Robert Kahn

Macro and Markets

Robert Kahn analyzes economic policies for an integrated world.

Greece—a Destabilizing Financial Squeeze

by Robert Kahn Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Technical talks between Greece and the Troika concluded today without a deal, another setback for Greece as domestic financial stress mounts.  Robin Brooks at Goldman-Sachs makes the important point—financial conditions have tightened sharply, and will have adverse and destabilizing effects on growth regardless of whether there is a deal next week between Greece and its European creditors on a reform package.  Household deposits in Greece (red line in the left chart) and deposits in non-financial corporations (right chart) have fallen sharply, causing a destructive tightening in financial conditions at a time when banks are already in trouble and constricting credit. (Anecdotal evidence suggests this trend is continuing, with additional outflows from Greek banks in March.) At the same time, a severe squeeze on fiscal resources is forcing the government to make tough decisions about who to pay and who not to pay—which I have called “the politics of arrears”.

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Greece and the Politics of Arrears

by Robert Kahn Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Merkel-Tsipras German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras review an honour guard during a welcoming ceremony at the Chancellery in Berlin on March 23, 2015. (Pawel Kopczynski/Courtesy Reuters)

Greece is running out of money. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s meeting this week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken some of the toxicity out of the conversation for now, but cannot mask Greece’s current collision course with its creditors. Committed to a platform on which it was elected but that it cannot pay for, and with additional EU/ECB financing conditioned on reform, the Greek government is likely to run out of money in April (if not before). If past emerging market crises are any guide, the decisions that it will then confront about who to pay and who not to—the politics of arrears—will present a critical challenge to the government and likely define the future path of the crisis.

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Ukraine’s IMF Program Sets Stage for Debt Restructuring

by Robert Kahn Thursday, March 12, 2015

The IMF yesterday approved a four-year, $17.5 billion arrangement for Ukraine, their contribution to a $40 billion financing gap that they have identified over that period. A further $15 billion is to come from a restructuring of private debt, with formal negotiations expected to begin soon. The rest is expected to come from governments and other multilateral agencies. An ambitious array of reforms—including to fiscal and energy policy, bank reform, and strengthening the rule of law—are laid out, signaling a dramatic break from past governments. These measures are expected to set the stage for recovery: output falls 5 ½ percent this year before 2 percent growth returns in 2016, inflation will average 27 percent this year and then decline, while the current account deficit falls to 1 ½ percent and the currency stabilizes around current levels. Public sector debt will peak at 94 percent of GDP in 2015 as the program takes hold. All this depends on an end to the current hostilities, which as the IMF notes remains a considerable risk to the program.

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The Meaning of Ukraine’s IMF Deal

by Robert Kahn Thursday, February 12, 2015

While today’s headlines focus on the truce agreement between Ukraine and Russia, a significant economic milestone was achieved yesterday with the IMF’s announcement that its staff has reached agreement with the government on a new four-year program. The Fund’s Board will likely consider the program next month. Whether or not the truce holds, the program is the core of western financial support for Ukraine. Is it enough?

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Greece: Let’s Make a Deal?

by Robert Kahn Monday, January 26, 2015

Syriza’s victory in Greek elections yesterday, and the announcement this morning that they would rule in coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks party, all but ensures a confrontation between Greece and its European creditors over austerity and debt. While Greek markets have continued their sell-off on the result, 10-year yields near 8.9 percent are still down from earlier this month and well below earlier crisis levels. In line with these numbers, most market analysts believe a deal is likely that would avoid a Greek exit from the eurozone, noting some moderation of Syriza’s rhetoric in recent days and upcoming meetings with creditors. But what would such a deal look like? Greece and its creditors are so far apart, their perceptions of their negotiating leverage so different, and time so short to reach an agreement, that the risk of failure seems higher than implied by market prices.  A few points.

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G20 Worries About Growth

by Robert Kahn Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The central message from the G20 Summit in Brisbane last weekend was the need for more growth, and there was a clear sense after the meeting that leaders are worried. David Cameron captured the mood with his statement that “red warning lights are flashing on the dashboard of the global economy” and his concern about “a dangerous backdrop of instability and uncertainty.” While Europe came in for the most criticism (Christine Lagarde rightly worries that high debt, low growth and unemployment may yet become “the new normal in Europe”) concerns about growth in Japan and emerging markets also weighed on leaders. In the end, though, the diplomacy conducted on the sidelines was more meaningful than the growth proposals put forward at the summit.

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Japan’s Sensible Fiscal Retreat

by Robert Kahn Monday, November 17, 2014

Surprisingly poor second quarter growth numbers in Japan have raised market expectations that there will be snap elections and a delay in the consumption tax hike that was scheduled for October 2015. GDP fell for a second consecutive quarter, by 1.6 percent (q/q, a.r), versus market expectations of a 2.2 percent increase. A huge miss. Falling corporate inventories were a large part of the story, but exports rose only modestly while household consumption and capital spending slowed. The yen sold off after the announcement, reaching a low of 117 against the dollar. Japanese stocks are higher.

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The International Economic Agenda Facing the New Congress

by Robert Kahn Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The initial post-election talk is understandably about whether the shift to a Republican controlled Senate makes it easier or harder to make progress on central economic challenges facing the United States, including energy, immigration, social spending, and infrastructure. There is understandable concern that this next Congress will face the same gridlock that we have now. But even before that, there is the mundane issue of what we borrow and spend. Partly out of fear of being seen as crying wolf one too many times, I have been wary to advertise my concern that we are facing a new series of economic cliffs. First up is a likely standoff on the budget (in December, and likely again in the spring of 2015). Then comes the debt limit, which will be reset on March 15, but given the usual and not-terribly-extraordinary “extraordinary measures” that are at the disposal of Treasury, they can likely pay the nation’s bills until perhaps the fall of 2015 before cash balances fall to zero. Of course, in the past deals have been done, often at the last minute, and we have not, with the exception of the 2013 government shutdown, gone off the cliff (though there have been a few unnecessary fender benders along the way). But with the Senate as polarized as ever, it is easy to see getting to deals on these issues will be difficult and potentially unsettling to markets.

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Three Central Banks

by Robert Kahn Friday, October 31, 2014

Today’s central bank news tells us a lot about the risks and rewards of proactive central banking.

The Bank of Japan (BoJ) surprised me (and nearly everyone else ) with a dramatic expansion of its unconventional monetary policy this morning, citing renewed risks of deflation. The BOJ announced (i) an increase in the target for monetary base growth to ¥80 trillion ($730 billion) per annum from ¥60–70 trillion; (2) an increase in its Japanese government bond (JGB) purchases to an annual pace of ¥80 trillion from ¥50 trillion; (3) an extension of the average maturity of its JGB purchases to 7–10 years (3 years previously); and (4) a tripling of its targets for the annual purchases of Japan real estate investment trusts (J-REITs) and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

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