Consumption in the time of a pandemic: tracking UK consumption in real time

Sinem Hacioglu Hoke, Diego Kaenzig and Paolo Surico

The response to the Covid-19 pandemic has included closure of retail outlets and social distancing. How large was the resulting consumption fall in the UK? In a new paper, we try to answer this question using a transaction-level dataset of over 8 million individual transactions. This gives a near-real time read on consumer spending, without the publication lags associated with national accounts consumption data. We find that the bulk of the fall had occurred before legally mandated lockdown started. The largest declines occurred in retail, restaurants and transport, but spending on some items such as online shopping, alcohol and tobacco rose. There is substantial variation in change in consumption across age, income group, housing tenure and local authority.

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Global real rates, 1311–2018

Paul Schmelzing

Paul Schmelzing is an academic visitor to the Bank of England, currently based at Yale University. In this guest post, he summarises his research on the differential between real interest rates and real growth rates over the past seven centuries…

There is a lively academic and policy debate about whether a build-up of excess savings in advanced economies has created a drag on long-term interest rates. In a recent paper, I provide new context to these discussions. I construct a long-run advanced economy (DM) public real interest rate series geographically covering 78% of DM GDP since the 14th century. Using this series, I argue that current interest rate trends cannot be rationalized in a “secular stagnation” framework that has been “manifest for two decades”. Rather, historical data illustrates that advanced economy real rates have steadily declined for more than five centuries, despite important reversal periods. This post draws from long-run economic history to provide additional insights concerning the current interest rate environment.

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UK productivity growth from 2008 to 2018: weakness was structural, not cyclical

Marko Melolinna

Monetary policy makers need to know whether the economy is operating above or below its supply capacity. If the economy is operating above its supply capacity, inflation is likely to rise, and vice versa. A crucial component of supply capacity is the labour productivity trend but we cannot observe this directly. We have to estimate it. Thankfully, there are ways of splitting observed macroeconomic time series into estimated trend and cyclical components. Using a variety of methods on UK data, I find that UK productivity growth over the period 1991 to 2018 has been structurally, rather than cyclically, weak since the financial crisis. And, UK trend productivity has been strongly correlated with trend productivity in other advanced economies.

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Monetary policy and US housing expansions: what can we expect for the post-COVID-19 housing recovery?

Bruno Albuquerque, Martin Iseringhausen and Frédéric Opitz

The fall in aggregate demand due to the COVID-19 shock has brought the eight-year long US housing market expansion to a halt. At the same time, the Federal Reserve and the US Government have deployed significant resources to support households and businesses. These actions should help weather the ongoing crisis and lay the seeds for the next recovery. It is, however, highly uncertain how the post-COVID-19 housing recovery will look. Using a time-varying parameter (TVP) model on US aggregate data, our results suggest that the next housing recovery may exhibit similar features to the 2012-19 expansion: a sluggish response of housebuilding to rising demand, but a strong response of house prices.

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Covid-19 Briefing: International Trade and Supply Chains

Rebecca Freeman and Rana Sajedi

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to both a decline in economic activity that has been propagated across borders through global supply networks, and a rise in barriers to trade between countries. This has led to a rapidly emerging literature seeking to understand the effects of the pandemic on trade. This post surveys some of the key contributions of that literature. Key messages from early papers are that: i) The shock is a hit to both demand and supply, and is thus deeper than what was experienced during the 2008/09 Great Trade Collapse; ii) Global value chains have amplified cross-country spillovers; iii) When supply chains are highly integrated, protectionist measures can disrupt production of medical equipment and supplies; and, hence, iv) Keeping international trade open during the crisis can help to limit the economic cost of the pandemic and foster global growth during the recovery.

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Covid-19 Briefing: Corporate Balance Sheets

Neeltje van Horen

Faced with unprecedented declines in corporate revenue, the Covid-19 shock represents a loss of cash flow of indeterminate duration for many firms. It is too early to tell how exactly firms will be affected by this crisis and how scarring it will be, but the crisis will likely have a significant impact on most corporates. This post reviews the literature on factors affecting firms’ ability to withstand the Covid-19 shock and what large corporates did to shore up their finances.

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How important are large firms for aggregate productivity growth in the UK?

Marko Melolinna

Aggregate labour productivity growth has been low in the UK following the global financial crisis in 2008 (Chart 1). The average annual growth rate has been only 0.7% over the period 2008 to 2019, which is around a third of the growth rate seen during the decade preceding the crisis. There are many ways of analysing the reasons for this weakness, but in this blog post, I concentrate on examining the role that the largest firms in the UK have played in the story. Our analysis covering the past three decades from 1990 to 2017 suggests that firm-specific, or idiosyncratic, shocks to the 100 largest firms had a significant effect on aggregate productivity dynamics in the UK.

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Monetary Policy Transmission: Borrowing Constraints Matter!

Fergus Cumming and Paul Hubert

How does the transmission of monetary policy depend on the distribution of debt in the economy? In this blog post we argue that interest rate changes are most powerful when a large share of households are financially constrained. That is, when a higher proportion of all borrowers are close to their borrowing limits. Our findings also suggest that the overall impact of monetary policy partly depends on the behaviour of house prices, and might not be symmetric for interest rate rises and falls.

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How does monetary policy affect firms?

Saleem Bahaj, Angus Foulis, Gabor Pinter and Paolo Surico

Changes in interest rates affect different parts of the economy differently. In this post, building on a recent working paper, we consider how different types of firms respond to interest rate changes. We focus on firm level employment and ask which firms do the most hiring and firing when monetary policy adjusts. For instance, how important is the age of the firm, its balance sheet position or its size in determining the firm level response to interest rates? Furthermore, do these patterns of responses tell us something about how monetary policy affects the economy?

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The declining elasticity of US housing supply

Bruno Albuquerque, Knut Are Aastveit and André Anundsen

Housing supply elasticities – builders’ response to a change in house prices – help explain why house prices differ across location. As housing supply becomes more inelastic, the more rising demand translates to rising prices and the less to additional housebuilding. In a new paper, we use a rich US dataset and novel identification method to show that supply elasticities vary across cities and across time. We find that US housing supply has become less elastic since the crisis, with bigger declines in places where land-use regulation has tightened the most, and in areas that had larger price declines during the crisis. This new lower elasticity means US house prices should be more sensitive to changes in demand than before the crisis.

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