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.

European Central Bank

High inflation, optionality and central bank patience

The ECB insists on the need for patience before considering a policy tightening, despite current elevated levels of inflation. It believes that inflation will decline next year and that a wage-price spiral is unlikely to develop. Moreover, inflation expectations remain well anchored. Demand in the euro area is suffering from the headwind created by the jump in energy prices. Reacting to this type of inflation by tightening monetary policy would create the risk of reducing demand even more. To avoid such an outcome, it makes sense for the central bank to wait for more information to arrive, thereby adopting a risk management approach of monetary policy. When policy leeway is limited, central banks, confronted with a high degree of uncertainty, will opt for a patient stance considering the potential cost of a policy mistake. The higher their credibility, the more they can be patient.

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BCE

Deposit rate lift-off, markets and the ECB

Markets have been pricing in an early lift-off of the ECB’s deposit rate. The ECB argues that, considering its inflation outlook, this is not warranted. This difference in view could reflect a loss of central bank credibility. More likely is that market participants and the ECB disagree on the inflation outlook. Another explanation is that investors focus on the distribution of possible inflation outcomes and are concerned about the risks of inflation surprising to the upside.

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Euro vs dollar

Monetary desynchronisation: a headache to come?

Monetary desynchronisation between the US and the Eurozone seems unavoidable due to a very different performance in terms of inflation. Whether this will complicate the ECB’s task of reaching its inflation target depends, in the short run, on the impact on financial conditions in the euro area. This influence will probably be small. In the medium run, when the US tightening cycle is well underway, US domestic demand growth will be slowing down, which will weigh on imports and hence Eurozone exports to the US. This would complicate matters for the ECB if by then, inflation has not yet reached its target.

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Banque centrale européenne

Eurozone: upside risks to inflation

Although they have eased recently, high Eurozone manufacturing price pressures are fuelling analysts’ concerns that inflation could stay high for longer. There is an impression that the ECB is increasingly sympathetic for this view. This is important in the run-up to the December meeting of the Governing Council. Whether supply bottlenecks and rising input prices will have a longer-lasting effect on inflation depends on the transmission to the rest of the economy. One would expect it to be higher under a combination of strong demand, low inventory levels and long supplier delivery times. This corresponds to the current situation in the sectors producing durable consumer goods, intermediate goods and investment goods. Perhaps, inflation could surprise to the upside after all in the near term.

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bce

ECB: accommodation with no end in sight

The new macroeconomic projections of the ECB staff provide sobering reading for savers hoping that, one day, the policy rate will be raised. It is clear that at the current juncture, certain conditions of the recently updated forward guidance on interest rates states are not met. Based on the latest ECB projections, it seems this would still be the case in 2023, even under the hypothesis of a mild scenario. The slow increase of underlying inflation would probably be considered as unsatisfactory. Savers can only hope that the interaction between growth and inflation will evolve or that the ECB projections turn out to be too cautious.

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Illustration article Agefi septembre 2021

The apparent and hidden cost of States’ lack of fiscal space

The sharp increase in public sector debt due to the pandemic was an inevitable consequence of the automatic fiscal stabilizers, on account of their role. This was suitable and even essential, given the key role of government measures to support economic agents and boost demand. Yet, this increase raises the issue of the future orientation of fiscal policy.

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Fed adapts forward guidance, will ECB do the same?

In the early phase of QE, financial markets perceive central bank forward guidance on asset purchases and on policy rates to be closely linked. This generates a mutual reinforcement of both instruments. At a later stage, there may be mounting concern that the signalling works in the other direction as well. Scaling back asset purchases could be interpreted as a signal that a rate hike will follow soon once the net purchases have ended. In the US, Jerome Powell has been very clear that tapering would not signal a change in the outlook for the federal funds rate. In the Eurozone, both types of guidance are explicitly linked. This may complicate the scaling back of asset purchases in view of the impact on rate expectations. On the occasion of the decision on the PEPP, it might be worth to consider revisiting the link between APP guidance and rate guidance.

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FOMC

Federal Reserve: enhanced credibility

More FOMC members than before are projecting a rate hike in 2022 and Jerome Powell made it clear during his press conference that tapering would happen when circumstances would justify this. Yet, 10 year Treasury yields, after an initial increase, ended up trading below the pre-FOMC meeting level. Break-even inflation also declined. Bond investors seem to share the view of the Fed that the current elevated inflation will be a transient phenomenon. This also explains the decline in the price of gold. The negative reaction of equity markets reflects an increase in the required risk premium and shows a certain unease about the impact of a less accommodative monetary policy on the growth outlook.

