Benn Steil

Geo-Graphics

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

Paul Krugman’s Baltic Bust—Part III

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Wednesday, October 9, 2013
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 »

Why the Labor Data Point to a September Fed Taper

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Monday, September 16, 2013
LPFR and discouraged workers

The August “jobs report is an important reminder that all this tapering talk is insane and dangerous,” pronounced Slate economics writer Matt Yglesias, reflecting the consensus of the econo-commentariat.  But as today’s Geo-Graphic shows, the report is actually wholly consistent with a September Fed taper. Read more »

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

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Thursday, September 5, 2013
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 Tuesday, August 20, 2013
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 Tuesday, August 6, 2013
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 »

Fed Taper Talk Jolts Rate Expectations for 2015

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Wednesday, July 31, 2013
taper expectations

From September 2012 to March of this year, the Fed had been remarkably successful at guiding the market’s expectations for future interest rates through publication of its unemployment projections.  As today’s Geo-Graphic shows, when the Fed lowered its unemployment projection for a given future date the market raised its projection for interest rates around that date proportionately.  It was a tightly correlated dance. Read more »

Mortgages and Monetary Policy Don’t Mix

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Thursday, July 18, 2013
QE and Mortgage Rates

From the beginning of 2009 through this past May 21st, the Fed amassed a portfolio of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) valued at $1.2 trillion.  Over this period, the average 30-year fixed mortgage rate fell from 5.33% to 3.65%, and the spread between that rate and the 10-year government borrowing rate fell from 2.8 percentage points to 1.7 percentage points. Read more »

The New Geo-Graphics iPad Mini Index Should Calm Talk of Currency Wars

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Thursday, June 27, 2013

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 McDonalds’ 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 »

Is the Fed Right to Calibrate Asset Purchases to Economic Data?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Wednesday, May 29, 2013
recalibration

The Fed is trying to have its cake and eat it too. Having earlier tried to anchor market expectations of future low interest rates by pledging that policy would remain accommodative into 2015, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is now saying that the Fed will consider “a recalibration of the pace of its [asset] purchases . . . in light of incoming information.” Read more »

Can China’s Bond Market Support a Global RMB?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker Tuesday, May 21, 2013
RMB

On April 24, the Australian central bank announced that it would raise the proportion of its reserves devoted to Chinese financial assets from 0% to 5%, likely among the highest such allocations among world central banks.  Will other major central banks follow suit? Read more »