Monday, 7 December 2015

Russia’s Dollar Exit Takes Major New Step

For some time both China and the Russian Federation have understood, as do other nations, that the role of the US dollar as the world’s major reserve currency is their economic Achilles Heel. So long as Washington and Wall Street control the dollar, and so long as the bulk of world trade requires dollars for settlement, central banks like those of Russia and China are forced to stockpile dollars in the form of “safe” US Treasury debt, as currency reserves to protect their economies from the kind of currency war Russia experienced in late 2014 when the aptly-named US Treasury Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence and Wall Street dumped rubles amid a US-Saudi deal to collapse world oil prices. Now Russia and China are quietly heading for the dollar exit door.
Russia’s state budget strongly depends on oil export dollar profits. Ironically, because of the role of the dollar, the central banks of China, Russia, Brazil and other countries diametrically opposed to US foreign policy, are forced to buy US Treasury debt in dollars, de facto financing the wars of Washington that aim to damage them.
That’s quietly changing. In 2014 Russia and China signed two mammoth 30-year contracts for Russian gas to China. The contracts specified that the exchange would be done in Renminbi and Russian rubles, not in dollars. That was the beginning of an accelerating process of de-dollarization that is underway today.

Renminbi in Russian Reserves

On November 27, Russia’s Central Bank announced that it was including the Chinese Renminbi into the central bank’s official reserves for the first time. As of December 31, 2014, official Central Bank of Russia reserves consisted of 44% US dollars, and 42% Euros with the British Pound slightly more than 9%. The decision to include Renminbi or Yuan into Russia’s official reserves will increase the use of the yuan in Russian financial markets, to the detriment of the dollar.
The yuan first began to be traded as a currency, even though it is not yet fully convertible into other currencies, in the Moscow Exchange in 2010. Since then the volume of yuan-ruble trades has grown enormously. In August, 2015 Russian currency traders and companies bought a record 18 billion yuan, about $3 billion, representing a 400% increase from a year earlier.

The Golden Ruble is coming

But the actions of Russia and China to replace the dollar as mediating currency in their mutual trade, a trade whose volume has grown significantly since US and EU sanctions in March 2014, are not the end of it.
Gold is about to make a dramatic return to the world monetary stage for the first time since Washington unilaterally ripped up the Bretton Woods Treaty in August, 1971. At that point, advised by David Rockefeller’s personal emissary in the Treasury, Paul Volcker, Niixon announced Waahinton was refusing to honor its treaty obligations to redeem the dollars held abroad for US central bank gold.
Since that time, rumors have persisted that, in fact, the gold chambers of Fort Knox are bare, a fact that, were it to be verified, would spell curtains for the dollar as reserve currency.
Washington adamantly holds to the story line that the Federal Reserve sits on 8133 tons of gold reserves. If true, that would far exceed the second-largest, Germany, whose official gold holdings are listed by the IMF at 3381 tons.
In 2014 a bizarre event transpired which fed the doubts about US official gold statistics. In 2012 the German Government asked the Federal Reserve to return German central bank gold “held in custody” for the Bundesbank by the Fed. Shocking the world, the US central bank refused to give Germany her gold back, using the flimsy excuse that the Federal Reserve “could not differentiate German gold bars from US ones…” Perhaps we are to believe the auditors of US Federal Reserve gold were laid off in the US budget cuts?
In the ensuing scandal, in 2013 the US repatriated a measly 5 tons of German gold to Frankfurt and announced it would need until 2020 to complete the requested 300 tons repatriation. Other European central banks began demanding their gold from the Fed, as distrust of the US central bank grew.
Into this dynamic the central bank of Russia has been adding to its official gold reserves in dramatic fashion in recent years. Since the growing hostility with Washington the pace has become far more rapid. From January 2013, Russia’s official gold has expanded by 129% to 1352 tons as of September 30, 2015. In 2000 at the end of the decade of US-backed plunder of the Russian Federation during the dark Yeltsin years of the 1990s Russia’s gold reserves stood at 343 tons.
The vaults of the Russian Central Bank, which at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 held some 2,000 tons of official gold, had been stripped during the controversial tenure of Gosbank head, Viktor Gerashchenko, who told a startled Duma that he could not account for the whereabouts of the Russian gold.
Today is a different era to be sure. Russia has far and away replaced South Africa as the world’s third largest gold mining country in terms of annual tons mined. China has become number one.
Western media has made much of the fact that since US-led financial sanctions, Russian central bank reserves of dollars have fallen significantly. What they do not report is that at the same time the central bank in Russia has been buying gold, lots of gold. Russia’s total reserves in US dollars have fallen recently under sanctions by some $140 billion since 2014 parallel with the 50% collapse in dollar oil prices, but holdings of gold are up by 30% since 2014 as noted. Russia now holds as many ounces of gold as the gold exchange-traded funds (ETFs) do. In June alone, it added the equivalent of 12% of global annual gold mine production according to
Were the Russian government to adopt the very sensible proposal of Russian economist and Putin adviser, Sergei Glazyev, namely that the Central Bank of Russia buy every single ounce of Russian mined gold at a guaranteed attractive ruble price to increase state gold holdings, that would even more avoid the Central Bank having to buy the gold on international markets for dollars.

