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.

Fiscal policy

Fiscal policy takes centre stage (and will stay there)

Market action last week largely reflected expectations of how the result of the US elections would shift the balance between fiscal and monetary stimulus. Federal Reserve Chair Powell insisted on the need for more fiscal policy support but also hinted that, if need be, more monetary easing would occur. In the UK a coordinated approach has been adopted. The Bank of England will increase its purchases of government bonds and the government will prolong its income support for employees being out of work. Fiscal policy will remain centre stage for many years to come.

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Does quantitative easing represent a free lunch for governments?

In recent decades, the experience in many countries has been that the decline of the public debt ratio during expansions did not compensate for the increase during recessions. This could end up creating concern about sovereign risk and influence the borrowing cost. Under the assumption of permanent reinvestment of maturing paper, significant holdings by the central bank of government paper as a result of quantitative easing, could limit this risk.
This depends on the interest rate on excess reserves and on whether such a policy ends up generating higher inflation and/or inflation expectations.

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Monetary policy

QE forever: on the slippery slope towards fiscal dominance?

Declining effectiveness of monetary policy and increased fiscal policy space make the case for increased public debt issuance in combination with quantitative easing to boost growth. There is concern that such policy coordination would lead to fiscal dominance whereby monetary policy is dictated by considerations in terms of public finances to maintain public debt sustainability. Once the pandemic will be behind us, governments will have the responsibility to improve their public finances. Inaction in this respect would put the burden on the ECB when fighting future downturns. It would be a different type of fiscal dominance.

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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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EcoTVWeek 24072020

The European Council agreement: truly historical

The EU members have settled an agreement on the recovery fund of historic importance. Although the amount of subsidies has been scaled back from the initial proposal, the EUR 750 bn package still accounts for more than 5 % of EU 2019 GDP. The agreement also sets a precedent that could guide policy in case of future major economic recessions. In addition, the milestones members need to abide by should foster the growth potential and help the green and digital transition.

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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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