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Mary Amiti, Tyler Bodine-Smith, Michele Cavallo, and Logan Lewis
The decline in U.S. GDP of 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2015 was much larger than market analysts expected, with net exports subtracting a staggering 1.9 percentage points (seasonally adjusted annualized rate). A range of factors is being discussed in policy circles to try to understand what contributed to this decline. Factors such as the strong U.S. dollar and weak foreign demand are usually incorporated in forecasters’ models. However, the effects of unusual events such as extremely cold weather and labor disputes are more difficult to quantify in standard models. In this post, we examine how the labor dispute at the West Coast ports, which began in the middle of 2014, might have affected GDP growth. Although the dispute started as early as July 2014, major disruptions to international trade did not surface until 2015:Q1. By that time, export and import growth through the West Coast ports in the first quarter were 14 percentage points to 20 percentage points lower than growth through other ports.
The rise in oil prices from near $30 per barrel in 2000 to around $110 per barrel in mid-2014 was a dramatic reallocation of global income to oil producers. So what did oil producers do with this bounty? Trade data show that they spent about half of the increase in total export revenues on imports and the other half to buy foreign assets. The drop in oil prices will unwind this process. Oil-importing countries will gain from lower oil bills, but they will also see a decline in their exports to oil-producing countries and in purchases of their assets by investors in these countries. Indeed, one can make the case that the drop in oil prices, by itself, is putting upward pressure on interest rates as income shifts away from countries that have had a relatively high propensity to save.
Oil prices have declined substantially since the summer of 2014. If these price declines reflect demand shocks, then this would suggest a slowdown in global economic activity. Alternatively, if the declines are driven by supply shocks, then the drop in prices might indicate a forthcoming boost in spending as firms and households benefit from lower energy costs. In this post, we use correlations of oil price changes with a broad array of financial variables to confirm that this recent fall in oil prices has been mostly the result of increased global oil supply. We then use a model to assess how this supply shock will affect U.S. economic conditions in 2015.
Today, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY) is hosting the spring meeting of its Economic Advisory Panel (EAP). As has become custom at this meeting, FRBNY staff are presenting their forecast for U.S. growth, inflation, and unemployment through the end of 2016. Following the presentation, members of the EAP, which consists of leading economists in academia and the private sector, are asked to discuss the staff forecast. Such feedback helps the staff evaluate the assumptions and reasoning underlying the forecast and the key risks to it. Subjecting the staff forecast to periodic evaluation is also important because it informs the staff’s discussions with New York Fed President William Dudley about economic conditions. In that same spirit, we are sharing a short summary of the staff forecast in this post. For more detail, please see the material from the EAP meeting on our website.
The April 2015 Empire State Manufacturing Survey, released today, points to continued weakness in New York’s manufacturing sector. The survey’s headline general business conditions index turned slightly negative for the first time since December, falling 8 points to -1.2 in a sign that the growth in manufacturing had paused. The new orders index—a bellwether of demand for manufactured goods—was also negative, pointing to a modest decline in orders for a second consecutive month. Employment growth slowed, too. The Empire Survey has been signaling sluggish growth since October of last year after fairly strong readings from May through September.
World trade fell 20 percent relative to world GDP in 2008 and 2009. Since then, there has been much debate about the role of trade finance in the Great Trade Collapse. Distress in the financial sector can have a strong impact on international trade because exporters require additional working capital and rely on specific financial products, in particular letters of credit, to cope with risks when selling abroad. In this post, which is based on a recent Staff Report, we shed new light on the link between finance and trade, showing that changes in banks’ supply of letters of credit have economically significant effects on firms’ export behavior. Our research suggests that trade finance helps explain the drop in exports in 2008–2009, especially to smaller and poorer markets.
Linda Goldberg, John Rogers, Luca Dedola, and Livio Stracca
International financial flows are a key feature of the global landscape and are relevant in many ways for central banks. With these themes as a backdrop and with swings in some capital flows across countries in response to global economic and financial conditions, the second biannual Global Research Forum on International Macroeconomics and Finance was held at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington, D.C., in November. The purpose of the forum, which is organized by the European Central Bank, the Federal Reserve Board, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, is to promote the discussion of topics at the frontier of research in international finance, banking and macroeconomics, with a special focus on their relevance for monetary policy.
Authors’ Update: Murray Rothbard’s The Panic of 1819: Reactions and Policies was an additional source for this post and should have been cited. We regret the omission.
As we noted in our last post on the British crisis of 1816, while Britain emerged from nearly a quarter century of war with France ready to supply the world with manufactured goods, it needed cotton to supply the mills, and all of Europe needed wheat to supplement a series of poor harvests. The United States met that demand for cotton and wheat by expanding agricultural production, facilitated by the loose credit policies of a growing number of lightly regulated state banks. Meanwhile, the Treasury needed revenue to pay off debts from the Louisiana Purchase and the War of 1812, so the government turned to selling land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. But the increased agricultural demand and easy credit policies led to a speculative real estate boom, particularly in Alabama. So when the Treasury started to pay off its debts, the specie drain caused a painful but necessary contraction and the boom went bust. In this edition of Crisis Chronicles, we describe America’s first great economic crisis.
In 1815, England emerged victorious after what had been nearly a quarter century of war with France. And during those years, encouraged by high prices and profits, England greatly expanded its agricultural and industrial capacity in terms of land and new machinery, with these activities often financed on credit. Improved harvests from 1812 to 1815 coincided with an export market boom in 1814, as the continent began to reopen for trade and speculation in South America increased. But the speculation turned to frenzy compared to the boom of 1810 as everything that could be shipped was shipped—until the speculation broke. The crisis started first with farmers and landlords, spread to business and industry, and was followed by mass starvation on the continent. In this edition of Crisis Chronicles, we recount the Crisis of 1816, the Year without a Summer, and the idea of Sunspot Equilibria.
In the early 1800s, Napoleon’s plan to defeat Britain was to destroy its ability to trade. The plan, however, was initially foiled. After Britain helped the Portuguese government flee Napoleon in 1807, the Portuguese returned the favor by opening Brazil to British exports—a move that caused trade to boom. In addition, Britain was able to circumvent Napoleon’s continental blockade by means of a North Sea route through the Baltics, which provided continental Europe with a conduit for commodities from the Americas. But when Britain’s trade via the North Sea was interrupted in 1810, the boom ended in crisis. In this edition of Crisis Chronicles, we explore the British Export Bubble of 1810 and ask whether pegged or floating exchange rates are better for an economy.
Liberty Street Economics features insight and analysis from economists working at the intersection of research and policy. The editors are Michael Fleming, Andrew Haughwout, Thomas Klitgaard, and Donald Morgan.
The views expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the New York Fed or the Federal Reserve System.
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