In my last monthly e-mailed note (on 28th June) I said that money growth patterns in the four leading advanced country jurisdictions (USA, Eurozone, Japan and the UK) were more or less perfect. To recall, “4% a year is a more or less ideal rate of broad money growth in developed countries, with a trend rate of output growth of 1% - 2% and an aim to keep inflation around 2%. Amazingly, and no doubt more by happenstance than design, 4% a year is at present common to the USA, the Eurozone, Japan (just about) and the UK.” Well, not much has happened since then to alter the assessment. The picture is as follows,The numbers for China and India, the two big developing countries (both with trend growth rates of output of over 5% a year), are as follows
The victory for the Leave campaign in the UK’s referendum on EU membership has dominated financial news since 23rd June. It is of course a major event, not least because numerous forecasts of a mini-recession in the UK are now to be tested. The evidence so far is mixed, with the latest survey from the Confederation of British Industry (published a few days before 23rd June) reporting a rise in the balance of companies planning to expand output in the next three months. Elsewhere the main features are, first, in the developed countries continued growth of broad money at the almost ideal annual rate of 4%, and, second, in China and India signs of a slowdown in broad money growth. The slowdown in both China and India has come about suddenly, and may soon disappear from the data and not prove meaningful. On the other hand, the slowdown could last a few months, perhaps even more. Once a money slowdown/acceleration persists for six months or longer, it starts to matter to the cyclical prospect. My overall assessment is – despite the Brexit shenanigans – the global monetary background remains consistent with steady growth in world demand and output in late 2016 and into 2017. Far too much fuss is being made about Brexit. The UK’s share of world output (when output is measured on a so-called “purchasing power parity” basis) is modest, less than 2½ per cent. The credit downgrades faced by British banks have created possible funding strain for them, recalling the crisis of late 2008. The problem needs to be countered by the provision of long-term refinancing facilities from the Bank of England, just as Draghi handled a similar challenge in the Eurozone in December 2011
Brexit-lite and Brexit properPost-Brexit discussion suffers from a serious vacuum. Although the British people have voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union, the next prime minister has not been appointed, and no one knows exactly how he/she and his/her team will organize the negotiations. Two main options (both with many potential variants) are emerging,
- Brexit-lite (“the Norwegian/Swiss option, plus or minus”. The government gives priority to maintaining access to the EU’s Single Market, although seeking (like Norway and Switzerland) to restore parliamentary sovereignty and judiicial supremacy (i.e., that the highest court in the UK is its own Supreme Court, not the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg). Control over new regulations would be with the UK Parliament, but EU regulation would have to be respected in much of the economy and not just on exports to the EU. The UK would pay some money (“danegeld”) to the EU. Given the politics of the situation, the UK would want significant concessions on “freedom of movement”, so that it did indeed control its borders, but something like “freedom of movement for workers only” night be devised.
- Brexit proper. The government says that access to the Single Market is not essential, as the UK can trade satisfactorily with the EU under World Trade Organization rules. It says this, even if UK exports would be subject to the “common external tariff”. Of course the UK restores parliamentary sovereignty and judicial supremacy. It also oversees all new business regulation, although exports to the EU must anyhow comply with EU regulation. The UK pays no money to the EU and recovers full control of its borders.
In last month’s note from International Monetary Research Ltd. it was suggested that “money growth trends in the main countries are not far from perfection at present”. Not much has changed in the last few weeks to alter that assessment, although it has to be said that in most of the six jurisdictions (apart from India and perhaps China) the signs are of a slight acceleration in money growth. (In my view, the ideal annual rate of increase in money in the high-growth developing economies [i.e., China and India] lies in the 10% - 14% bracket, while the corresponding figure for the developed countries [i.e., the USA, the Eurozone, Japan and the UK] is between 2% and 5%, perhaps 6% at most.) Contrary to much tattle from the commentariat, aided and abetted by the Bank for International Settlements, “quantitative easing” in the Eurozone has been a clear and significant success. Macroeconomic conditions have improved markedly since late 2014, with Germany in particular contributing to the demand revival. (German broad money growth in recent months has been at very high annualised rates of over 7%. No wonder the Bundesbank is worried!) As for most of 2016, the oil price is being seen in financial markets as a proxy for global demand conditions. With Brent spot moving through the $50-a-barrel level, confidence is growing that demand in the main economies should be sufficient to deliver at least trend growth (say, 3% - 3½%) in world output in 2016. In my view, nothing in the recent banking and monetary policy developments to justifies a radically different view about 2017. If anything, my surmise is that virtually zero interest rates will encourage higher money growth, but the worry remains the regulatory attack on the banks. It would, be nice if the delinquent economies of 2015 and 2016 (Russia, Brazil, Venezuela), where output has been falling, see political changes/transformations and a return to output growth in 2017 or 2018
