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Archive for the ‘central bank strategy’ Category

In a recent forum held by the ECB (ECB Forum on Central Banking 2021: Part 4 – Panel 1: The future of inflation, see min. 15:40 – 26:20), Professor Charles Goodhart criticised central banks for relying too much on what he called the ‘bootstrap theory of inflation’, one that affirms that ‘as long as inflation expectations are anchored inflation will also remain anchored’. Therefore, this theory mainly explains inflation according to changes in inflation expectations. Charles Goodhart also summarised the reasons why we shouldn’t rely too much on such a theory of inflation. In what he referred to as the absence of a general theory of inflation by central banks and other policy actors and international organisations, there seems to be a preference for a ‘bits and pieces’ approach to inflation; one that incorporates inflation of commodities, inflation in services, shipping shortages, … among many other indicators, without the proper analytical theoretical framework to support it. In his brief presentation Charles Goodhart stressed the need to incorporate supply side factors in the explanation of inflation trends in the long term. Do not miss it. In just 10 minutes he summarises the poor state of macroeconomics as regards the explanation of inflation, which can lead to also very poor policy decisions.

In my opinion, there is such a general theory of inflation/deflation; one that links changes in the amount of money broadly defined and changes in the price level over the medium to the long term. I don’t claim that this theory can explain every single change in inflation, particularly on a monthly basis, but indeed it does explain changes in inflation trends. The ECB should rely much more on its own monetary pillar to explain changes in inflation in the right time horizon (1-2 years). It missed an excellent opportunity to do so in its recent review of its monetary strategy.

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At a time when major central banks are reviewing their policy strategies (the US Fed already did so in September 2020, see George Selgin‘s excellent analysis here), there is always the temptation to call for an extension of the remit of central banks, to go ‘bold’ and ‘modern’, which effectively means to go beyond maintaining price stability. As the leading British economist, Charles Goodhart (LSE), has put it before, if you want to know what major central banks will do in the future, check what the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) is doing now. Well, the RBNZ is already giving us a hint about what’s coming. As announced few days ago, the bank has been instructed by the government to consider ‘how it can contribute to the Government’s housing policy objectives, consistent with its financial stability objective of promoting a sound and efficient financial system.‘ In the reply of the RBNZ to the government’s instructions, the monetary authority makes it clear that this ‘requires the Bank to have regard to the impact of its actions on the Government’s policy of supporting more sustainable house prices, including by dampening investor demand for existing housing stock, which would improve affordability for first-home buyers‘.

Since the very launch of ‘inflation targeting’ as a policy strategy by the RBNZ in 1989, followed by many other central banks in the 1990s, the definition of what price stability means and how to measure it have been at the core of the policy and academic debates and discussions. At the time it was decided to measure price stability in terms of a consumer price index (CPI), which excludes asset prices. Of course, monetary policy decisions do affect asset prices (see a recent paper on it here, by Tim Congdon, IIMR); but adding asset prices to the remit of the central bank would mean that we know in advance what the long term equilibrium of asset prices is, that compatible with macroeconomic and financial stability. In real time, under uncertainty, we can identify trends and changes in asset prices which we may believe are not compatible with financial stability, but we can only know for sure ‘ex post’. Even if such a target for asset prices were easy to identify in real time, having both a CPI target and another one in terms of ‘sustainable house prices’ may become am impossible task for the central banks to achieve when both price indices move in opposite directions. For example, the aggressive response to Covid-19 crisis by major central banks since the Spring 2020 has resulted in an extraordinary increase in the amount of money broadly defined in major economies, indeed led by the USA; which has first affected asset prices, very much on the rise since then. However, CPI prices have not increased much yet (here we explain why CPI inflation will very likely increase later in 2021, particularly in the USA). At this juncture, should a central bank have a dual-price mandate, which prices should be prioritised?

The answer is very straightforward if central banks were to adopt a simpler and more effective policy strategy. By maintaining a moderate and stable rate of growth of money (broadly defined), central banks will be contributing to both CPI price stability and financial stability, but over the medium to the long term (approx. 2-3 years). Before the outbreak of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, we observed a higher than 10% annual rate of growth in the amount of money in the Eurozone, while CPI inflation was still quite moderate. My colleague Pedro Schwartz and myself very much raised our concerns about this situation in 2007, in this report for the ECON Committee of the European Parliament. We didn’t know the extent of the crisis that was coming, but we knew that that rate of growth of money from 2004 to 2007 was not compatible with macroeconomic and financial stability. Of course, no one really paid much attention to it. As we estimated it at the time, following a price-stability rule would have meant a much lower rate of growth of money (broadly defined, by M3 in the Eurozone, see the red line below), around 5% – 6% per annum. The actual rate of growth of money in the Eurozone in 2007 (see the blue line below) doubled that benchmark rate compatible with price stability. M3 growth rates in the Eurozone are again in the double-digit territory (see IIMR February 2021 report here) and this can only mean higher inflation once the economy goes back to ‘normal’ (i.e. the demand for money reverts to levels closer to pre-crisis levels) and agents start to get rid of their excess in money holdings. We will see.

