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Catastrophe Bonds (or cat bonds) are essentially a bet against natural disaster - insurance companies issue the bonds and investors get paid their interest in the event of natural disasters such as earthquakes not happening.
According to the Financial Times, "catastrophe bonds are typically issued for three years and, if no disaster occurs in that period, bond investors receive a good payout; otherwise, they have to pay out themselves."
Do the investors such as pension funds and insurance companies truly understand the risks that they are taking with (our) money?
Duncan Weldon investigates in this BBC Newsnight report. Ultra low interest rates in advanced economies appear to have encourage pension funds to search for riskier assets (a search for yield) to improve their return on their assets. A major natural disaster could trigger huge losses for those who have piled huge sums of money into them.read more...»
The European Central Bank implemented a negative interest rate policy yesterday. Whilst we have become very accustomed to a low base rate in the UK, the ECB policy seems extraordinary.
The policy has come about due to a continued concern over the economic situation in the Eurozone. Growth remains weak, unemployment is high and inflation sits below the target of 2% in many of the 18 countries. The ECB is unlikely to follow the UK (and others) strategy of quantitative easing and so is left with fewer choices.
By setting a negative interest rate, the ECB wants to discourage banks from keeping larger reserves and promote a greater level of lending (and thus stimulate economic growth).
If you want to download a short Powerpoint slideshow that explains the policy and its possible consequences then click on this link.
New economics students might be starting to think about money. One form of money – cash – was in decline for some time through the 1970s, 80s until the mid 1990s. Then it staged a bit of a revival, with the amount of currency in circulation rising from around 3% of GDP in 1995 to nearer 4% now.read more...»
In remarks made when launching the new quarterly inflation report (May 2014), the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has signaled that policy interest rates set by the MPC are likely to remain at historically low levels for some time to come. The first rise in rates is probably less than a year away and some economists have penciled in early New Year 2015 for a rate hike. But what are some of the arguments for raising interest rates now?read more...»
The BBC's Robert Peston looks at the broader issue of heavy debt in the UK economy and whether it is holding back economic growth.read more...»
Money, so it is said, makes the world go around. And to some extent it does. But it's not one of the functions of money that I teach in my lessons. The nature of money is fascinating and there are plenty of books that look at the subject, not least Philip Coggan's "Paper Promises: Money. Debt and the New World Order" or Felix Martin's "Money: The Unauthorised Biography". If we start from the premise that money is "anything generally accepted in payment of a debt" then this leads us into interesting territory.read more...»
I am setting my AS macro students an essay this week evaluating the economic effects of five years of ultra-low monetary policy interest rates. Tom White blogged about this a day or so ago (click here) linking to an excellent article in the Guardian. It is a great way for students to deepen and broaden their understanding and awareness of recent developments in the UK economy.
Teaching colleagues covering monetary policy might want to use the data charts on interest rates contained in the PowerPoint file shown below.read more...»
He might have only had his feet under the Governor's desk for 8 months but BOE Governor Carney has announced changes to the role of the MPC for a second time as forward guidance has been overhauled.
This is a superb article from the Economist for A2 macro students wanting to understand more about the fragility of a large cluster of emerging economies.read more...»
My A2 macro students are now looking at some fascinating macro policy challenges facing a range of countries. This week they choose one from two set assignments.
The first offers them an opportunity to analyse some of the causes of high inflation in India and consider how much of a threat it is to India's continued growth and development.
A second assignment looks at Abenomics in Japan and whether it can lift the Japanese economy out of over two decades of slow growth and deflationary pressures. I am hoping that there will be some interesting insights allied to good A2 macro analysis as students crack on with their independent research.
Download the assignment sheet below and I have added in some suggestions for further reading on the two topicsread more...»
Capping seems to be all the rage at the moment. We read of capping electricity and gas prices, capping welfare payments for families ... and now a proposed cap on bonuses for bankers is being put forward by the EU and by the Labour Party.
In this article, Tim Harford cuts to the chase and highlights the contradictions in the EU blanket policy on capping bankers' bonuses. It is a good example of a policy where the unintended consequences include the probably that banking salaries would rise still further.
Under the EU proposal, a cap on rewards would limit payouts to banking executives to annual pay - or twice that only if shareholders approve.
BBC Hard Talk: Adair Turner on the effect of a bonus cap on bank salariesread more...»
