Covid-19 briefing: post-lockdown macro

Michael Kumhof

In the wake of Covid-19 lockdown, macroeconomic policymakers have to deal not only with the immediate contraction in the economy, but also with the medium and longer term macro-consequences. Over the past four months, the macroeconomic literature on these topics has expanded rapidly. This post reviews the literature that considers the channels via which the shock affects the economy, and the macroeconomic policy options for dealing with the aftermath, taking as given the shock caused by the virus and the lockdown.

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Economic uncertainty before and during the COVID-19 pandemic

Dave Altig, Scott Baker, Jose Maria Barrero, Nick Bloom, Philip Bunn, Scarlet Chen, Steven J. Davis, Julia Leather, Brent Meyer, Emil Mihaylov, Paul Mizen, Nick Parker, Thomas Renault, Pawel Smietanka and Greg Thwaites.

The unprecedented scale and nature of the COVID-19 crisis has generated an extraordinary surge in economic uncertainty. In a recent paper we review what has happened to different indicators of uncertainty in the US and UK before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Three results emerge. All of the indicators that we consider show huge jumps in uncertainty in reaction to the pandemic and its economic fallout. Most indicators reach their highest values on record, although the extent of the increases differ. The time paths also differ: implied stock market volatility rose rapidly from late February, peaked in mid-March, and fell back by late March as stock prices partly recovered. In contrast, broader measures peaked later.

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Choosing from a varied toolkit: assessing China’s overall policy stance

Julian Reynolds, James Owen and Bob Gilhooly

This post examines how policy in China supported the Chinese economy prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, drawing on a newly developed toolkit. This topic is particularly important for China, where economic developments have a significant impact on the rest of the global economy, but where assessing the full spectrum of policy – monetary, regulatory and fiscal – is difficult. Policy levers in China have evolved alongside a rapidly changing economy, and there is still some uncertainty surrounding which levers are being pulled – and how hard – at any given point in time. This post attempts to paint a clearer picture of Chinese policy by assessing key policy levers and their effects on growth.

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Uncovering uncovered interest parity: exchange rates, yield curves and business cycles

Simon Lloyd and Emile Marin

The textbook uncovered interest parity (UIP) condition states that the expected change in the exchange rate between two countries over time should be equal to the interest rate differential at that horizon. While UIP appears to hold at longer horizons (around 5-10 years), it is regularly rejected at shorter ones (0-4 years). In a recent paper, we argue that interest rates at other maturities — captured in the slope of the yield curve — reflect information about the pricing of ‘business cycle risks’, which can help explain departures from UIP. A country with a relatively steep yield curve slope will tend to experience a depreciation in excess of the UIP benchmark, at business cycle frequencies especially.

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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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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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The birds, the bees and the Bank? The birth-rate channel of monetary policy

Fergus Cumming and Lisa Dettling

Children are expensive. Swings in families’ cash-flow can therefore move the dial on families’ decisions on whether and when to have a baby. For mortgaged families with an adjustable interest rate in 2008, the sharp fall in Bank Rate amounted to a windfall of around £1,000 per quarter in lower mortgage payments. In this post we show that people responded to this cash-flow boost by having more children. In total, we estimate that monetary policy increased the birth rate in the following three years by around 7.5%. That’s around 50,000 extra babies.

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Do emerging market prudential policies lessen the spillover effects of US monetary policy?

Andra Coman and Simon Lloyd

Prudential policies have grown in popularity as a tool for addressing financial stability risks since the 2007-09 global financial crisis. Yet their effects are still debated, with sanguine and more pessimistic viewpoints. In a recent Bank of England Staff Working Paper, we assess the extent to which emerging market (EM) prudential policies can partially insulate their domestic economies against the spillovers from US monetary policy. Using a database of prudential policies implemented by EMs since 2000, our estimates indicate that each additional prudential policy tightening can dampen the decline in total credit following a US monetary policy tightening by around 20%. This suggests that domestic prudential policies allow EMs to insulate themselves somewhat from global shocks.

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