Does central bank optimism move financial markets?

By Paul Hubert and Fabien Labondance

“Animal spirits”, also called “errors of optimism and pessimism” or “sentiments”, contribute to macroeconomic fluctuations, as has been pointed out by Pigou (1927) and Keynes (1936) and more recently by Angeletos and La’O (2013) [1]. Quantifying these kinds of unobservable concepts is crucial for understanding how economic agents form their expectations and arrive at decisions that in turn influence the economy. In a recent working paper, “Central Bank Sentiment and Policy Expectations”, we examine this issue by analysing central bank communications and assessing their impact on expectations about interest rate markets. Continue reading “Does central bank optimism move financial markets?”

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Do QE programmes create bubbles?

By Christophe Blot, Paul Hubert and Fabien Labondance

Has the implementation of unconventional monetary policies since 2008 by the central banks created new bubbles that are now threatening financial stability and global growth? This is a question that comes up regularly (see here, here,  here or here). As Roger Farmer shows, it is clear that there is a strong correlation between the purchase of securities by the Federal Reserve – the US central bank – and the stock market index (S&P 500) in the United States (Figure 1). While the argument may sound convincing at first glance, the facts still need to be discussed and clarified. First, it is useful to remember that correlation is not causation. Secondly, an increase in asset prices is precisely a transmission channel for conventional monetary policy and quantitative easing (QE). Finally, an increase in asset prices cannot be treated as a bubble: developments related to fundamentals need to be distinguished from purely speculative changes.

Higher asset prices is a factor in the transmission of monetary policy

If the ultimate goal of central banks is macroeconomic stability [1], the transmission of their decisions to the target variables (inflation and growth) takes place through various channels, some of which are explicitly based on changes in asset prices. Thus, the effects expected from QE are supposed to be transmitted in particular by so-called portfolio effects. By buying securities on the markets, the central bank encourages investors to reallocate their securities portfolio to other assets. The objective is to ease broader financing conditions for all economic agents, not just those whose securities are targeted by the QE programme. In doing this, the central bank’s actions push asset prices up. It is therefore not surprising to see a rise in equity prices in connection with QE in the US.

Every increase in asset prices is not a bubble

Furthermore, it is necessary to make sure that the correlation between asset purchases and their prices is not just a statistical artefact. The increase observed in prices may also reflect favourable fundamentals and be due to improved growth prospects in the United States. The standard model for determining the price of a financial asset identifies its price as equal to the present value of anticipated income flows (dividends). Although this model is based on numerous generally restrictive assumptions, it nevertheless identifies a first candidate, changes in dividends, to explain changes in stock prices in the United States since 2008.

Figure 1 shows a clear correlation between the series of dividends [2] paid and the S&P 500 index between April 2010 and October 2013. Part of the rise in equity prices can be explained simply by the increase in dividends: the usual determinant of stock market prices. Looking at this indicator, only the period starting at the beginning of 2014 could then indicate a disconnect between dividends and share prices, and thus possibly point to an over-adjustment.


A correlation that isn’t found in the euro zone

If the theory that unconventional monetary policies create bubbles is true, then it should also be observed in the euro zone. Yet performing the same graph as the one for the United States does not reveal a link between the liquidity provided by the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Eurostoxx index (Figure 2). The first phase in the increase in the size of the ECB’s balance sheet, via its refinancing operations starting in September 2008, came at a time when stock markets were collapsing, following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Likewise, the very long-term refinancing operations carried out by the ECB at the end of 2011 do not seem to be correlated with the stock market index. The rise in share prices coincides in fact with Mario Draghi’s statement in July 2012 that put a halt to concerns about a possible breakup of the euro zone. It is of course possible to argue that the central bank has played a role, but any link between liquidity and asset prices is simply not there. At the end of 2012, the banks paid back their loans to the ECB, which reduced the cash in circulation. Finally, the recent period is once again illustrating the fragility of the argument that QE creates bubbles. It is precisely at a time when the ECB is undertaking a programme of large-scale purchases of securities, along the lines of the Federal Reserve, that we are seeing a fall in world stock indices, in particular the Eurostoxx.


So does this mean that there is no QE-bubble link?

Not necessarily. But to answer this question, it is necessary first to identify precisely the portion of the increase that is due to fundamentals (dividends and companies’ share prospects). A bubble is usually defined as the difference between the observed price and a so-called fundamental value. In a forthcoming working paper, we endeavour to identify periods of over- or undervaluation of a number of asset prices for both the euro zone and the United States. Our approach involves estimating different models of asset prices and thereby to extract a component that is unexplained by fundamentals, which is then called a “bubble”. We then show that for the euro zone, the ECB’s monetary policy broadly speaking (conventional and unconventional) does not seem to have a significant effect on the “bubble” component (unexplained by fundamentals) of asset prices. The results are stronger for the United States, suggesting that QE might have a significant effect on the “bubble” component of some asset prices there.

This conclusion does not mean that the central banks and the regulators are impotent and ignorant in the face of this risk. Rather than trying to dissect every movement in asset prices, the central banks should focus their attention on financial vulnerabilities and on the ability of agents (financial and non-financial) to absorb sharp fluctuations in asset prices. The best prevention against financial crises thus consists of continuously monitoring the risks being taken by agents rather than trying to limit variations in asset prices.

[1] We prefer a broad definition of the end objective that takes into account the diversity of institutionalized formulations of the objectives of central banks. While the mandate of the ECB is primarily focused on price stability, the US Federal Reserve has a dual mandate.

[2] The series of dividends paid shows strong seasonality, so this has been smoothed by a moving average over 12 months.

