William De Vijlder

Group Chief Economist BNP Paribas

Fiscal and monetary policy

William De Vijlder examines fiscal and monetary policy through the lens of government and central bank decisions (including the ECB, the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England), with a special focus on changes in a country’s budget balance and public sector debt.

Commission européenne

The European Council agreement: not perfect, but truly historical

The European Council agreement this week on a recovery effort is, inevitably, a compromise but it is nevertheless historical It consists of a combination of grants and loans to member states and is funded by debt issued at the EU-level It sets a precedent for the management of future crisis situations with a better balance between monetary and fiscal policy. The possibility of such a two-pronged approach, reduces economic tail risk, which should structurally support confidence of households, companies and investors. The targeted allocation of the grants to countries which are in greater need, is another historical achievement and should generate a larger multiplier effect.

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Eurozone: the many faces of proportionality in economic policy

Following the judgment of the German Constitutional Court on 5 May, the ECB Governing Council needs to demonstrate that the monetary policy objectives of its PSPP are not disproportionate to the economic and fiscal policy effects resulting from the programme. In most cases, monetary, economic and fiscal policies are mutually reinforcing. When assessing whether monetary policy is appropriate, one should take into account the stance of economic and fiscal policy. The necessity to have adequate transmission to all jurisdictions as well as the likelihood and extent of tail risks due to insufficient policy action also play a role in the assessment.

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Banière bank

Central bank balance sheet expansion: the sky is not the limit

Major central banks have stepped up their efforts to attenuate the economic impact of the pandemic, raising the question whether there is a limit to balance sheet expansion. An asset purchase program (QE) can continue for a long time, given the possibility to broaden the investable universe. Quite likely, asset price distortions and concern about the riskiness of the central bank balance sheet will act as the true constraint. For this reason, a central bank could decide to finance the budget deficit directly, considering that this should have a bigger growth impact for a given expansion of the balance sheet. The real challenge under such a strategy is to keep inflation under control once the output gap is closing.

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BCE

The EU response to the economic consequences of the pandemic: clear progress

Clear progress has been made at the European Council meeting this week. The proposals of the recent Eurogroup meeting on the creation of three safety nets have been endorsed. There is agreement to work on a recovery fund intended for the most affected sectors and geographical areas in Europe. Its financing would be linked with the multiannual financial framework. Importantly, Chancellor Merkel has declared that, in the spirit of solidarity, one should be prepared to temporarily pay a higher contribution to the European budget.

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Covid-19

After the arduous Eurogroup agreement on pandemic relief, now for the difficult part

The Eurogroup has reached an agreement on bringing EUR 500 bn -4.2% of eurozone GDP- of additional firepower to attenuate the immediate economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Three tools will be used: the SURE programme to temporarily support national safety nets, the EIB guaranteeing lending to companies -in particular SMEs- and a Pandemic Crisis Support via the ESM. The work on the creation of a Recovery Fund to boost European investments will continue. The difficult part will be to agree on its funding.

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Crise économique

Faced with a sudden stop, policy switches to a ‘whatever it takes’ mode

Recent activity and demand data for China show the huge impact of the coronavirus epidemic. German business expectations have seen an unprecedented monthly drop in March . The drop in the price of oil acts as an additional drag on growth and a source of increased credit risk. The strengthening of the dollar is a source of concern for issuers with foreign currency debt in dollar. Despite swift action of the major central banks and the announcement of increasingly important fiscal policy support in various countries, equity markets have barely reacted: lack of visibility dominates.

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Coronavirus + stock exchange

Addressing the economic consequences of the coronavirus: waiting for the fiscal policy impulse

Wall Street has entered a bear market, having declined more than 20% from its high. Equity markets globally have seen huge declines this week and corporate bond spreads have widened significantly.Despite the positive news from China, the combination of an uninterrupted international propagation of the coronavirus has dealt a blow to expectations about the growth outlook for the next several months. The oil shock has made matters worse.Central banks have reacted. After the Fed rate cut last week, the Bank of England cut rates as well and the ECB also took several measures to support activity.The instrument of choice at the present juncture is fiscal stimulus of a sufficient size. Both in the US and the eurozone, we are still waiting for this impulse.

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Coronavirus

The importance of monetary policy in addressing the economic consequences of the coronavirus

The Federal Reserve created a surprise this week by, quite unusually, going for an inter-meeting cut of the federal funds rate of 50 basis points. At first glance, the very nature of an epidemic makes monetary policy ill-equipped to address the consequences. The drop in demand and the disruption of supply are not related to the level of interest rates. Nevertheless, monetary policy has an important role to play in the current environment by seeking to avoid a deterioration of the financial and monetary conditions. This is a defensive move, the alternative being to run the risk that the tightening of these conditions acts as an additional brake on activity. It seems this has played a role in the decision of the FOMC and it now puts the onus on the ECB to act at its meeting next week.

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US inflation

The Federal Reserve’s strategy review: towards a target range for inflation?

