Tag Archives: Federal Reserve

Global Implications of Rising Interest Rates in the United States

Markets around the world are watching the United States Federal Reserve Bank and its anticipated move to increase interest rates in the United States this afternoon. The Fed is widely expected to increase interest rates by .25 points today. For seven years, interest rates in the United States have been kept near zero in an effort to stimulate the economy. While inflation remains well below the Fed’s two percent target and unemployment is falling, albeit slowly, markets are watching for the Fed’s statement to signal whether it will continue to increase rates in 2016.

The US Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee sets national monetary policy, largely by setting its benchmark interest rate on which many other interest rates in the country are based. But the interest rate has wide-ranging implications for the global economy. An increase in the Fed rate would likely result in an increase in the value of the US dollar relative to other global currencies, making US exports less competitive abroad. Because oil is priced in US dollars, an increase in the value of the dollar could make oil more expensive for other countries by increasing its price relative to local currency values. It would increase the cost of borrowing for both private individuals and countries.

What do you think? What are the likely impact of an increase in interest rates in the United States on the US economy and economies around the world? Should the Fed increase interest rates? Why?

An Uncertain Global Economic Outlook

Citing concerns over China and other emerging market economies, volatility in global markets, and an uncertain global economic outlook led the US Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen, to announce that the Federal Reserve would not increase interest rates following its current Board meeting. Interestingly, the Board noted that it could increase interest rates given the current global economic outlook, but noted that it was “waiting further evidence “ and “an improvement in the labor market” before increasing interest rates.

The announcement came as a bit of surprise, as global markets had been bracing for an increase in rates. By not increasing rates, the Federal Reserve will help to keep the value of the US dollar low, making US exports more competitive on global markets. But also limits the ability of the Fed to use monetary policy to stimulate the US economy should the economy continue to exhibit an ongoing pattern of slow growth.

What do you think? Did the Federal Reserve make the right decision in keeping interest rates near zero? What would you have advised the Fed to do?

How the Fed Works

Time Magazine named Fed Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke thier person of the year. To celebrate, they produced a short video explaing how the Fed works. At 3 1/2 minutes, it makes a good intro to the topic for classes. Enjoy!

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

It’s been an interesting week for the U.S. economy. According to figures released on Thursday, the U.S. trade deficit jumped by 16.3 percent to $32 billion in June, a figure sharply higher than the $27 billion that had been forecast. The dramatic increase in imports was fueled by the “Cash for Clunkers” program, which led to a dramatic increase in auto imports. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported that the poverty rate had increased from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 13.2 percent in 2008. The poverty rate, which is defined as the number of people with an annual income of less than $11,200 (or less than $22,000 for a family of four), increased as a result of the global economic downturn. Home foreclosures also remain near their record high level. The troubled status of the U.S. economy led the Federal Reserve to indicate that it would be unlikely to raise interest rates in the first half of next year.

In news from outside the U.S. economy last week:

1. A trade dispute between the United States and China may be headed to the World Trade Organization for resolution. The United States last week imposed a new duty on tires manufactured in China, less than one week after it also imposed higher tariffs on Chinese steel piping. A spokesperson for the Chinese government condemned the move as protectionism, warning that “a chain reaction of trade protectionist measures that could slow the current pace of revival in the world economy.” Observers fear that the Chinese could respond with higher tariffs on U.S. agricultural and automotive exports, potentially sparking a trade war. But in an interesting editorial in the Financial Times, Clyde Prestowiz argued that the imposition of higher tariffs on Chinese exports to the Untied States could potentially help the push for free trade.

2. With the German election just a couple of weeks away, campaigning is in full force, and observers are already working through the numerous possible coalition arrangements. But in perhaps the most interesting development to date, German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück last week called for the imposition of a new global tax on international financial transaction, the proceeds of which would be used to repay governments for the cost of fiscal stimulus packages and bank rescue operations. While not dismissing the idea out of hand, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the proposal “electioneering.” Steinbrück’s call follows a similar proposal made by the Chair of the British Financial Services Authority, Lord Turner, and could make for interesting discussions at the upcoming G20 summit.

3. The counting process in the Afghan elections continues to drag on. Although incumbent President Hamid Karzai now has enough votes to win the disputed presidential election outright, according to the most recent results of the Independent Election Commission, widespread irregularities have led to calls for partial recounts. On Sunday, the IEC agreed to move forward with discussions on a recount, but it stopped short of spelling out precisely what votes would or would not be included. The Electoral Complains Commission, a body established by the United Nations to observe elections and investigate allegations of fraud, noted “clear and convincing” evidence of fraud and vote rigging in southern provinces which went heavily towards Karzai.