A Bankrupt Hegemon

At the close of the 1980’s as they viewed a major US banking crisis coupled with the clear decline in the postwar role of the United States as the world’s industrial leading nation, as US multinationals out-sourced to low-wage countries like Mexico and later China, Europeans began to conceive of a new currency to replace the dollar as reserve and creation of a United States of Europe to rival US hegemony. The European response was creation of the Maastricht Treaty at the moment of the reunification of Germany in the beginning of the 1990’s. The European Central Bank and later the Euro, a severely flawed top-down construction, was the result. A suspiciously successful bet in billions by New York hedge fund speculator George Soros in 1992 against the Bank of England and the parity of the Pound, managed to knock the UK and the City of London out of the emerging EU alternative to the dollar. It was easy pickings for some of the same hedge funds to tear the Euro at the seams in 2010 by attacking its Achilles Heel, Greece, followed by Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Spain. Since then the EU, which is bound to Washington as well via the chains of NATO, has posed little threat to American hegemony.
However, increasingly since 2010, as Washington attempted to impose the Pentagon’s Full Spectrum Dominance on the world in the form of the so-called Arab Spring manipulated regime changes from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya and now, with poor results, in Syria, China and Russia have both been pushed into each others’ arms. A Russian-Chinese alternative to the dollar in the form of a gold-backed ruble and gold-backed renminbi or yuan, could start a snowball exit from the US dollar, and with it, a severe decline in America’s ability to use the reserve dollar role to finance her wars with other peoples’ money. That could just give the interests in favor of a world at peace a huge advantage over that warring lost hegemon, the United States.

F. William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

First appeared:

Monday, 26 October 2015

A History of Sovereign Money Proposals from Patrizio Laina

Screenshot 2015-10-25 07.49.56Patrizio Laina, a PhD candidate at the University of Helsinki, has written a short but very comprehensive overview of the history of proposals to take the power to create money away from banks. Laina traces the ideas back right to the 1830s, and ends with the proposals of Positive Money and Martin Wolf in 2015. This is one of the best overviews that I’ve seen of the history of these ideas, and well worth a read. (It’s in plain English).
The full paper is well worth reading.
“[Full reserve banking, i.e. preventing banks from creating money] has been proposed and even implemented as a solution to financial instability a number of times in the past. Thus, the idea of monetary reform should be seen as a historical continuum. In the UK the Bank Charter Act of 1844 prohibited private money creation through fractional-reserve banking by requiring that bank notes (which were the prevailing means of payment) should be fully-backed by government money. The National Acts of 1863 and 1864 achieved the same goal in the US.
“The prohibitions, however, did not include bank deposits, which slowly became the dominant means of payment. In the 1930s, the Chicago Plan was almost adopted in the US, but the FRB idea was watered down in the Banking Acts of 1933 (better known as the Glass- Steagall Act) and 1935. Instead of preventing private money creation in the form of bank deposits, the Banking Acts separated commercial and investment banking, provided deposit insurance and improved government’s control over monetary policy and money supply. Currently there are no examples of economies where the majority of money does not come into existence as a consequence of bank lending.
“Now, in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), preventing private money creation in order to ensure financial stability has once again become a topical issue.”  

Monday, 12 October 2015

Don’t let the Nobel prize fool you. Economics is not a science

The award glorifies economists as tellers of timeless truths, fostering hubris and leading to disaster

usiness as usual. That will be the implicit message when the Sveriges Riksbank announces this year’s winner of the “Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel”, to give it its full title. Seven years ago this autumn, practically the entire mainstream economics profession was caught off guard by the global financial crash and the “worst panic since the 1930s” that followed. And yet on Monday the glorification of economics as a scientific field on a par with physics, chemistry and medicine will continue.

