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.
Evidence from the years of the Great Recession justify renewed attention to a broadly defined concept of the quantity of money in central bank researchControversy over the use of monetary aggregates undermined the impact of the monetarist counter-revolution of the 1970s and early 1980s. Top central bankers accepted Milton Friedman's dictum "money matters" was valid in some sense, but they were unsure exactly how and why it mattered. Practical application was elusive when their research departments produced data on half-a-dozen monetary aggregates. Which concept of money was of greatest importance - or at any rate of some relevance - to the determination of macroeconomic outcomes? Anthony Harris, one of the Financial Times' leading commentators, compared the quarrel to that between the 'Big-endians' and 'Little-endians' about the best way to open a boiled egg in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Some economists favoured 'broad money', which included all bank deposits and occasionally even included liquid assets that had arisen outside the banking system. Others supported 'narrow money' - generally taken to mean notes and coins in circulation plus sight deposits. The majority of monetary economists did not regard the monetary base (the liabilities of the central bank) as equivalent to 'the quantity of money' based on any definition. Instead, they believed the change in the base influenced the change in narrow money and hence affected expenditure at a further remove. However, some participants in the debate thought that the monetary base by itself, regardless of its role in banks' creation of money, had a significant bearing on spending and the economy.
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 current weekly note attachment – like the last one – is about the consequences of confusing ‘the monetary base’ and ‘the quantity of money’. This confusion has plagued commentary on both the Japanese and American economies in the last few years. (There has also quite a lot of nonsense in the UK from, for example, Liam Halligan in his Sunday Telegraph column.) In the note – which has recently appeared in Economic Affairs, a magazine published by the Institute of Economic Affairs – I recall the inflation warnings given by American monetarists in early 2009, as they bewailed the then surge in the USA’s monetary base as a result of the Federal Reserve’s asset purchases. These warnings – which were neither dated nor quantified – have so far proved silly. In fact, in the year to autumn 2013 the USA’s finished- goods producer prices index is likely to be unchanged or even to be down slightly. The failure of American monetary-base-focussed monetarism demonstrates, yet again, that the measure of money that matters in macroeconomic analysis is one that is broadly-defined to include all assets with fixed nominal value that can be used in transactions. In most countries the total of bank deposits is the best approximation to that measure of money, which has the further implication that public policy should be concerned to maintain growth of the banking system balance sheet at a low and stable rate. It should be a low rate to combat inflation, and at a steady rate to help in securing wider macroeconomic stability (i.e., stable growth of demand and output). Anyhow it is the quantity of money, not the monetary base by itself, that matters to macroeconomic outcomes.
Japan’s ‘Abenomics’ is reported to have three arrows, - a ‘revolution’ in monetary policy with ‘the Bank of Japan injecting huge amounts of “money” (whatever that means) into the economy’ (or something of the sort), - a short-term fiscal stimulus accompanied by long-term action to bring the public finances under control, and - ‘a growth strategy’ (which means in practice shaking up such over-protected parts of the Japanese economy as farming and retailing). Commentary on the last two of the three arrows has often been sceptical. Initial ‘stimulus’ (i.e., a widening of the budget deficit) is not easily reconciled with ultimate fiscal consolidation (i.e., a narrowing of the budget deficit), while Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party has drawn much of its traditional support from groups that benefit from protection and restrictive practices. By contrast, most media reporting has suggested that the Bank of Japan has definitely changed course and that a major upheaval in monetary policy is under way. This note argues that, although Japanese monetary policy has indeed shifted in an expansionary direction, the shift is far less radical than the rhetoric that has accompanied it. Japanese policy-makers and the greater part of the commentariat seem to believe that the monetary base by itself has great macroeconomic importance. This is a mistake. National income and wealth in nominal terms are a function of the quantity of money, which must be distinguished sharply from the base. Movements in the monetary base and the quantity of money may be related, but the relationship is not necessarily all that precise or reliable. It is the quantity of money, not the monetary base by itself, that matters to macroeconomic outcomes.
And what will happen if QE is tapered or stopped?‘Quantitative easing’ is understood in this note as the purchase of assets from the non-bank private sector by the central bank. (Other definitions are available!) The central bank finances these purchases by issuing cash reserves to the commercial banks, while the bank deposits of the non-bank private sector increase as it receives the proceeds of its asset sales. As bank deposits can be used to make payments, they are money. The effect of QE is therefore to cause an increase in the quantity of money, with bank balance sheets showing extra deposits on the liabilities side and extra cash reserves on the assets side. The change in banks’ cash assets measures, more or less, the effect of QE on the quantity of money. (I say ‘more or less’ because there are some technical caveats. They may become important, but they are not relevant to this note and are not further discussed.) The Federal Reserve’s ‘QE3’ operations are an example of this form of quantitative easing. The Fed has purchased mortgage-backed securities, mostly from non-banks (but also to some extent from banks, one of those ‘technical caveats’), and that has boosted banks’ cash reserves enormously and been a major positive influence on the quantity of money. QE is expected to be ‘tapered’ soon and ended at some point in the next few months. What effect will that have on the growth of the quantity of money in the USA? Will M3 – which has been rising slowly since 2011 – continue to increase? The analysis in this note suggests that, unless banks were to resume the expansion of ‘bank credit’ in the usually understood sense (i.e., of claims on the private sector), the growth of US broad money would come to a complete halt with a cessation of QE. It is very important for International Monetary Research subscribers to realize that the Fed does not analyse the monetary situation by inspection of quantity-of-money data; its officials would have no interest in the conclusion I will now reach.
It is now time to bring the strands of the analysis together. There is no single, exact number for the damage that EU membership does the UK, but vast damage has been done. Chapter 1 established that the direct fiscal cost of the UK’s EU membership is now 1¼% of gross domestic product each year; chapter 2 examined the damage of EU regulation in terms of employment and energy use, and in the international financial sector (i.e., ‘the City’), and also discussed small business closures because of substance and product authorisation regulations, and arrived at a number of between 5% and 6% of GDP each year at present, but growing over time; chapter 3 borrowed from work by the OECD and Minford to reach an estimate that resource misallocation due to the EU’s trade regime costs the UK over 3% of its GDP each year; chapter 4 argued that, because the UK labour market had been too open to immigration from Eastern Europe, over 100,000 UK-born people had been without jobs over a significant length of time, with a cost that may be difficult to quantify, but might be 3/8% of GDP for the relevant period; chapter 5 surveyed the costs of waste, fraud and corruption, and argued that the Common Fisheries Policy, the Common Agricultural Policy, environmental directives, and fraud and corruption in EU- or EU-related administration led to waste that in total might be 3/8% of GDP; and chapter 6 looked at actual and potential losses from ‘health tourism’, ‘benefit tourism’, fines from the European Court of Justice and ‘contingent liabilities’, which added another ¼% of GDP.