Robert Kahn

Macro and Markets

Robert Kahn analyzes economic policies for an integrated world.

Economic Optimism in the State of the Union

by Robert Kahn Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The central economic message from President Obama in his State of the Union (SOU) speech last night was that the U.S. economy was on a strong footing and well prepared to prosper in a dynamic and rapidly changing global environment. This is hardly a surprising message, but notable coming at a time when the 2016 presidential campaign is being driven by populist messages of economic decline and aversion to globalization. Running briefly through a list typical of SOUs, the president noted job growth including in manufacturing, developments in clean and conventional energy, educational improvements including rising high school graduation rates and student loan relief, improved medical insurance coverage, and the recent bipartisan agreement on No Child Left Behind among his achievements. Indeed, with unemployment at 5 percent and growth at around 2.5 percent backed by highly accommodative monetary policy, the president had a good macroeconomic story to tell, while acknowledging that a great deal more had to be done to boost middle class incomes and improve economic security.

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Macri-economics in Argentina

by Robert Kahn and Ted Liu Tuesday, December 22, 2015

While markets have focused attention on China as the primary source of market risk in 2016, Latin America has provided the more significant headlines in recent weeks.  Political turmoil in Brazil has resulted in the resignation of a market-friendly finance minister, and default looms in Venezuela.  But perhaps nowhere in Latin America is more at stake than with the economic revolution now underway in Argentina.

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After the Fed

by Robert Kahn Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Federal Reserve today delivered exactly what was expected: a liftoff in interest rates from the zero lower bound, coupled with strong assurances that the future rise in interest rates will be moderate. Markets reacted hardly at all to the statement and Janet Yellen’s press conference, beyond a bit of short covering, by and large seeing the decision as a comforting first step towards normalization at a time of significant global tensions. In sum: Read more »

IMF Reform Moves Forward

by Robert Kahn Wednesday, December 16, 2015

There are reports this morning that House and Senate legislators have included language authorizing U.S. support for International Monetary Fund (IMF) reform in the $1.1 trillion spending package funding the government for the rest of FY16.  If this language reaches the president’s desk and is signed into law, it would be an important achievement and a positive reflection on the perseverance of U.S Treasury officials and congressional leaders to get this deal done. The package—first agreed to by the Obama administration in 2010—changes voting shares and governance for the institution at a critical time, bolstering the IMF’s credibility and its ability to play a lead firefighting role at times of crisis.  Failure to pass the legislation had become a substantial irritant for U.S. influence internationally, and resolving this is a win for good global economic governance.

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Addressing Economic Populism in Europe

by Robert Kahn Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My latest global economic monthly looks at rising economic populism in Europe and how it constrains the capacity of policymakers to get a robust recovery going and deal with shocks. Some of the drivers of populism—on the left and right, in creditor and debtor countries—are cyclical but many including globalization, income inequality and insecurity are likely to be more persistent and resent a long-term threat to greater European integration. The strong showing of the National Front in last weekend’s French regional elections, Denmark’s referendum rejection of further EU integration, and Britain’s debate over its EU future are recent reminders of the fraying consensus on further integration, which has strong implications for economic cooperation. Easy money from the European Central Bank (ECB) can only do so much, and a broader policy response including a faster pace of economic integration and more flexible fiscal policies now are needed.

Ukraine’s Decisive Moment

by Robert Kahn Monday, December 7, 2015

Budget debates are often dry affairs, but not so in Kiev. By the end of this month, the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada) must decide on a budget that will have profound effects on the future course of the government. The Ministry of Finance has proposed a budget that sets most tax rates at 20 percent, while closing loopholes and holding the deficit to an estimated 3.7 percent of GDP.  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has endorsed the plan, and the passage of the bill, or something close to it, is essential to completing the IMF review and keeping the government’s adjustment program on track.

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ECB and the Limits of QE

by Robert Kahn Friday, December 4, 2015

Markets were clearly underwhelmed by the European Central Bank’s (ECB) easing announcement yesterday, marginally cutting its (already negative) deposit rate and extending the duration of its asset purchase program (QE). I think the Financial Times had it about right. It would have been better to do more, but what they did was helpful and it retains the capacity for further action. Still, as Ted Liu and I argued yesterday, the main channel through which QE is going to boost activity in Europe (as the Federal Reserve normalizes) is through the exchange rate, which in the context of weak global demand and emerging market capital outflows may be a modest source of stimulus. The market reaction also underscores the challenge for a central bank to communicate its intentions when the governing council is divided and it is trying to be data dependent–i.e., it is hard to communicate what you don’t know. We also agree with the FT’s bottom line: at this time, monetary policy alone cannot be expected to carry forward a robust European recovery.  Fiscal and structural policies must do their part.

European Central Bank Rate Move, a Turning Point for Europe

by Robert Kahn and Ted Liu Thursday, December 3, 2015

At the governing council’s meeting today, the European Central Bank (ECB) announced that it will cut benchmark deposit rate to -0.3 percent, extend its quantitative easing (QE) program to at least March 2017, and broaden the scope of assets purchased. On several occasions since October, ECB President Mario Draghi has hinted an easing was coming, stating that the central bank will do what they must to “raise inflation and inflation expectations as fast as possible.” There is a strong economic case for action: inflation has stalled at levels well below the ECB’s target inflation rate of below but close to 2 percent (headline inflation in October was 0.1 percent), growth remains weak, and unemployment rates are still sky high. But, as in the United States, there are growing doubts about how much a boost of QE will provide to the European economy. A few thoughts on why the ECB’s move still matters.

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China’s Symbolic Currency Win

by Robert Kahn Monday, November 30, 2015

Earlier today, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Board approved the inclusion of the Chinese renminbi (RMB) as a fifth currency in the special drawing rights (SDR), the IMF’s currency, as of October 2016.  The move was expected and IMF Board approval was never in doubt once the U.S. government signaled that it would not oppose the step. My read is that the Fund staff acted properly in arguing that the RMB now meets the test of being freely useable for international transactions by its members (though some have argued that the IMF was bending its rules for political reasons). Of course, Chinese financial markets remain significantly restricted for private investors, but the SDR’s current primary use is for transactions between members of the IMF (governments). From that narrow perspective the RMB can be judged to be widely used and widely traded because a country receiving RMB as a result of IMF transactions should be able to switch it to any other basket currency at low cost, at any time of the day or night, somewhere in the world. So too perhaps are more than a dozen other currencies freely useable by this measure, but the SDR is for now limited to the largest of those currencies by a separate (export share) measure. Consequently, next year the RMB goes into the basket with a weight of 10.9 percent (compared to today’s weights, most of China’s share comes from the U.S. dollar which will retain a 41.7 percent share; the other shares will be 30.9 percent for the euro, 8.3 percent for the yen, and 8.1 percent for the pound sterling).

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