Benn Steil

Geo-Graphics

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

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IMF Reform and Ukraine: Amateur Hour for U.S. Economic Diplomacy

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
ukraine imf reform

In our March 5 post, we argued that the Obama administration linking Ukraine aid to IMF reform was disingenuous and counterproductive.  We were right: the legislation failed, congressional Republicans were angered, foreign governments were annoyed, and aid was delayed.  All for what?  Without IMF reform, Ukraine will still get every penny it would have gotten with IMF reform.  Today’s Geo-Graphic shows this.  And more… Read more »

Lew Does Not Need IMF Reform to Aid Ukraine

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
Ukraine IMF

The new provisional government in Ukraine is seeking $15 billion in assistance from the International Monetary Fund.  This would represent 700% of the country’s quota with the Fund, added on top of the loans it has already outstanding, amounting to 214% of its quota. Read more »

Was Ukraine Tapered?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
ukraine

For Ukraine’s beleaguered bond market, the seminal event of 2013 was Ben Bernanke’s now-famous taper talk of May 22.  As today’s Geo-Graphic shows, it sent yields soaring to levels they never came back from.

Ukraine was uniquely susceptible to taperitis, having been sporting a current account deficit of 8% of GDP—considerably worse than other big victims such as India, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, and South Africa.  Its current political crisis clearly has deep roots, yet it is interesting to speculate as to whether Yanukovych could have held on had it not been for the country’s spiraling debt costs—sent spiraling by the Fed last May. Read more »

“The Euro Crisis Is Dead! Long Live the Euro Crisis!”

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
spanish spreads

You’ve got to hand it to Mario Draghi.  Never in the history of central banking has one man accomplished so much with so few words and even less action.

Since having announced the creation of the Outright Monetary Transaction (OMT) program in August 2012, Draghi has had the pleasure of sitting back and watching yield spreads between Spanish and German government bonds fall relentlessly without having to buy a single bond.  Italian spreads have done the same. Read more »

Beware of Greeks Bearing Primary Budget Surpluses

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
primary balance and default

Things are looking up in Greece – that’s what Greek ministers have been telling the world of late, pointing to the substantial and rapidly improving primary budget surplus the country is generating.  Yet the country’s creditors should beware of Greeks bearing surpluses. Read more »

ECB Rate Cut a No-Brainer; Also, for Many, a No-Gainer

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
inflation and correlation

Back in April, we showed that the eurozone countries most in need of lower corporate borrowing rates benefited only marginally from ECB rate cuts. Today’s Geo-Graphic shows that little has changed in this regard; the financial crisis has clearly done serious and lasting damage to the monetary transmission mechanism in Europe – particularly as it affects Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy. Read more »

Paul Krugman’s Baltic Bust—Part III

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
Does Paul Krugman Still Believe in “Icelandic Miracles”?Photo Courtesy of Daniel Williams Does Paul Krugman Still Believe in “Icelandic Miracles”?
Photo Courtesy of Daniel Williams

Geo-Graphics posts in July 2010 and 2012 showed that Paul Krugman’s devaluation-driven “Icelandic Miracle” was nothing of the sort – a figment of his having chosen the most favorable possible starting date (Q4 2007) for his Baltic (and Irish) economic-performance comparisons.  Move it forward or back, and Krugman’s story collapses like a warming arctic ice shelf. Read more »

From Greek Spreads to German Votes to . . . Greek Spreads?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
Greece and Germany

The German federal elections on September 22 could be of enormous consequence for Greek solvency – and the future of the eurozone.  Today’s Geo-Graphic shows that Greek solvency may itself be of great consequence to the German elections.

As the figure shows, when the yield spread between German and Greek government bonds falls (and market optimism for Greek solvency rises), support for the small right-of-center, free-market German FDP party rises.  (The FDP is currently part of the Merkel-headed, CDU-led government.)   When that spread rises, however, support for the FDP falls, while support for the left-of-center SPD party rises.  (Support for Merkel’s CDU is invariant to shifts in Greek sentiment.) Read more »

Carney’s Forward Garble

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
unemployment targets

The Bank of England’s dramatic new “forward guidance” policy, announced on August 7 with great fanfare, struck the markets like a soggy noodle – the FTSE fell, gilts fell, and sterling rose, none of which could the Bank have wanted to see.

Why the disappointment?  Others have pointed to the multiple caveats and exit clauses, but we would highlight something much more tangible: the pledge to keep interest rates super-low at least until unemployment fell to 7% was meaningless, as 7% is nearly two full percentage points over what the Bank considers to be the long-term equilibrium rate of UK unemployment.  This is like a football coach pledging to keep throwing the football until his team is down by less than 50 points; it tells the defense nothing it didn’t already know. Read more »

Will Portugal Bring Down the Spanish Banking Sector?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
spain exposure to portugal

In its recent evaluation of the Greek bailout program, the IMF revealed that the euro area leadership sought to delay a Greek sovereign debt restructuring back in 2010 because of contagion fears; that is, Greece’s creditors might get sucked into the bailout vortex. Among eurozone national banking systems, France had the largest exposure. At its peak in the second quarter of 2008, France’s exposure to Greece totaled $86 billion. That exposure has since plummeted, partly because French banks took advantage of the ECB’s Securities Market Programme (SMP) during 2010-11 to fob off Greek bonds, effectively forcing a eurozone mutualization of the debt. SMP was terminated in September 2012. Read more »