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Date : Mar 28, 2016
RBI WPS (DEPR): 04/2016: Rules of the Monetary Game

Press Release

RBI Working Paper Series No. 4
Rules of the Monetary Game

@Prachi Mishra and Raghuram Rajan

March 2016

Abstract

Aggressive monetary policy actions by one country can lead to significant adverse cross-border spillovers on others, especially as countries contend with the zero lower bound. If countries do not internalize these spillovers, they may undertake policies that are collectively suboptimal. Perhaps instead, countries could agree to guidelines for responsible behavior that would improve collective outcomes. This paper puts forward some of the practical issues that need to be considered in framing possible rules of the monetary game. We argue that policies could be broadly characterized and rated based on analytical inputs and discussion. Policies that generally have positive or domestic effects could be rated Green, policies that should be used temporarily and with care could be rated Orange, and policies that should be avoided at all times could be rated Red. We provide a brief review of the some of the frameworks that have been used in the literature to measure and analyze spillovers. We make the case that models may reflect the policy biases of those devising them, and may be at too early a stage to be able to draw strong conclusions from them. Therefore, while more empirical analysis should be undertaken, it should be seen as an input to a dialogue rather than definitive, with the analysis being refined as we understand outcomes better. The paper also discusses the specific role of the IMF in this context.

JEL codes. F42, F33, E61

Keywords. Spillovers, rules of the game, policies.

Introduction

In order to avoid the destructive beggar-thy-neighbor strategies that emerged during the Great Depression, the post-war Bretton Woods regime attempted to prevent countries from depreciating their currencies to gain an unfair and sustained competitive advantage. It required fixed, but occasionally adjustable, exchange rates and restricted cross-border capital flows. Elaborate rules on when a country could move its exchange rate peg gave way, in the post-Bretton Woods world of largely flexible exchange rates, to a free for all where the only proscribed activity was sustained uni-directional intervention in one’s exchange rate. A widely held view at that time was that each country, doing what was best for itself in a regime of mobile capital, would end up doing what was best for the global equilibrium. For instance, a country trying to unduly depreciate its exchange rate through aggressive monetary policy would see inflation rise to offset any temporary competitive gains. However, even if such automatic adjustment did ever work, and our paper does not take a position on this, the global environment has changed. Today, we have:

  • Weak aggregate demand, in part because of poorly understood consequences of population ageing and productivity slow down.

  • Long-term unemployment.

  • A more integrated and open world with large capital flows.

  • Significant government and private debt burdens.

  • Sustained low inflation.

The pressure to avoid a consistent breach of the lower inflation bound and the need to restore growth to reduce domestic unemployment could cause a country’s authorities to place more of a burden on unconventional monetary policies (UMP), as well as on exchange rate or financial market interventions/repression. These may have large adverse spillover effects on other countries. The domestic mandates of most central banks may not legally allow them to take spillovers into account, and may force them to undertake aggressive policies so long as they have some small positive domestic effect. Consequently, the world may embark on a sub-optimal collective path. We need to re-examine rules of the game for responsible policy in such a context. This paper suggests some of the issues that need to be considered.

I. The Problem with the Current System

All monetary policies have external spillover effects. If a country reduces domestic interest rates, its exchange rate also typically depreciates, helping exports. The key, however, is that under normal circumstances, the “demand creating” effects of lower interest rates on domestic consumption and investment is not small relative to the “demand switching” effects of the lower exchange rate in enhancing external demand for the country’s goods. Indeed, one could argue that the spillovers to the rest of the world could be positive on net, as the enhanced domestic demand draws in substantial imports, offsetting the higher exports.

Matters are less clear in the circumstances we find ourselves in today, and with the unconventional monetary policies countries are adopting. For instance, if the interest rate sensitive segments of the economy are constrained by existing debt, lower rates may have little effect on enhancing domestic demand, but continue to have demand switching effects through the exchange rate.

Similarly, the unconventional “quantitative easing” policy of buying assets such as long term bonds from domestic players may certainly lower long rates but may not have an effect on domestic investment if aggregate capacity utilization is low. Indeed, savers may respond to the increased distortion in asset prices by saving more. And if certain domestic institutional investors such as pension funds and insurance companies need long term bonds to meet their future claims, they may respond by buying such bonds in less distorted markets abroad. Such a search for yield will depreciate the exchange rate. The primary effect of this policy on domestic demand may be through the demand switching effects of a lower exchange rate rather than through a demand creating channel.