The problem is not so much that there is a Nobel prize in economics, but that there are no equivalent prizes in psychology, sociology, anthropology. Economics, this seems to say, is not a social science but an exact one, like physics or chemistry – a distinction that not only encourages hubris among economists but also changes the way we think about the economy.
A Nobel prize in economics implies that the human world operates much like the physical world: that it can be described and understood in neutral terms, and that it lends itself to modelling, like chemical reactions or the movement of the stars. It creates the impression that economists are not in the business of constructing inherently imperfect theories, but of discovering timeless truths.
To illustrate just how dangerous that kind of belief can be, one only need to consider the fate of Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund set up by, among others, the economists Myron Scholes and Robert Merton in 1994. With their work on derivatives, Scholes and Merton seemed to have hit on a formula that yielded a safe but lucrative trading strategy. In 1997 they were awarded the Nobel prize. A year later, Long-Term Capital Management lost $4.6bn (£3bn)in less than four months; a bailout was required to avert the threat to the global financial system. Markets, it seemed, didn’t always behave like scientific models.
In the decade that followed, the same over-confidence in the power and wisdom of financial models bred a disastrous culture of complacency, ending in the 2008 crash. Why should bankers ask themselves if a lucrative new complex financial product is safe when the models tell them it is? Why give regulators real power when models can do their work for them?
Many economists seem to have come to think of their field in scientific terms: a body of incrementally growing objective knowledge. Over the past decades mainstream economics in universities has become increasingly mathematical, focusing on complex statistical analyses and modelling to the detriment of the observation of reality.
Consider this throwaway line from the former top regulator and London School ofEconomics director Howard Davies in his 2010 book The Financial Crisis: Who Is to Blame?: “There is a lack of real-life research on trading floors themselves.” To which one might say: well, yes, so how about doing something about that? After all, Davies was at the time heading what is probably the most prestigious institution for economics research in Europe, located a stone’s throw away from the banks that blew up.
All those banks have “structured products approval committees”, where a team of banking staff sits down to decide whether their bank should adopt a particular new complex financial product. If economics were a social science like sociology or anthropology, practitioners would set about interviewing those committee members, scrutinising the meetings’ minutes and trying to observe as many meetings as possible. That is how the kind of fieldwork-based, “qualitative” social sciences, which economists like to discard as “soft” and unscientific, operate. It is true that this approach, too, comes with serious methodological caveats, such as verifiability, selection bias or observer bias. The difference is that other social sciences are open about these limitations, arguing that, while human knowledge about humans is fundamentally different from human knowledge about the natural world, those imperfect observations are extremely important to make.
Compare that humility to that of former central banker Alan Greenspan, one of the architects of the deregulation of finance, and a great believer in models. After the crash hit, Greenspan appeared before a congressional committee in the US to explain himself. “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organisations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” said the man whom fellow economists used to celebrate as “the maestro”.
In other words, Greenspan had been unable to imagine that bankers would run their own bank into the ground. Had the maestro read the tiny pile of books by financial anthropologists he may have found it easier to imagine such behaviour. Then he would have known that over past decades banks had adopted a “zero job security” hire-and-fire culture, breeding a “zero-loyalty” mentality that can be summarised as: “If you can be out of the door in five minutes, your horizon becomes five minutes.”
While this was apparently new to Greenspan it was not to anthropologist Karen Ho, who did years of fieldwork at a Wall Street bank. Her book Liquidatedemphasises the pivotal role of zero job security at Wall Street (the same system governs the City of London). The financial sociologist Vincent L├ępinay’s Codes of Finance, a book about the division in a French bank for complex financial products, describes in convincing detail how institutional memory suffers when people switch jobs frequently and at short notice.
Perhaps the most pernicious effect of the status of economics in public life has been the hegemony of technocratic thinking. Political questions about how to run society have come to be framed as technical issues, fatally diminishing politics as the arena where society debates means and ends. Take a crucial concept such as gross domestic product. As Ha-Joon Chang makes clear in 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, the choices about what not to include in GDP (household work, to name one) are highly ideological. The same applies to inflation, since there is nothing neutral about the decision not to give greater weight to the explosion in housing and stock market prices when calculating inflation.
GDP, inflation and even growth figures are not objective temperature measurements of the economy, no matter how many economists, commentators and politicians like to pretend they are. Much of economics is politics disguised as technocracy – acknowledging this might help open up the space for political debate and change that has been so lacking in the past seven years.
Would it not be extremely useful to take economics down one peg by overhauling the prize to include all social sciences? The Nobel prize for economics is not even a “real” Nobel prize anyway, having only been set up by the Swedish central bank in 1969. In recent years, it may have been awarded to more non-conventional practitioners such as the psychologist Daniel Kahneman. However, Kahneman was still rewarded for his contribution to the science of economics, still putting that field centre stage.
Think of how frequently the Nobel prize for literature elevates little-known writers or poets to the global stage, or how the peace prize stirs up a vital global conversation: Naguib Mahfouz’s Nobel introduced Arab literature to a mass audience, while last year’s prize for Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai put the right of all children to an education on the agenda. Nobel prizes in economics, meanwhile, go to “contributions to methods of analysing economic time series with time-varying volatility” (2003) or the “analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity” (2008).
A revamped social science Nobel prize could play a similar role, feeding the global conversation with new discoveries and insights from across the social sciences, while always emphasising the need for humility in treating knowledge by humans about humans. One good candidate would be the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, whose writing on the “liquid modernity” of post-utopian capitalism deserves the largest audience possible. Richard Sennett and his work on the “corrosion of character” among workers in today’s economies would be another. Will economists volunteer to share their prestigious prize out of their own acccord? Their own mainstream economic assumptions about human selfishness suggest they will not.
By Joris Luyendijk

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

How does a strong dollar affect emerging economies?

