Asset prices, financial and monetary stability

If financial imbalances can build up in an environment of low inflation it stands to reason that a monetary policy reaction function that does not respond to these imbalances when they occur can unwittingly accommodate an unsustainable and disruptive boom in the real economy. The result need not take the form of inflation, although latent inflationary pressures would normally exist. Rather, it would be a contraction in economic activity, possibly accompanied by outright deflation, amplified by widespread financial strains. Accordingly, one could argue that the more serious “bubble” was in the real economy itself.

In this scenario, the consequences of failing to act early enough can be serious. If the contraction in economic activity is deep enough and prices actually decline, they can cripple the effectiveness of monetary policy tools and undermine the credibility of institutions. The Japanese experience is very instructive here. Moreover, reaction functions that are seen to imply asymmetric responses, lowering rates or providing ample liquidity when problems materialise but not raising rates as imbalances build up, can be rather insidious in the longer run. They promote a form of moral hazard that can sow the seeds of instability and of costly fluctuations in the real economy.

This paradigm sees the financial imbalances as contributing to, but, more importantly, as signaling distortions in the real economy that will at some point have to be unwound. In other words, the behaviour of prices of goods and services is not a sufficient statistic for those distortions. This runs contrary to the standard macroeconomic models used nowadays.

Asset prices, financial and monetary stability: exploring the nexus
by Claudio Borio and Philip Lowe
July 2002

Colin Twiggs: ~ Extract from BIS Working Paper No.114, co-authored in 2002 by Dr Philip Lowe, who has been appointed as the new RBA deputy governor. Looks like a good choice.