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Financialisation and financial crisis: vulnerability and traumatic shock

By Jérôme Creel, Paul Hubert, Fabien Labondance

Since the mini-crash that took place in the Shanghai stock market in August, financial instability has resurfaced in the markets and the media and, once again, the link with financialisation has been evoked. The Chinese crisis resulted from a combination of real estate and stock market bubbles that were fed by the abundant savings of a middle class in search of high-yield investments. It feels like we’ve gone back almost ten years when what is considered the excessive financialisation of the US economy – with abundant savings from the emerging countries enabling the build-up of widespread US consumer debt – is treated as the cause of the financial instability and crisis that was triggered in the summer of 2007. Continue reading “Financialisation and financial crisis: vulnerability and traumatic shock”

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The redistributive effects of the ECB’s QE programme

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

Rising inequality in income and wealth has become a key issue in discussions of economic policy, and the topic has inserted itself into evaluations of the impact of monetary policy in the US and Japan, the precursors of today’s massive quantitative easing programmes (QE). The question is thus posed as to whether the ECB’s QE policy has had or will have redistributive effects.

In a paper prepared for the European Parliament, Blot et al. (2015) point out that the empirical literature gives rise to two contradictory conclusions. In the US, the Fed’s base rate cuts tend to reduce inequality. Conversely, in Japan an expansionary QE type policy tends to increase inequality. So what’s the situation in Europe? Continue reading “The redistributive effects of the ECB’s QE programme”

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The ECB’s quantitative easing exercise: you’re never too young to start

By Christophe BlotJérôme CreelPaul Hubert and  Fabien Labondance

The ECB decision to launch a quantitative easing (QE) programme was widely anticipated. Indeed, on several occasions in the second half of 2014 Mario Draghi had reiterated that the Governing Council was unanimous in its commitment to take the steps needed, in accordance with its mandate, to fight against the risk of a prolonged slowdown in inflation. Both the scale and the characteristics of the ECB plan announced on 22 January 2014 sent a strong, though perhaps belated signal of the Bank’s commitment to fight the risk of deflation, which has been spreading in the euro zone, as can be seen in particular in inflation expectations over a two-year horizon (Figure 1). In a special study entitled, “Que peut-on attendre du l’assouplissement quantitatif de la BCE?” [“What can we expect from the ECB’s quantitative easing?”], we clarify the implications of this new strategy by explaining the mechanisms for the transmission of quantitative easing, drawing on the numerous empirical studies on previous such programmes in the US, the UK and Japan. Continue reading “The ECB’s quantitative easing exercise: you’re never too young to start”

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Is the ECB impotent?

Christophe Blot, Jérôme CreelPaul Hubert and Fabien Labondance

In June 2014, the ECB announced a set of new measures (a detailed description of which is provided in a special study entitled, “How can the fragmentation of the euro zone banking system be fought?”, Revue de l’OFCE, No. 136, in French) in order to halt the lowering of inflation and sustain growth. Mario Draghi then clarified the objectives of the ECB’s monetary policy by indicating that the Bank wanted to expand its balance sheet by a trillion euros to return to a level close to that seen in the summer of 2012. Among the measures taken, much was expected from the new targeted long-term refinancing operation (TLTRO), which gives banks in the euro zone access to ECB refinancing with a maturity of 4 years in return for providing credit to the private sector (excluding mortgages). However, after the first two allocations (24 September 2014 and 11 December 2014), the picture has become rather complicated, with the amounts allocated well below expectations. This reflects the difficulty the ECB is having in fighting effectively against the risk of deflation. Continue reading “Is the ECB impotent?”

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Dealing with the ECB’s triple mandate

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

The financial crisis has sparked debate about the role of the central banks and monetary policy before, during and after the economic crisis. The prevailing consensus on the role of the central banks is eroding. Having price stability as the sole objective is giving way to the conception of a triple mandate that includes inflation, growth and financial stability. This is de facto the orientation that is being set for the ECB. We delve into this situation in one of the articles of the OFCE issue entitled Reforming Europe [1], in which we discuss the implementation of these three objectives. Continue reading “Dealing with the ECB’s triple mandate”

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Why a negative interest rate?

Christophe Blot and Fabien Labondance

As expected, on 5 June 2014 the European Central Bank (ECB) unleashed an arsenal of new unconventional measures. The aim is to curb deflationary tendencies in the euro zone. Among the measures announced, the ECB decided in particular to apply a negative interest rate to deposit facilities. This unprecedented step deserves an explanation. Continue reading “Why a negative interest rate?”

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Does financial instability really undermine economic performance?

By Jérôme Creel, Paul Hubert and Fabien Labondance

What relationship can be established between the degree to which an economy is financialized (understood as the ratio of credit to the private sector over GDP), financial instability and economic performance (usually GDP per capita) in the European Union (EU)?  A recent working paper [1] attempts to provide a few answers to this question. Continue reading “Does financial instability really undermine economic performance?”

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The chiaroscuro of the ECB’s “forward guidance” *

By Paul Hubert and Fabien Labondance

“The Governing Council expects the key interest rates to remain at present or lower levels for an extended period of time.” With this pronouncement on 4 July 2013 at the press conference following the monthly meeting of the European Central Bank Board of Governors, Mario Draghi initiated the adoption by the ECB of a new communication strategy called “forward guidance”. Since then these words have always been included in his speech following announcements of the ECB’s monetary policy, and he has repeated them again today [1]. What should we expect? Forward guidance has recently been adopted by several central banks, but the methods chosen by the ECB differ and indicate that this measure will have only limited effectiveness in the euro zone. Continue reading “The chiaroscuro of the ECB’s “forward guidance” *”

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