Other countries can react to the consequences of unconventional monetary policies, and some economists argue that it is their unwillingness to react appropriately that is the fundamental problem (see, for example, Bernanke (2015)). Yet concerns about monetary and financial stability may prevent those countries, especially less institutionally developed ones, from reacting to offset the disturbance emanating from the initiating country. It seems reasonable that a globally responsible assessment of policies should take the world as it is, rather than as a hypothetical ideal.

Ultimately, if all countries engage in demand switching policies, we could have a race to the bottom. Countries may find it hard to get out of such policies because the immediate effect for the country that exits might be a serious appreciation of the exchange rate and a fall in domestic activity. Moreover, the consequences of unconventional policies over the medium term need not be benign if aggressive monetary easing results in distortions to asset markets and debt build up, with an eventual disastrous denouement.

The bottom line is that simply because a policy is called monetary, unconventional or otherwise, it may not be beneficial on net for the world. That all monetary policies have external spillovers does not mean that they are all justified. What matters is the relative magnitude of demand creating versus demand switching effects, and the magnitude of other net financial sector spillovers, that is, the net spillovers (see Borio (2009), Borio and Disyatat (2014), Rajan (2013,2014), for example).

Of course, a central contributor today to policymakers putting lower weight on international spillovers is that almost all central banks have purely domestic mandates. If they are in danger of violating the lower bound of their inflation mandate, for example, they are required to adopt all possible policies to get inflation bank on target, no matter what their external effect. Indeed, they can even intervene directly in the exchange rate in a sustained and unidirectional way, though internationally this could be seen as an abdication of international responsibility according to the old standards. The current state of affairs means that central banks find all sorts of ways to justify their policies in international fora, without acknowledging the unmentionable – that external spillovers may be significantly adverse. Unfortunately, even if they do not want to abdicate international responsibility, their domestic mandates may give them no other options. In what follows, we will examine sensible rules of monetary behavior assuming the domestic mandate does not trump international responsibility.

II. Principles for Setting New Rules

Monetary policy actions by one country can lead to measurable and significant cross-border spillovers. Such spillovers can influence countries to undertake policies that shift some of the cost of the policy to foreign countries. This temptation to shift costs can create inefficiencies when countries set their policies unilaterally. If countries agree on a set of new rules or principles, which describe the limits of acceptable behavior, it can reduce the inefficiencies and lead to higher welfare in all the countries. This does not mean countries have to coordinate policies, only that they have to become better global citizens – provided we can find clear and mutually acceptable rules.

What would be the basis for the new rules? As a start, policies could be broadly rated based on analytical inputs and discussion. To use a driving analogy, polices that have few adverse spillovers, and are even to be encouraged by the global community should be rated Green, policies that should be used temporarily and with care could be rated Orange, and policies that should be avoided at all times could be rated Red. To establish such ratings, the effects of any policy have to be seen over time, rather than at a point in time. We will discuss the broad principles for such ratings in this section. We will then discuss in section III whether the tools economists have today allow empirical analysis to provide a clear cut rating of policies (to preview the answer, it is “No!”). We will argue in section IV that it may still be possible to make progress, once broad principles of the sort discussed in this section are agreed on. We conclude in section V.

A number of issues would need to be considered in developing a framework to rate policies.

  • Should a policy that has any adverse spillovers outside the country of origin be totally avoided? Or should the benefits in the country of origin be added to measure the net global effects of the policy? In other words, should we consider the enhancement to global welfare or the net spillovers to others only in judging policy?

  • Should the measurement of spillovers take into account any policy reactions by other countries? In other words, should the policy be judged based on its partial equilibrium or general equilibrium effects?

  • Should domestic benefits weigh more and adverse spillovers weigh less for countries that have run out of policy options and have been stuck in slow growth for a long time? Should countries be allowed jump starts facilitated by others?

  • Should spillovers be measured over the medium term or evaluated at a point in time?

  • Should spillovers (both positive and negative) be weighted more heavily for poorer countries that have weaker institutions and less effective policy instruments?

  • Should spillovers be weighted by the affected population or by the dollar value of the effect?

