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  • Author: John H. Makin
  • Publication Date: 09-2007
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: During a 10:00 a.m. conference call on August 17, 2007, Federal Reserve vice chairman Donald Kohn and New York Federal Reserve president Timothy Geithner were urging Citicorp chief executive Chuck Prince and his fellow big bank CEOs to use the Fed's discount window, which is set up to alleviate liquidity pressures on individual banks or on the banking system as a whole. Prince, the head of the world's largest bank (Or is it the second largest? No one really knows since bank balance sheets are so full of securities that cannot be priced.) may have been wishing that he had not chosen to offer a chillingly clear characterization of the global financial system a little more than five weeks earlier in a Financial Times interview on July 9, three weeks before the global credit markets began to seize up.
  • Topic: Economics, International Trade and Finance, Markets
  • Political Geography: United States
  • Author: John H. Makin
  • Publication Date: 08-2007
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: In a July 9 interview in Tokyo with the Financial Times about the surging, liquidity-driven financial sector, Citigroup chief executive Chuck Prince characterized the situation in global financial markets more insightfully than some investors might have wished: “When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will get complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you've got to get up and dance. We're still dancing.” Prince elaborated further, saying that (as the article paraphrased it) “the way big Wall Street banks and hedge funds had picked up troubled subprime mortgage lenders was an example of how 'liquidity rushes in' to fill the gap as others spot a buying opportunity.”
  • Topic: Economics, International Trade and Finance, Markets
  • Political Geography: United States, Tokyo
  • Author: John H. Makin
  • Publication Date: 07-2007
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The bond “conundrum” that Alan Greenspan spoke of toward the end of his tenure at the Federal Reserve is disappearing. Chairman Greenspan was drawing attention to unusually low longterm interest rates worldwide on bonds.1 More recently, however, in less than a month interest rates on U.S. ten-year notes have risen by 60 basis points with no change in expected inflation. The shift is all the more unusual because of its abruptness and relative magnitude: in statistical terms, it is a rise of three standard deviations in “real” (inflation-adjusted) rates in a market that has been quiet over the past five years. Moreover, the few “surprise” moves since the tech-stock bubble burst in 2000 have mostly been in a downward direction.
  • Topic: Economics, International Trade and Finance, Markets
  • Political Geography: United States
  • Author: John H. Makin
  • Publication Date: 06-2007
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The American consumer is a very persistent spending machine. It is American consumption growth running at higher than 4 percent annualized— well above its long-term average—that has kept the economy comfortably out of recession for the past six months as the housing slowdown has subtracted more than a percentage point from growth. Even with a substantial additional drag on the U.S. economy from other areas—inventory liquidation, weakening net exports, and rapidly rising gasoline prices—the American consumer's spending surge has still been enough to keep GDP growth in positive territory.
  • Topic: Economics, International Trade and Finance, Markets
  • Political Geography: United States, America
  • Author: John H. Makin
  • Publication Date: 05-2007
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: On Friday, April 13, the Wall Street Journal's lead story on the unlucky U.S. economy was “Economy Enemy No. 1: Soft Capital Spending.” The nation's leading business newspaper was acknowledging a six-month slowdown in capital spending that has, along with the drag from the housing sector, been lowering U.S. growth.
  • Topic: Economics, International Trade and Finance, Markets
  • Political Geography: United States
  • Author: John H. Makin
  • Publication Date: 05-2006
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: In their April 21 press release following their spring meeting in Washington, D.C., the G7 finance ministers and central bank governors added an important sentence to their usual bland statement that exchange rates should reflect economic fundamentals: Greater exchange rate flexibility is desirable in emerging economies with large current account surpluses, especially China, for necessary adjustments to occur. In their April 21 press release following their spring meeting in Washington, D.C., the G7 finance ministers and central bank governors added an important sentence to their usual bland statement that exchange rates should reflect economic fundamentals: Greater exchange rate flexibility is desirable in emerging economies with large current account surpluses, especially China, for necessary adjustments to occur. The G7, significantly, also called for an increased role for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help countries, including those in the G7 but also China and others in emerging Asia, meet the macroeconomic and financial policy challenge of globalization. Specifically, the G7 supported the strengthening of IMF surveillance, including through increased emphasis on the consistency of exchange rate policies with domestic policies and a market-based international monetary system and on the spillover effects of domestic policies on other countries. The G7s endorsement of greater exchange-rate flexibility and of an enhanced IMF role in implementing it is important. The IMF, having been founded after World War II to maintain stable exchange rates among major economies, has become an advocate on behalf of the major economies of global exchange-rate flexibility. The lesson regarding the need for G7 currency flexibility was learned after Americas August 1971 abandonment of fixed exchange rates, which was followed by a decade of adjustments to higher oil prices that would have wreaked havoc under fixed exchange rates. The lesson for needed currency flexibility in emerging markets was learned after the disastrous attempt, fostered in part by the IMF, to impose fixed exchange rates during the Asian and Russian crises of 1997 and 1998, which prolonged and exacerbated the market gyrations caused by the crises. Sadly, China response to the G7-IMF call for greater currency flexibility has been both negative and misguided. China's foolishly insouciant attitude, captured in a comment by Zhou Xiao-chuan, governor of the Peoples Bank of China, carries with it serious risks both for China and for the world economy. Zhous remark was quoted on April 24 in the Wall Street Journal: [T]he speed of moving forward (on yuan appreciation) is OK. Its good for China and welcomed by many other countries. China's currency has appreciated only 1.2 percent since its initial 2.1 percent revaluation last July 21. That is less than OK. The total 3.3 percent revaluation against the dollar really represents no adjustment at all in view of the 1 to 2 percent inflation differential (lower in China) that has persisted between the United States and China over the past two years. If China had allowed prices to rise instead of mandating caps on prices of important commodities like gasoline, there would be less pressure for the yuan to rise in value. Both the intervention to cap the yuans appreciation and the capping of domestic prices are building up potentially disruptive inflation pressure inside China, as we shall see below. The most dangerous aspect of China's increased efforts to prevent yuan appreciation, as measured by accelerating reserve accumulation over the past year, is the rising pool of liquidity inside China that has resulted. The level of excess reserves in Chinese banks is now larger, relative to GDP, than the level of excess reserves built up in Japan from 2001 to 2005 during the years of a prolonged, desperate struggle against deflation. China's currency undervaluation, coupled with the massive liquidity buildup in its banking system, has resulted in excessive investment in China's state enterprises that have close traditional ties with the liquidity-sodden banks. The usual Chinese response to excess reserves has been to boost reserve requirements for its banks. But to absorb the huge pool of excess reserves now in place, reserve requirements would have to be boosted by 5 percentage points to 12.5 per-cent, going far beyond previous moves of 0.5 to 1 percentage point, and far beyond what China's shaky, insolvent banks could endure. When the Peoples Bank of China boosted its one-year benchmark lending rate on April 26 by 27 basis points (to 5.85 percent), it took a tiny step that will do little to tighten China's monetary stance.