As part of the Federal Reserve’s strategy review, the introduction of a target range for inflation is being discussed. Such a range could provide flexibility in the conduct of monetary policy. It could also take into account past shortfalls in inflation. Introducing a range when inflation is below target runs the risk of being perceived as not being bothered by the inflation shortfall. This would call for an asymmetric range but this increases the risk of market turbulence when a tightening cycle starts.

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BCE

ECB: reviewing strategy whilst waiting for inflation

The ECB remains cautious in its assessment of the economic situation characterised by risks still tilted to the downside, although less than before thanks to the US-China trade deal
The message is slightly better on underlying inflation where some signs of a moderate increase are noted
Between now and year-end, the strategy review, which has now been launched, will grab a lot of attention, with markets wondering how it could influence monetary policy
The review is also important from the perspective of climate change: will monetary policy operations take it on board as a risk factor or will ambition even be higher?

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Zone euro

Eurozone: very low interest rates for how long?

Danish monetary policy is closely linked to ECB policy so the recent statement of Denmark’s central bank governor that he expects interest rates to remain around current negative levels in the next five to ten years is not without importance for the Eurozone. Forward guidance by ECB implies that policy will only be adjusted when justified by economic conditions. The inability to be clearer in terms of time frame illustrates the complexities of inflation dynamics. Past wage increases will gradually filter through in a pick-up in inflation although low inflation, well-anchored inflation expectations and intense competition in certain sectors may very well moderate this transmission. It thus seems clear that the current policy will remain in place for a considerable time. How long ’considerable’ turns out to be will depend on the data. The eurozone clearly needs more growth.

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Japon Mont Fuji

Japan: moving to yield curve slope control?

The Japanese government bond yield curve has been flattening in recent months, with very long maturities coming dangerously close to 0%. This is creating concerns amongst institutional investors with long-dated liabilities (insurance companies, pension funds). Bank of Japan Governor Kuroda has argued that an excessive decline in super-long-term interest rates could negatively impact economic activity
This has raised expectations that the central bank could shift to a policy of controlling the slope as well as the level of the yield curve. This could influence bond yields abroad. In the eurozone it would intensify the debate about the impact of ECB policy on pension funds and insurers.

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Berlin Government district

Germany: fiscal stimulus, hope versus reality

Germany is probably in a technical recession and recent data do not point to any improvement in the near term, quite to the contrary. Given the country’s considerable budget surplus, German business leaders are calling for fiscal stimulus. This echoes Mario Draghi’s plea in favour of budgetary expansion in countries with fiscal space. Simulations show that spillover effects to other eurozone countries would be small. Moreover, the implementation of a fiscal package requires long preparation and may be hampered by labour shortages.

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Decision

Fed and ECB: diverging approaches to monetary policy

The Federal Reserve and the ECB are in very different positions: the former has more room to ease policy and it is also closer to its policy targets. The ECB has limited remaining policy leeway but is confronted with an inflation shortfall versus its aim and a risk that this gap would increase, rather than narrow. These differences have led to diverging approaches in the conduct of and communication about monetary policy. The Fed is data-dependent and, except for the projections of the FOMC members, offers no guidance. The ECB is agnostic about the data and builds its communication around state-dependent forward guidance: policy tightening will be solely conditioned by meeting its target. The ECB stance reduces the sensitivity of financial markets to data surprises whereas the Fed stance increases it. This implies a risk of higher volatility in the US but also, via international spillovers, abroad.

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ECB

ECB: Mario Draghi passes the baton

Market expectations were elevated but the Governing Council did not disappoint. The comprehensive nature of the package, with the introduction of state-dependent forward guidance, take away the need to envisage additional measures in the foreseeable future. ECB watching has been narrowed to monitoring the gap between inflation and the ECB target. Given certain negative side effects of the current monetary mix, which are acknowledged by the Governing Council, fiscal policy, where leeway is available, is now requested to step up to the plate, so as to foster growth and speed up convergence of inflation to target. The policy baton has been passed

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ECB: committed to ease in September, but how much

ECB: committed to ease in September, but how much?

The Governing Council has tasked Eurosystem committees to examine its monetary policy options. Given the insistence on its determination to act, Thursday’s meeting outcome was basically a pre-announcement of easing in September. Being aware of the importance of maintaining the ECB’s inflation targeting credibility, Mario Draghi was very explicit in expressing his dissatisfaction with current inflation and its outlook, adding that a highly accomodative monetary policy is here to stay for a long period of time

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full employment

Monetary easing at full employment: how effective?

Fed Chairman Powell, in his address to Congress this week, has confirmed that easing is coming. In June, ECB President Draghi provided similar hints. This comes on the back of growing concerns regarding global growth and ultimately facing too low a level of inflation. Risks may be mounting, but, on the other hand, the unemployment rate is close to the natural rate. There are reasons to assume that monetary easing under full employment would be less effective than when the economy is marred in recession. Monetary easing could also raise concerns about financial stability, which, if unaddressed, could weigh on the ability of monetary policy to successfully boost inflation.

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