Some tentative answers follow.

In general, policies that have net adverse outside spillovers over time could be rated red and should be avoided. Such policies obviously include those that have small positive effects in the home country (where the policy action originates) combined with large negative effects in the foreign country (where the spillovers occur). For example, if unconventional monetary policy actions lead to a feeble recovery in some of the advanced countries leading to small positive effects on exports to emerging economies (EMs), but large capital flows to, and asset price bubbles in, the EMs, these policies could be rated red. Global welfare would decrease with this policy.

If a policy has positive effects on both home and foreign countries, and therefore on global welfare, it would definitely be rated green. Conventional monetary policy would fall in this category, as it would raise output in the home economy, and create demand for exports from the foreign economy. A green rating for such policies would, however, assume that the stage of the financial and credit cycle in the home and foreign economies is such that financial stability risks from low interest rates are likely to be limited.

A policy could also be rated green if it acts as a booster shot and can jump-start a large home economy, but creates temporary negative spillovers for the foreign economy. Even if there are temporary adverse spillovers on foreign countries, the policy through its effect on home economy growth and demand for foreign goods, can eventually provide offsetting large positive spillovers to the rest of the world. Of course, it is important that the home economy, after receiving the booster shot and picking up growth, not follow policies (such as holding down its exchange rate) that minimize positive spillovers to other countries. A policy rated red on a static basis could thus be deemed green based on commitments over time. This also means that policies should be rated over the medium term rather than on the basis of one-shot static effects.

It is possible to visualize other policies that have large positive effects for the originating country (because of the value of the policy or because of the country’s relative size) and sustained small negative effects for the rest of the world. Global welfare, crudely speaking, may go up with the policy, even though welfare outside the originating country goes down. While it is hard to rate such policies without going into specifics, these may correctly belong in the orange category – permissible for some time but not on a sustained basis. Even conventional monetary policies to raise growth in the home economy could fall in the orange category if countries are at a stage of financial cycle where low interest rates lead to significant financial stability risks in the home and foreign economies.

Clearly, foreign countries may have policy room to respond, and that should be taken into account. Perhaps the right way to measure spillovers to the foreign country is to measure their welfare without the policy under question` and their welfare after the policy is implemented and response initiated. So, for instance, a home country A at the zero lower bound may initiate Quantitative Easing (QE), and a foreign country B may respond by cutting interest rates to avoid capital inflows and exchange rate appreciation. The spillover effects of QE would be based on B’s welfare if QE was not undertaken versus B’s welfare after QE is initiated and it responds.

One could make the case that countries stuck in a rut for a long time and with few other options should be allowed policies that may have adverse spillovers. The use of unconventional monetary policies when the standard channels of monetary transmission are clogged is one such example – this may be especially useful if the policy is used over the short term to “jump start” the economy as discussed earlier. But what if the policy is sought to be employed over the medium term? Here “rut” is a relative term both over time and across countries. If a stagnant rich country is allowed a free pass, should historically stagnant, and therefore poor, countries have a permanent pass to do whatever is in their best interests? It would be difficult to carve out exceptions to developed countries based on relative stagnation, or deviations from trend growth, without admitting a whole lot of other exceptions.

In this vein, poorer countries typically have weaker institutions – for example, central banks with limited credibility and budgetary frameworks that are not constrained by rules and watchdogs. As a result, their ability to offset spillovers with policies is typically more limited. Furthermore, poorer citizens live closer to the minimum margin of sustainability, and poorer countries typically have weaker safety nets. So there is a case for weighting spillovers to poor countries more. However, it will be difficult to determine precisely what weight to place. Nevertheless, this facet could be kept in mind in deciding how to rate a policy when it is on the borderline.

A related problem is whether spillovers should be measured in aggregate monetary terms or in “utils”, weighted by population. Once again, determining utilities may be hard, so perhaps at first pass, it may be better to evaluate the dollar value of spillovers, without attempting a further translation in utilities. This will certainly facilitate adding up across countries and over time to see the net effect of policies.

Overall, whether policies are rated red, green, or orange would depend on a number of factors such as the time dimension; stage of the financial and business cycle in the home and foreign countries; whether the policy action constitutes a booster shot to jump start the economy or gives only a mild boost and has to be employed for a sustained period; whether standard transmission channels are clogged to warrant the use of unconventional policies; whether the foreign country has room to adopt buffering policies; whether the spillovers impact poor countries which have weak institutions and less room to respond, etc.

