They Did It, They Did, They Did It!

Lately, that seems to be the message coming from current and past Fed officials regarding the housing and credit boom in the early-to-mid 2000s.  First Ben Bernanke, then Vincent Reinhart, and now Janet Yellen have come out saying it was excess savings by foreigners and failings in the U.S. private sector that was the root cause of the boom.  No blame is assigned to the Fed.  They ask how could the Fed have created a liquidity glut that drove down world interest rates and sparked off a global housing boom?

The answer is easy: the Fed is a global monetary hegemon. It holds the world’s main reserve currency and many emerging markets are formally or informally pegged to dollar. Thus, its monetary policy was exported to much of the emerging world at this time. This means that the other two monetary powers, the ECB and Japan, had to be mindful of U.S. monetary policy lest their currencies becomes too expensive relative to the dollar and all the other currencies pegged to the dollar. As as result, the Fed’s loose monetary policy also got exported to some degree to Japan and the Euro area.  From this perspective it is easy to understand how the Fed could have created a global liquidity glut in the early-to-mid 2000s.  Inevitably, some of this global liquidity glut got recycled back into the U.S. economy and further fueled the housing boom (i.e. the dollar block countries had to buy up more dollars as the Fed loosened policy and these funds got recycled via Treasury purchases back to the U.S. economy). As I showed in a recent post, there is strong evidence that a good portion of the foreign reserve buildup in the global economy during the 2000s can be tied to U.S. monetary policy.

What is amazing is that on one hand these Fed officials will acknowledge the Fed’s global monetary power and then completely ignore the implications of this for early-to-mid 2000s.  I wish they wrestle with the four questions I presented to Ben Bernanke after his recent speech.   In case any of these Fed officials are interested, I am about to wrap up a coauthored paper that more fully develops the implications of the Fed’s monetary superpower status during the housing boom. I would be glad to share it with them.

Update:  Here is a paper from the ECB that empirically estimates how important the global saving glut was versus monetary policy.  This is the abstract:

 Since the late-1990s, the global economy is characterised by historically low risk premia and an unprecedented widening of external imbalances. This paper explores to what extent these two global trends can be understood as a reaction to three structural shocks in different regions of the global economy: (i) monetary shocks (“excess liquidity” hypothesis), (ii) preference shocks (“savings glut” hypothesis), and (iii) investment shocks (“investment drought” hypothesis). In order to uniquely identify these shocks in an integrated framework, we estimate structural VARs for the two main regions with widening imbalances, the United States and emerging Asia, using sign restrictions that are compatible with standard New Keynesian and Real Business Cycle models. Our results show that monetary shocks potentially explain the largest part of the variation in imbalances and financial market prices. We find that savings shocks and investment shocks explain less of the variation. Hence, a “liquidity glut” may have been a more important driver of real and financial imbalances in the US and emerging Asia than a “savings glut”.

Originally published at Macro and Other Market Musings and reproduced here with permission.