In November 2013, Anthony Beaumont from Eton College organised a panel event on lessons to be learnt from the Global Financial Crisis. The highly successful event was attended by over 500 students from nearly forty schools and colleges. The panel included Anne Pettifor, Ha-Joon Change, Paul Ormerod and Crispin Odey. Tutor2u was pleased to sponsor the event by producing a colour booklet containing some relevant articles to the discussion. If you would like to have a look at it, please check it out using the streamed presentation below.read more...»
That’s an odd question. A £20 coin is ‘worth’ £20, isn’t it? Surely that’s the whole idea? I know from experience that one of the hardest jobs of an economics teacher is to communicate the idea of token money. Stated simply, most modern money is worthless. It’s just monopoly money. Several of you will already be puzzled by that statement.
A new £20 coin is being issued, and apparently the Bank of England is having considerable difficulty persuading people that it’s really ‘worth’ £20.
Here’s the story, and several other links to that strange concept: money.read more...»
Suyash Raj Bhandari profiles the Founder of the Grameen Bank, Mohammad Yunusread more...»
Here is an updated revision presentation covering aspects of the growth of microfinance and the role that it can play in driving development. We have also linked to some suggestions for background reading on the microfinance issue.read more...»
Here are some resources linked to the announcement of the 2013 Nobel Prize in economics - this year the prize is shared between three economists who have developed insights into the volatility of financial markets. The 2013 Nobel Prize in economics has been awarded to Eugene Fama, Lars Peter Hansen and Robert Shiller.
Professor Fama, 74, is one of the fathers of the so-called efficient markets hypothesis which holds that the prices of stocks and bonds are “rational” because they reflect all available public knowledge about those securities at any given point in time.
Professor Shiller made his name by pointing to a persistent irrationality in such markets. He said that the value of securities tends toread more...»
Changes to key interest rates by central banks have a significant impact on economic activity during periods when the economy is expanding. Unfortunately, they seem to have virtually no effect during recessions – the time when the stimulus of monetary policy is most needed.
These are the central findings of research by Professor Silvana Tenreyro and Gregory Thwaites, published by the new Centre for Macroeconomics at the London School of Economics.read more...»
The new Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said last week that interest rates will not be raised until unemployment falls below 7 per cent, a process he thinks will take three years. The battle of Austerlitz in 1805 was one of Napoleon’s greatest victories, leading to his complete domination of Continental Europe. In the aftermath, the Prime Minister, Pitt, famously pronounced ‘Roll up that map of Europe, it will not be wanted these next ten years’.read more...»
The Governor of the Bank of England has announced a change in the handling of monetary policy for the UK economy. Although the inflation target remains the same (CPI inflation of 2%) and the Bank remains committed to maintaining price stability as their main macroeconomic objective, they have decided to introduce forward guidance in the setting of policy interest rates. This takes the Bank of England closer to the approach to setting interest rates taken by the United States Federal Reserve.
Download this chart
What is forward guidance?
Forward guidance means that interest rates will stay at their historic low level of 0.5 per cent and monetary policy in general will remain expansionary until the unemployment falls below seven per cent. More here from the BBC news website.
However, that link could be put aside if the inflation rate threatens to rise above 2.5% in the medium term. Another wind-check to this system is that if the Financial Policy Committee judges that the UK economy is in danger of experiencing another credit boom then the Monetary Policy Committee will also re-visit their decisions on interest rates.
According to Ed Conway from Sky News "The UK inflation target remains in place - in theory - but in practice it has become significantly less important." Developments in the labour market and real output growth are likely to become more significant in helping to shape the future path of policy interest rates and whether monetary policy is expansionary, contractionary or neutral in its effects on the wider economy.
Sky news - Forward Guidance, a Monetary Policy Gamble
Anatole Kaletsky (Reuters): Carney at the Bank of England confirms the end of monetarism and return of neo-Keynesian demand management
With the unemployment rate currently at 7.8% of the labour force and predictions from the Bank that the jobless rate may take between two to three years to drop to the 7% way-marker, we can expect the period of exceptionally low monetary policy interest rates to remain with us well into 2015 and possibly 2016. This is not good news for savers struggling to find any kind of interest rate that at least matches the current rate of CPI inflation.
Governor Carney's response to this is to argue that what the economy needs most is a return to growth - in his words an economy growing sufficiently quickly to achieve "escape velocity". The current recovery has been the weakest for decades and real GDP remains below the peak achieved before the Global Financial Crisis took hold.read more...»
Paul Craven discusses aspects of behavioural finance in this 25 minute talk from Nudge Stock at Digital Shoreditch in London. Find out how a piece of grilled cheese went for $28,000 on eBaY! This is a superb talk for students and teachers interested in behavioural finance and the common biases in people;s behaviour in markets.read more...»