By Pablo Druck

What is the effect of a stronger or weaker US dollar on emerging markets’ economic activity? Frenkel (1986) documents that US monetary easing – usually related to a more depreciated dollar – results in higher commodity prices, and vice versa. Dornbusch (1986), Borensztein and Reinhart (1994), and Akram (2009) show that nominal and real commodity prices depend negatively on the US real exchange rate. In parallel, Engel and Hamilton (1990) have long ago documented the long swings in dollar values. However, we are not aware of any systematic evidence of the link between the strength of the US dollar and economic activity in emerging markets over the dollar cycle – less so of any study documenting the transmission channel. In a recent paper (Druck et al., 2015) we try to bridge this gap.
Using data for 1970–2014, we document that:
  • During periods of US dollar appreciation, real GDP growth in emerging markets slows despite the positive impulse of US growth, and vice versa.
The main transmission channel is through an income effect owing to the impact of the dollar on global commodity prices. As the dollar appreciates, dollar commodity prices tend to fall. In turn, weaker commodity prices depress domestic demand via lower real (dollar) income. Thus, real GDP in emerging markets decelerates. Moreover, we show that these effects hold despite any potential expenditure-switching effect resulting from the relative currency depreciation of emerging market economies when the dollar appreciates. We also show that despite controlling for the effects of the US real exchange rate appreciation and real GDP growth, an increase in the US interest rate further reduces growth in emerging markets. All these effects are stronger in countries with more rigid exchange rate regimes. Finally, although net commodity exporters are affected the most, countries that rely on importing capital or inputs for domestic production will also be affected. Therefore, at the time of writing, emerging markets’ growth is likely to remain subdued reflecting, in part, the expected persistence of the strong dollar and the anticipated increase in the US interest rates.
Why the US real effective exchange rate has such an impact? For developing countries, this is essentially an exogenous variable. Most international transactions are priced in US dollars, including commodity prices. And emerging markets (excluding perhaps China) cannot affect much the weights in the multilateral exchange rate of the US. Thus, developments in the US affect emerging markets – and not vice versa. Further, the independence of US macroeconomic policy with respect to less developed countries suggests that the US real exchange rate is likely to be more relevant and even more exogenous than the terms of trade.
Historical context: Some stylised facts
  • Stronger US dollar, lower emerging markets’ growth.
Periods of US dollar appreciation coincide with softer real GDP growth rates throughout emerging market regions (Figure 1) – and vice versa. This stylised fact is especially strong for regions that are strong net commodity exporters.
Figure 1. US dollar strength and real GDP growth in emerging markets
magud fig1 14 aug
Sources: IMF, World Economic Outlook; and IMF, International Financial Statistics; and IMF staff calculations.
Note: REER = Real Effective Exchange Rate. Increase = depreciation.
  • Stronger U.S. dollar, softer real domestic demand growth.
Figure 2 presents a similar picture as Figure 1, but using the growth rate of real domestic demand. It suggests that domestic demand is a strong driver of economic activity, beyond other factors that might influence domestic demand.
Figure 2. US dollar strength and real domestic demand growth in emerging markets
magud fig2 14 aug
Sources: IMF, World Economic Outlook; and IMF, International Financial Statistics; and IMF staff calculations.
Note: REER = Real Effective Exchange Rate. Increase = depreciation.
  • Higher US interest rates, a stronger US dollar.
Higher interest rates in the US tend to occur alongside a stronger dollar, and vice versa (Figure 3). Higher interest rates in the US increase capital inflows to the US searching for higher yields, appreciating the currency. Often, higher interest rates are also associated with stronger growth, though not always.
Figure 3. US dollar strength, real GDP growth, and real interest rates
Sources: IMF, World Economic Outlook; and IMF, International Financial Statistics; and IMF staff calculations.
Note: REER = Real Effective Exchange Rate. Increase = depreciation.
  • Though not systematically, higher US interest rates appear to be associated with stronger US growth; Interest rate-economic activity relationship: stronger growth eventually generates demand-induced inflationary pressures.
Lack of sufficient (or fast enough) supply response translates into higher prices. The latter triggers the Fed into tightening its monetary policy, increasing borrowing costs and thus mitigating inflationary pressures through slower economic activity growth.
Dollar appreciation/depreciation cycles
Estimating a simple Markov-switching model with appreciation/depreciation regimes for the period 1970–2014, we find that real depreciations have been, on average, stronger and lasted longer than real appreciations. The real annual average appreciation is 3.2% per year with an average duration of over 6 years; the real average annual depreciation is 3.8% with an average duration of close to 9 years.1 In addition, these regimes are very persistent. A period of real appreciation is 83% more likely to remain appreciating in the following period than to switch regimes. For real depreciation, the probability of continuation of the state of nature is about 88%.2 Thus, we identify the following cycles:
Table 1. Appreciation and depreciation cycles
Event analysis
Next, we add dynamics to the average depreciation and appreciation cycles, based on event analysis using the dollar cycles identified above.3 Figure 4 shows the indices for the average real GDP during appreciation and depreciation episodes; Figure 5 shows real domestic demand.
Figure 4. Real GDP during US dollar appreciation and depreciation cycles
Source: authors’ calculation.
Except for Central America and Mexico, every other emerging region shows that real GDP is lower during periods of US dollar appreciation. We observe that this pattern holds for Latin America as an aggregate, and especially for South America. The latter is a strong commodity exporter – unlike Central America and Mexico. It also holds for emerging countries in the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA), as well as for emerging Europe. To a lesser extent, it also true for emerging Asia. On average, Latin America’s slower growth results in real GDP being about 25 percentage points lower toward the end of the cycle during appreciation cycles than during depreciation cycles. South America’s differences are of similar order of magnitude. They are even higher in MENA countries – about 50 percentage points, while lower in emerging Asia, though still sizeable (at about 20 percentage points). There is not such a marked difference in Central America and Mexico, however. Among the possible causes of the latter, are the strong links via trade, tourism, and remittances. The trade link operates through the external demand for goods. Tourism boosts external demand for services. And remittances transfer resources from the US to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. All these factors help increase domestic demand and income in the emerging and developing countries. Thus, they could offset any negative income effect owing to the stronger dollar. Countries with hard pegs or outright dollarization tend to be further synchronised with the US’ business cycle.
