Climate: Trump blows hot and cold

By Aurélien Saussay

Donald Trump has thus once again respected one of his campaign promises. Nevertheless, the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement is still not certain.

Some key figures in the US oil lobby, such as the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who was former boss of Exxon-Mobil, along with its current CEO Darren Woods and the Governor of Texas, the leading oil producing state in the United States, are advising the President to keep the United States in the agreement – if only to influence the way it’s applied.

This withdrawal is certainly not good news. But it does not constitute the catastrophe that some seem to fear.

At the international level, China immediately renewed its commitment by replacing the former Sino-US axis with a new Sino-European climate alliance.

Despite the importance of coal in China’s energy mix, it has become the world’s leading solar power producer, both in installed capacity as well as in the capacity to produce photovoltaic cells. China’s leaders have no intention of turning their back on this technological shift, which places their country in an enviable position of technological and industrial leadership.

Moreover, beyond the global problem of climate change, for China the reduction of coal consumption is a critical issue in its local policy.

The fine particles emitted by the country’s power stations are smothering its cities and significantly degrading the inhabitants’ quality of life. With environmental demands rising among the populace, it would be unthinkable to forego further efforts to reduce coal consumption.

The combined leadership of China and Europe should be enough to isolate Trump’s position on the international stage and not jeopardize the participation of the other major emitting countries in the agreement. But the United States alone does still account for 15% of global emissions (compared with 30% for China and 9% for the European Union).

A complete renunciation of any climate policy at the domestic level would have a significant impact on the future trajectory of emissions.

The announcement by the governors of the states of California, New York and Washington of the creation of an Alliance for the Climate in the aftermath of the US withdrawal is in this respect rich in lessons.

First of all, it confirms that a large part of American climate policy is decided at the local level (state, even municipality).
It also reveals the great divergence between the American states in the face of climate change: other coastal states that are heavily involved in the energy transition like Massachussetts and Oregon could join this Alliance, which already accounts for more than one-third of US GDP.

Finally, it highlights how sharply divided the country is on the subject: a recent Pew Research Center survey indicates that nearly 60% of Americans want their country to stay in the Paris Agreement. Trump is actually almost as isolated within the United States as he is internationally.

The withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in the main represents a domestic policy decision for Trump. His announcement, which focused on the coal industry, is aimed primarily at his voters in Appalachia’s mining country, who believe their survival is threatened by the energy transition.

In the short term, however, it is much more the competition from shale gas that is threatening the US coal industry.

The new competitiveness of renewable energies, even without subsidies, condemns coal over the longer term: the leading producer of wind power in the United States is for instance Texas, which does not exactly arouse suspicion for its environmental sympathies.

Donald Trump has thus taken a risk in breaking the international process centred on the Paris agreement in an effort to revive a dying industry – with little hope of success. Fortunately, his international and domestic isolation should limit the scope of his decision.


The European Central Bank is readying the future

By Christophe Blot and Paul Hubert

At the press conference following the meeting of the ECB’s Governing Council on Thursday, 8 June, Mario Draghi announced that the Bank’s key interest rates would remain unchanged (0% for the main refinancing operations rate, a negative 0.40% for the deposit facility rate and 0.25% for the lending facility rate). In particular, Draghi gave some valuable insights into the future direction of the euro zone’s monetary policy by changing its message. Whereas he had systematically stated that rates could be cut (“at lower levels”), he now stated that they would be maintained at the “present level” for an “extended period of time” and “well past the horizon of our net asset purchases”.

By announcing that there would be no further rate cuts, the ECB believes that the current monetary policy stance should enable it to achieve its objectives, and it is taking the first step towards a further tightening of monetary conditions. However, it should be noted that at the same time the ECB does not expect inflation to return to its 2% target by 2019. The Eurosystem’s new macroeconomic projections published during the press conference foresee inflation at 1.5% in 2017, 1.3% in 2018 and 1.6% in 2019[1]. Although the recovery is continuing, inflation will remain below its target level for a period of at least three years, which justifies maintaining an expansionary monetary policy. By clarifying that the rates will not go up upon the termination of the net asset purchases[2], the ECB clearly intends to continue to support economic activity.

