Working with the wrong accounting classifications can lead to wrong conclusions in any area of economics. But it is especially treacherous in international finance, due to the importance of key currencies and the operations of multinational firms, especially global banks. Much of the analysis in international finance is still conducted under the assumption that the GDP area, decision-making unit and the currency area coincide – the so-called ‘triple coincidence’. This column illustrates the common analytical missteps that can arise by reviewing three examples from the recent past, and argues that a proper analysis of capital flows necessitates paying greater attention to basic accounting building blocks.
The objective of financial stability policy is unclear. Is it the resilience of the financial system, avoiding the costs of systemic collapse, or managing the credit cycle, containing the costs of resource misallocation and over-indebtedness? This column argues that the answers have serious implications for what can decently be delegated to independent ‘macroprudential authorities’, but have barely been debated in those terms.
Covered interest parity is close to a physical law in international finance, yet it has been consistently violated since the Global Crisis. Violations since 2014, once banks had strengthened their balance sheets and regained easy access to funding, are especially puzzling. This column argues that the violation reflects a combination of foreign exchange hedging demand and tighter limits to arbitrage. Hedging demand has been boosted, in particular, by divergent monetary policies in an ultra-low interest rate environment, while tighter limits to arbitrage result from a stricter management of banks’ balance sheets.
The UK may opt to leave the EU Emissions Trading System. This column argues that as the UK is a large importer of emission permits, this would make meeting its climate policy targets much harder and dearer, and would remove the legal standing of many permits circulating in the rest of the EU. Some non-EU countries do take part in the Emissions Trading System, and this appears to be the best option for the UK post-Brexit. If not, the UK Government will be forced into a major overhaul of its climate policy.
China’s debt – in particular its corporate debt – is large by historical and international standards. This column argues that of greater concern is the sharp increase in recent years, and that the vulnerability is heightened by the concentration of this debt in old industries that suffer from overcapacity and weak competitiveness. The authorities appear to be only now taking steps to halt the rise in corporate debt, but as prior episodes of banking crises show, this is unlikely to be enough to avert either a prolonged period of slowing growth or a financial crisis in the medium term.
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