Bilge Erten and José Antonio Ocampo, Guest Bloggers

The ongoing financial volatility in emerging economies is fueling debate about whether the so-called “Fragile Five” – Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey – should be viewed as victims of advanced countries’ monetary policies or victims of their own excessive integration into global financial markets. To answer that question requires examining their different policy responses to monetary expansion – and the different levels of risk that these responses have created.

Although all of the Fragile Five – identified based on their twin fiscal and current-account deficits, which make them particularly vulnerable to capital-flow volatility – have adopted some macroprudential measures since the global financial crisis, the mix of such policies, and their outcomes, has varied substantially. Whereas Brazil, India, and Indonesia have responded to surging inflows with new capital-account regulations, South Africa and Turkey have allowed capital to flow freely across their borders.

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Philip Arestis and Malcolm Sawyer

The announcement by the European Central Bank (ECB) of its Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) programme in July 2012, along with the prior statement by the ECB’s president that the bank would do “whatever it takes” to save the euro, restored the confidence of the markets. The interest rates on Italian and Spanish sovereign debt, for example, fell to more tolerable levels.

Further details of the OMT programme have emerged since September 2012, when it was announced that relevant candidate countries would receive help and be allowed access to OMT if they only had complete market access—that is, the ability to get credit from private sources. (The ECB, instead of publishing OMT’s legal documentation “soon” after September 2012, shifted its stance to “only publish when a country applies.”) The ECB shifted to the stricter condition of complete market access from the one of July 2012, under which the programme might help those countries that were simply regaining market access.

The German central bank, the Bundesbank, though, opposes OMT on the grounds that it is close to the monetary financing of budget deficits. In other words, OMT implies clear and direct borrowing by governments from their own central banks, which, it is stressed, is banned by the Maastricht Treaty. It is clear, though, that the treaty permits the ECB to buy public debt in the secondary markets.

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Erinç Yeldan

Over the last six months, many developing emerging market economies had witnessed large, unforeseen, and unpredictable swings in their exchange rates.  With rumors, and counter-rumors of likely tapering of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Quantitative Easing (QE) programme, such swings resulted in abrupt depreciations by 16.7% in Indonesia, 7.3% in Thailand, 10.4% in Turkey, 9.3% in Brazil, 13.4% in India, and 8.8% in South Africa…

A recent policy brief by the Peterson Institute for International Economics provided Estimates of Fundamental Equilibrium Exchange Rates and revealed that many of these depreciations were, in fact, overshooting the fundamental equilibrium exchange rates that are consistent with the current account balances of these economies.  Now it is found that Indonesia needs its currency to appreciate by 3.9%; Thailand, by 2.4%; the Philippines, by 3.8%; Malaysia, by 4.3%. Meanwhile, Turkey has to let its currency depreciate by 18.1%; South Africa, by 6.8%; Poland, by 4%; Brazil, by 3.4%.  Table 1 below summarizes the relevant data.

Table 1

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Erinc Yeldan

In the episode The Apple, of the classic TV series Star Trek, our heroes, led by Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, land on a paradise planet inhabited by seemingly peaceful and immortal humanoids. At first, the bounties of the planet dazzle the Enterprise crew, but they soon discover that the planet is actually trying to kill them. Eventually, their investigations lead them to the discovery of an all-controlling artificial “god.”

Witness the reaction of the global “markets,” the artificial gods of global capitalism, to the Fed’s reassuring announcements that it will postpone the withdrawal (or “taper”) of the so-called quantitative easing (QE) packages. It mirrors, in many ways, the drama that played out on that unknown planet, where no one has gone before.

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Malcolm Sawyer and Philip Arestis

The general response to the financial crisis of 2007 onwards by central banks included large cuts to the policy interest rate and then adoption of ‘quantitative easing’ alongside many other policies of bail-outs. The low interest rate regime aided the government’s budget position by enabling borrowing at low rates. But they did little to aid recovery as economies continued to dip into and out of recession. Central Banks started to engage in ‘quantitative easing’.

‘Quantitative easing’ has been an unorthodox piece of policy comprising of two elements: the ‘conventional unconventional’ measures: whereby central banks purchase financial assets, such as government securities or gilts, that boosts the stock of money in the form of M0; and ‘unconventional unconventional’ measures: in this way central banks buy high-quality, but illiquid corporate bonds and commercial paper. In this way the stock of money is expected to increase.

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Alejandro Nadal

It must hurt when you show your hand without anybody calling your final bet. After all, why do you have to give free information to your opponents? This is what the infamous troika must feel right now after revealing its “rescue” plan for Cyprus. The parliament in Nicosia has flatly rejected the strategy, but the troika’s game plan has been unveiled at great political (and possibly financial) costs.