Then comes the matter of the date when the asset purchase programme will end. According to the current discourse, the purchases will continue until December 2017, but they could be extended if the ECB deems it necessary. What strategy will the ECB adopt after that? It is possible that the asset purchases will diminish gradually along the lines of what the Federal Reserve did in 2014 [3]. In this case, the end of quantitative easing would take a few more months. This is currently the most likely option, which would push off the interest rate hike until the end of 2018. It is possible, however, that announcements of a reduction in purchases could be made by year end, which could lead to winding up QE by early 2018. Whichever option is chosen, the ECB will undoubtedly take care to communicate its strategy in order to gradually shape expectations about the first rate rise.

However, while this is one important element in the strategy for the normalization of the euro zone’s monetary policy, the matter is not limited to the issue of rate rises. The ECB must also provide information about its intentions regarding its negative interest rate policy or about the moment it will decide to no longer satisfy all the requests for fixed-rate refinancing, as it has done since October 2008. Finally, it also needs to indicate the pace at which it plans to cut down the size of its balance sheet as the Federal Reserve has recently begun to do (see here). The ECB also needs to be transparent on these issues.


[1] These expectations have even been revised downwards since March 2017.

[2] Since April 2017, net asset purchases have come to 60 billion euros per month, compared with 80 billion in the months before that.

[3] The Federal Reserve spread out the reduction of its securities purchases from January to October.

Trends in labour force participation rates in Europe during the Great Recession: The role of demographics and job polarization

By Guillaume Allègre and Gregory Verdugo

In Europe as in the United States, employment fell considerably during the Great Recession. Moreover, over the last few decades, the labour markets in both regions have been reshaped by the forces of automation and globalization. However, the response of labour force participation to these changes has varied from country to country. One of the most significant developments in the US labour market over the past decade has been the decline in labour force participation. Between 2004 and 2013, the labour force participation rate for the group aged 25 to 54 fell by 2.6 percentage points (from 83.8% to 81.1%), a decline that has persisted well beyond the end of the Great Recession. In the EU-15, on the other hand, the participation rate for this age group increased by 2 percentage points during the same period (from 83.7% to 85.6%), despite low growth and the persistence of high levels of unemployment.

What explains these differences on the two sides of the Atlantic? To answer this question, we examine here the determinants of the evolution of labour force participation over the last two decades in twelve European countries and compare this with the United States.

Consistent with previous work on the United States, we found that recent demographic shifts account for a substantial share of cross-country differences. The share of retired baby boomers increased more rapidly in the United States and triggered a sharper decline in participation rates there than in Europe. Over the past decade, the rate of increase in the number of higher education graduates was twice as high in Europe as in the United States, especially in southern Europe and in particular for women. Women with higher levels of education are more likely to join the workforce, and they have contributed dramatically to the rise in labour force participation in Europe.

However, these changes do not explain everything. For the population with a diploma below the level of the high school baccalaureate, men’s labour force participation rates have fallen in all countries. For women, they have increased rapidly, especially in the countries hit hardest by unemployment. In Spain, Greece and Italy, the participation rates for women with a diploma below the baccalaureate level rose by 12, 5.5 and 2 points, respectively, between 2007 and 2013, while these economies were in the midst of a deep recession.

To explain these facts, we investigated the role of changes in patterns of labour demand in recent decades and in particular during the Great Recession. We show that, as in the United States, job polarization (which denotes the reallocation of employment towards the lowest and highest paying occupations at the expense of intermediate professions) accelerated in Europe during the Great Recession (Figure 1). Due to the greater destruction of jobs in intermediate occupations, the recent polarization has been much more intense in Europe.

fig 1

Another important difference with the United States is that occupational segregation between men and women is more pronounced in Europe. The intermediate jobs that are rapidly disappearing are much more likely to employ male workers in Europe, whereas the expansion of low-skilled occupations is disproportionately benefitting women (Figure 2). As a result, in Europe, more than in the United States, job polarization and the destruction of intermediate jobs has led to a decline in labour market opportunities for men that is more dramatic than the decline for women. We find that these asymmetric demand shocks between the genders accounted for most of the increase in labour force participation rates for women with the lowest educational levels during the Great Recession.

fig 2


For further information: Gregory Verdugo, Guillaume Allègre, “Labour Force Participation and Job Polarization: Evidence from Europe during the Great Recession”, Sciences Po OFCE Working Paper, no. 16, 2017-05-10


What factors are behind the recent rise in long-term interest rates?