John Kay looks at the lack of evidence for the effect of quantitative easing as a driver for economic growth. He is excellent on some of paradoxes of the impact of QE on the macroeconomy of countries where it has been tried.
The main effect of QE according to Kay is to boost asset prices and the one certain consequence of this is that those who have assets - such as homeowners and stocks and shares - will benefit.
We strongly recommend that ambitious students take a look at some of the other articles written by John Kay - check out his web site by clicking this linkread more...»
Here is an interesting report on the rise of digital currencies. Bitcoin, a decentralised, virtual currency, is gaining increasing interest from investors and entrepreneurs. The currency is not controlled by a government or a central bank and is traded on the internet.
In this short news video, the FT's Maija Palmer reports from a Bitcoin conference on where the currency is heading including the use as a person to person medium of exchange. In technology savvy cities in the USA, there is no a bitcoin ATM that allows people to swap standard currencies for bitcoin credits. Will retailers latch on to the new currency?
Regulators seem wary about what Bitcoin is and how it might be used, fearing for example the use that might be made of anonymous and untraceable digital currencies for illegal money laundering by terrorist organisations.
A super resource from the Economist. KAL, The Economist's resident cartoonist and animator, explains the dangerous history of bubbles.
A bubble is said to happen when the prices of securities or other assets rise so sharply and at such a sustained rate that they exceed valuations justified by fundamentals, making a sudden collapse likely (at which point the bubble “bursts”). Typically this is seen in property markets where housing valuations can rise to unsustainable levels relative to income or long-run average prices. Speculative demand driven by positive price expectations has the effect of amplifying market demand and driving prices higher - especially when supply is restricted and unresponsive to short-term price movements.
Bubbles are common in other asset markets such as for stocks and bonds. And increasingly we find that world commodity prices exhibit bubble tendencies with high levels of volatility in the prices of foodstuffs, oil and natural gas and metals.
The bursting of a bubble - such as a collapse in property prices - can have important demand-side effects on wealth, confidence and aggregate demandread more...»
IT’S not all fun and games at the Co-op Bank. Just over a month ago, the bank was serious about acquiring 632 branches from Lloyds. Now its debt has been downgraded six notches to junk status, and veteran HSBC banker Niall Booker has been brought in as replacement chief executive after Barry Tootell resigned.
Inquests have begun, and it is only human nature to look for a scapegoat other than the large amount lost on the bank’s new IT system. Management has delved into its hat, and, hey presto, here is the old Britannia Building Society, merged with the Co-op in 2009. It is, we are solemnly told, the bad debts on the Britannia’s commercial property portfolio which are the problem.
"All money is virtual, and always has been – because money is just a set of ideas."
What is the real nature of money? In his new book 'Money: The Unauthorised Biography', Felix Martin suggests the modern approach to money - what we think it is and how it works - is wrong. He tells the FT's Andrew Hill why the conventional economic view is misguided and dangerous. Martin believes that we should view money as a social technology, a set of ideas and practices for organising society.
Martin argues that we shouldn't be afraid of using monetary policy as a deliberate technique for the re-distribution of income and wealth, for example for using higher inflation targets for "sweating off debt" as an alternative to persistent austerity. How might a different (unconventional) conception of money affect the types of banking system that we might want to emerge after the crisis? To what extent should the state radically narrow the range of financial institutions to which it is prepared to offer emergency financial help?read more...»
The post global financial crisis period is seeing a burst of innovation in the financial system as new platforms of funding especially for businesses seem to be gaining some traction even if they remain very small contrasted with the scale of established banks. This short report from the FT visits a conference on behavioural finance held at Oxford University and quizzes some leading figures on key developments in embryonic, emerging financial businesses. Having watched the video engage in some independent research on peer to peer lending and other fast-growing markets.read more...»
The credit crunch is widely regarded to have started during 2007 and is certainly not over yet! Indeed the period of severe constraints on credit availability and rising borrowing costs most notably for smaller businesses has now lasted longer than the Second World War. It represents a major barrier to sustained and hopefully more robust economic recovery. This short streamed presentation looks at the importance of the credit squeeze on the UK economy.
A number of new government policy initiatives have been introduced but doubts persist about their effectiveness. Underneath the surface new forms of business finance are taking shape including peer to peer lending and the rise of retail bonds issued by a number of businesses.read more...»