Figure 5. Real domestic demand during US dollar appreciation and depreciation cycles
Source: authors’ calculation.
  • Regarding domestic demand, except for Central America and Mexico, all other regions and sub-regions experience much stronger real domestic demand growth when the US dollar is more depreciated.
In fact, in many of the regions domestic demand actually decreases or remains flat during appreciation phases. We take this as a powerful indication of the negative impact of a stronger dollar on the purchasing power of domestic demand. In turn, this could suggest that it might be the case that the income effect actually dominates the (expenditure-switching) substitution effect in some cases.
Some simple econometrics
After sketching a simple model to rationalise our findings, we run two sets of simple regressions to test the above stylised facts. The left-hand side variable is either the growth rate of emerging markets’ real GDP or real domestic demand, respectively. Despite controlling for US and China’s real GDP growth rates (external demand), US real interest rates (financial channel), net capital inflows (availability of external financing), volatility (uncertainty), commodity terms of trade, and several other controls, there is a strong statistically significant effect of the US real effective exchange rate on emerging markets’ growth. This effect is negative, particularly so for domestic demand. It holds across different emerging regions, with varying degrees. It is especially strong for net commodity exporters. But it is also relevant for countries that rely on importing capital or inputs to produce. For economies with more exchange rate flexibility, the effect is weaker on output, but stronger on domestic demand, as expected. Thus, a stronger US dollar lowers real GDP and domestic demand growth.
Table 2. Real GDP growth rate and demand growth rate
Going forward
The US dollar is on an appreciating cycle since mid-2014. Based on our historical estimations, the probability of the dollar remaining appreciated in the short- and medium-term is high (above 80%), in line with appreciating cycles in the US dollar of about 6­8 years. In the circumstances, commodity prices would remain weak. Together, these effects point to slower domestic demand and real GDP growth in emerging markets than otherwise – across all regions.
Moreover, in the context of a lift-off in US interest rates as the Federal Reserve is expected to start unwinding the extraordinary expansionary monetary policy implemented in recent years, if anything, the US dollar is more likely to remain strong. Capital inflows to emerging markets are likely to moderate at best (even if no capital flow reversal takes place), on the back of weaker commodity prices. Unfortunately, thus, the external front for these economies is not promising.
Strong US growth is good for emerging markets, as external demand for the latter increases. Beyond that effect, however, a stronger US dollar mitigates the expansionary effect of faster growth in the US, via an income effect. The latter, in turn, is particularly strong for commodity exporters and countries with more rigid exchange rate regimes. To a lesser extent, countries that rely on importing capital and intermediate inputs in production could also experience this offsetting income effect via domestic demand. And higher US real interest rate further adds to the mitigation/amplification effect or the tighter/easier financial conditions that usually come along with a more appreciated dollar.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF, its Executive Board of management.
Akram, Q F (2009), “Commodity Prices, Interest Rates, and the Dollar”, Energy Economics, Vol. 31, pp. 838–851.
Borensztein, E and C Reinhart (1994), “The Macroeconomic Determinants of Commodity Prices”, IMF Staff Papers, Vol. 41, No. 2 (June), pp. 236–261.
Dornbusch, R (1986), “Inflation, Exchange Rates and Stabilization,” Essays in International Finance, No. 165, (October), pp. 1-24. International Finance Section, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Druck, P, N Magud, and R Mariscal-Paredes (2015), “Collateral Damage: Dollar Strength and Emerging Markets’ Growth”, International Monetary Fund Working Paper 15/179, July (Washington: International Monetary Fund).
Engel, C and J Hamilton (1990), “Long Swings in the Dollar: Are they in the Data and Do Markets Know it?”, The American Economic Review, September, pp. 689-713.
Frenkel, J (1986), “Expectations and Commodity Price Dynamics: the Overshooting Model”, Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 68, No. 2 (May), pp. 344-348.
1 Excluding the current (ongoing) appreciation cycle we find that appreciation cycles are still shorter than depreciation cycles, but less so. The average length is about 8 years. The average annual appreciation rate is 3.4%, and the average annual depreciation rate is 3.7%.
2 The results from excluding the current appreciation cycle imply a slightly higher persistence of depreciation cycles (92%), and similar expected persistence for appreciation cycles (82%).
3 Given that each event is not necessarily of the same period length, we discretize the length of each event. To this end, let us call period t0 the first observation in any appreciation or depreciation cycle and (the real GDP) observation in the last year of the appreciation or depreciation cycle as t4. Let us standardise real GDP in period t-1 equal to 100. Given the data for real GDP growth rates for each (PPP-weighted) real GDP, we reconstruct the indexed real GDP for each region. We discretize the time-space to compute the real GDP index at the half-life of each event, as well as at quarter-life and three-quarter-life. Last, we compute basic statistics across each set of appreciation and depreciation episodes at t0, ¼, ½, and ¾ and t, respectively (which we label as t0, t1, t2, t3, and t4, respectively).
This article is published in collaboration with Vox EU. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
Author: Pablo Druck is a Senior Economist, International Monetary Fund. Nicolas Magud is a Senior Economist at the International Monetary Fund. Rodrigo Mariscal is a Research analyst in the Western Hemisphere Department, IMF.
Image: A portrait of Benjamin Franklin on a U.S. One-hundred dollar bill is pictured at Interbank Inc. money exchange in Tokyo. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao 