By Christophe Blot, Jérôme Creel, Paul Hubert and Fabien Labondance

Since the onset of the financial crisis, long-term sovereign interest rates in the euro zone have undergone major fluctuations and periods of great divergence between the member states, in particular between 2010 and 2013 (Figure 1). Long-term rates began to fall sharply after July 2012 and Mario Draghi’s famous “whatever it takes”. Despite the implementation and expansion of the Public Sector Purchase Programme (PSPP) in 2015, and although long-term sovereign interest rates remain at historically low levels, they have recently risen.

graph 1

There may be several ways of interpreting this recent rise in long-term sovereign interest rates in the euro zone. Given the current economic and financial situation, it may be that this rise in long-term rates reflects the growth and expectations of rising future growth in the euro zone. Another factor could be that the euro zone bond markets are following the US markets: European rates could be rising as a result of rising US rates despite the divergences between the policy directions of the ECB and of the Fed. The impact of the Fed’s monetary policy on interest rates in the euro zone would thus be stronger than the impact of the ECB’s policy. It might also be possible that the recent rise is not in line with the zone’s fundamentals, which would then jeopardize the recovery from the crisis by making debt reduction more difficult, as public and private debt remains high.

In a recent study, we calculate the contributions of the different determinants of long-term interest rates and highlight the most important ones. Long-term interest rates can respond to private expectations of growth and inflation, to economic fundamentals and to monetary and fiscal policy, both domestic (in the euro zone) and foreign (for example, in the United States). The rates may also react to perceptions of different financial, political and economic risks[1]. Figure 2 shows the main factors that are positively and negatively affecting long-term interest rates in the euro zone over three different periods.

Between September 2013 and April 2015, the euro zone’s long-term interest rate decreased by 2.3 percentage points. During this period, only expectations of GDP growth had a positive impact on interest rates, while all the other factors pushed rates down. In particular, the US long-term interest rate, inflation expectations, the reduction of sovereign risk and the ECB’s unconventional policies all contributed to the decline in euro zone interest rates. Between June 2015 and August 2016, the further decline of about 1 percentage point was due mainly to two factors: the long-term interest rate and the expectations of GDP growth in the United States.

Between August 2016 and February 2017, long-term interest rates rose by 0.7 percentage point. While the ECB’s asset purchase programme helped to reduce the interest rate, two factors combined to push it up. The first is the increase in long-term interest rates in the United States following the Fed’s tightening of monetary policy. The second factor concerned political tensions in France, Italy and Spain, which led to a perception of political risk and higher sovereign risk. While the first factor may continue to push up interest rates in the euro zone, the second should drive them down given the results of the French presidential elections.

graph 2


[1] The estimate of the equation for the determination of long-term rates was calculated over the period January 1999 – February 2017 and accounts for 96% of the change in long-term rates over the period. For details on the variables used and the parameters estimated, see the study.


Where are we at in the euro zone credit cycle?

By Christophe Blot and Paul Hubert

In December 2016, the European Central Bank announced the continuation of its Quantitative Easing (QE) policy until December 2017. The continuing economic recovery in the euro zone and the renewal of inflation are now raising questions about the risks associated with this programme. On the one hand, isn’t the pursuit of a highly expansionary monetary policy a source of financial instability? Conversely, a premature end to unconventional measures could undermine growth as well as the ECB’s capacity to achieve its objectives. Here, we study the dilemma facing the ECB [in French] based on an analysis of credit cycles and banking activity in the euro zone.