March and April have seen a marked 70% rebound in the oil price from the January lows of about $26 a barrel. The move owes much to the dynamics of the energy market itself, but it is being interpreted by financial markets as a sign that global demand should be sufficient to deliver at least trend growth (say, 3% - 3½%) in world output in 2016. The mood has changed sharply from January’s alarmist hysteria, much of it due to so-called “analyses” from the Bank for International Settlements, the International Monetary Fund and leading investment banks. (These organizations ought to have known better, bluntly.) The line taken in International Monetary Research Ltd. notes has been that recession in 2016 is extremely unlikely. Only hopelessly incompetent monetary policy decisions could cause a recession to start from a situation in which upward pressures on inflation have been and remains weak, and the price level has been and remains more or less stable. I don’t have much respect for the top brass in the major relevant institutions (i.e., the Fed, the ECB, etc.). But, to initiate a recession, they would have had to be yet crasser than they were in the last period of idiocy, in late 2008. In practice, the absence of upward pressures on the price level has allowed significant monetary-policy easing in China and the Eurozone. It seems that in China M2 growth has run about 1% - 1½% a month (i.e., at annualised rates of 13% - 20%) in early 2016. In the four major developed “countries” (i.e., taking the Eurozone as a country) – the USA, the Eurozone, Japan and the UK – the annual rates of broad money growth are currently 3.9%, 5.0%, 2.6% and 4.5%, and the three-month annualised growth rates are 5.1%, 4.4%, 2.8% and 5.0%. If asked for an ideal rate of money growth, Milton Friedman would typically reply – at least for the USA – “5% a year”. The Bank of Japan seems unable to see the light in the “broad money vs. monetary base” debate. But in truth money growth trends in the main countries are not far from perfection at present.
The last few weeks have seen a lifting of the storm clouds that troubled financial markets in January. Critically, monetary policy is being further eased in China and the Eurozone. In China the monetary authorities have sharply raised banks’ credit allocation limits, just as they did in 2009. Meanwhile in the Eurozone the quantity of “quantitative easing” (if you will excuse the expression) has increased by a third, from €60b. a month to €80b. Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic the recent pace of broad money growth in the USA has been disappointing. But very low inflation makes it unlikely that the Federal Reserve will touch Fed funds rate again until June. All things considered, banking systems are in reasonable shape and the latest trends in money growth are at worst neutral for this year’s global macroeconomic prospect. Fears that monetary policy-makers are “running out of ammo” are bunkum. The last few years have seen a clear association between low growth of money and low growth of nominal gross domestic product, confirming the validity of the long-established quantity-theory-of-money propositions on the link between money and national income. As the state can always create new money by borrowing from the banking system and using the proceeds to buy something from the non-bank private sector, monetary policy can never run out of ammo. The world economy will not suffer a recession in 2016, and it would require grotesque policy errors for one to happen in 2017 or 2018. The rebound in the oil price has cheered equity markets, as the better oil price is being viewed as a pointer to demand conditions more generally. But the ultimate determinant of the change in nominal GDP is the quantity of money. Central banks should pay more attention to the money numbers than they do to the movement of one commodity, even if the commodity is as important to the world economy as oil.
Financial markets are concerned about ‘recession risk’, or so the newspapers tell us. When the world’s leading economies are viewed objectively, it would be hard to imagine circumstances in which recession was less likely. All recessions since the 1930s have begun with monetary policy tightening to curb inflation. This is true even of the 2008 � 2009 Greeat Recession, although officialdom’s reaction was disproportionate and misguided, and led to a few months of outright deflation. (Government, central banks and regulatory agencies imposed new regulations that acted like a punitive shock on banks, and stopped the growth of their balance sheets and hence of the bank deposits that constitute most of the quantity of money.) But today inflation in the leading economies (excluding India, and also such places as Russia and Brazil beset by corruption, political adventurism, misgovernment, etc.) is virtually zilch. The concern is not too much inflation, but the danger of deflation. In effect, there is no constraint on expansionary monetary policy. Objections to this argument are two-fold. The first is that in the United States of America the recovery is so mature that the labour market is showing signs of over-heating and a normalization of monetary policy (with higher interest rates) has become necessary. The weakness of this claim is that, although the unemployment rate has dropped to beneath long-run averages, many people have left the labour market temporarily because of lack of demand. The employment rate is still well below the 2008 level. Meanwhile the strong dollar is hurting manufacturing, reducing import costs (over and above the impact of low oil prices) and dampening inflation. Talk of four Fed rate rises in 2016 is starting to look very silly.
