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.

FED

US monetary policy goes inclusive

Over the past 10 years, fostering inclusive growth has moved higher up the agenda of governments, international institutions and, increasingly, companies. Under Chairman Powell, it has become a key topic for the Federal Reserve through the focus on the heterogeneity of the labour market situation of different socio-economic groups. It has led to the view that pre-emptive tightening based on a declining unemployment rate is unwarranted. On the contrary, it may very well stop people from finding a job.  It will be interesting to see whether other central banks and in particular the ECB in the context of its strategy review, will follow in the Fed’s footsteps.

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ECB: patience required

The outcome of the ECB meeting was eagerly awaited considering the latest inflation data, the strengthening of the euro and the Federal Reserve’s new strategy of targeting average inflation. The implicit message from the ECB President’s press conference was “be patient” on the three areas of concern. Inflation is projected to pick up whilst staying well below the target, the euro exchange rate is being closely monitored and the sheer number of strategy review workstreams implies it will take quite some time before we learn about the outcome in terms of the inflation objective.

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Illustration EcoTVW du 4/09

The headaches of the ECB

The Covid-19 represents a massive disinflationary shock because of the demand shortfall it creates. This has triggered a very strong reaction of central banks across the globe, including the ECB. The ECB’s action –in particular the PEPP- has been successful in maintaining fluid financing, both bank-based and capital-market based. Nevertheless, the ECB has a headache, three actually. Inflation is too low and declining, the strong euro reinforces this development and there is concern that the change in the longer-term goal of the Fed, which will now target inflation averaging 2 percent over time, will complicate matters.

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La Fed

The global repercussions of the Federal Reserve’s inflation averaging strategy

The Fed’s new inflation averaging strategy should have global real and financial spillover effects. The former refer to international trade whereby a more sustained expansion of US GDP should pull along the economies of its trading partners via increased US imports. The financial spillovers are driven by capital flows, monetary policy and risk appetite. These factors are highly intertwined. The new Fed strategy will also force other central banks to revisit their own strategy. This creates an issue for the ECB.

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FED

The Federal Reserve enters a new era of inflation targeting

The Federal Reserve has changed its longer-run goals. Going forward, monetary policy will focus on the shortfall of employment from its maximum level, rather than on the deviations from this level. More importantly, the central bank will now seek to achieve inflation that averages 2 percent over time. The announcement implies a more accommodative stance because the timing of the first rate hike is now pushed further into the future. It also means that, eventually, the Fed’s reaction function will become more difficult to read: when will average inflation –a concept that remains to be defined- warrant a policy tightening? Such ambiguity would then lead to increased volatility, unless guidance takes an even bigger role.

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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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