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BCE /EBC

The ECB: under pressure

Judging by the recent data, the acronym PEPP that was introduced last year when the ECB launched its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme, could also be seen as a reference to the pandemic’s exceptional price pressures.  The upcoming governing council meeting and the new staff projections are eagerly awaited. Whether PEPP will be prolonged beyond March 2022 ultimately depends on the inflation data. It seems likely that the ECB will postpone its decision until after the summer in order to have a better view of the inflation outlook.

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Central bank inflation forecasts: ‘Trust us, we know better’

Strong belief in the quality of central bank economic forecasts enhances monetary transmission and hence the effectiveness of monetary policy. In the current environment of rising inflationary pressures, the belief of market participants that central banks have better forecasting skills should limit the rise in inflation expectations. Research casts doubt on whether such a belief is warranted. Although Fed staff projections tend to have lower forecast errors than private sector forecasts, the difference has narrowed since the 1990s. In the Eurozone, forecast errors for inflation of the Eurosystem/ECB staff projections were equal to those of the Survey of Professional Forecasters.

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Central banks and climate change

Central banks have become increasingly aware of the impact of climate change on price and financial stability. Moreover, by accepting collateral or via asset purchases, central banks are taking explicitly climate risks on their balance sheets. At the European Central Bank, climate change has become integral part of the monetary strategy review launched in 2020. A major question is whether climate objectives should be pursued in the conduct of monetary policy. The fear is that it could be seen as “mission creep”. At a minimum, one would expect the ECB to ask for more disclosure concerning climate-related factors for assets held on its balance sheet. But the question to what extent market neutrality should be abandoned in favour of greener objectives is still open. The outcome of the review should be announced in September 2021.

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FOMC

US: trying to read the mind of the Federal Reserve

The new economic projections of the FOMC members reflect a big but temporary boost to growth from the fiscal stimulus and the normalisation of economic activity as the adult population is vaccinated. They expect a limited, temporary increase of inflation. Four participants now expect that the circumstances would warrant an increase in the federal funds rate next year. Seven expect this to be the case in 2023. Fed chairman Powell was quick to point out that the projections are not a committee forecast and that the data do not justify a change in policy. This message clearly anchors short-term interest rates, whereas longer-term bond yields fluctuate on the waves of ease or unease about where the federal funds rate could be several years into the future.

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Towards an unwelcome tightening of financial conditions in the euro area?

The financial cycle, as captured by bond and equity market developments is very much globally synchronised, but, at present, there is a business cycle desynchronization between the US and the euro area. Rising euro area government bond yields, on the back of higher US yields, cannot be considered as a sign of economic strength. Quite to the contrary, they come at a bad moment. One would expect, at a minimum, a very strong statement from the ECB’s Governing Council on 11 March on its decisiveness to act should yields continue to rise. Markets would of course prefer immediate action. After all, the tool –the PEPP- is available so one might as well step up its use.

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Illustration ECOTV Mars

Does the rise of bond yields call for yield curve control?

Should central banks adopt a policy of yield curve control ? This debate has intensified following the important upward move of US bond yields. Central banks watchers are wondering what is the best reaction to adopt faced with this increase in bond yields. As a reminder, the increase in US bond yields is occurring against the background of an economy which is recovering, an additional major stimulus package which has been prepared by the Biden Administration, an ongoing very accommodating monetary environment and a very successful vaccination campaign.

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Dette

The cost of (talking about) public debt cancellation

Recently, several calls have been made for the ECB to cancel part of its government debt holdings.Such an operation would violate the EU Treaty. On economic grounds, it is unnecessary, given that the interest paid on the debt to the ECB flows back to governments in the form of dividends. It would actually entail a cost: higher inflation expectations and/or a higher inflation risk premium would cause an increase in bond yields. The extreme nature of the measure could also undermine confidence. In reality, the very low levels of interest rates imply that governments have a lot of time to bring their finances in better shape.Finally, should senior policy makers merely talk about the possibility of debt cancellation, this could also entail a cost: financial markets could consider that the unthinkable is gradually becoming less unthinkable.

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Public finance

US fiscal stimulus: doing not enough is the greater risk

The dire state of the labour market requires a major support effort for the economy. This view is shared by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Yellen. The massive fiscal stimulus plan prepared by the Biden administration has received criticism from prominent economists. They argue that the plan is too big and could trigger a sizeable increase in inflation. In deciding on the size of the fiscal plan, risk management considerations play an important role. Doing not enough is clearly the greater risk. However, doing a lot will eventually force the Federal Reserve to demonstrate its independence by not shying away from raising rates despite the impact on government finances.

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2020 / Covid-19

2020: Entering a new era

2020 will leave its mark in History owing to the economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic notably triggered a disruption of the supply-side, led central banks and governments to adjust fiscal and monetary policies to face the crisis.

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