The paradox of uncertainty
A certain level of uncertainty is part of life, and insurance (both private and public) and precautionary savings help manage this so that we can go about our lives unabated. At times, however, uncertainty increases well beyond these levels, often driven by political events. Faced with such uncertainty shocks, business managers will often freeze new investment and hiring decisions, while consumers delay spending on big ticket items such as cars or the purchase of a new home.
Bitcoins, cash and tulips
Bitcoins generated much excitement in 2017, starting off the year valued at just over $1 000 per bitcoin and closing the year at around $10 000, having peaked at close to $19 000 in mid-December 2017. While the extreme volatility of Bitcoin generates both spectacular gains and devastating losses, it significantly reduces the ability of the crypto-currency to serve as a means of payment; the purpose for which it was originally designed. Michala Marcussen, Group Chief Economist, explains the latest trends around the bitcoin.
Italy’s Fiscal Multiplier Trap
The impact of discretionary fiscal policy on economic growth is an ongoing topic of debate, and not least these days between Brussels and Rome. Weighing up the different mechanisms at work, we find that the multiplier on fiscal expansion in Italy today is below the levels needed to bring down the debt-to-GDP ratio. Conversely, should the Italian government switch the fiscal lever to austerity, we are concerned that this too could prove self-defeating. In a nutshell, Italy seems caught in a “fiscal multiplier trap”. Breaking out of this requires a much stronger focus on growth boosting structural reforms.
Monetary Policy: back to normal?
The 2008 financial crisis witnessed unprecedented policy responses from the world’s major central banks. Main central banks cut their policy rate to near 0%, exhausting the conventional monetary options. Then, to further ease financial conditions, they started to design a variety of unorthodox monetary policy tools commonly labelled as “unconventional monetary policies”. These have included “lower-for-longer” forward guidance on the short-term rate, large-scale asset purchases, large-scale liquidity provis.
Less synchronised growth, rising uncertainties
Global growth is expected to clock in at 3.8% in 2018 and slow to 3.6% in 2019; a rate of expansion that is still firm and comparable to that of 2017 (+ 3.7%). That said, growth is less synchronized. Activity in Europe remains above trend, but is softening in the wake of the deceleration of world trade, while fiscal stimulus measures are prolonging the expansion in the United States.