Category Archives: Finance and economics

India grapples with the effects of withdrawing 86% of cash in circulation

A short, sharp liquidity shock

A NEW strain of trickle-down economics has been spawned by the decision, on November 8th, to withdraw the bulk of India’s banknotes by the end of this year. As holders of now-useless 500-and 1,000-rupee ($15) notes rushed to deposit them or part-exchange them for new notes, an e-commerce site offered helpers, at 90 rupees an hour, to queue outside banks in order to save the well-off the bother.

Elsewhere, a chronic shortage of banknotes in a cash-dominated economy has left most trades depressed. Seven out of ten kiranas (family-owned grocers) have suffered a decline in business, according to a survey by Nielsen, a consultancy. Supply chains, in which wholesalers and truckers deal mostly in cash, have fractured. Some 20-40% less farm produce reached markets in the days after the reform. City folk admit to hoarding the 100-rupee note, the largest of the old notes to remain legal tender. Taxi drivers refuse to break the new 2,000-rupee note. Road-tolls have been suspended until at least November 24th, to prevent queues. Beggars have disappeared from parts of Delhi; no one has...Continue reading

British mutual-fund fees are too high

BANKS tend to grab the headlines when it comes to financial scandals and systemic risk. But many people have a lot more money squirrelled away with the asset-management industry, in the form of pensions and lifetime savings, than they do in their bank accounts. A new report* from one of Britain’s regulators, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), suggests that the industry is not doing a great job at looking after investors’ interests.

The British fund-management industry is huge, with some 1,840 firms managing around £6.9trn ($8.6trn) of assets. With the ten biggest fund managers representing only around 47% of the market, competition ought to be pretty intense. But the FCA report finds that fees in the actively managed sector (ie, funds that try to beat the market by picking the best stocks) have barely shifted in the past ten years. Operating margins across a sample of 16 fund-management firms have averaged 34-39% in recent years, one of the highest of any industry. Profits that heady smack more of an oligopoly than of a cut-throat battle for business.

There is one part of the market where fees have come...Continue reading

Economists are prone to fads, and the latest is machine learning

WHAT is the collective noun for a group of economists? Options include a gloom, a regression or even an assumption. In January, when PhD students jostle for jobs at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, a “market” might seem the mot juste. Or perhaps, judging by the tendency of those writing economic papers to follow the latest fashion, a “herd” would be best. This year the hot technique is machine learning, using big data; Imran Rasul, an economics professor at University College, London, is expecting to read a pile of papers using this voguish technique.

Economists are prone to methodological crazes. Mr Rasul recalls past paper-piles using the regression-discontinuity technique, which compared similar people either side of a sharp cut-off to gauge a policy’s effect. An analysis by The Economist of the key words in working-paper abstracts published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a think-tank (see chart), shows tides of enthusiasm for laboratory experiments, randomised control trials (RCTs) and the difference-in-differences approach (ie, comparing trends...Continue reading

A showdown looms over bank-capital rules

THEY lack the magic of “Harry Potter” and provoke even less laughter than “Police Academy”, but the sequels keep coming. In Santiago on November 28th and 29th the committee of central bankers and supervisors from nearly 30 countries that draws up global bank-capital standards is due to thrash out revisions to Basel 3, the version agreed on after the financial crisis of 2008. European (and some Asian) bankers and officials fear additional capital requirements are coming; Americans are all for the changes. Stand by for a standoff in Chile.

Spurred by Basel 3, banks have stuffed billions into capital cushions that the crisis showed to be woefully thin. Between mid-2011 and the end of last year, 91 leading lenders bolstered their common equity by €1.4trn ($1.5trn), or 65%, according to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which provides the Basel committee’s secretariat. The ratio of equity to risk-weighted assets, an important regulatory gauge, climbed from 7.1% to 11.8%. Although Basel 3 need not be fully honoured until 2019, most banks are far above the minimum of 4.5% (additional buffers, some at national level, raise the actual floor...Continue reading

The global bond-market rally tests Japan’s ability to keep yields down

HARUHIKO KURODA is not a man to be put off by an unexpected setback. On November 17th the governor of the Bank of Japan (BoJ) gave his defiant take on the implications for Japanese monetary policy of the global market gyrations that have followed the surprise election of Donald Trump. Interest rates, he noted, have risen in America. “But that doesn’t mean that we have to automatically allow Japanese interest rates to increase in tandem.”

A sell-off triggered by Mr Trump’s win wiped more than $1.2trn off the value of the world’s bond markets as investors bet that his administration will stoke America’s economic engines and drive up inflation. Bond yields rose sharply around the world as investors sold assets to buy dollar-denominated ones. In Japan the yen weakened and the yield on ten-year government bonds (JGBs) crept above zero for the first time in nearly two months. Since he was appointed by Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, in March 2013 as custodian of the monetary wing of “Abenomics”, Mr Kuroda has been fighting to end years of debilitating deflation. Keeping bond yields down is an important part of that...Continue reading