Globally, interest rates have been extraordinarily low for an exceptionally long time, in nominal and inflation-adjusted terms, against any benchmark. Such low rates are the most remarkable symptom of a broader malaise in the global economy: the economic expansion is unbalanced, debt burdens and financial risks are still too high, productivity growth too low, and the room for manoeuvre in macroeconomic policy too limited. The unthinkable risks becoming routine and being perceived as the new normal.
This malaise has proved exceedingly difficult to understand. The chapter argues that it reflects to a considerable extent the failure to come to grips with financial booms and busts that leave deep and enduring economic scars. In the long term, this runs the risk of entrenching instability and chronic weakness. There is both a domestic and an international dimension to all this. Domestic policy regimes have been too narrowly concerned with stabilising short-term output and inflation and have lost sight of slower-moving but more costly financial booms and busts. And the international monetary and financial system has spread easy monetary and financial conditions in the core economies to other economies through exchange rate and capital flow pressures, furthering the build-up of financial vulnerabilities. Short-term gain risks being bought at the cost of long-term pain.
Addressing these deficiencies requires a triple rebalancing in national and international policy frameworks: away from illusory short-term macroeconomic finetuning towards medium-term strategies; away from overwhelming attention to near-term output and inflation towards a more systematic response to slowermoving financial cycles; and away from a narrow own-house-in-order doctrine to one that recognises the costly interplay of domestic-focused policies. One essential element of this rebalancing will be to rely less on demand management policies and more on structural ones, so as to abandon the debt-fuelled growth model that has acted as a political and social substitute for productivity-enhancing reforms. The dividend from lower oil prices provides an opportunity that should not be missed. Monetary policy has been overburdened for far too long. It must be part of the answer but cannot be the whole answer. The unthinkable should not be allowed to become routine.
Chapter II: Global financial markets remain dependent on central banks
Accommodative monetary policies continued to lift prices in global asset markets in the past year, while diverging expectations about Federal Reserve and ECB policies sent the dollar and the euro in opposite directions. As the dollar soared, oil prices fell sharply, reflecting a mix of expected production and consumption, attitudes to risk and financing conditions. Bond yields in advanced economies continued to fall throughout much of the period under review and bond markets entered uncharted territory as nominal bond yields fell below zero in many markets. This reflected falling term premia and lower expected policy rates. The fragility of otherwise buoyant markets was underscored by increasingly frequent bouts of volatility and signs of reduced market liquidity. Such signs were perhaps clearest in fixed income markets, where market-makers have scaled back their activities and market-making has increasingly concentrated in the most liquid bonds. As other types of players, such as asset managers, have taken their place, the risk of “liquidity illusion” has increased: market liquidity appears ample in normal times, but vanishes quickly during market stress.
Chapter III: When the financial becomes real
Plummeting oil prices and a surging US dollar shaped global activity in the year under review. These large changes in key markets caught economies at different stages of their business and financial cycles. The business cycle upswing in the advanced economies continued and growth returned to several of the crisis-hit economies in the euro area. At the same time, financial downswings are bottoming out in some of the economies hardest-hit by the Great Financial Crisis. But the resource misallocations stemming from the pre-crisis financial boom continue to hold back productivity growth. Other countries, less affected by the crisis, notably many EMEs, are experiencing different challenges. The shift in global conditions has coincided with slowing output growth and peaks in domestic financial cycles. There is the danger that slowing growth in EMEs could expose financial vulnerabilities. Better macroeconomic management and more robust financial structures, including longer debt maturities and reduced exposure to currency risk, have increased
resilience. But the overall amount of debt has increased and the shift from banks to capital market funding could raise new risks.
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