Finally, some examples of policies that could be rated could include the following:

  • Direct or “evident” exchange rate manipulation e.g. through massive intervention in the foreign exchange market which aim to depreciate a country’s exchange rate or not let it appreciate, or keep it “undervalued” relative to some benchmark.

  • Other “discreet” or indirect policies that have similar beggar-thy-neighbor effects. Unconventional monetary policies could potentially belong to this category.

  • Policies that can have financial sector spillovers such as capital flows, high credit growth, and asset price bubbles, could also be considered as generating large adverse spillovers through the financial system. Low interest rate policies for long in advanced economies could fall in this category.

In sum then, at first pass it may be reasonable to consider the following for such policies:

  1. Focus on spillovers over time.

  2. Measure spillovers as the welfare of a receiving country if a policy is implemented, after it undertakes policies in response, less its welfare if the policy was not implemented.

  3. Allow policies that do not impose net adverse external spillover effects over time, and discourage policies that have net adverse external spillover effects over time, with some tolerance for a subset of policies that have large domestic benefits and are intended to be carried on for a short while.

  4. Not carve out exceptions for any country, regardless of the stage in the business cycle.

  5. Weight spillovers to poor countries a little more at the margin.

  6. Measure spillovers in dollar terms.

Before concluding this section, let us address five common reactions to any suggestion of rules of the game:

  • Central banks already take into account spillback effects of their policies, even if they have a domestic mandate. This is true, but the spillback effects (the partial consequences of their policies as they flow back to the source country, for example, through lower growth and thus lower imports of trading partners) may be only a fraction of the spillover effects. What matters for the world as a whole is that countries internalize spillover effects.

  • Central banks already discuss their policies at various forums and strive to communicate and be transparent. Yes, but communication and transparency still is tantamount to saying “It’s our policy, and your problem”.

  • Taking spillover effects into account would make policy making, which is already hard, overly complicated and impossible to communicate. Yes, but countries already take spillback effects into account, which involves estimating policy reaction functions of other countries. How much more complicated will it be to take spillover effects into account?

  • Rules will constrain only the systemically important central banks. Probably, though smaller countries will also have obligations. It is a reality that monetary policy consequences of policy are asymmetric and depend on a country’s importance. Often, this is a source of privilege and power. We are suggesting some commensurate obligations.

  • Any rules will affect a central bank’s ability to deliver on its domestic mandate. True, which is why we will eventually have to explore how domestic mandates sit with international obligations in this integrated world.

Before we discuss how we could move forward, let us discuss what we can glean from the literature. A more technical description of what principles could guide in setting new rules of the game is provided in the Appendix 1.

III. The State of the Literature

Of course, even if we have agreement on broad principles of rating, we need to measure the effects of policies. Unfortunately, the state of the art here is more art than science. Models may reflect the policy biases (unconscious or otherwise) of those devising them, and are at a sufficiently early stage that it would be difficult to draw strong conclusions from them. Perhaps, therefore, more empirical analysis (rather than theoretical models) on the lines of Kamin (2016) (see below) should be emphasized, and seen as an input to a dialogue, with the analysis being refined as we understand actual outcomes better.

What Spillovers and How to Measure Them?

We have made a case for new principles to rate policies as country authorities, under pressure to raise domestic growth or inflation, could be moved to undertake policies that have large adverse spillover implications for other countries. Several frameworks have been used in the literature to analyze and measure spillovers. Some of these frameworks, and the specific spillovers they study, are discussed below.

Simulation of spillover scenarios: global models

The IMF has used several global models such as GIMF, FSGM, and GPM, to simulate different spillover scenarios. These are dynamic general equilibrium models with many regions and many sectors. These models are used to measure spillovers from monetary policies in advanced countries. The US Federal Reserve has also developed a multi country dynamic general equilibrium model called SIGMA, which has also been used for analysis of spillovers.

