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Archive for June 22nd, 2009

German balanced budget law pending

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 22nd June 2009

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(email exchange)

>   On Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 9:10 AM, wrote:
>   And reach Wolfgang Munchnau in the FT today. Germany is really going nuts here.
>   German sado-fiscalism!

As he says towards the end, it’s a moral issue.

This type of thing is the largest long term risk to economic well being.

I am starting to call it the federal ‘contribution’ rather than the federal ‘deficit’ hoping that might help.

Berlin weaves a deficit hair-shirt for us all

by Wolfgang Münchau

June 21 (FT) —

A decision was taken recently in Berlin to introduce a balanced-budget law in the German constitution. It was a hugely important decision. It may not have received due attention outside Germany given the flood of other economic and financial news. From 2016, it will be illegal for the federal government to run a deficit of more than 0.35 per cent of gross domestic product. From 2020, the federal states will not be allowed to run any deficit at all. Unlike Europe’s stability and growth pact, which was first circumvented, later softened and then ignored, this unilateral constitutional law will stick. I would expect that for the next 20 or 30 years, deficit reduction will be the first, second and third priority of German economic policy.

Anchoring the stability law at the level of the national constitution is an extreme measure – like locking the door, and throwing the keys away. It can only ever be undone with a two-thirds majority – and even a future Grand Coalition may not be able to deliver this as both of the large parties are in a process of secular decline. It means that future fiscal policy will be in the hands of the justices of Germany’s Constitutional Court. The new law replaces a much softer constitutional clause – a golden investment rule that said deficits can only be used to finance investments. It was not a satisfactory rule, but at least it allowed structural deficits in principle. The new law not only sets draconian deficit ceilings, it also provides a detailed numerical toolkit to implement the rules over the economic cycle.

I can foresee two outcomes. First, Germany might end up in a procyclical downward spiral of debt reduction and low growth. In that case, the constitutionally prescribed pursuit of a balanced budget would require ever greater budgetary cuts to compensate for a loss of tax revenues.

To meet the interim deficit reduction goals, the new government will have to start cutting the structural deficits by 2011 at the latest. There is clear danger that the budget consolidation timetable might conflict with the need for further economic stimulus, should the economic crisis take another turn for the worse. There is still economic uncertainty. Bankruptcies are rising, and the German banks are just about to tighten their credit standards again. I simply cannot see how Germany can produce robust growth in such an environment, not even in 2011. If that scenario prevails – as I believe it will – the new constitutional law will produce a pro-cyclical fiscal policy with immediate effect.

One could also construct a virtuous cycle – the second outcome. If Germany were to return to a pre-crisis level of growth in 2011, and all is well after that, the consolidation phase would then start in a cyclical upturn.

Either of those scenarios, even the positive one, is going to be hugely damaging to the eurozone. In the first case, the German economy would become a structural basket case, and would drag down the rest of Europe for a generation. In the second case, economic and political tensions inside the eurozone are going to become unbearable. Over the past 25 years, France has more or less followed Germany’s lead at every turn, but I suspect this may be a turn too far. Deficit reduction has not been, nor will it be, a priority for Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president. On the contrary: he has listened to bad advice from French economists who told him that budget deficits are irrelevant, and that he should focus only on structural reforms. Budget deficits and debt levels matter in a monetary union. But a zero level of debt is neither necessary nor desirable.

I am a little surprised not to hear howls of protests from France and other European countries. Germany has not consulted its European partners in a systematic way. While the Maastricht treaty says countries should treat economic policy as a matter of common concern, this was an example of policy unilateralism at its most extreme.

What is the rationale for such a decision? It cannot be economic, for there is no rule in economics to suggest that zero is the correct level of debt, which is what a balanced budget would effectively imply in the very long run. The optimal debt-to-GDP ratio might be lower for Germany than for some other countries, but it surely is not zero.

While the balanced budget law is economically illiterate, it is also universally popular. Average Germans do not primarily regard debt in terms of its economic meaning, but as a moral issue. Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, had an intriguing report last week on the country’s young generation. One of the protagonists in its story was a young woman who had borrowed a little money to set up her own company. The company turned out to be a success, and she had began to repay the loan. And yet she said she had not felt proud of having taken on debt.

This general level of debt-aversion is bizarre. Many ordinary Germans regard debt as morally objectionable, even if it is put to proper use. They see the financial crisis primarily as a moral crisis of Anglo-Saxon capitalism. The balanced budget constitutional law is therefore not about economics. It is a moral crusade, and it is the last thing, Germany, the eurozone and the world need right now.