It is now over four years since the Bank of England cut their policy interest rate to 0.5%. The Bank along with other central banks has seemingly moved away from changes in interest rates to policies aimed at manipulating the base supply of money in the economy / financial system. Others are focusing on managing the exchange rate. Monetary policy has undergone big changes in recent years as this revision note explains.read more...»
When is the right moment to start tightening monetary policy by gradually raising interest rates? Some macro economists believe that in the UK, the Monetary Policy Committee has already delayed the first upwards nudge in policy interest rates for too long with the result that inflation has remained persistently above target for most of the last five years. Others argue that fundamental economic weakness makes the recovery fragile and vulnerable and that raising interest rates now is the wrong option.
Check out some key macro charts here
An increase of one percentage point in the interest rate that a firm faces during a financial crisis increases its chances of failure by more than five percentage points. Young firms, firms with high bank dependency and firms that don’t export are particularly vulnerable to changes in their debt-servicing costs.
These are among the findings of research by Alessandra Guariglia, Marina-Eliza Spaliara and Serafeim Tsoukas, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2013 annual conference. The study looks at a large data set of mainly private-held firms in the UK tracked over several years.
The Bank of England has held short-term interest rates very close to zero for several years, with devastating consequences for the incomes of millions of frugal people. The Bank’s latest wheeze suggests that savers pay the banks for the privilege of holding their money. The Bank has pumped hundreds of billions of pounds into the economy through quantitative easing.
All these policies are open to question. For example, quantitative easing has many critics amongst distinguished monetary economists.
Despite this, the actions of the Bank are deemed to be a Good Thing, for the Bank is independent. The decisions of its experts are untainted by the touch of mortal, corrupt politicians. Yet just how expert is its expertise?
The loss of triple A status on UK government bonds has intensified the demands for a Plan B. So-called Keynesians demand an increase in both public spending and the public sector deficit.
What might Keynes himself have said about the current situation? Lacking a Ouija board, I am unable to communicate directly with the great man himself. But we can get a very strong hint from the title of the first major work which Keynes published when confronted with the 1929 financial crash. It is the Treatise on Money. His most famous work was not published until 1936, when the Great Depression was well and truly over. Its full name is the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.read more...»
This is great for understanding key shifts in global trade and investment. The Economist offers this short video on the rising prominence of Chinese money in property and currency markets and FDI from Chinese businesses within the EU.read more...»
Are you following important macroeconomic developments in Japan? The new government of Shinzo Abe is reforming monetary policy - including a change to the inflation target - and undertaking more aggressive fiscal measures. Will it work in lifting the Japanese economy to a higher growth plane after two decades and more of sluggish growth and the debilitating effects of price deflation?read more...»
An updated glossary of key terms for AS macroread more...»
Forecasts of the end of the world have an even worse track record than predictions in economics. Some followers of the Mayan calendar believe the world will end next week.
But we have been here before. In 1956, an American group, led by a suburban housewife, believed that a catastrophic flood would destroy the world on a specific date. Concealing his true identity, a leading American social psychologist, Leon Festinger, had joined them several months previously. When the flood failed to happen, he noted that, far from abandoning their beliefs, the members became even fervent in their view that the world was about to end.
The Chinese renminbi is not yet as recognisable as the US dollar or the Euro but with China's continued growth and rising influence as a major global economic power, their domestic currency is becoming more widely used when settling accounts in trade in goodsand services. In this new Financial Times video Denise Law explores the benefits of using renminbi in trade even though the renminbi is not yet fully-convertible in world foreign exchange markets.read more...»
Fives years on from the collapse of Lehman Brothers, this is an excellent animated explanation of the genesis of the global financial crisis. For more comment - go to this piece from Stephanie Flanders of the BBC: Unhappy anniversary of the credit crunchread more...»
There was an interesting discussion on Keynesian insights for today’s financial markets on FT television today. The interviewee is the noted biographer of Keynes, Professor Robert Skidelsky.read more...»
This six minute news video report from CNN is superb, it focuses on pilot programmes to extend micro-insurance schemes for some of Kenya’s smallest and poorest farmers in a country where the agricultural sector is at high risk from the effects of drought. Kenya is the largest economy in east Africa but less than 4% of Kenyans have access to insurance. Many do not understand the concept of insurance, others cannot afford it or choose not to take it out when there are school fees to pay (opportunity cost writ large).
These pilot schemes offer hope for the future but insurance on its own is no panecea. Savings and access to credit are of equal significance in reducing vulnerability to extreme weather events.