4. The first high-level contact between the government of Zimbabwe and the west took place on Sunday, as the European Union’s Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Development and the Swedish Prime Minister (who also holds the European Union’s rotating presidency) met with representatives of the Zimbabwean government in Harare. The meeting is the first high-level contact since the European Union imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2002. While the European Union delegation remained noncommittal regarding the future direction of contact with the Zimbabwean government, stating only that “We’re entering a new phase. The [power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe] was an important step forward, but much more needs to be done. The key to re-engagement is the full implementation of the political agreement.” The status of the power sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe remains uncertain, as President Robert Mugabe and his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, continue to struggle over the distribution of political authority within the country.

5. The government of Guatemala last week declared a “state of calamity” in response to the widespread hunger gripping the country. The World Food Programme estimated that the country would require an immediate shipment of 20 tons of food the worst affected areas in order to stave off starvation. Alvar Colom, Guatemala’s president, said that global climate change was affecting the El Niño, causing a massive drought in the northeastern portion of the country. But Colom was also critical of the high level of inequality in the country, observing that “There is food, but those who go hungry have no money to buy it.” Critics also note that poorly defined land rights, narcoviolence, and alleged corruption have also undermined food production. According to the World Food Programme, half of all children under five in Guatemala suffer from malnutrition.

And in a bonus story for this week:

6. After more than three months since the general election, the political situation in Lebanon remains cloudy. On Thursday, Saad Hariri, the leader of Lebanon’s pro-Western majority, resigned as prime minister designee, despite performing well-above expectations in June’s elections. According to Hariri, the country’s parliamentary minority blocked efforts to develop a coalition government, leaving the country in a period of political uncertainty.

The Return of Keynesianism?

On Monday, the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors took the dramatic move of lowering the federal funds rate—the interest rate the Fed charges banks on short term loans—by 50 basis points.  A half point cut would normally be noteworthy by itself.  But this cut was particularly newsworthy because it lowered the federal funds rate to 0.25 percent—one quarter of one percent—its lowest rate ever.

The Fed hopes that the move will provide the market a clear signal of the Fed’s willingness to take sweeping action to address the current financial crisis.  And indeed, U.S. markets briefly reacted positively to the announcement, with equities increasingly slightly before falling by day’s end.

However, the move also raises some concerns.  First, with the U.S. funds rate so much lower than the rate of other major central banks (especially in European Union), the move may put downward pressure on the dollar.  This could help the U.S.’s balance of trade, but it may also make investors more hesitant to hold dollar-denominated assets, particularly U.S. Treasury Bills, due to their historically low yields.  Some groups within the Chinese government, the single-largest holder of U.S. t-bills, have already raised such concerns and have been pushing the Chinese government to diversify its holdings.  Were this to happen, the U.S. government could find it increasingly difficult to finance its operations, not to mention its $10 trillion debt.

More generally, however, the current low federal funds rate raises some important questions regarding the relative influence of (Neo)Keynesian and Monetarist policy in the United States.  Since the early 1980s, monetarism has been the prime approach to managing the nation’s economy, and the most important tool in the monetarist policy kit is arguably the federal funds rate.  By increasing the rate, the Fed can slow down the economy and bring inflation under control.  Conversely, by lowering the rate, the Fed can inject liquidity into the system, stimulating the economy and encouraging expansion.  Until recently, this system worked relatively well, keeping recessions (such as the one that occurred in 1990-1991) relatively short and shallow.

But with the federal funds rate now near zero percent (and potentially negative in real terms), the most important tool in the monetarist economic policy kit is no longer available.  If this move does not work—and there is good reason to think that it may not—the Fed will be forced to come up with new ways to stimulate the economy.

The current situation may therefore call for a return to Keynesian policies of this post-Great Depression era.  By focusing on the maintenance and expansion of aggregate demand, Keynesian policies may provide an additional tool for the U.S. government to address the current crisis.  Although Keynesianism may have fallen out of favor in the 1980s, in truth Keynesian policies never fully disappeared from the scene.  Since the 1980s, the U.S. government has been much less willing to use Keynesian tools than it historically had been.  But now that monetarism’s most important tool has been exhausted, perhaps we are all, to paraphrase Richard Nixon, Keynesians again.

If you’re interested in learning more, Paul Krugman has written extensively on the topic.  There’s a great ongoing discussion of his book, Return of Depression Economics, at Taking Points Memo.  And Krugman’s blog always makes for an interesting read!