Easy monetary conditions in advanced economies can lead to capital inflows, exchange rate appreciation, rapid credit growth, and asset price bubbles in emerging markets (EMs). On the other hand, monetary normalization, or a rise in interest rates in advanced economies can cause capital outflows and exchange rate depreciation in the EMs. Several spillover scenarios can be simulated using these global models. These scenarios include, for example, a growth driven exit with complications where long-term interest rates jump up as monetary policy is tightened, and capital outflows from emerging markets are intense; and exit without growth where monetary policy is tightened despite a lack of growth momentum in the US. In these scenarios, emerging economies could see growth fall below the baseline.

While these global models provide a useful framework to understand spillovers, they seem to be fairly complicated with multiple sectors, regions, and parameters. The values of the parameters in the model are typically not country-specific. Moreover, the predictions from these models are not sufficiently clear-cut, and often depend on the underlying assumptions. The dangers from applying these models for policy purposes could perhaps be significant. For example, the choice of scenarios that are played up prominently in policy documents could be tinged by ideology. Conducting sensitivity tests on the assumptions of the model is, therefore, crucial before applying them for policy purposes.

2-country models of international policy spillovers

There is also a strand of literature that considers policy spillovers in two country frameworks. For example, Haberis and Lipinska (2012) consider how monetary policy in a large, foreign economy affects optimal monetary policy in a small open economy (“home”) when both economies are close to a zero lower bound. They show that more stimulatory foreign monetary policy worsens the home policymaker’s tradeoffs between stabilizing inflation and the output gap when home and foreign goods are close substitutes. An exchange rate channel of monetary transmission is key to the argument. A looser foreign policy leads to a relatively more appreciated home real exchange rate, which induces large expenditure switching away from home goods when goods are highly substitutable – just at a time (e.g. at the Zero Lower Bound (ZLB)) when home policy is trying to boost demand for home goods. Fujiwara et. al., 2010, Eichengreen et. al., 2011, Bodenstein et. al., 2009, and Erceg and Linde, 2011, among others, also study spillovers in 2-country models. Fujiwara et. al., and Eichengreen et al, study explicit policy coordination. Eichengreen et. al., 2011, for example, argue that monetary spillovers at the ZLB should be internalized in a coordinated global monetary policy. Ostry and Ghosh (2013), however, note that real-world examples of international policy coordination are rare. They argue that the most compelling reasons why we do not see more coordination in practice are asymmetry in country size, disagreement about the economic situation and cross-border effects of policies, and often policymakers’ failure to recognize that they face tradeoffs across different objectives.

More recently, Bernanke (2015) lays out a simple 2-country model of spillovers to show that a flexible exchange rate can largely insulate emerging markets from both internal and external shocks in the medium run. He argues that even the existence of financial stability spillovers does not invalidate the basic implication of the “trilemma”, that exchange rate flexibility can help insulate domestic output from foreign monetary policies; and any remaining spillovers should be tackled by regulatory and macroprudential measures. We believe, however, that while a flexible exchange rate and targeted macro-prudential policies are usually the best tools available for containing any building vulnerabilities that may threaten the stability of the financial system, there may be limits to their use. These challenges are more important, and the ability to mitigate them lower, in countries with insufficiently developed financial systems.

Spillovers and policy coordination have also been considered extensively in the international trade literature. Bagwell and Staiger (2002) in their pioneering work, develop a 2-good 2-country general equilibrium model to analyze terms of trade spillovers from tariff policies, and provide a rationale for policy coordination among countries. A large number of papers build on the approach in Bagwell and Staiger to understand spillovers and externalities in international trade.

The simple 2-country models provide a useful framework to understand the mechanisms through which policies in one country can affect others; but they may be less suited for “measuring” spillovers. Therefore, in what follows, we discuss several econometric models that have been used in the literature on spillovers.

