Tag Archives: gold

The Death of Inflation Targeting

It is with regret that we announce the death of Inflation Targeting.    The monetary regime, known affectionately as “IT” to its friends, evidently passed away in September 2008.   That the demise of IT has not been officially announced until now testifies to the esteem in which it was widely held, its usefulness as a figurehead for central banks, and fears that there might be no good candidates to assume its position as preferred anchor for monetary policy.

Inflation Targeting was born in New Zealand in March 1990.   Admired for its transparency and accountability, it achieved success there, and soon also in Canada, Australia, the UK, Sweden and Israel.  It subsequently became popular as well in Latin America (Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru) and in other developing countries (South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand and Turkey, among others).   

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Barrels, Bushels & Bonds: How Commodity-Exporters Can Hedge Volatility

 

The prices of minerals, hydrocarbons, and agricultural commodities have been on a veritable roller coaster. Although commodity prices are always more variable than those for manufactured goods and services, commodity markets over the last five years have seen extraordinary volatility.

 

Countries that specialize in the export of oil, copper, iron ore, wheat, coffee, or other commodities have boomed.  But they are highly vulnerable. Dollar commodity prices could plunge at any time, as a result of a new global recession, a hard landing in China, an increase in real interest rates in the United States, fluctuations in climate, or random sector-specific factors.

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Gold: A Rival for the Dollar

     Robert Zoellick put a few sentences about gold toward the end of a column in today’s FT that are drawing a lot of attention.   I doubt very much if the World Bank President has in mind a return to the gold standard, but goldbugs and critics alike are talking as if he does.

      Even if one placed overwhelming weight on the objective of price stability — enough weight to contemplate a rigid straightjacket for monetary policy — gold would not be a suitable anchor.   The economy would be hostage to the vagaries of the world gold market, as it was in the 19th century:   suffering inflation during periods of gold discoveries and deflation during periods of gold drought.   This is well-known.   I am confident Zoellick understands it.   (He and I were in the same macroeconomics seminar at Swarthmore College in the 1970s.)

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The Dollar Share in Central Banks’ FX Reserves Resumes its Decline


          Numbers newly reported from the IMF’s COFER data base show that in the most recent quarter, the spring of 2009, the share of central banks’ foreign exchange reserve holdings that they allocate to dollars resumed its downward trend.   The dollar share has been gradually sliding since the beginning of the decade – perhaps because of the birth of a possible rival, the euro, in 1999, or perhaps because of the long-term path of tremendous fiscal and monetary expansion on which the United States embarked in 2001.   

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Are Either Low Interest Rates or Speculation Raising Holdings of Oil and Other Minerals?

Everyone is looking for someone to blame for high prices of oil and other mineral and agricultural commodities. Speculators (among others) are high on the list, followed by the Federal Reserve. While I don’t think blame is necessarily the right concept here, I have been arguing that low real interest rates have worked to raise real commodity prices through a number of channels. Each of these channels could be called “speculation,” if speculation is defined as behavior based on expectations of future prices.

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Falling Interest Rates Explain Rising Commodity Prices

If strong economic growth is not the explanation for the large increases since 2001 in prices of virtually all mineral and agricultural commodities, then what is? One wouldn’t want to try to reduce commodity markets to a single factor, nor to claim proof of any theory by a single data point. Nevertheless, the developments of the last six months provided added support for a theory I have long favored: real interest rates are an important determinant of real commodity prices. High interest rates reduce the demand for storable commodities, or increase the supply, through a variety of channels:

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World Growth Can No Longer Explain Soaring Commodity Prices.

It is hard to remember now, but mineral and agricultural commodities were considered passé less than ten years ago. Anyone who talked about sectors where the product was as clunky and mundane as copper, corn, and crude petroleum, was considered behind the times. In Alan Greenspan’s phrase, GDP had gotten “lighter;” the economy was becoming weightless, “dematerializing.” Agriculture and mining no longer constituted a large share of the New Economy, and did not matter much in an age dominated by ethereal digital communication, evanescent dotcoms, and externally outsourced services. The Economist magazine in a 1999 cover story forecast that oil might be headed for a price of $5 a barrel.

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