Posted in Deficit, EU, Germany, Government Spending | 2 Comments »

Trichet: Eurozone can’t spend any more

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 22nd June 2009

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(email exchange)

>   On Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 4:32 AM, wrote:
>   ECB President Trichet has warned that governments have no more room
>   for taking on more debt, and should now look to start bringing down
>   budget deficits. “There is a moment where you can’t spend anymore and
>   you can’t accumulate any more debt. I think we are at that moment”.

Similar to the Obama statement that the US has ‘run out of money.’

The difference is that under current institutional constraints Trichet is, unfortunately, probably right.

They are stuck waiting around for their own automatic stabilizers to function, and for exports to improve.

And hope the markets don’t test their banking system deposit guarantees and national government funding abilities.


Posted in ECB, EU | 2 Comments »

ECB 1 year term repo

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 22nd June 2009

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This should bring down the term structure of rates at least out to one year, especially if the program is ongoing at this fixed rate.

And, operationally, it’s a similarly simple matter to set ‘risk free’ rates out the entire curve.

So, for example, bringing down rates out to a year could steepen the entire curve, but a follow up program to do the same for longer term rates could then flatten the curve.

And ‘turning the program on and off’ can add volatility as well.

Asikainen : Long Term Repo Operation (LTRO)

Next Thursday, the ECB will offer the market a funding tender which will let members of the system borrow at 1.0% for up to a year. Yes – term funding, secured by the ECB, at bargain-low rates for a year. You can pledge anything that is BBB or higher, and the ECB will fill unlimited supply at 1.00%. If they get EUR100 billion pledged? Filled. If they get EUR 2 trillion pledged? Filled.


Posted in ECB | 23 Comments »

Fed Repo Facility

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 22nd June 2009

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It is something they want but seems there is no viable plan yet.

It is harder than it sounds and what they do come up with if short of a government guaranteed market will have similar risks.

The ‘answer’ is the repo markets add no value to the real economy and therefore there is no public purpose behind creating a ‘better one.’

I would just let the banks continue to price risk for secured lending as they are doing and let the interest spreads (and disintermediation when borrowers and lenders find each other directly) fall where they may due to competitive pressures.

Fed plans repo markets revamp

by Henny Sender and Michael Mackenzie

June 21 (FT) — The US Federal Reserve is considering dramatic changes to the giant repurchase – or repo – markets where banks around the world raise overnight dollar loans.

The plans include creating a utility to replace the Wall Street banks that handle transactions, people familiar with the matter say.

The Fed’s deliberations are partly motivated by concerns that the structure of the US overnight repurchase market may have exacerbated the financial turmoil that accompanied the failure of Lehman Brothers in September last year.

Fed officials plan to meet next month with market participants to discuss reforms.

People familiar with the Fed’s thinking say it is looking into the creation of a mechanism to replace the clearing banks – the biggest of which are JPMorgan Chase and Bank of New York Mellon – that serve as intermediaries between borrowers and lenders.

“The Fed is raising questions about whether the system really protects the interests of all participants,” says one person familiar with the Fed’s thinking.

In the repo markets, borrowers, such as banks, pledge collateral in return for overnight loans from lenders, such as money market funds.

The clearing banks stand between the parties, providing services such as valuing the collateral and advancing cash during the hours when trades are being made and unwound.

Fed officials fear this arrangement puts the clearing banks in a difficult position in a crisis. As the value of the securities falls, clearing banks have an obligation to demand more collateral to avoid losses. But in doing so, they could destabilise a rival.

“The clearing banks fear the positions of the investment banks are so large that a default would be difficult for them to manage,” the person familiar with the Fed’s thinking said.

“[Everyone] is thinking about how to remove conflicts of interest of the clearing banks and the investment banks so that the investment banks aren’t vulnerable to a sudden restriction of credit.”

The system’s complications were evident during Lehman’s collapse. JPMorgan, one of Lehman’s biggest trading partners, acted as its clearing bank in the repo market and – along with BoNY Mellon – served as the clearing bank for the New York Federal Reserve’s credit facility for securities ­companies.

Lawyers for the Lehman estate and for creditors have raised questions about whether JPMorgan acted too aggressively in seizing and marking down Lehman’s collateral.

Hedge funds have bought Lehman debt on the theory that the estate can claw back some of that collateral in court.

Citing confidentiality concerns, JPMorgan declined to comment.

The Fed hopes to have a new repo system in place by October, when its credit facility for securities companies is to close.


Posted in Fed, Financial Times | 2 Comments »

Fed swap lines continuing to wind down

Posted by WARREN MOSLER on 22nd June 2009

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Central bank liquidity swaps (13) 150,282 – 15,574


Posted in Fed | 1 Comment »