Measuring business dynamics in real time

Thibaut Duprey, Artur Kotlicki, Daniel Rigobon and Philip Schnattinger

Just as doctors monitor in real time the vital signs of their hospitalised patients to determine the best course of treatment, economists are turning towards a real-time tracking of economic conditions to inform policy decisions (for example, through proxy for GDP and inflation). In a recent paper, we introduce a new quasi-real time estimation of business opening and closure rates using data from Google Places – the dataset behind the Google Maps service. We find that the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in Canada coincides with a wave of re-entry of temporarily closed businesses, suggesting that government support may have facilitated the survival of hibernating businesses.

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Debt and investment: what can we learn from SMEs’ investment behaviour during and after the Global Financial Crisis?

Mai Daher and Christiane Kneer

Many UK firms weathered the Covid shock by taking on debt. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular borrowed at an unprecedented rate and their debt increased by around a quarter since end-2019. But debt that allowed SMEs to survive the pandemic could now hamper the recovery as indebted firms may struggle to invest and grow. Debt on SMEs’ balance sheets could also make firms more vulnerable to future shocks and could amplify downturns if indebted firms reduce investment more following shocks. To understand how investment might evolve, our recent FS paper examines how leverage affected SME investment during and after the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and discusses potential differences given regulatory and other changes since the GFC.

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Predicting exchange rates

Robert Czech, Pasquale Della Corte, Shiyang Huang and Tianyu Wang

Can investors predict future foreign exchange (FX) rates? Many economists would say that this is an incredibly difficult task, given the weak link between exchange rate fluctuations and the state of an economy – a phenomenon also known as the ‘exchange rate disconnect puzzle’. In a recent paper, we show that some investors in the ‘FX option market’ are indeed able to accurately forecast exchange rate returns, particularly in periods with strong demand for the US dollar. These informed trades primarily take place on days with macroeconomic announcements and in options with higher embedded leverage. We also find that two groups of investors – hedge funds and real money investors – have superior skills in predicting exchange rates.

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An unintended consequence of holding dollar assets

Robert Czech, Shiyang Huang, Dong Lou and Tianyu Wang

During the March 2020 ‘dash for cash’, 10-year gilt yields increased by more than 50 basis points. This huge yield spike was accompanied by the heavy selling of gilts by mutual funds and insurance companies and pension funds (ICPFs). Focusing on the latter group, we argue in a recent paper that ICPFs’ abnormal trading behaviour in this period was partly a result of the dollar’s global dominance: ICPFs invest a large portion of their capital in dollar assets and hedge these exposures through foreign exchange (FX) derivatives. As the dollar appreciated in March 2020, ICPFs sold large quantities of gilts to meet margin calls on their short-dollar derivative positions, contributing to the yield spike in the gilt market.

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Preferred habitat behaviour in the gilt market

Julia Giese, Michael Joyce, Jack Meaning and Jack Worlidge

Every financial market transaction has two parties, each with their own preferences. One channel through which quantitative easing works rests on these differences: preferred habitat investors value certain assets above others for non-pecuniary reasons, beyond risk and return. Central bank asset purchases of the preferred asset create scarcity, which may lead to compensating price adjustment, with spillovers to other assets and the macroeconomy. There is, however, little hard evidence on these investors. In a staff working paper, we use a new granular data set on gilt market holdings and transactions to identify groups of investors with preferred portfolio duration habitats. We present a case study suggesting that the Bank’s purchases appear to have come disproportionately from one group of these investors with a relatively strong preference for specific gilt maturities.

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What is a Bitcoin worth?

Thomas Belsham

The price of Bitcoin is currently around $57,000 (see Chart 1). But what is the price of Bitcoin based on? It’s just a bunch of code that exists only in cyberspace. It’s not backed by the state. There’s no recourse to a central authority. There’s no underlying asset, no stream of income. There’s just the thing itself. But does that mean it has no inherent worth? The code on which Bitcoin is based does give it scarcity value. Only 21 million Bitcoin will ever be created. And that might be worth something. That scarcity is why some people refer to Bitcoin as ‘digital gold’. But the very scarcity on which Bitcoin is based might also be its undoing. Its scarcity may even, ultimately, render Bitcoin worthless.

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I need a dollar, dollar, a dollar is what I need

Ambrogio Cesa-Bianchi and Fernando Eguren-Martin

In March 2020, the Covid-19 (Covid) outbreak turned the world upside down. With economies virtually shut, financial markets were an exception and remained open. However, it was not business as usual for them: the increased need to meet immediate obligations, and a more generalised increase in risk aversion, led investors to liquidate positions in favour of hard old cash. In a recent Staff Working Paper we pose that investors did not seek any type of cash but rather that the world witnessed a ‘dash for dollars’. We show that the resulting race for dollars went beyond exchange rate markets and led to selling pressure on dollar bonds in corporate bond markets, which experienced particularly large increases in spreads.

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Battle of the exchange funds

Max Harris

This post contributes to our occasional series of guest posts by external researchers who have used the Bank of England’s archives for their work on subjects outside traditional central banking topics.

When Britain created the Exchange Equalisation Account (EEA) in 1932, its designers had little sense of the controversy that would ensue. The previous year, Britain had suspended gold convertibility, and the volatile capital flows that followed convinced officials that they needed a tool for managing the exchange rate. The EEA – originally a fund solely for foreign exchange interventions (its remit is broader now) – seemed not only necessary but eminently reasonable. To a world in the throes of depression, however, it looked like a means to weaken sterling and reap a competitive advantage. America responded by establishing the Exchange Stabilization Fund (ESF) in what many viewed as another escalation in the conflict that was tearing the international monetary system apart.

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Procyclicality mechanisms in the financial system: what we know and some open questions

Robert Czech, Simon Jurkatis, Arjun Mahalingam, Laura Silvestri and Nick Vause

Financial markets reflect changes in the economy. But sometimes they amplify them too. Both of these roles were evident as the Covid-19 (Covid) pandemic materialised. As the economic outlook deteriorated, risky asset prices fell in reflection of that. And those falls were amplified as some investors reacted by liquidating assets. That also amplified increases in financing costs for companies issuing new debt or equity, which could have further damaged economic prospects. Various ‘procyclical’ mechanisms contributed to this macrofinancial feedback loop, as shown in Figure 1. This post reviews findings from research about these particular mechanisms, covering (i) how they work, (ii) how strong they are and (iii) how they might be mitigated. And, where there are gaps, it suggests new research.

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Decomposing changes in the functioning of the sterling repo market from 2014 to 2018

Rupal Patel

Repo markets form part of the plumbing of the financial system. They allow participants to borrow cash against collateral and buy back this collateral at a higher price at the end of the transaction. When there is a blockage in repo it has repercussions on financial markets. Since 2014 there have been significant changes in repo functioning, causing policymakers to question why these changes are happening and what it means for financial stability. Our paper addresses these questions. We find fluctuations in repo were driven by changes in dealers’ supply in the pre-Covid period 2014–18. We subsequently consider the possible role that the introduction of the leverage ratio played in the willingness of intermediaries to respond to demands for cash.

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