Some commentators seem anxious that early 2016 feels like early 2007. But banking systems are not over-stretched and do not face heavy loan write-offs because of bad debts, while inflation is exceptionally low. Governments and central banks can readily implement expansionary policies (such as QE) if they have to. The overall prospect is for steady, if rather slow, growth of banking systems in the major countries, and so for moderate growth of broad money, and also of nominal GDP. There are worries (e.g., the oil market), but the world economy is not characterized by major macroeconomic instabilities In qualification, officialdom seems committed to imposing extra capital requirements on banks across the globe, in the belief that highly-capitalised banks are safe banks and that another Great Recession could not happen if all banks were ‘safe’. Key central bankers and regulators seem not to understand that the Great Recession of 2008 – 10, like the Great Depression in the USA 1929 – 33, was caused by a collapse in the rate of change of the quantity of money. They seem further not to appreciate that the effect of tightening bank regulation will be to depress the rate of growth of the quantity of money, with wider disinflationary/deflationary consequences. Although oil prices must be expected to spike upwards at some point in the next three years (as Saudi Arabia again restricts production), underlying, ex-energy inflation will still be low/negligible in 2017 and early 2018. Money growth has turned upwards in China and India in the last few months, which argues against too much pessimism about the global outlook for 2016. A truly alarming message is that officialdom still cannot see the connections between regulatory tightening in the banking industry and weak broad money growth, and then between weak broad money growth and sluggish economic activity.
The latest criticism is that Quantitative Easing has been ‘good for the rich’, but ‘bad for investment’. Even the financial advice pages of the broadsheet press seem to be going down this route, which is bizarre given that the readers are mostly rich and ought to appreciate a policy allegedly in their interests. (In the note below I quote some remarks by Merryn Somerset Webb in a 12th October article in the Financial Times.) The truth is that profits are more volatile than national income, while the equity market (which is ultimately only a capitalization of profit streams) is more volatile than profits. The large fluctuations in equity prices are partly down to changing sentiment, but also critical are wide swings in the rate of growth of the quantity of money, particularly in the money holdings of the financial institutions which specialize in asset selection. (See, for example, my 2005 study for the Institute of Economic Affairs on Money and Asset Prices in Boom and Bust for an analysis.) In the short run (i.e., in the course of one business cycle) changes in asset prices are influenced by variations in the rate of money growth. So Quantitative Easing from early 2009 did help the equity market (and in that sense ‘the rich’), but it was also beneficial for demand, output and employment more widely. In the long run changes in the rate of money growth cannot affect anything much on the real side of the economy. (A caveat is that extreme inflation or deflation causes severe economic inefficiency in various ways, and that is why inflation and deflation should be avoided.) The FTSE 100 index is lower today than it was in 1999. Is Quantitative Easing (which began in earnest in March 2009) somehow to be blamed for that? Or should the policy or policy-maker supposedly responsible for the poor post-1999 performance be thanked for keeping share prices down? Indeed, does Ms. Somerset Webb think that any policy which enriches people is, by definition, wicked and evil?
The UK Independence Party claims to be ‘changing the face of British politics’. The big support it received in the May 2013 county council elections certainly came as a shock to the three so-called ‘main’ parties, with one of these parties – the Liberal Democrats – receiving far fewer votes than UKIP. (The LibDems had 14% of the vote and UKIP 23%, and UKIP was in fact only 2% behind the Conservatives.) However, opinion polls tend to show UKIP support at only just into the double digits per cent and not much above the LibDems. Are the opinion polls telling the truth? UKIP is doing far better in local government elections than in the opinion polls. In the following note I compare opinion poll and local election results since late August. In the 47 local government elections analysed the UKIP vote share was 19.0% and its average result where it stood was 20.8%. (But note that this 20.8% was lower than the 2nd May figure! Admittedly, the difference is small.) By contrast, the UKIP share in the 59 opinion polls compiled by UK Polling Report in this period was 11.6%. On this basis, the opinion polls are seriously understating the size of the prospective UKIP vote in both the European elections of 2014 and the general election of 2015. It also needs to be emphasized that the UKIP share in local government elections has climbed from 3.1% in 2010 to 19% plus in 2013. If it continued to make gains at this sort of rate, it would certainly be ‘a major party’ in the 2015 general election and could even win it. For clarity, this is not what I expect, but for some years to come fluctuations in the UKIP vote share, around a rising trend, are likely to disrupt the thee-party, Lib-Lab-Con pattern of British politics which began in the 1980s. (This pattern began with the formation and rise of the Social Democrats, and their eventual absorption into the Liberal Party.) It is unclear whether a four-party pattern (Labour, Conservatives, UKIP and LibDems) or a three-party pattern will now develop, but a case can be made that UKIP will supplant the LibDems as the third party.