The little island in the eastern Mediterranean is responsible for only 0.2 per cent of the European Union’s GDP. But the architecture of the rescue plan has resuscitated primal fears about the future of the euro. Why is this so?

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James Heintz, Guest Blogger

The Group of 20 (G20) has declared itself the “premier global economic forum” and was created to tackle the most pressing challenges confronting the world economy today, including reducing instability and preventing future financial crises. The G20 has committed itself to a goal of shared and inclusive growth. Given this commitment, it is striking how little attention has been paid to issues of gender equality in its policy frameworks, summits, and declarations.

This report examines the G20’s strategies and their effects on gender equality. It finds that the G20 has not seriously considered the consequences for women and men when formulating policies and setting its agenda. There are indications that this situation has changed somewhat, with a commitment to gender equality made at the 2012 Los Cabos Summit in Mexico. Nevertheless, questions remain over whether gender equality will be taken seriously. Representation within the G20 is unbalanced – only 25 percent of the heads of state of the G20 member countries are currently women. The figure for the official government representatives, the “sherpas,” is lower – just 15 percent are women.

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Sunanda Sen, Guest Blogger

Concerns have been rising, in recent months, over the current state of China’s external balance and the future of the RMB. Apprehensions relate to the negative balances, which have been visible in China’s financial balance since the last quarter of 2011. The negative sums were respectively (-) $ 3.02 and  (-)$ 4.21 billion during the second and third quarters of 2012, preceded by an even larger sum at (-)$ 29.0 billion in Q4 2011. Such deficits contrast with the surpluses in the financial account usually maintained, which were as much as $13.20 billion during Q4 of 2010.  These changes have been matched by tendencies for its official reserves to slide downwards. For instance, there was a $ 6 trillion drop in official reserves between March and June 2012. Pressures on the RMB rate even led to its depreciation, from 6.30 per dollar in April 2012 to 6.41 by August 2012. The currency, however, reverted to its earlier phase of appreciation, with the rate moving up from RMB 6.38 to RMB 6.31 between 24th July 2012 and 18th January 2013.

Differences relating to the exchange rate have continued to prevail across officials and think tanks in China and the US, with the latter holding China’s exchange rate management responsible for the continuing global account imbalances between the two countries. With pressures on China to appreciate the currency, the US Treasury even came to the point on in April 2010 of deciding whether China can be treated as a currency manipulator. The on-going dynamics of China’s foreign exchange transactions can be better understood by tracking the following major breaks in China’s exchange rate policy:

First, an end to the prevailing fixed RMB-dollar rate in 2005, which came largely with pressures from the US. Despite the twin surpluses between the current and the capital account, China was maintaining, since 1997, a fixed exchange rate at around 8.27 RMB per dollar. The change to managed floating, still supported by direct purchases of foreign currency which were flowing in abundance with the twin surpluses, led the RMB to rise immediately to 8.11 per dollar, with gradual appreciations since then. With appreciations continuing, the change to a floating RMB did not, however, lead to currency speculation till the third quarter of 2011.

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Alejandro Nadal

The global financial crisis is breathing and evolving. In Europe it is treated as a sovereign debt crisis. But given the fact that the crisis exploded in the midst of the private financial sector, how did we get here?

Four decades ago, more precisely on January 3 1973, a new law on central banking was approved in France. The new statute for the Banque de France contained critical provisions for the independence of the monetary institute. Article 25 turns out to be particularly relevant for today’s debate on Europe’s crisis. It stated that the Treasury would not be able to resort to the Banque de France to borrow money.

This represented a historical transformation in public finance and left the State at the mercy of the private commercial banking system. Instead of using the money emission capacity of the central bank, the French government had now embarked on a new course, one that turned out to be a milestone in financial liberalization. Many other countries followed this example. Incidentally, when the law was passed Georges Pompidou was the President of France. He had been director of the Banque Rothschild between 1956-1962, a fact that generated suspicion as to the motivations of the Loi 73-7 of 1973.

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Thomas Palley

Last Monday, Federal Reserve Vice-Chair Janet Yellen gave the keynote speech at an AFL-CIO economic policy conference on restoring shared prosperity.

Dr. Yellen began by noting that the Federal Reserve “is the only agency assigned the job of pursuing maximum employment.” She then went on to acknowledge “the gulf between maximum employment and the very difficult conditions workers face today.” That gulf is the reason behind the Federal Reserve’s on-going actions to strengthen the recovery and why there is continued need for “forceful action to increase the pace of economic growth and job creation.”

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