The micro-insurance programmes embed mobile technology - for example the Kilimo Salama programme — Swahili for ‘safe farming’ — launched in 2011 provides small-scale farmers in Kenya with crop insurance by combining mobile phone payment with the data from automated weather stations.Kilimo Salama uses data from these stations to calculate the severity of droughts — or excessive rainfall. Eligible farmers then receive payouts via their mobile phones.
More here: Kenya pastoralists get insured for lossesread more...»
The rise in foreign currency reserves is largely the result of China’s enormous trade surpluses but also the consequence of intervention in currency markets by the Chinese central bank. To manage the value of the exchange rate it buys dollars and sells Yuan. China uses a large slice of their currency reserves to finance overseas investment including the role of Sovereign Wealth Funds to invest in developed and emerging countries including many in Africa. A rise in foreign currency reserves increases the money supply and has led to a surge in domestic lending including much money pumped into property developments.
A recent estimate valued Chinese foreign currency reserves at $3.2 trillion. In 2010, nearly two-thirds of China’s reserves were held in US dollar assets such as bonds, equities, money on deposit in US banks and property. But recently there are signs that Chinese investors have been diversifying away from the dollar.read more...»
The pay-day loan boom is a symptom of more than three decades of financialization in the UK economy. Households and also some businesses are using the loans made available by companies such as Wonga. But borrowing from them involves astronomical rates of interest on an annualised percentage basis. In this clip we see how pay day loan businesses are becoming an ever more frequent sight on our high streets - but are tehey targeting the poorest and most vulnerable in society? Should regulators get tougher on them? Are they a sign of these difficult times?read more...»
Barclays have been hit by record fines for distorting key interest rates including the London Interbank Offer Rate and the consequences of this appalling contamination of the market for interest rates for lending and borrowing between the banks are likely to be far-reaching for the banking industry as a whole. Barclays has agreed to pay $453m for using underhand tactics, including price-fixing, to rig the markets. Keep an eye on the new because this interest-rate fixing scandal is set to engulf HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland.
The Governor of the Bank of England has launched a scathing attack on the culture of the UK banking industryread more...»
A summer hat tip to Alan Fearnley for spotting this excellent teaching resource from the BBC. A recent Radio 4 Analysis programme was devoted to the issue of a return to the Gold Standard (a fixed exchange rate system). It was by Simon Jack who covers economic and financial matters for the Today programme. It is very accessible for Years 12 and 13. Here are the details for people wanting to access content from the programme.
Radio 4 Analysis on Twitter (Click Here)
See also: Duncan Weldon (Guardian): Back to the gold standard? It makes no economic sense
A revision blog on UK overseas trade in servicesread more...»
Professor Robert Schiller from Yale University spoke at the RSA in London tonight on the roles and responsibilities of the financial sector and built an argument that finance can be a root to addressing some of the toughest economic and social challenges of the age. Here are some brief notes from his talk.read more...»
“It is not that human beings are irrational, it is that they are human” Here is a terrific short film on the causes of financial instability and the cracking of faith in markets. The Institute for New Economic Thinking has just launched the first of a series of short documentaries on economics Click below for the first of themread more...»
A sovereign wealth fund is a government or state run investment fund usually created by super-normal profits from natural resources such as oil, gas or minerals. Here is some brief background on them:read more...»
This morning’s headline on BBC Breakfast was the news that yesterday RBS raised the interest rate on three of its mortgage products by a quarter of a percent to 4%. Three days ago the Halifax wrote to its mortgage holders saying that it intends to raise the cap on its Standard Variable Rate (SVR) to 3.75% above base rate, rather than the current 3%. As the Telegraph reports, although this doesn’t guarantee that Halifax would raise the rate itself, brokers”… believe otherwise and suggested that this would soon happen for a million Halifax borrowers” – and the BBC are now reporting an expectation that the Halifax will announce a rise in the SVR with effect from 1st May. For A level economists this story has several implications.read more...»
At the World Traders’ Tacitus lecture last night, Terry Smith proposed a return to the provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act in order to reform the banking sector. The title of his lecture was ‘Is Occupy right?’, and while he clearly didn’t go along with some of the propositions of the Occupy movement, such as the imposition of a financial transaction tax, he did say that they have a serious point to make about the financial system.read more...»
This has to be amongst the best 60 seconds of Economics you’ll ever see on television. The superb Stephanie Flanders takes a leaf out of the RSA playbook to explain the basic theory behind quantitative easing. Wonderful!!read more...»