Friday, 14 August 2015

How Bush's grandfather helped Hitler's rise to power

Rumours of a link between the US first family and the Nazi war machine have circulated for decades. Now the Guardian can reveal how repercussions of events that culminated in action under the Trading with the Enemy Act are still being felt by today's president

George Bush's grandfather, the late US senator Prescott Bush, was a director and shareholder of companies that profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany.
The Guardian has obtained confirmation from newly discovered files in the US National Archives that a firm of which Prescott Bush was a director was involved with the financial architects of Nazism.
His business dealings, which continued until his company's assets were seized in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act, has led more than 60 years later to a civil action for damages being brought in Germany against the Bush family by two former slave labourers at Auschwitz and to a hum of pre-election controversy.
The evidence has also prompted one former US Nazi war crimes prosecutor to argue that the late senator's action should have been grounds for prosecution for giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
The debate over Prescott Bush's behaviour has been bubbling under the surface for some time. There has been a steady internet chatter about the "Bush/Nazi" connection, much of it inaccurate and unfair. But the new documents, many of which were only declassified last year, show that even after America had entered the war and when there was already significant information about the Nazis' plans and policies, he worked for and profited from companies closely involved with the very German businesses that financed Hitler's rise to power. It has also been suggested that the money he made from these dealings helped to establish the Bush family fortune and set up its political dynasty.
Remarkably, little of Bush's dealings with Germany has received public scrutiny, partly because of the secret status of the documentation involving him. But now the multibillion dollar legal action for damages by two Holocaust survivors against the Bush family, and the imminent publication of three books on the subject are threatening to make Prescott Bush's business history an uncomfortable issue for his grandson, George W, as he seeks re-election.
While there is no suggestion that Prescott Bush was sympathetic to the Nazi cause, the documents reveal that the firm he worked for, Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH), acted as a US base for the German industrialist, Fritz Thyssen, who helped finance Hitler in the 1930s before falling out with him at the end of the decade. The Guardian has seen evidence that shows Bush was the director of the New York-based Union Banking Corporation (UBC) that represented Thyssen's US interests and he continued to work for the bank after America entered the war.
Bush was also on the board of at least one of the companies that formed part of a multinational network of front companies to allow Thyssen to move assets around the world.
Thyssen owned the largest steel and coal company in Germany and grew rich from Hitler's efforts to re-arm between the two world wars. One of the pillars in Thyssen's international corporate web, UBC, worked exclusively for, and was owned by, a Thyssen-controlled bank in the Netherlands. More tantalising are Bush's links to the Consolidated Silesian Steel Company (CSSC), based in mineral rich Silesia on the German-Polish border. During the war, the company made use of Nazi slave labour from the concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The ownership of CSSC changed hands several times in the 1930s, but documents from the US National Archive declassified last year link Bush to CSSC, although it is not clear if he and UBC were still involved in the company when Thyssen's American assets were seized in 1942.
Three sets of archives spell out Prescott Bush's involvement. All three are readily available, thanks to the efficient US archive system and a helpful and dedicated staff at both the Library of Congress in Washington and the National Archives at the University of Maryland.
The first set of files, the Harriman papers in the Library of Congress, show that Prescott Bush was a director and shareholder of a number of companies involved with Thyssen.
The second set of papers, which are in the National Archives, are contained in vesting order number 248 which records the seizure of the company assets. What these files show is that on October 20 1942 the alien property custodian seized the assets of the UBC, of which Prescott Bush was a director. Having gone through the books of the bank, further seizures were made against two affiliates, the Holland-American Trading Corporation and the Seamless Steel Equipment Corporation. By November, the Silesian-American Company, another of Prescott Bush's ventures, had also been seized.
The third set of documents, also at the National Archives, are contained in the files on IG Farben, who was prosecuted for war crimes.
A report issued by the Office of Alien Property Custodian in 1942 stated of the companies that "since 1939, these (steel and mining) properties have been in possession of and have been operated by the German government and have undoubtedly been of considerable assistance to that country's war effort".
Prescott Bush, a 6ft 4in charmer with a rich singing voice, was the founder of the Bush political dynasty and was once considered a potential presidential candidate himself. Like his son, George, and grandson, George W, he went to Yale where he was, again like his descendants, a member of the secretive and influential Skull and Bones student society. He was an artillery captain in the first world war and married Dorothy Walker, the daughter of George Herbert Walker, in 1921.
In 1924, his father-in-law, a well-known St Louis investment banker, helped set him up in business in New York with Averill Harriman, the wealthy son of railroad magnate E H Harriman in New York, who had gone into banking.
One of the first jobs Walker gave Bush was to manage UBC. Bush was a founding member of the bank and the incorporation documents, which list him as one of seven directors, show he owned one share in UBC worth $125.
The bank was set up by Harriman and Bush's father-in-law to provide a US bank for the Thyssens, Germany's most powerful industrial family.
August Thyssen, the founder of the dynasty had been a major contributor to Germany's first world war effort and in the 1920s, he and his sons Fritz and Heinrich established a network of overseas banks and companies so their assets and money could be whisked offshore if threatened again.
By the time Fritz Thyssen inherited the business empire in 1926, Germany's economic recovery was faltering. After hearing Adolf Hitler speak, Thyssen became mesmerised by the young firebrand. He joined the Nazi party in December 1931 and admits backing Hitler in his autobiography, I Paid Hitler, when the National Socialists were still a radical fringe party. He stepped in several times to bail out the struggling party: in 1928 Thyssen had bought the Barlow Palace on Briennerstrasse, in Munich, which Hitler converted into the Brown House, the headquarters of the Nazi party. The money came from another Thyssen overseas institution, the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvarrt in Rotterdam.
By the late 1930s, Brown Brothers Harriman, which claimed to be the world's largest private investment bank, and UBC had bought and shipped millions of dollars of gold, fuel, steel, coal and US treasury bonds to Germany, both feeding and financing Hitler's build-up to war.
Between 1931 and 1933 UBC bought more than $8m worth of gold, of which $3m was shipped abroad. According to documents seen by the Guardian, after UBC was set up it transferred $2m to BBH accounts and between 1924 and 1940 the assets of UBC hovered around $3m, dropping to $1m only on a few occasions.