Structural VARs

There is a significant body of evidence that uses structural VARs to analyze spillovers. The identification in such models is based on sign restrictions, or through heteroskedsticity method introduced by Rigobon and Sack (2003). IMF (2014) and IMF(2015), for example, estimate a structural vector autoregression (VAR) using long-term bond yields and stock prices for US, UK, Euro area, and Japan (S4), using daily data and sign restrictions for identification of the shocks. The dynamic interaction between the dependent variables and external shocks are then modeled using a panel VAR, estimated with monthly data. The dependent variables include local long-term sovereign yields, the nominal effective exchange rate, and industrial production. The external shocks are the S4 money or real shock. The results show that money and real shocks have different spillover implications. Money shocks cause a significant co-movement in long-term bond yields, whereas the real shock implies a much smaller co-movement of yields. While the real shock has an overall benign spillover on EMs the money shock has adverse spillovers on EMs. Yue and Shen (2011), instead, exploit heteroskedasticity in the bond market data, and estimate a SVAR to study international transmission of shocks across advanced economies. Employing daily data on 10-year government bond yields for the US, Germany, Japan, and the UK, over the period if 1989-2010, they find that shocks to US long-term markets exert a significant influence on foreign bond yields. On average, nearly 30% of the shock to US bond yields is directly transmitted to foreign bond yields.

Global vector autoregression model

The global vector autoregression (GVAR) model was developed by Pesaran, Schuermann, and Weiner (2004), and by Dees et. al. (2007). For each country, the conventional VAR model is extended with the addition of a set of foreign variables. These variables are constructed as weighted averages if the same variables of all the country’s trading partners. All individual countries’ VAR models are collected and estimated as a single VAR model. The dynamic properties of the model are then used to analyze how shocks are propagated across countries. IMF (2014), for example, uses GVARs to analyze the spillover implications of a potential slowdown in EMs. Cashin et. al. (2012) also use GVARs to analyze spillovers from macroeconomic shocks in systemic economies to the Middle East and North Africa region, as well as outward spillovers from a GDP shock in the GCC countries and MENA oil exporters to the rest of the world. Chen et. al. (2015) instead uses a global vector error correction model (GVECM) to study the impact of US quantitative easing on both emerging and advanced economies. The GVECM framework is similar to GVAR, the only difference being that it accounts for cointegration between the variables in the model using an error correction term. Chen et. al. (2015) find that the estimated effects of US QE are diverse. While the US monetary policy contributed to overheating in Brazil, China, and some other emerging economies in 2010 and 2011, they supported the respective recoveries in 2009 and 2012; pointing to unevenly distributed benefits and costs of monetary policy spillovers.

Factor augmented vector autoregression model (FAVAR)

FAVAR is another econometric methodology similar to VAR, which has been used in the literature to measure spillovers. The methodology was developed by Aasveit, Bjornland, and Thosrud, 2013. It is a standard VAR augmented with two unobserved factors. The unobserved factors are identified and estimated by employing the principal component method. To identify the vector of structural shocks, a combination of zero and sign restrictions is used. IMF (2014), for example, uses a FAVAR framework to analyze the spillovers of a slowdown in EM growth to commodity prices. The framework is applied to identify specific oil-demand as opposed to oil-supply shocks where production data are available at a monthly frequency.

Event studies

A rising body of literature uses event study methodology to analyze the international transmission of shocks. The methodology pools events such as monetary policy announcements made by the FOMC, and evaluates market reactions in emerging markets around these events. Several studies also assess the importance of macroeconomic fundamentals and other country characteristics in the transmission of shocks to financial markets in EMs. Though there is some debate about whether these studies accurately capture long run effects (after all, they are predicated on the market reacting “efficiently” to the long run consequences of policy), these studies generally find that countries with stronger macroeconomic fundamentals are affected less during the episodes of volatility, relative to countries with weaker fundamentals.

Other empirical studies

A growing literature on transmission of unconventional monetary policies to emerging markets examines correlations in market outcome variables across countries. Hofmann and Takáts (2015), for example, referring to a range of country-specific studies, conclude that interest rates and asset prices have become increasingly correlated globally during the period of unprecedented monetary easing by the major advanced economies. Both the short- and long-term interest rates of EMs have been heavily influenced by those in the advanced economies, particularly the United States. Rey (2013), and Rey (2014), more generally, provide evidence for strong common movements in gross capital flows, and credit growth around the world.

Very recently, Kamin (2016) in an ongoing study uses some back-of-the-envelope estimates to provide evidence for an exchange rate channel of monetary transmission in the United States. He shows that a U.S. monetary easing that lowers U.S. Treasury yields by 25 basis points causes the dollar to depreciate by 1%. He, however, finds that while a 25 basis point decline in yields lowers foreign output by 0.05% through the “demand switching” channel, it increases foreign output through the “demand creating” channel by exactly the same magnitude. More studies along these lines, perhaps by academics (see more on this below), should be encouraged, and be seen an inputs into a policy dialogue.

