Benn Steil

Geo-Graphics

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

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

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
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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
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 »

Which Countries Should Fear a Rate Ruckus?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
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 »

The Politics of IMF Crisis-Country Growth Projections

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
IMF growth projections vs reality Greece and Ukraine

IMF GDP growth “projections” accompanying emergency lending programs are nothing of the sort; they are targets the level of which is necessarily set high enough to enable the interventions.

Take Greece.  After committing to lending of €30 billion over 3 years in 2010, the Fund projected that the crisis-mired nation would return to growth by 2012.  As shown in the left figure above, Greece’s economy actually plunged by 7% that year – the year it completed the world’s largest sovereign restructuring, covering €206 billion of bonds. Read more »

Can Russia Escape Dollar Dependence?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
Russia investment in BICS

Russian president Vladimir Putin is determined to wean his country off the dollar, or so he says.

In July, after insisting that the international monetary system depended too much “on the U.S. dollar, or, to be precise, on the monetary and financial policy of the U.S. authorities,” Putin signed off on a new BRICS development bank whose initial paid-in capital would be entirely in dollars – unlike the World Bank, where only 10% of paid-in capital was in dollars.  So the new BRICS bank actually creates a new source of demand for dollar assets. Read more »

Notable Quotables From THE BATTLE OF BRETTON WOODS

by Benn Steil
J. M. Keynes, flanked by Soviet delegation head M. S. Stepanov (left) and U.S. delegation head Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (right), addressing delegates at the Bretton Woods conference, July 1944 (Bettmann/CORBIS). J. M. Keynes, flanked by Soviet delegation head M. S. Stepanov (left) and U.S. delegation head Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (right), addressing delegates at the Bretton Woods conference, July 1944 (Bettmann/CORBIS).

“The various currencies, which were all maintained on a stable basis in relation to gold and to one another, facilitated the easy flow of capital and of trade to an extent the full value of which we only realize now, when we are deprived of its advantages.”
- Keynes on the classical gold standard (72) Read more »

Is the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement a Substitute for the IMF?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
BRICS CRA vs IMF borrowing

Russian President Vladimir Putin has hailed the new BRICS contingent reserve arrangement (CRA) as a substitute for the IMF, saying that it “creates the foundation for an effective protection of our national economies from a crisis in financial markets.” But does it? Read more »

Is the BRICS Bank More “Democratic” Than the World Bank?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
brics bank world bank founders vs non founding members

The launch of the new BRICS development bank “reflects the disparity and democratic deficiency in the global governance and is trying to restart, to rethink that,” according to Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz.  But is the BRICS bank really more “democratic” than the World Bank, whose governance legitimacy its founders are challenging? Read more »

Hurling BRICS at the World Bank and the $

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
brics bank world bank

Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (the “BRICS”) made a splash last week with the official launch of their new development bank.  The backers made no secret of their intention to challenge the way things are done in the established international financial and monetary architecture. Read more »