In 1941, Thyssen fled Germany after falling out with Hitler but he was captured in France and detained for the remainder of the war.
There was nothing illegal in doing business with the Thyssens throughout the 1930s and many of America's best-known business names invested heavily in the German economic recovery. However, everything changed after Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Even then it could be argued that BBH was within its rights continuing business relations with the Thyssens until the end of 1941 as the US was still technically neutral until the attack on Pearl Harbor. The trouble started on July 30 1942 when the New York Herald-Tribune ran an article entitled "Hitler's Angel Has $3m in US Bank". UBC's huge gold purchases had raised suspicions that the bank was in fact a "secret nest egg" hidden in New York for Thyssen and other Nazi bigwigs. The Alien Property Commission (APC) launched an investigation.
There is no dispute over the fact that the US government seized a string of assets controlled by BBH - including UBC and SAC - in the autumn of 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy act. What is in dispute is if Harriman, Walker and Bush did more than own these companies on paper.
Erwin May, a treasury attache and officer for the department of investigation in the APC, was assigned to look into UBC's business. The first fact to emerge was that Roland Harriman, Prescott Bush and the other directors didn't actually own their shares in UBC but merely held them on behalf of Bank voor Handel. Strangely, no one seemed to know who owned the Rotterdam-based bank, including UBC's president.
May wrote in his report of August 16 1941: "Union Banking Corporation, incorporated August 4 1924, is wholly owned by the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart N.V of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. My investigation has produced no evidence as to the ownership of the Dutch bank. Mr Cornelis [sic] Lievense, president of UBC, claims no knowledge as to the ownership of the Bank voor Handel but believes it possible that Baron Heinrich Thyssen, brother of Fritz Thyssen, may own a substantial interest."
May cleared the bank of holding a golden nest egg for the Nazi leaders but went on to describe a network of companies spreading out from UBC across Europe, America and Canada, and how money from voor Handel travelled to these companies through UBC.
By September May had traced the origins of the non-American board members and found that Dutchman HJ Kouwenhoven - who met with Harriman in 1924 to set up UBC - had several other jobs: in addition to being the managing director of voor Handel he was also the director of the August Thyssen bank in Berlin and a director of Fritz Thyssen's Union Steel Works, the holding company that controlled Thyssen's steel and coal mine empire in Germany.
Within a few weeks, Homer Jones, the chief of the APC investigation and research division sent a memo to the executive committee of APC recommending the US government vest UBC and its assets. Jones named the directors of the bank in the memo, including Prescott Bush's name, and wrote: "Said stock is held by the above named individuals, however, solely as nominees for the Bank voor Handel, Rotterdam, Holland, which is owned by one or more of the Thyssen family, nationals of Germany and Hungary. The 4,000 shares hereinbefore set out are therefore beneficially owned and help for the interests of enemy nationals, and are vestible by the APC," according to the memo from the National Archives seen by the Guardian.
Jones recommended that the assets be liquidated for the benefit of the government, but instead UBC was maintained intact and eventually returned to the American shareholders after the war. Some claim that Bush sold his share in UBC after the war for $1.5m - a huge amount of money at the time - but there is no documentary evidence to support this claim. No further action was ever taken nor was the investigation continued, despite the fact UBC was caught red-handed operating a American shell company for the Thyssen family eight months after America had entered the war and that this was the bank that had partly financed Hitler's rise to power.
The most tantalising part of the story remains shrouded in mystery: the connection, if any, between Prescott Bush, Thyssen, Consolidated Silesian Steel Company (CSSC) and Auschwitz.
Thyssen's partner in United Steel Works, which had coal mines and steel plants across the region, was Friedrich Flick, another steel magnate who also owned part of IG Farben, the powerful German chemical company.
Flick's plants in Poland made heavy use of slave labour from the concentration camps in Poland. According to a New York Times article published in March 18 1934 Flick owned two-thirds of CSSC while "American interests" held the rest.
The US National Archive documents show that BBH's involvement with CSSC was more than simply holding the shares in the mid-1930s. Bush's friend and fellow "bonesman" Knight Woolley, another partner at BBH, wrote to Averill Harriman in January 1933 warning of problems with CSSC after the Poles started their drive to nationalise the plant. "The Consolidated Silesian Steel Company situation has become increasingly complicated, and I have accordingly brought in Sullivan and Cromwell, in order to be sure that our interests are protected," wrote Knight. "After studying the situation Foster Dulles is insisting that their man in Berlin get into the picture and obtain the information which the directors here should have. You will recall that Foster is a director and he is particularly anxious to be certain that there is no liability attaching to the American directors."
But the ownership of the CSSC between 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland and 1942 when the US government vested UBC and SAC is not clear.
"SAC held coal mines and definitely owned CSSC between 1934 and 1935, but when SAC was vested there was no trace of CSSC. All concrete evidence of its ownership disappears after 1935 and there are only a few traces in 1938 and 1939," says Eva Schweitzer, the journalist and author whose book, America and the Holocaust, is published next month.
Silesia was quickly made part of the German Reich after the invasion, but while Polish factories were seized by the Nazis, those belonging to the still neutral Americans (and some other nationals) were treated more carefully as Hitler was still hoping to persuade the US to at least sit out the war as a neutral country. Schweitzer says American interests were dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The Nazis bought some out, but not others.
The two Holocaust survivors suing the US government and the Bush family for a total of $40bn in compensation claim both materially benefited from Auschwitz slave labour during the second world war.
Kurt Julius Goldstein, 87, and Peter Gingold, 85, began a class action in America in 2001, but the case was thrown out by Judge Rosemary Collier on the grounds that the government cannot be held liable under the principle of "state sovereignty".
Jan Lissmann, one of the lawyers for the survivors, said: "President Bush withdrew President Bill Clinton's signature from the treaty [that founded the court] not only to protect Americans, but also to protect himself and his family."
Lissmann argues that genocide-related cases are covered by international law, which does hold governments accountable for their actions. He claims the ruling was invalid as no hearing took place.
In their claims, Mr Goldstein and Mr Gingold, honorary chairman of the League of Anti-fascists, suggest the Americans were aware of what was happening at Auschwitz and should have bombed the camp.
The lawyers also filed a motion in The Hague asking for an opinion on whether state sovereignty is a valid reason for refusing to hear their case. A ruling is expected within a month.