Spillovers from exchange rate “movements”

Studying the effects of exchange rates is a hardy perennial of international macroeconomics. But nearly all the empirical research is focused on the impact on the country whose exchange rate changes. There is less evidence, however, on the effect of exchange rate movements on the exports of competitor countries, which in its adverse manifestation is dubbed the “beggar-thy-neighbor” effect. In a world besieged by accusations of ';currency wars'; and ';negative spillovers,'; owing to the extensive recourse to unconventional monetary policies and exchange rate depreciations, measuring this effect is important.

Competitor country effects from exchange rate changes have been discussed in the literature, albeit without much systematic empirical examination of the phenomenon. For example, De Blass and Russ (2010) theoretically examine third-country effects of relative price shocks. Feenstra, Hamilton and Lim (2002) conjecture that China’s significant devaluation in 1994 curtailed export growth for South Korean chaebols. Similarly, Forbes and Rigobon (2002) survey the evidence for contagion through a trade channel, where sudden devaluation by one country may spread crisis to other countries that compete with it in a common export market.

Summary of the empirical literature

To summarize, there is a fast growing empirical literature on estimating spillovers. A large body of the literature, however, seems to have focused on analyzing the international transmission of outcome variables like government bond yields or exchange rates, rather than measuring cross-border spillovers from specific policies.

Where studies have tried to measure spillovers from specific policies, identifying the spillover effects remains a challenge. Identification through sign restrictions, or through heteroskedasticity methods are essentially statistical techniques, and may not have much economic interpretation. Event studies help in identification, but data on market variables at very high frequency e.g. intra day data used typically in advanced economies around particular events may not be readily available for many EMs.

It is also hard to choose between different empirical models such as SVAR, VECM, event studies, and panel frameworks, to draw policy implications. A comparison of the results from different models, and perhaps methodologies like Bayesian model averaging could be employed to get a comprehensive overview of cross border spillovers from country-specific policies.

Given this state of the art, it might not be wise to use the analysis as anything more than a basis of discussion to rate policies. Instead, many policies will fall in the orange zone, with much of the discussion about how further adjustments can take them well and truly into the green zone. Experience, and post mortem analysis, may indicate some policies should truly have been classified red. Over time, analysis plus experience can allow a sharper rating of policies.

IV. How to Proceed?

The next crucial question is: who should assess spillovers, what would be an appropriate forum to discuss spillover effects from specific policies, and the ratings of these policies? How should we proceed?

A group of eminent academics

Given the constraints and political difficulties under which international organizations operate, it may be appropriate to start with a group of eminent academics with reasonable representation across the globe, and have them assess the spillovers, and grade policies.

International Meetings

Perhaps the next step would be an agreement to discuss policies and their international spillover effects at meetings such as those of the IMF Board, the IMFC, the BIS and the G-20. The discussion would be based on background papers, which would be commissioned from both traditional sources like the IMF, as well as non-traditional sources like the group of academics and EM central banks.

These papers would attempt to isolate the nature of spillovers as well as their magnitude, and attempt a preliminary classification of policy actions. Almost surely, there will be a lot of fuzziness about which color to attribute to a wide range of recent policies. But discussion can help participants understand both how the policies could be classified if we had better models and data, as well as how the models and data gathering can be improved.

Country Responsibilities before Formal Rules

When policies are being discussed so as to get better understanding, no policies that affect the international monetary system should be off the table. Importantly, simply denoting a policy with the label “monetary” should not give it an automatic free pass because it falls under the central bank’s domestic mandate. What will be important is neither the policymaker’s mandate, professed intent, or instruments, but actual channels of transmission and outcomes, including spillovers.

Policymakers will respond to the background papers by stating and explaining their policy actions, attempting to persuade the international community they fall in the green and orange zones.

International Conference

As the international community builds understanding on what constitutes sensible rules of the game, and how to label policies in that context, perhaps an international conference may be warranted to see how the community’s understanding of beneficial rules can be implemented. At that time, a discussion of how a central bank’s international responsibilities fit in with its domestic mandate may be warranted. While recognizing the political difficulty of altering any central bank’s mandate, the conference will have to deliberate on how international responsibilities can be woven into existing mandates. It will have to decide whether a new international agreement along the lines of Bretton Woods is needed, or whether much can be accomplished by small changes in the Fund’s Articles of Agreement, accompanied by corresponding changes in mandates of country authorities.

