Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Possible effects of the S&P's downgrade in Main Street

QUESTION: What impact with the US downgrading have on the global markets?
And how will it impact Main Street?

Quick ideas on the downgrade:

1  The effects in the global markets: Current knowledge status do not let you give an informed opinion. This extreme volatility is forcing many investors (individuals and corporations) to park their money, idling at accounts that yield little benefit. See BNY Mellon, which last week announced that some depositors, above $50 million, will be charged for having the money there.

2  The effect in Main Street: Some changes will affect it indirectly, so it will take a time to clearly see the effects (months, maybe a year). Changes in monetary policy (e.g., new rounds of so-called quantitative easing due to concerns of slowdown) can increase inflation. With positive inflation surprises come redistribution of wealth from some lenders to some borrowers (negative inflation surprises do the opposite). Such redistributions will increase bankruptcies, which means some providers (Main Street's) will not get paid, and some financial institutions will see that loans' quality will worsen, all of this in excess of normal problems.

Of course, there are also risks if we overshoot while fighting inflation due to the central bank's panic for previous high inflation: with lower inflation rates, holding cash is more appealing, so more depositors work partially outside banks, which see their earnings go down -- a few will run into insolvency sooner or later in excess of normal mortality of banks. This will mean that some Main Street customers will see more disruptions in their payments and other transactions (and possibly lose some money). Also, customers with a good credit history will see that reputation lost when switching to a new bank.

If stocks go down due to the downgrade, more people will lose money in the short term, and will have less to spend in Main St. Also, fear will rise, and that will change prospects for consumers, and that will take a toll too. This can be pretty quick, maybe weeks.

There are other ways for the downgrade to affect Main Street, of course.

Weathering the financial crisis: good policy or good luck?

Weathering the financial crisis: good policy or good luck?, by Stephen Cecchetti, Michael R King and James Yetman - BIS Working Papers No 351 - August 2011

Abstract: The macroeconomic performance of individual countries varied markedly during the 2007-09 global financial crisis. While China's growth never dipped below 6% and Australia's worst quarter was no growth, the economies of Japan, Mexico and the United Kingdom suffered annualised GDP contractions of 5-10% per quarter for five to seven quarters in a row. We exploit this cross-country variation to examine whether a country's macroeconomic performance over this period was the result of pre-crisis policy decisions or just good luck. The answer is a bit of both. Better-performing economies featured a better-capitalised banking sector, lower loan-to-deposit ratios, a current account surplus, high foreign exchange reserves and low levels and growth rates of private sector credit-to-GDP. In other words, sound policy decisions and institutions reduced their vulnerability to the financial crisis. But these economies also featured a low level of financial openness and less exposure to US creditors, suggesting that good luck played a part.


The global financial crisis of 2007–09 was the result of a cascade of financial shocks that threw many economies off course. The economic damage has been extensive, with few countries spared – even those far from the source of the turmoil. As with many economic events, the impact has varied from country to country, from sector to sector, from firm to firm, and from person to person. China’s growth, for example, never dipped below 6% and Australia’s worst quarter was one with no growth. The economies of Japan, Mexico and the United Kingdom, however, suffered GDP contractions of 5–10% at an annual rate for up to seven quarters in a row. For a spectator, this varying performance and differential impact surely looks arbitrary. Why were the hard-working, capable citizens of some countries thrown out of work, but others were not? What explains why some have suffered so much, while others barely felt the impact of the crisis?

Fiscal, monetary and regulatory policymakers around the world may be asking the same questions. Why was my country hit so hard by the recent events while others were spared? In this paper we examine whether national authorities in places that suffered severely during the global financial crisis are justified in believing they were innocent victims and that the variation in national outcomes was essentially random. Was the relatively good macroeconomic performance of some countries a consequence of good policy frameworks, institutions and decisions made prior to the crisis? Or was it just good luck?

We address this question in three steps. First, we develop a measure of macroeconomic performance during the crisis for 46 industrial and emerging economies. This measure captures each country’s performance relative to the global business cycle, which provides our benchmark. Next, we assemble a broad set of candidate variables that might explain the variation in cross-country experiences. These variables capture key dimensions of different economies, including their trade and financial openness, their monetary and fiscal policy frameworks, and the structure of their banking sectors. In order to avoid any impact of the crisis itself, we measure all these variables at the end of 2007, prior to the onset of the turmoil. Putting together the measured macroeconomic impact of the crisis with the initial conditions, we then look at the relationship between the two and seek to identify what characteristics were associated with a country’s positive macroeconomic performance relative to its peers.