The petition to The Hague states: "From April 1944 on, the American Air Force could have destroyed the camp with air raids, as well as the railway bridges and railway lines from Hungary to Auschwitz. The murder of about 400,000 Hungarian Holocaust victims could have been prevented."
The case is built around a January 22 1944 executive order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt calling on the government to take all measures to rescue the European Jews. The lawyers claim the order was ignored because of pressure brought by a group of big American companies, including BBH, where Prescott Bush was a director.
Lissmann said: "If we have a positive ruling from the court it will cause [president] Bush huge problems and make him personally liable to pay compensation."
The US government and the Bush family deny all the claims against them.
In addition to Eva Schweitzer's book, two other books are about to be published that raise the subject of Prescott Bush's business history. The author of the second book, to be published next year, John Loftus, is a former US attorney who prosecuted Nazi war criminals in the 70s. Now living in St Petersburg, Florida and earning his living as a security commentator for Fox News and ABC radio, Loftus is working on a novel which uses some of the material he has uncovered on Bush. Loftus stressed that what Prescott Bush was involved in was just what many other American and British businessmen were doing at the time.
"You can't blame Bush for what his grandfather did any more than you can blame Jack Kennedy for what his father did - bought Nazi stocks - but what is important is the cover-up, how it could have gone on so successfully for half a century, and does that have implications for us today?" he said.
"This was the mechanism by which Hitler was funded to come to power, this was the mechanism by which the Third Reich's defence industry was re-armed, this was the mechanism by which Nazi profits were repatriated back to the American owners, this was the mechanism by which investigations into the financial laundering of the Third Reich were blunted," said Loftus, who is vice-chairman of the Holocaust Museum in St Petersburg.
"The Union Banking Corporation was a holding company for the Nazis, for Fritz Thyssen," said Loftus. "At various times, the Bush family has tried to spin it, saying they were owned by a Dutch bank and it wasn't until the Nazis took over Holland that they realised that now the Nazis controlled the apparent company and that is why the Bush supporters claim when the war was over they got their money back. Both the American treasury investigations and the intelligence investigations in Europe completely bely that, it's absolute horseshit. They always knew who the ultimate beneficiaries were."
"There is no one left alive who could be prosecuted but they did get away with it," said Loftus. "As a former federal prosecutor, I would make a case for Prescott Bush, his father-in-law (George Walker) and Averill Harriman [to be prosecuted] for giving aid and comfort to the enemy. They remained on the boards of these companies knowing that they were of financial benefit to the nation of Germany."
Loftus said Prescott Bush must have been aware of what was happening in Germany at the time. "My take on him was that he was a not terribly successful in-law who did what Herbert Walker told him to. Walker and Harriman were the two evil geniuses, they didn't care about the Nazis any more than they cared about their investments with the Bolsheviks."
What is also at issue is how much money Bush made from his involvement. His supporters suggest that he had one token share. Loftus disputes this, citing sources in "the banking and intelligence communities" and suggesting that the Bush family, through George Herbert Walker and Prescott, got $1.5m out of the involvement. There is, however, no paper trail to this sum.
The third person going into print on the subject is John Buchanan, 54, a Miami-based magazine journalist who started examining the files while working on a screenplay. Last year, Buchanan published his findings in the venerable but small-circulation New Hampshire Gazette under the headline "Documents in National Archives Prove George Bush's Grandfather Traded With the Nazis - Even After Pearl Harbor". He expands on this in his book to be published next month - Fixing America: Breaking the Stranglehold of Corporate Rule, Big Media and the Religious Right.
In the article, Buchanan, who has worked mainly in the trade and music press with a spell as a muckraking reporter in Miami, claimed that "the essential facts have appeared on the internet and in relatively obscure books but were dismissed by the media and Bush family as undocumented diatribes".
Buchanan suffers from hypermania, a form of manic depression, and when he found himself rebuffed in his initial efforts to interest the media, he responded with a series of threats against the journalists and media outlets that had spurned him. The threats, contained in e-mails, suggested that he would expose the journalists as "traitors to the truth".
Unsurprisingly, he soon had difficulty getting his calls returned. Most seriously, he faced aggravated stalking charges in Miami, in connection with a man with whom he had fallen out over the best way to publicise his findings. The charges were dropped last month.
Buchanan said he regretted his behaviour had damaged his credibility but his main aim was to secure publicity for the story. Both Loftus and Schweitzer say Buchanan has come up with previously undisclosed documentation.
The Bush family have largely responded with no comment to any reference to Prescott Bush. Brown Brothers Harriman also declined to comment.
The Bush family recently approved a flattering biography of Prescott Bush entitled Duty, Honour, Country by Mickey Herskowitz. The publishers, Rutledge Hill Press, promised the book would "deal honestly with Prescott Bush's alleged business relationships with Nazi industrialists and other accusations".
In fact, the allegations are dealt with in less than two pages. The book refers to the Herald-Tribune story by saying that "a person of less established ethics would have panicked ... Bush and his partners at Brown Brothers Harriman informed the government regulators that the account, opened in the late 1930s, was 'an unpaid courtesy for a client' ... Prescott Bush acted quickly and openly on behalf of the firm, served well by a reputation that had never been compromised. He made available all records and all documents. Viewed six decades later in the era of serial corporate scandals and shattered careers, he received what can be viewed as the ultimate clean bill."
The Prescott Bush story has been condemned by both conservatives and some liberals as having nothing to do with the current president. It has also been suggested that Prescott Bush had little to do with Averill Harriman and that the two men opposed each other politically.
However, documents from the Harriman papers include a flattering wartime profile of Harriman in the New York Journal American and next to it in the files is a letter to the financial editor of that paper from Prescott Bush congratulating the paper for running the profile. He added that Harriman's "performance and his whole attitude has been a source of inspiration and pride to his partners and his friends".
The Anti-Defamation League in the US is supportive of Prescott Bush and the Bush family. In a statement last year they said that "rumours about the alleged Nazi 'ties' of the late Prescott Bush ... have circulated widely through the internet in recent years. These charges are untenable and politically motivated ... Prescott Bush was neither a Nazi nor a Nazi sympathiser."
However, one of the country's oldest Jewish publications, the Jewish Advocate, has aired the controversy in detail.
More than 60 years after Prescott Bush came briefly under scrutiny at the time of a faraway war, his grandson is facing a different kind of scrutiny but one underpinned by the same perception that, for some people, war can be a profitable business.