  • Topic: Development, Economics, International Trade and Finance
  • Political Geography: United States, China, Washington
  • Author: John H. Makin
  • Publication Date: 03-2006
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: Concerns over deflation have dominated monetary policy during the past several years in Japan, and also in the United States as recently as 2003. As a result, the Bank of Japan and the Federal Reserve have been highly accommodative. In Japan, this took the form of a zero interest rate. In the U.S. context, it was manifest in rates at well below normal yardsticks, such as nominal GDP growth that would call for U.S. policy interest rates close to 6 percent rather than at current levels below 5 percent. Unusually accommodative monetary policies and the substantial liquidity flows they have entailed have boosted asset values and compressed risk spreads. Consequently, demand growth has persisted at high levels for long enough to cause modestly higher inflation. The time has come for tighter monetary policy, and central banks in the United States, Europe, and Japan have all begun to apply it.
  • Topic: Economics, International Trade and Finance
  • Political Geography: United States, Japan, Europe, Israel, East Asia
  • Author: John H. Makin
  • Publication Date: 01-2006
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: On Tuesday, January 18, the yield on fifty-year inflation-protected U.K. government bonds (what the British call "indexed-linked gilts") dropped to 0.38 percent, about one-seventh the historical average of just over 2.6 percent for such debt instruments. Just a few months earlier, that yield had been over 1 percent, still extraordinarily low by historical standards, and especially low in an economy that has experienced fifty-three consecutive quarters of positive growth. A yield drop from 1 percent to 0.38 percent on a fifty-year bond corresponds to a 30 percent rise in its price over a period of just three months. That is an annual return of over 100 percent, much higher than the 13 percent annual increase in U.S. house prices at midyear and the 20 to 30 percent gains seen in the stock market before the March 2000 crash. The asset bubble has spread to long-term government bonds, especially those with inflation protection. What is going on here?
  • Topic: Economics, Government, International Trade and Finance
  • Political Geography: United States, United Kingdom, Europe
  • Author: Peter J. Wallison
  • Publication Date: 03-2006
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: In December, the London Stock Exchange celebrated a record year for foreign company new issues, with 129 new listings by companies from twenty-nine different countries. In contrast, the New York Stock Exchange registered a net gain of six foreign listings (a gain of nineteen and a loss of thirteen) in 2005, and NASDAQ gained a net of fourteen. According to a press report by the London Stock Exchange on its success, “about 38 per cent of the international companies surveyed said they had considered floating in the United States. Of those, 90 per cent said the onerous demands of the new Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance law had made London listing more attractive.” By now, it is well-known what harm Sarbanes-Oxley has done to the attractiveness of the U.S. securities markets, but what is not well- known is that the lack of resources available to a relatively obscure accounting group—engaged in the development of a technical-sounding disclosure system called XBRL—may also threaten not only the current primacy of the U.S. financial markets, but also the future competitiveness of U.S. companies.
  • Topic: Economics, Emerging Markets, International Trade and Finance
  • Political Geography: United States, New York, London
  • Author: John H. Makin
  • Publication Date: 02-2005
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The average forecast for 2005 U.S. growth is 3.5 percent, with some prognosticators hoping for 4 percent. This forecast is predicated upon the assumption that the economy is on a sustainable expansion path, where consumption will be supported by steady growth of employment and household incomes. The 3.5 percent growth forecast for 2005 is identical to the mean growth rate of the U.S. economy since 1947. However, there is good reason to believe that the consensus forecast is too high. This possibility has important consequences because U.S. growth must be sustained at least at average levels to avoid a sharp drop in global growth. There are no signs of higher growth in Europe and Asia. Growth in Japan is looking weaker, while Chinese growth is moderating.
  • Topic: Economics, International Trade and Finance, Political Economy
  • Political Geography: United States, Japan, China, Europe, Asia