11 Ocak 2011 Salı

Turkey's Audacious Experiment in "Post Modern" Monetary Policy

Edward Hugh            Global Economy Matters

The recent decision of the Turkish Central Bank to lower rather than to raise interest rates in an risky attempt to quench the inflation flames that many feel are threatening to engulf what some call an "overheating" economy (or here) has lead to a good deal of heart-searching and consternation in the economic and financial press of late. After all, at the end of the day aren't they doing exactly the opposite of what the text book says they should? Well, as is usual in the realm of the dismal science, all is not exactly what it seems to be.

To put the issue in some sort of context, the background to this decision is undoubtedly Ben Bernanke's move in early November to extend US monetary easing, by going one bridge further in his assault on the housing deflation and continuing high unemployment which weigh down the economy by introducing what effectively amounts to a second round of exceptional policy measures (known coloquially as QE2). The leading objective behind this move was to increase the amount of liquidity available in the US economic and financial system, although a more covert consideration was cleary to weaken the dollar in an attempt to boost exports and use the strength of external demand to tow the US consumer back towards growth territory. Joining up the dots, we find that the key link between these two otherwise seemingly unrelated central bank decisions (after all one is concerned with an economy which is growing too slowly, while the other is working with one which may be growing too quickly) is to be found in the fact that the US economy is already saturated with as much liquidity as it can handle (in terms of the capacity for absorbtion of the domestic sector) and as a result the funding made available works its way through to more attractive, and more profitable outlets across the developing world.
So what has happened in practice is that large quantities of liquidity have been been seeping out of the back door, some of it undoubtedly heading over to Europe in the search for the reasonably safe but still quite attractive pickings which have become available due to the Sovereign Debt Crisis, but the lions share is surely making its way towards those, seemingly "risky" rapidly growing emerging economies.

This has lead to a certain amount of angst and confusion among developed economy political leaders, with Angela Merkel, among other European politicians, voicing the complaint that the financial markets are effectively "mispricing" risk. Personally, I don't claim to have any special insight into whether or not the markets are pricing risk well, or badly. I would have thought that that was exactly why we had markets in the first place (rather than a centrally planned pricing mechanism): to put a price on risk. But that being said, the systematic downgrading of the ageing developed world and the systematicup grading of the youthful "growth" economies in the third world has a certain logic to it.

Obviously, in a world which is as rapidly changing as ours is, markets need time to adjust. And market participants are evidently a vulnerable as anyone else is to the human failing of getting things wrong. Markets are not superhuman entities, their outcomes are the aggregated product of a very large number of individual human decisions. But I think it is important here that all concerned recognise their own limits and limitations. It is either an extremely bold or an extremely foolish politician who feels equipped to move to a higher level to pass judgement on a process whose outcome is still remains an open question. Post hoc, as we have seen in the wake of the recent financial crisis, there is no shortage of critical voices, and all and sundry have a notable facility to point the accusing finger to tell the markets "you got it wrong"! But telling them you have it wrong before the event, well that takes gall! And if you are really so sure, then put your money where your mouth is, and buy up all that debt the markets evidently don't want.

In fact, markets are neither omniscient, nor omnipotent, and often move as much behind the curve as they do in front of it, correcting to changing undelying realities in a herd-like fashion and even then only after a time lag. Yet, as I say, there is a certain logic behind the most recent trend, which involves repricing risk in the developed economies (due to their ageing populations, and large uncovered obligations with the future, issues whose importance was not sufficiently appreciated and accounted for in the pre-crisis world ), at one and the same time that risk in the developing world is also repriced, since emerging market "risk" may not be quite so risky as the "old normal" mindset used to think it was.

As a result, a number of key emerging economies find themselves in the pleasant position of enjoying the benefits of a win-win dynamic, since far from struggling with ever higher elderly dependency ratios, the proportion of their population in the labour force (and also in employment) is now rising constantly, while both inflation and interest rates (including ones related to country risk) are trending downwards in the longer run. Turkey is, in fact, one of these fortunate economies, which is why I think the latest move from the Turkish central bank needs serious consideration, and should be understood not as just one more piece of "midwinter madness", but rather seen as part of a much more calculated and comprehensive strategy which comes from a modern and continually evolving tool set. New problems need new remedies, so let's leave small open (and even large open) economies where they belong: in the unreal world of the academic textbook. In today's world interest rates are not set locally, and excessive domestic inflation is often produced more by the dynamics of global capital flows than by the irresponsible spending decisions of local politicians. Which is not to say that the Turkish central bank have the balance right (or wrong), but simply to state that global problems require global solutions, and in the meantime, national leaders will have to adapt their policy mix to confront new problems, problems which but a few short years ago would have seemed almost unimaginable.

Complex Problem Set With A Positive Outlook
As Erdem Basci, deputy governor of the central bank recently argued, strong capital inflows (see chart below), fuelled by quantitative easing in developed economies, are in danger of producing the undesireable outcome of distorting economic development in emerging economies and potentially fuelling asset bubbles in the longer run. According to Basci, as argued in a posting on the central bank website, the best policy response to this thoroughly modern problem is to try to make these countries less attractive to short-term investors by cutting interest rates in a step-by-step process (a move which would also make the country more attractive to longer term investors - think FDI), while making extensive use other tools to attack the excess liquidity problem and restrain domestic credit growth.

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