Here’s why negative interest rates are more dangerous than you think — Charles Kane

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Charles Kane

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Charles Kane

From Fortune

Europe and other parts of the world are in for big risks.

Desperate times call for desperate and somewhat speculative measures. The European Central Bank (ECB) cut its deposit rate last Thursday, pushing it deeper into negative territory. The move is not unprecedented. In 2009, Sweden’s Riksbank was the first central bank to utilize negative interest rates to bolster its economy, with the ECB, Danish National Bank, Swiss National Bank and, this past January, the Bank of Japan, all following suit.

The ECB’s latest move, however, was coupled with the announcement that it would also ramp its Quantitative Easing measures by increasing its monthly bond purchases to 80 billion Euros from 60 billion Euros — a highly aggressive policy shift. The fact that the ECB has adopted this approach raises two key questions: What are the risks? And, if the policy fails, what other options are left?

Negative rates are an attempt by the ECB to prod commercial banks to lend more money to businesses and consumers rather than maintain large balances with the Central Bank. In essence, it is forcing the banks to leverage its balance sheet to a higher level or the ECB will penalize the banks by charging interest on their deposits. Historically, such a practice would be highly inflationary, however, with oil prices falling to record lows combined with a slowdown in global growth, inflation is not feared. In fact, inflation is desired at a manageable level, as this would promote near-term growth in the economic markets.

This does not mean, however, that the ECB’s policy does not present risks. First, if the commercial banks decide to pass on the cost of the negative rates to their customers — in other words, they charge customers for keeping their savings in the bank in the same way central banks are now charging the commercial banks for keeping their money – the customers might simply withdraw their savings. In a worst-case scenario, this could create a run on the banks in Europe with customers hoarding their money rather than paying interest on deposits. This would inhibit the free flow of funds through the financial system — ironically, the very reason that negative interest rates were implemented in the first place.

Read the full post at Fortune.

Charles Kane is a Senior Lecturer in Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management Goup and also in the Global Economics and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Why the good people of Illinois should care about a Puerto Rico bailout — Ike Brannon and Michelle Hanlon

MIT Sloan Professor Michelle Hanlon

MIT Sloan Professor Michelle Hanlon

From Crain’s Chicago Business

It’s become increasingly clear that Congress will need to provide some sort of assistance to the bereft government of Puerto Rico. The island has been in recession for a decade and holds $72 billion in debt it cannot fully repay; its pension plan is nearly bankrupt.

While there’s widespread agreement that something must be done, there’s not as yet any unanimity as to what this something should be. How Congress resolves this issue should be watched closely by the taxpayers of Illinois, because it could end up worsening the state’s finances.

Puerto Rico arrived in its current fiscal throes by borrowing money to postpone difficult tax and spending decisions whenever possible—a strategy that everyone in Illinois would recognize. Until quite recently it could borrow at rock-bottom rates, thanks to the generous tax breaks its lenders receive on their interest at the local, state and federal level. Eventually, lenders began to fear that they might not get repaid, and capital markets began demanding sharply higher interest rates before they just stopped lending to them altogether.

One proposed solution is to allow Puerto Rico to avail itself of Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Under Chapter 9, municipalities and public agencies can get court protection to reorganize their finances, but a state cannot. However, the island’s government and the U.S. Treasury argue that this isn’t sufficient: While over two-thirds of Puerto Rico’s debt would be covered under a Chapter 9 bankruptcy, they propose a legislative change that would allow all of its debt to be covered by bankruptcy protection, an unprecedented step.

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Helmut Schmidt and the narrative of the Eurozone crisis — Athanasios Orphanides

MIT Sloan Professor Athanasios Orphanides

MIT Sloan Professor Athanasios Orphanides

From The Journal of Turkish Weekly

Helmut Schmidt’s European vision as Germany’s chancellor during the Cold War, and his subsequent contributions, helped shape the continent and promote European integration.  With his passing in 2015, Europe lost a great leader. Germany’s Schmidt and France’s Valéry Giscard d’Estaing were the grandfathers of the euro, a project finalised by their successors in Germany and France, Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand.  Franco-German cooperation and leadership for Europe has been crucial to the advancement of the European project.  Similarly, leadership voids have been at the crux of Europe’s failings.