Briefly, we construct a measure of relative macroeconomic performance by first identifying the global business cycle using a simple factor model. We calculate seasonally adjusted quarter-over-quarter real GDP growth rates and extract the first principal component across the 46 economies in our sample. This single factor explains around 40 per cent of the variation in the average economy’s output, but with wide variation across economies. We then use the residuals from the principal component analysis as the measure of an economy’s idiosyncratic performance. For each economy, we sum these residuals from the first quarter of 2008 to the fourth quarter of 2009. This cumulative sum, which captures both the length and depth of the response of output, is our estimate of how well or how poorly each economy weathered the crisis relative to its peers.

With this measure of relative macroeconomic performance as our key dependent variable, we examine factors that might explain its variation across economies. Given the small sample size, we rely on univariate tests of the difference in the median performance between different groups of economies, as well as linear regressions.

This simple analysis generates some surprisingly strong insights. We find that the better-performing economies featured a better capitalised banking sector, low loan-to-deposit ratios, a current account surplus and high levels of foreign exchange reserves. While the degree of trade openness does not distinguish the performance across economies, the level of financial openness appears very important. Economies featuring low levels and growth rates of private sector credit-to-GDP and little dependence on the US for short-term funding were much less vulnerable to the financial crisis. Neither the exchange rate regime nor the framework guiding monetary policy provides any guide to outcomes. Whether the government had a budget surplus or a low level of government debt are unimportant, but low levels of government revenues and expenditures before the crisis resulted in improved outcomes. This combination of variables suggests that sound policy decisions and institutions pre-crisis reduced an economy’s vulnerability to the international financial crisis. In other words, not everything was luck.

Results (excerpted)

(1) Economies where banking systems had higher levels of regulatory capital outperformed other economies in our sample, with a median CGAP of +1.5% versus ?0.7% for those that had not. These medians are statistically different from each other at the 1% level.

(2) Economies that experienced a banking crisis between 1990 and 2007 fared better, with a median CGAP of +2.6% versus ?0.7% for those that had not.

(3) Economies with a low loan-to-deposit ratio performed better than those with a high loan-to-deposit ratio. A one-standard deviation, or 51 percentage point, decrease in this ratio saw a 2.5% improvement in GDP performance over the crisis period.

(4) Economies with a current account surplus outperformed those with a deficit. A one-standard deviation increase in the current account as a percent of GDP, equivalent to 9 percentage points, resulted in a 2.4% outperformance in real GDP over the crisis period. Trade openness does not explain cross-country variation, and there was little difference between the median performance of commodity exporters and other economies.

(5) Economies with a low level of financial openness fared better than economies with higher levels of gross foreign assets and liabilities. When dividing the sample at the median level of financial openness, the half that were the most open had a median CGAP of –0.9% versus +3.0% for the half that were the least open.

(6) Economies dependent on the US for short-term debt financing fared worse. A one-standard deviation increase in US holdings of foreign short-term debt, equivalent to 2 percentage points of GDP, resulted in 2% less growth over the crisis.

(7) Economies with lower private sector credit did significantly better. When dividing the sample at the median level of private sector credit to GDP, economies in the top half, with higher private sector credit, had a median CGAP of –0.7% versus +2.9% for in the bottom half. The regression coefficient indicates that economies with credit-to-GDP one-standard deviation above the mean underperformed by 2% over the crisis period. Lower growth in private sector credit in the lead-up to the crisis also had a statistically significant effect of a similar magnitude.

(8) Countries that had a large stock of foreign exchange reserves outperformed. When dividing the sample at the median level of this variable, economies with more than the median foreign exchange reserves had a median CGAP of +2.9% versus –0.7% for economies in the bottom half. This result is not explained by whether an economy had an exchange rate peg or not. Similarly, the framework for monetary policy does not distinguish performance across countries.

(9) Countries having a small government, both in terms of low government revenues and expenditures to GDP, outperformed. When dividing the sample at the median level of either of these two variables, economies in the bottom half had a median CGAP of +3% versus –1% for economies in the top half. The regression coefficients imply that a year-end 2007 value for either government revenues or expenditures to GDP that was one-standard deviation above the sample mean was associated with lower output growth of 1.9% over the two-year period.

Taken together, these results confirm that economies with better fundamentals were less vulnerable to the crisis. Economies that experienced a banking crisis post-1990 and took steps to increase the capitalisation of their banks had superior macroeconomic performance, suggesting that prudential measures taken in response to crises improved the robustness of the financial system. A current account balance, low levels of financial openness and lower levels and growth rates of private sector credit-to-GDP helped insulate an economy from the crisis. Given that this crisis was triggered by events in the US, it also helped if an economy was not dependent on the US for short-term funding.

You can download the full paper at: http://www.bis.org/publ/work351.htm