The ECB’s announcement gives us two signals about the direction of monetary policy. On the one hand, by delaying the end date of QE, the ECB is implicitly announcing that the normalization of monetary policy, in particular a hike in its key rate, will not take place before early 2018. The ECB will thus continue its expansionary policy of increasing the size of its balance sheet. On the other hand, the reduction in monthly purchases is also a sign that it is toning down its expansionary character. The announcement is similar to the “tapering” that began in January 2014 by the US Federal Reserve. Purchases of securities were cut back gradually, until they actually stopped at the end of October 2016.

The undeniably expansionary nature of monetary policy in the euro zone suggests that the ECB still considers it necessary to implement a stimulus in order to achieve its ultimate monetary policy objectives. The first of these is price stability, which is defined as inflation that is lower than but close to 2% per year. There are no signs of either runaway inflation or growth [1] [2]. The securities buyback programme should help to consolidate growth and push inflation towards the 2% target. At the same time, the liquidity issued by the central bank in its securities purchase programmes and the low level of interest rates (short and long term) are fuelling fears that monetary stability might have an adverse effect on financial stability[3].

The result leaves the ECB facing a dilemma. Putting a premature end to quantitative easing could keep the euro zone in a state of low inflation and low growth. Unnecessarily prolonging QE, while the US Federal Reserve has begun normalizing its monetary policy, could create a risk of financial instability, resulting in an uncontrolled surge in asset prices, credit, and more broadly the risk taken on by the financial system.

We assess this dual risk using indicators on the activity of the banking system of the euro zone as a whole and of the countries that make it up. Credit, whether granted to households or to non-financial enterprises, is central to bank assets and often at the heart of risks to financial instability[4]. Here we propose extending the analysis to the size of the balance sheet and to total loans granted – including credit to other monetary and financial institutions – which makes it possible to measure the risk associated with the banking system as a whole[5].

These different variables are related either to GDP, which makes it possible to capture the disconnection between banking activity and real activity, or to the capital and reserves of the banking system, which makes it possible to capture the leverage effect, i.e. the capacity of the system to absorb losses. Here we focus on quantities rather than prices, using indicators such as the ratio of credit granted on equity and the ratio of credit received on income. These are central to reflecting the transmission of monetary policy and to assessing the risk of financial instability.


The graph shows the changes in the credit cycle, relative to GDP (blue line) and relative to the capital and reserves of the banking system (red line) [6]. The green areas indicate periods when credit deviates significantly above or below its long-term trend. In general, the analysis of credit and of the size of the banking system’s balance sheet points to a recovery in activity but it does not suggest either a credit boom or an excessive contraction in the euro zone in the recent period. While credit is evolving in a relatively more favorable direction relative to its trend in France and Germany, the cycle does not indicate an excessive increase. The Netherlands and Spain are distinguished by a low level of credit relative to GDP. For the Netherlands, this trend is confirmed by the indicators relative to the banking system’s capital and reserves, while in Spain, outstanding loans relative to capital and reserves are at a historically high level, suggesting an excessive level of risk-taking given the economic situation.

[1] Translation errorDespite the recent rebound in inflation, which is largely linked to the rise in oil prices and inflation expectations, inflationary pressures are still moderate, and getting inflation back to the 2% target is not sufficiently sure to warrant a change in the direction of monetary policy.

[2] Unemployment is still high, fuelling deflation.

[3] A recent analysis by Borio and Zabai (2016) of the effectiveness of unconventional monetary policy suggests that its effectiveness could decrease even as the risks involved increase. The role of asset prices has been studied by Andrade et al. (2016), showing that asset prices had reacted, as expected, following the measures taken by the ECB, and by Blot et al. (2017) on an assessment of the risk of bubbles.

[4] See Jorda et al., 2013 and 2015.

[5] Translation errorThe Basel III legislation is based on risk indicators calculated at the level of banking establishments, while our approach is based on macroeconomic indicators.

[6] Translation errorThese cycles are obtained using a principal component analysis (PCA) of several types of trend / cycle breakdowns: the Hodrick-Prescott filter, the Christiano-Fitzgerald filter, and the moving average.