Source: Schwartz and Castañeda, 2007. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/178681/20071220ATT16955EN.pdf. You can find more details in the report on the calculations of the benchmark rules we used to assess the rate of growth of M3 in the Eurozone.

Let’s task central banks with what we know they can achieve. Central banks are very powerful policy-makers but they cannot do it all, and they shouldn’t either. Adding more tasks to their remits, be it an extra target in terms of asset prices, jobs creation, or contributing to a more green economy, among others, would put central banks in a very difficult technical and institutional position; one where they wouldn’t be able to achieve their mandate and they will be more exposed to political pressures. Let’s leave all the ‘extras’ for parliaments to deal with, if they like. This arrangement will preserve central bank independence and enhance their effectiveness in achieving monetary stability and financial stability, no more no less. Here you can find more details on this all in a 2020 report I wrote for SUERF on the ECB 2020-21 policy review strategy.

Thank you. Comments welcome.

Juan Castañeda

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A rule-based monetary strategy for the European Central Bank: a call for monetary stability

This is the paper I wrote on the current review of the ECB strategy, just published in SUERF Policy Note series (Num. 192, September 2020). As you will see in the summary below, I discuss different alternatives to reform the current strategy of the ECB, including the adoption of a (1) higher inflation target, (2) price level target, (3) average inflation target or (4) a nominal income rate target in line with a stable growth of money. I explain in the paper why I favour number 4, so that the ECB aims at maintaining a stable rate of growth of broad money, compatible with a stable rate of growth of nominal income over the medium term. This strategy would allow the ECB to accommodate to supply shocks much easier and without the need to intervene in the market: in case of a positive supply shock, prices would tend to fall in a growing economy, thus resulting in a more stable rate of growth of nominal income. Under this strategy, the central bank would not need to offset such fall in prices by an increase in the amount of money but to do nothing (G. Selgin explains this point masterly in his pamphlet, ‘Less than Zero’). This means that the amount of money in the economy would not be as pro-cyclical as it has been in the last 15 years; with too much money growth in the expansionary phase of the cycle and too little during recessions. The stability in the rate of growth of money, broadly measured, would become key to maintain a stable nominal income growth throughout the cycle.

The ECB will announce the outcome(s) of the review of its strategy in 2021. The choices made by the ECB will surely shape the bias of monetary policy in the Eurozone for one or two decades. Other major central banks are conducting similar exercises. The US Fed just announced its new strategy (see G. Selgin excellent analysis on it here) and the Bank of England’s strategy is also currently under review.

Clearly, ‘inflation targeting’, at least as applied in the years running up to the Global Financial Crisis, is not the best policy strategy to maintain both monetary stability and financial stability over the long term. Central banks should not just take the ‘easy’ option and adopt a higher inflation target or an (asymmetric and vague) average inflation targeting (AIT) strategy. The latter seems to be the option taken by the Fed. And I say ‘seems’ because it did not make it clear in the announcement made last week. How many years will the Fed use to average inflation around? And will it react equally to long periods of inflation and to long periods of disinflation? If a symmetric AIT, the Fed would both (1) adopt a below target inflation rate after a period of too much inflation, and (2) an above target inflation rate after a period of too little inflation. However, it seems unlikely that the Fed would systematically target a lower rate of inflation (lower than 2%) when inflation has reigned over a long period of time. In the current juncture these options (the outright increase in the inflation target or the average inflation target) may well give central banks room to be more inflationary in the next few years, but they will also likely harm their credibility if they cannot contain the growth of inflation in the future. We will see in the next few months/years how the Fed effectively applies his new AIT strategy. My fear is that, in the absence of enough information communicated to the market to assess its policies over the long term, the Fed has just adopted a strategy to be more inflationary in the next few years.

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Summary of the paper on the ECB strategy review (full paper at https://www.suerf.org/policynotes/16571/a-rule-based-monetary-strategy-for-the-european-central-bank-a-call-for-monetary-stability):

‘The 2020-2021 review of the ECB strategy will shape monetary policy in the Eurozone in the years to come. Crucially, it will also determine the scope and capabilities of the ECB within the ever-evolving architecture of the euro. As in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis and the subsequent Euro Crisis, Member States are discussing new mechanisms to enhance economic recovery and further integration which, one way or another, will involve the support of, or the coordination of fiscal policy makers with the ECB. The impact of the new ECB strategy in the current debate about the future direction of the single currency should not be overlooked. In this note, we offer a proposal for the reform of the ECB strategy incorporating the lessons learned in the recent crises. We discuss several options for the ECB and set up a rule-based strategy suitable to operate in an environment of persistently low inflation and near zero interest rates. Under our proposal, monetary stability becomes the guiding principle for providing macroeconomic stability over the medium and long term, as well as for enhancing the transparency of the ECB communication policies.’

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Comments and feedback welcome.

Juan Castaneda

 

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