Christine Lagarde's Move from IMF to ECB is Bad for Europe
Earlier today, the internet was aflutter with rumors that we were on the verge of an international crisis following schedule changes involving Russian President Vladamir Putin and Vice President Mike Pence. While it appears there two events were unrelated, a different sort of tragedy struck the international stage hours later when it was announced that Christine Lagarde had been named the new head of the European Central Bank.
Joining the ECB after a lengthy stint as head of the IMF, Lagarde certainly has the resume to be the next "great" central banker. Unfortunately, she has a record of folly which we've come to expect from such a title.
In the words of our friend Mike Shedlock, "It's rare to find someone who is consistently wrong on everything. Christine Lagarde...comes close"
A conventional policymaker that fears deflation most of all, Lagarde has been a high profile defender of the negative interest rate policies we've seen doing damage in Europe and Japan. Her selection is being widely seen as an endorsement for continuing the policies of the outgoing Mario Draghi at a time when the ECB desperately needed a hawk to help defuse their trillion-Euro time bomb.
As Daniel Lacalle put it:
Earlier this year, Alasdair Macleod outlined the damage being done by the policies Lagarde is expected to continue.
Pumping yet more credit into the Eurozone is as effective as giving adrenalin to a dead horse. Lack of credit is not the problem. Put simply, there is a global momentum of economic contraction evolving, which any business and lending banker would be foolish to ignore. There is a developing crisis, the consequence of earlier monetary inflation in the credit cycle. Economic actors may not understand the origins of the crisis, but we can be certain they are becoming acutely aware of its looming presence. And as the crisis rapidly develops, those that require additional loans will already be insolvent.
The signal sent by the ECB to lending-bankers is likely to be misinterpreted when credit contraction is the looming threat: if TLRTO-III is the smoke, there must be a fire, possibly out of control. Better surely to call in existing loans to businesses rather than waiting to be repaid from profits unlikely to materialise. An encouragement to lend early in the credit cycle is more effective and less likely to be misunderstood than a similar encouragement later in the credit cycle. This is why a renewed TLTRO policy will almost certainly fail.
The inability of bureaucrats, with their heads buried in spreadsheets, to appreciate the role of human psychology is not the ECB’s only failing. Its executives do not even understand what interest rates represent, thinking it is simply the price of money. This is why it believes in keeping interest rates suppressed as a means of increasing credit. Earlier in the credit cycle, rate suppression does generate some credit expansion, mainly in financial rather than non-financial activities, because lower interest rates lead to higher prices for financial assets. That is basically a spreadsheet, almost non-human function. Large industrial corporations are opportunist, borrowing to fund buy-backs and to take over weaker rivals. Smaller and medium-sized business borrowers are usually offered credit only later in the cycle, when it is a mistake to accept it.
Consequently, in a zombie economy, such as that of the Eurozone, the only borrowers are wealth-destroying, socialising, debt-entrapped governments, taking full advantage of the Basel accords, which rates them for lending banks’ purposes as riskless borrowers.
While Lagarde's appointment could be bad news for Europe's future, it will be certainly be welcomed by some.