Schmidt’s insights are especially missed at a time when the future of Europe is in question, not least due to the mismanagement of the Eurozone Crisis, where his advice went unheeded. Six years after the Crisis began, it remains unresolved. And worse yet, Europe’s elite disputes its true causes.

Understanding the EZ Crisis

Understanding why the Crisis occurred is critical for a consensus on remedies, which is a prerequisite for salvaging the European project.  Recent analysis has identified key economic factors that contributed to the Crisis (Baldwin et al. 2015). Establishment of the euro fuelled current account imbalances and made a number of Eurozone member states vulnerable to a sudden stop.  Greece became the first victim in early 2010. Economic analysis also explains the risks of fiscal profligacy, which was an important aspect of the problem in Greece but—contrary to a narrative prevalent among the European elite—was not the main cause of the Crisis overall.  Although these points are important, economic analysis alone cannot explain the gross mismanagement of the Crisis in the six years since early 2010. It also cannot explain the actions taken by European governments and institutions that caused a small initial shock to turn into an existential crisis for the Eurozone.  This requires understanding the political dimension.

Read the full post at The Journal of Turkish Weekly.

Athanasios Orphanides is a Professor of the Practice of Global Economics and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. 

The oil industry’s troubles aren’t bad enough to trigger another global crisis — John Reilly

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer John Reilly

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer John Reilly

From MarketWatch

The crash in the price of oil — from $108 a barrel in June 2014 to below $27 earlier this year — has rattled the stock market, triggered layoffs across the energy sector, and plunged many oil producing countries into crisis.

Oil has since rebounded significantly from its lows, to above $40 a barrel, but the price plunge since 2014 has put much pressure on oil companies. Reports have pointed to an increase in debt among oil producers, raising the specter of default on bankruptcy and default on debt, withfollow-on effects beyond oil producers.

The upheaval also has sparked fears that oil’s troubles will spread across the globe, echoing the crash in U.S. housing markets that pushed the world economy to the brink of collapse in 2008. Yet despite the woes oil is experiencing, it is unlikely that the repercussions will trigger another global financial crisis.

Looking at the numbers, the mortgage-debt crisis dwarfs what is currently happening in oil. According to a report in the Financial Times, the global oil and gas industry’s debts rose to  $3 trillion from $1.1 trillion between 2006 and 2014. Compare that to the $10 trillion of housing debt weighing on Americans in 2008.

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Forget Anbang, Marriott is a better bet for Starwood — Barbara Dyer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer and Visiting Scientist Barbara Dyer

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer and Visiting Scientist Barbara Dyer

From Fortune

Let’s say you have offers for two different jobs that interest you. The first one pays more, but comes from a company you don’t know that much about. The second offer is a bit lower, but that company has a long history that you know well. How do you decide between the two?

By taking the higher offer, you guarantee yourself a bigger salary, but you also open yourself up to more unknowns down the road. The lower offer means you’d work for a firm you admire and while your initial paycheck would be smaller, you might realize other benefits such as professional development and career advancement down the road.

In a sense, this is the same dilemma facing Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, the Connecticut-based owner of such brands as Sheraton, Westin and St. Regis. Since agreeing to an initial $12.2 billion takeover offer from Marriott International MAR -5.45% , Inc. in November, Starwood HOT -4.61% has become the object of a mad-lover’s pursuit between Marriott and a consortium led by China’s Anbang Insurance Group. Following a round of counteroffers, Maryland-based Marriott’s latest proposal values Starwood at $13.6 billion while Anbang Insurance Group came in with an all-cash bid of $14 billion.

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