22 January 2010

Obama Crosses the Line

A clear dividing line: some want to reform banking regulation, others want to reform the banks.

Yesterday the US administration crossed from regulatory tinkering to real reform. In Britain it is Mervyn King and Lord Turner, rather than the government, who want banks tamed.

The "Volcker rule" means that banks which take deposits will not be allowed into the Casino - an excellent first step.

Some institutions will try to escape by giving up their status as banks. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley only became bank holding companies during the crisis. It is not politically possible for them to escape government rules. Obama's goal is to cut back financial firms to a scale where they can not threaten the stability of the system. He will need some version of the quack principle- if it quacks like a duck it is a duck.

I would like to see more. The authorities - possibly the Fed - should have powers to limit leverage (that is the total amount financial firms borrow) and certain types of derivatives should be banned.

Much of the commentary will be on the politics. Is this Obama's response to the defeat in Massachusetts? I think not; look at the cover of last week's Economist when it called for Obama to come out fighting. The FT had something similar this week.

Will Britain follow suit? I think so; fear of the City of London losing out to other financial centres has held the government back. Britain can adopt the same rules as apply in New York and push them through the EU so that they apply equally in Frankfurt.

20 January 2010

Economics or B*ll*cks?

The pound has risen to a four-month high against the euro, after higher than expected UK inflation raised the prospect of interest rate rises, says the BBC.

Is that economics or is it bollocks?

Yes you are right. In economics higher inflation pushes a currency down not up. I previously told a little story to explain why that is. So why is the BBC talking bollocks?

Well inflation figures were higher yesterday and the pound did rise against the euro so perhaps lazy journalism put the two together. Coincidence doesn't mean one thing caused the other. In fact the euro fell against the dollar as well, so maybe the pound's rise has more to do with the economic news from euroland where Greece seems to be struggling at present.

Perhaps currency traders do care more about interest rates than economic fundamentals and so they did push up the pound as the story says. It is possible; day-to-day market movements are not explicable by economists. On the other hand, the rise in inflation is a blip caused by unusually low prices a year ago. The bank is not about to raise interest rates. Surely, even currency traders can work that out.

Update 20h00

Now the BBC says:
Euro falls against dollar and pound
The euro has hit a five-month low against the dollar as continuing concerns about the Greek economy weigh heavily on the currency.

That is a little more plausible. Incidentaly the latest inflation figures for euroland are up....