Role of the Fund

What role would the Fund play? The obligations of members and the authority of the Fund are derived from the Articles of Agreement. Section 1 of Article IV makes clear that IMF members are under general obligation “to collaborate with other members of the Fund to assure orderly exchange arrangements and to promote a stable system of exchange rates”. The meaning of “general obligation” is unclear in the Articles but could be “relied upon as a basis for the Fund to call on its members to take specific actions or to refrain from taking specific actions” (IMF, 2006). Article IV further states that “In particular, each member shall … (iii) avoid manipulating exchange rates or the international monetary system in order to prevent effective balance of payments adjustment or to gain unfair competitive advantage over other members …..”. Further, The Principles for the Guidance of Members’ Exchange Rate Policies (originally 1977, amended in 2007) notes that “ … C. Members should take into account in their intervention policies the interests of other members, including those in whose currency they intervene”.

Although the Articles of Agreement or The Principles do not define “manipulation” in any detail, IMF (2007) narrows the scope of manipulation by noting that “manipulation of the exchange rate is only carried through policies that are targeted at – and actually affect – the level of exchange rate. Moreover, manipulation may cause the exchange rate to move or may prevent such movement.”

In practice, it may be difficult to determine if a policy is targeted at attaining a level of exchange rate. Direct policy actions such as intervention in the foreign exchange market, or indirect policies such as monetary, fiscal, and trade policies or regulations of capital movements, regardless of the intent or purpose, can also affect the level of the exchange rate, and can be interpreted as “manipulation”. The interpretation of the Articles of Agreement could perhaps be broadened in scope to include a wider range of policies, which can primarily have effects on the exchange rates, and therefore beggar-thy-neighbor consequences.

While the Articles of Agreement include members’ obligations in relation to exchange rate policies, global financial stability implications of country specific policies are not touched upon anywhere in the Articles. Members’ obligations are considered only in relation to domestic growth objectives. For example, based on the Articles, a country with a weak economy can pursue loose monetary policies to stimulate output and employment. Despite the implications of such policies for financial stability in other countries, the country would argue that its policies are in line with Article IV, Section 1(i) which allows each member to “(i) … direct its economic and financial policies toward the objective of fostering orderly economic growth with reasonable price stability …”. More generally, the Fund’s Articles may need altering based on the discussion of the rules of the game.

Moreover, although broader surveillance by the Fund of its members’ exchange rate policies, and other policies with significant financial sector spillovers, and perhaps public statements about such policies can have signaling effects, countries are not obligated to follow Fund advice unless in a program. The more pertinent question, therefore, might be what can the Fund really do once its Executive Board determines that a particular country is in violation of its obligations under the new rules of the game? Hopefully, the clear focus on the downsides of the particular country’s actions for the rest of the world will lead to political and economic pressures from around the world that make the country cease and desist. The clearer the eventual rules of the game, the more likely this outcome.

V. Conclusions

As this paper suggests, there is much that needs to be pinned down on the international spillovers from domestic policies, especially as regards to the international monetary system. Given the undoubted importance of cross-border trade and capital flows, and the disruptions created by financial market volatility, it does seem an important issue to discuss. Nevertheless, with economic analysis of these issues at an early stage, it is unlikely we will get strong policy prescriptions soon, let alone international agreement on them, especially given that a number of country authorities like central banks have explicit domestic mandates.

This paper therefore suggests a period of focused discussion, first outside international meetings, then within international meetings. There can be no more important issue to understand and discuss than the international spillovers of domestic policies. Such a discussion need not take place in an environment of finger pointing and defensiveness, but as an attempt to understand what can be reasonable, and not overly intrusive, rules of conduct.

As consensus builds on the rules of conduct, we can contemplate the next step of whether to codify them through international agreement, see how the Articles of multilateral watchdogs like the IMF will have to be altered, and how country authorities will interpret or alter domestic mandates to incorporate international responsibilities.


@The views represent those of the authors and not of the Reserve Bank of India, or any of the institutions to which the authors belong.


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