the second wave of shutdowns will accelerate permanent job losses while the temporary job losses generate renewed drops in demand. In other words, the economic situation has still been deteriorating and it will likely get hammered at a time where fiscal support is, at best, months away.

In this context, the only game left in town is the Federal Reserve. Taking on responsibility for state and local governmental responses is the last thing that the Federal Reserve wants to do. However, the Federal Reserve has a mandate to to pursue maximum employment and price stability and meeting its maximum employment mandate requires it to use the tools it has available to do so…

Why the Fed is the last, best hope against post-Corona economic devastation and how that might work: “What is the Future of Fiscal Policy Now That the Election is Over?

* “In the politics of eternity, the seduction by a mythicized past prevents us from thinking about possible futures. The habit of dwelling on victimhood dulls the impulse of self-correction. Since the nation is defined by its inherent virtue rather than by its future potential, politics becomes a discussion of good and evil rather than a discussion of possible solutions to real problems. Since the crisis is permanent, the sense of emergency is always present; planning for the future seems impossible or even disloyal. How can we even think of reform when the enemy is always at the gate?” – Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

###

As we muse on Modern Monetary Theory, we might recall that it was on this date in 1994 that Noel Edmonds appeared on BBC television to announce the winning numbers in the first UK National Lottery. the draw was 30, 3, 5, 44, 14 and 22; the bonus was 10; and seven jackpot winners shared a prize of £5,874,778.

source

“O Gold! I still prefer thee unto paper”*…

 

Gold-coins-e1561933265634

 

The once-fringe fantasy of a return to the gold standard is creeping back into the mainstream.

It has long been dismissed as a fool’s errand, on par with abandoning the Federal Reserve and other trappings of the modern economy. Mainstream economists deride it almost without exception. Reintroducing the gold standard would “be a disaster for any large advanced economy,” says the University of Chicago’s Anil Kashyap, who connects enthusiasm for it with “macroeconomic illiteracy.” His colleague, Nobel laureate Richard Thaler, struggles with its very underlying principle: “Why tie to gold? Why not 1982 Bordeaux?”

Yet the idea that every US dollar should be backed by a small amount of actual gold is more popular than economists’ opinions might suggest. Advocates include members of Congress and president Donald Trump. Enthusiasm for a return to the gold standard has become more prominent since Trump’s most recent nominees to fill the vacant Federal Reserve governorship have endorsed a return. The first two—Herman Cain and Stephen Moore—both dropped out of consideration, but the third, economist Judy Shelton, announced… in a Trump tweet, may be the most ardent in her support

What exactly is the gold standard, and what would it mean if it were re-established? Timely questions: “The quiet campaign to reinstate the gold standard is getting louder.”

* Lord Byron

###

As we ponder the pecuniary, we might recall that it was on this date in 1795 that James Swan (who had financed privateers during the Revolutionary War, and used some of his proceeds to support the Continental Army) refinanced the national debt of the United States– $2,024,899 in obligations to the French government– by assuming them personally, at a higher interest rate; he then sold them off to private investors in the U.S. and Europe.

220px-1795_JamesSwan_byGilbertStuart_MFABoston

Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of Swan, 1795

source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 9, 2019 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: