Economic Data – The need for a system overhaul

Posted on December 26, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

How to best capture, assess or measure the overall economic activities of a modern nation state is an extremely challenging and complex task. The way, we assess and estimate economic data needs an update, as the existing tools aren’t able to capture the full picture,creating gaps. Also, what specific set of economic data is more relevant and serves as a better assessment tool to help assess the health of the overall economy needs to be looked at.

The policymakers as well as the governments need better quality and more relevant economic data that can be used as a reliable input to create specific policies, or evaluate a policy decision or reform. The existing leading economic data that are commonly used to make short term projections about the health of the economy, are quite volatile and also fails to accurately paint a high resolution picture of the overall economy,and is therefore subject to a wide range of different interpretations. And unlike a scientific data, economic data are created mostly as an estimation so it can not be relied upon as a fact.

We live in a rapidly changing society and the economy is changing with the world ,and in the process becoming increasingly complex. So relying on the old tools to fully measure the overall economic activities, in order to assess the well-being of the economy, without having the capacity to rigorously interrogate the numbers, can only be described as an incomplete exercise with an incomplete process.

Getting a real time assessment of a nation’s economy is an extremely difficult challenge today, and the overhaul process could help us learn, how to get better at it. A road safety indicator could be derived from the numbers of accidents, both fatal and non fatals. So it’s not really a complicated exercise, but collecting a different set and range of data from various parts of the economy, and then processing it using a defined set of economic indicators as a tool to measure all the economic activities and the general well-being of an economy is quite a complicated process, and prone to errors. Input decides the output, and whatever be the input, we will have some output return loss.

So no system or engine created by human beings is 100% efficient, and therefore, even the best set of economic data will most likely fail to fully and comprehensively capture the true picture of an economy. And unlike a practising clinical physician, who is able to accurately assess the health of a patient real time by measuring the key life indicators created using highly advanced medical diagnostic tools, an economist has to rely on a set of estimated data that are extremely volatile and prone to errors as guidance, to navigate their way through, in order to get a pulse of the economy.

The technological advancement which has transformed the modern society is still somewhat absent in the field of economics, and this may be down to the fact that economy is not an exact hard science. Relevant government agencies responsible for collecting, creating and publishing statistical data will have to up their game by looking at overhauling their existing process and systems, in order to produce high quality and relevant data that reflects the changing modern economy. Also part of the field of economics and economic studies focused on creating standard models and methodologies to assess and measure the overall economic activities of an underlying economy needs an overhaul.

Advertisements
Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )

Taking measures to manage the future financial crises better – KNOWING the UNKNOWNS.

Posted on August 31, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

A well thought out financial regulatory framework, economic system, and policy decisions that can stand the test of time needs to be evolutionary, and requires a certain level of debate, discussion of ideas and possibilities. A strategy and approach that has gone through an evolutionary process, and is proactive, tend to have a greater chance of success than a policy decision or measure that is more or less reactive. And that’s just common sense. But during the financial crisis of 07/08, and in its immediate aftermath, we were hit by a barrage of half baked ideas and measures that came out of a reactive decision making process, and although the aim of the exercise  were well intended, and in some case temporary in nature, they haven’t made the markets or the global economy any more safer than they were before.

Also the existing reactive measures put in place to deal with the financial crisis can only be defined as an experiment. And even in a post crisis world, we continue to operate in the experiment mode, be it, the ultra loose monetary policy experiment to support the markets and the economy or the hard core regulatory environment aimed at avoiding future financial crises. Making it a hot topic of debate, and the possible outcome or outcomes of this ongoing experiment are being discussed around various quarters.   But the end result still remains somewhat unknown because quite simply there are no precedent, so all we have is, best guess estimates, and theories to help us navigate through the unknown terrain.

Having said that, we are at a better place today than during the financial crisis of 07/08, but even after being 5/6 years on the road to recovery, the global economy is still not firing on all cylinders, and there are obviously a number of reasons for that. In my own view, we will only be able to get a better assessment of the strength of the economy after the unconventional monetary policies are taken offline (exit), as there are still many UNKNOWNS out there. The record high stock markets is not fully reflective of the real economy, and although the global economy is in a much better shape than during the financial crisis, parts of the economy are still not firing on all cylinders. A large percentage of the people on the main street are still stretched as evident from the lack of wage growth. And the ongoing geopolitical instability will most likely have an impact on the markets and the economy especially the EU states. The Euro area is still in a very precarious situation, and it is quite likely that the year 2014 will turn out to be a lost opportunity for Euro Zone nations especially if the leadership in the EU fail to get their priorities right. And going forward, we may see significant monetary policy divergence among developed nations especially between the EU, UK and the United States because the respective economies are already in different speed gears. Also major economies like China are going through a transition period, in other words, a gear shift which needs to be managed well through policy changes as we all know that running a car in a wrong gear for a long period of time can pretty much ruin the car’s engine. So the Central bank in China as well as major world economies including of the US and UK will need to manage the gear change efficiently. And this is why, it is important to  create a mechanism that allows greater policy coordination in the global financial system going forward.

 And though, there are still many unknowns, but what we do know, and have learnt so far especially in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis of 07/08 is that, the financial markets and the economy are anything but efficient, and this may be contrary to what some may believe. The fear of the unknown will always trouble the market participants, and as a way to better understand the road ahead, people will make their own projections, which at times could raise more questions than answers.

So while taking a stock of the overall situation, may be its time, we look ahead , and find a way to revisit some of these experiments to help us better understand, and improve the existing structure of the economy and the markets going forward. And with this in mind, I thought, I will take the liberty, and share my own two cents worth on the subject.

To start with, I believe, we can all agree that the  financial crisis has revealed to us the vulnerabilities of our existing economic system and financial infrastructure. And, if we are to attempt to find a way to upgrade the system then we will need to explore ways to remodel, the whole financial infrastructure, in order to make sure it’s sustainable over a long run. So here is an outline of the broader idea, which is based around creating an ” emergency only use spare money supply capacity ” in the system, that could be tapped into during an exceptional situation ( a financial crisis type event ). This could be a possible solution to mitigate or address some of the underlying solvency related concern on a sovereign nation.

And here is how it could work, first and foremost, the utilisation of the newly added capacity will have to be approved by a country’s parliament, second the whole process could be monitored by a global financial stability board or a body under the IMF, and third the market should have a clarity about the rules. So the assumption is, if the markets know or knew that a country could tap into its inbuilt safety mechanism put in place or in other words utilise a back up facility under a defined set of rules in case of emergency then it is less likely to speculate about a potential bankruptcy of that country.

The overall premise is based on a common sense approach that an efficient and sustainable system should  have a back up or IN CASE OF EMERGENCY provision put in place to be  used under exceptional circumstances. So for example, in event of a tyre puncture, you would use the spare tyre that comes with your vehicle or in case of a power failure, you will switch on a back up generator, in same way the emergency money supply pool ( as a spare capacity )  could be tapped into or utilised during an exceptional financial crisis type event. So under the proposed framework, a country could be allowed to print emergency money equivalent to up to 10% of its GDP, and this new money supply will automatically cease to exist within a period of let’s say 5 years, and could be linked to the overall GDP growth. In others words, the money supply by design will be created with a limited shelf life, to be used under extreme and exceptional circumstances. And the assumption here is that a five year cycle should be a sufficient transition period to help the economy rehabilitate.

 Also linking the temporary additional money supply to the GDP growth creates a balance. So the overall idea works more or less like the rocket booster engine system that are used to take spacecraft into space, they do a job and then cut off  (burn out ). We are taking about, creating a provision that will allow a country to tap into its spare capacity, a builtin safety mechanism that could kick in, in case of emergency. And since the provision will have a defined set of rules, the debate around a possible exit, and its outcome will not have to factor in many UNKNOWNS, making the outcome somewhat certain. So we know what happens, and at what level.

And beside the concern over sovereign risk, the other big issue item are the large financial institutions considered too big to fail. Asking the institution to create a living WILL doesn’t really go far enough. So one of the idea worth exploring could be, creating a mechanism that will allow troubled large ( too big to fail ) financial institutions to temporarily come under the protection of the central bank. The limited protection will not be for a period longer than 2.5 years, and the restructuring and unwinding process could be monitored, supervised by a special committee reporting directly to the central bank.

The experimentation with unconventional monetary policies like QE  created uncertainty causing extreme volatility, and the problem was not the QE but the perception of QE, and what it will do or has done to the overall economy. Unconventional monetary policy tools like QE aren’t really a complete idea, and just like any human idea they need to reach a level of maturity through evolution. Also by design, the current structure of our economic system makes it prone to crises so if you are operating in a global financial system that has inherent builtin inefficiency then there is always a good chance that any policy measure even with best intention or design may not have the desired result.

So creating a defined safety mechanism in the overall infrastructure of the financial system should hopefully go a long way  in providing a level of certainty to the market. And here is an example, during the financial crisis, the uncertainty over whether a country would get bailed out or not, and on what terms sort of magnified the problem.

Also an investment or a business model can only factor what is known, and what  can be seen so a decision making will always have an element of risk involved. But knowing that there are many UKNOWNs keeps us honest and wise.  So going forward,  what we need to admit, and fully understand is that ,the journey to creating an efficient financial system will come with failures, and we may not have all the answers so being open to all and any good ideas makes all the sense. A Market economy is nothing but a human idea, and it has to go through an evolutionary process, and one of the reasons why the financial markets go through boom and bust is simply because the undefined rules creates an environment for extreme uncertainty leading to speculation.

That said, striving to create a financial and economic system that is 100% efficient, is quite impractical ( at least for now) . Also it must be said that inefficiencies do create opportunities, which allows entrepreneurs to add value, and in the process profit from it. Money or capital has no NATIONALITY so people will chase opportunities where ever they can find, and I believe thats a fair game because it encourages economies and businesses to compete for capital.

However, as a part of the evolutionary process, and over time, we have learnt to make safer cars, planes, and made tremendous progress in making various manufacturing process safer, transformed the telecom industry. And we have also made significant progress in many other fields including of space exploration among others, but our innovation in financial markets hasn’t  really made the economy or the markets any safer.

So its about time that we focus our efforts on not only making the economy and the financial markets safer, but also on making it work better by improving the overall design of the existing system, and take measures to manage the future financial crises better, in order to minimise the financial hardship on people in the Main Street as well as on the nation states during the time of an exceptionally damaging financial crisis that leads to broken people, broken families as evident from the financial crisis of 07/08. This will be a journey of knowing the unknowns.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )

Making Sense of The Policy Debate Inside The Financial Market

Posted on June 18, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

There is no shortage of opinion in the market today on the current state of affairs of the global economy and most of the commentary as well as analysis seem to be centred around Central banks policies and its overall current impact assessment and on how things may play out going forward. The discussions are generally focused on what the central banks especially the Federal Reserve System (aka the Federal Reserve ) did do and didn’t do during the financial crisis of 2008 and in the immediate aftermath and also what it should have been done instead among other things.

So during a conference call to discuss a deal, I managed to get myself into a what I would probably classify now as a silly debate on phone with two of my dear analyst friends in wall-street. It was quite evident from our conversation that  both of them had pretty strong opinion on one central banker in particular and I won’t say it’s shocking to learn how some folks create and form an immediate opinion on someone based on mostly what other market practitioners are saying or have said for that matter but what does surprise me is when people fail to realise that markets are run by human ideas and not all Ideas are good. It is good to have different ideas along with different perspective and we can always agree to disagree and but what we shouldn’t do is dismiss everything simply because it doesn’t fit with our own school of thoughts.

The reality is most of us do not have the essential or required foresight to accurately predict or map out the outcome of the implementation of an idea, strategy or decisions we are going to make but we do know that we can’t necessarily FIX today’s problems by applying tools of the past. And the financial crisis of 08 can’t be compared to other crises before it so fixing it will require a new approach and application of new tools. But the problem is we also live in a different era, a 24 x 7 world where any and every decision a policy maker takes will get scrutinised instantly and people pouring in with opinions expecting instant results without realising that a policy needs to go through a policy cycle in order to be fit for impact analysis. The market tends to carry out an instant autopsy right at the birth and sometimes even before an idea or a policy is fully conceived. And yes there are situations where initial debates are quintessential and do help in formulating good policies.

This crisis has been a breeding ground for learning and testing ideas. And unlike many of my friends I haven’t yet made an opinion on the decisions taken by Mr Ben Shalom Bernanke as I believe it is a bit early to carry out a full and comprehensive assessment and analysis of each and every policy decisions taken by the top central banks especially the Federal Reserve Bank of United States. Also it will be unwise to formulate a clear opinion on the type of legacy Mr Ben Shalom Bernanke as the chairman of the FED will leave behind. We will have to wait and see. And to those who are extremely eager to write their version of immediate history I would say this, where is the logic and common sense behind a person writing an auto biography at age 21 when you know you may end up looking like a complete idiot at the age of 65. As human beings we are never a finished item.

Whatever may become of Mr Ben Shalom Bernanke’s legacy, he has clearly been one of the most proactive central banker who made bold and conscious decisions to get ahead of the crisis and to add to that I would say that I have more faith in him than his house mate at Winthrop house in Harvard, Mr Lloyd Blankfein. Also his policy decisions will most likely keep many student of economics around the world busy for some time to come.

In order to make sense of a policy and policy decisions you do need to spend time on understanding the person or people behind the policies. It is important to look at the bigger picture and develop a better understanding of how that person or a group of people think and react in a given or different situations, how they make specific decisions and why, what is their thought process, what are their priorities, what is their understanding of a particular situation and what are they trying to achieve among other things. The ability to fully grasp a situation differs from people to people.

We live in a Facebook world where most of us tend to post and share our thoughts before it had a chance to fully develop or evolve and the same goes for policy making. A fully developed policy idea takes time to evolve but since most policy decisions during the crisis were made against a ticking clock they were generally half-baked ideas so there will obviously be some uncertainty around them which may cause or continue to create volatility in the market. And it is highly likely that most policy makers including of Mr Ben Bernanke are probably keeping their fingers crossed and hoping things will work out well eventually and history will be kind on them but we are not there yet.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

%d bloggers like this: