From time to time Australian regulators indulge in a bit of hand-wringing over the high dollar. When they do so they usually also blame the overvalued currency on the forces beyond their control, such as uber-low interest rates in funding currency nations such as the US.
Well, last night, speaking at the London School of Economics, Ben Bernanke had a message for these whingers of the regulatory sphere:
Today most advanced industrial economies remain, to varying extents, in the grip of slow recoveries from the Great Recession. With inflation generally contained, central banks in these countries are providing accommodative monetary policies to support growth. Do these policies constitute competitive devaluations? To the contrary, because monetary policy is accommodative in the great majority of advanced industrial economies, one would not expect large and persistent changes in the configuration of exchange rates among these countries. The benefits of monetary accommodation in the advanced economies are not created in any significant way by changes in exchange rates; they come instead from the support for domestic aggregate demand in each country or region. Moreover, because stronger growth in each economy confers beneficial spillovers to trading partners, these policies are not “beggar-thy-neighbor” but rather are positive-sum, “enrich-thy-neighbor” actions….
Regarding the effects of monetary easing on exchange rates and exports, I would note that trade-weighted real exchange rates of emerging market economies, with some exceptions, have not changed much from their values shortly before the intensification of the financial crisis in late 2008. Moreover, even if the expansionary policies of the advanced economies were to lead to significant currency appreciation in emerging markets, the resulting drag on their competitiveness would have to be balanced against the positive effects of stronger advanced-economy demand. Which of these two effects would be greater is an empirical matter. Simulations of the Federal Reserve Board’s econometric models of the global economy suggest that the effects are roughly offsetting, so that accommodative monetary policies in the advanced economies do not appear, on net, to have adverse consequences for output and exports in the emerging market economies. A return to solid growth among the advanced economies is ultimately in the interest of advanced and emerging market economies alike.
Regarding capital flows: It is true that interest rate differentials associated with differences in national monetary policies can promote cross-border capital flows as investors seek higher returns. But my reading of recent research makes me skeptical that these policy differences are the dominant force behind capital flows to emerging market economies; differences in growth prospects across countries and swings in investor risk sentiment seem to have played a larger role. Moreover, the fact that some emerging market economies have policies that depress the values of their currencies may create an expectation of future appreciation that in and of itself induces speculative inflows.
Of course, heavy capital inflows and their volatility pose challenges to emerging market policymakers, whatever their source. Policymakers do have some tools to address these concerns. In recent years, emerging market nations have implemented macroprudential measures aimed at strengthening their financial systems and reducing overheating in specific sectors, such as property markets. Policymakers have also experimented with various forms of capital controls. Such controls raise concerns about effectiveness, cost of implementation, and possible microeconomic distortions. Nevertheless, the International Monetary Fund has suggested that, in carefully circumscribed circumstances, capital controls may be a useful tool.
In sum, the advanced industrial economies are currently pursuing appropriately expansionary policies to help support recovery and price stability in their own countries. As the modern literature on the Great Depression demonstrates, these policies confer net benefits on the world economy as a whole and should not be confused with zero- or negative-sum policies of trade diversion. In fact, the simultaneous use by several countries of accommodative policy can be mutually reinforcing to the benefit of all.
Australia is not strictly speaking a developing nation but we do just as obviously fall into that category in terms of economic flows. Bernanke is spot on in my view in telling us and our brethren to stop whining and start acting. Our asset bubbles (and currencies) are our own to manage and as the world’s most powerful central banker says, macroprudential tools are at least part of the solution.
Listen up RBA and APRA.