Benn Steil

Geo-Graphics

A graphical take on geoeconomic issues, with links to the news and expert commentary.

Should the United States Encourage Japan to Join the AIIB?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Monday, April 20, 2015
AIIB possible voting structure

On April 15, China’s finance ministry revealed the 57 “prospective founding members” of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, of which China is the architect.   The likely founders include many U.S. allies, such as the UK, Australia, and South Korea, which the Obama Administration had lobbied not to join, seeing the AIIB as a Chinese alternative to the U.S.-architected World Bank. Read more »

Is the Fed Gonna Tighten Like It’s 1994? Or 2004?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Thursday, April 2, 2015
Fed Tightening 1994 2004 and Today

How will the Fed raise rates once it starts?  Gradually, in small steps?  Faster, with larger steps?

In 2012, before becoming Fed chair, Janet Yellen argued for a later first rate-hike than would be suggested by a traditional “Taylor Rule” approach, followed by more aggressive catch-up rate hikes.  Now, however, she is suggesting that those rate hikes will be gradual and measured after all.  Almost certainly she is wary of a repeat of 1994, when the Fed began raising rates and bond markets took a pounding. Read more »

Psychology and the Oil Market

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Wednesday, March 4, 2015
oil prices and market psychology

In his recent book, Market Madness: A Century of Oil Panics, Crises, and Crashes, our colleague Blake Clayton explains the role of market psychology in contributing to the wild price swings that have characterized the oil market over the past hundred years.   Using data from Google Books NGrams, he shows that whenever oil prices climb for an extended period comments about “running out of oil” and “running out of gasoline” proliferate. These beliefs have repeatedly proven unfounded. Read more »

Move Over Big Mac: The Law of One Price Is Lovin’ Our Little Mac Index

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Wednesday, February 25, 2015
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The “law of one price” holds that identical goods should trade for the same price in an efficient market. To what extent does it hold internationally?

The Economist magazine’s famous Big Mac Index uses the price of McDonald’s burgers around the world, expressed in a common currency (U.S. dollars), to estimate the extent to which various currencies are over- or under-valued. The Big Mac is a global product, identical across borders, which makes it an interesting one for this purpose. Yet it travels badly—cross-border flows of burgers won’t align their prices internationally. Read more »

Will China Bail Out Russia?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Russia's International Borrowing Options

Russia’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen by nearly 1/3 since October 2013; they’ve fallen 20% just since September 2014.  Whereas the country still has over $300 billion in reserves, about $150 billion of this may be illiquid; it also has close to $700 billion in external debt. Read more »

Employment Data Suggest Fed Could Be “Patient” Until 2016—or Later

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Monday, February 2, 2015
Inflation Tracks the Employment/Population Ratio

In its last two statements, the FOMC has said that it “expects inflation to rise gradually toward 2 percent over the medium term”—2 percent being its target rate. What would it take to move it there?

We looked at how many different variables correlate with the Fed’s preferred inflation measure—core PCE inflation. Oil and the dollar have been much in the news of late, but their prices have had little relationship with core PCE inflation over the past decade, as shown in the bottom-left figures above. The single variable that seems to correlate best, as seen in the top-left figure, is the employment/population ratio among adults aged 25-54 years. If we follow this ratio’s trend-line since 2013, when it began its last major upturn, this suggests that core PCE inflation won’t hit 2% until late 2016 or early 2017—as seen in the large right-hand figure. If we follow it since its trough in 2011, core PCE inflation does not hit 2% until late 2017. Read more »

Which Countries Should Fear a Rate Ruckus?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Thursday, January 8, 2015
EM bond yields taper reaction

For many Emerging Markets, May 22, 2013 is a day that will live in infamy.  It marks the start of the great Taper Tantrum, when Ben Bernanke’s carefully hedged remarks on prospects for slowing Fed asset purchases triggered a massive sell-off in EM bond and currency markets. Read more »