Friday, May 11, 2012

In Which We Take a Victory Lap with Citi's Economists

From an earlier post:

The idea of the helicopter drop – where the government would literally throw cash out of the side of a helicopter – originated with conservative economist Milton Freidman as a possible tactic to fight price deflation.
Ben Bernanke spoke positively about the effects of a helicopter drop in a 2002 speech at the National Economics Club.
So how would this work? Easy -- we just take one of Bush's plan -- the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 and double it. 
But why do this? 
From an economic standpoint, the best thing would be if people were to take each and every dollar and buy something with it. A direct infusion of cash into the economy would have the greatest multiplier effect. But that's not going to happen -- but the alternatives aren't half-bad. 
If you're middle or lower class, you may take that money and use it to catch up on your mortgage. That’s not a bad thing, as it would help stabilize housing prices as well as increase cash flows to mortgage holders, which tend to be things like pension plans, mutual funds and financial institutions.  It would also reduce strain on Fannie and Freddie, as more and more of their mortgage-backed bonds were being paid off. (We own Fannie and Freddie, so we've got skin in this game.) 
If you’re up to date on your mortgage (or have none), you could take the cash to pay down a credit card payment. This won’t really help much in terms of stimulus, but it will, as Ben notes above, “improve the balance sheet of potential borrowers.” Meaning, if you’re thinking about buying a house or a car in the future, this should help you down the ways. And considering that the average interest rate applicable to credit cards is 15%, paying down a chunk of the principal now will significantly lower interest payments going forward -- meaning the credit card gets paid off sooner. It means the stimulus money will get spent, just not right now. 
Finally, if you're upper class, you're probably just going to save this money. That, bluntly, doesn't help the economy much at all -- see the multiplier chart above -- but not every plan is perfect. And the payout to the upper class would start diminishing if you made more than $75,000 single/$150,000 married couple. So the bulk of this stimulus will be going to people who aren't going to hold onto it.

And from CNBC on May 9th:

Citigroup on Wednesday issued a client note that just a few weeks ago would have read like satire. “We think central banks in the U.S., euro area, Japan, and the U.K. could and should do much more” to stimulate growth, said the firm’s economists, led by Willem Buiter. Yes, these institutions, which have already pushed their respective interest rates to historic lows and made unprecedented efforts to buy government bonds and other securities, are not being aggressive enough, the firm argues.
Specifically, Citi advocates a three-pronged approach: First, lower interest rates “all the way to zero” in the two regions, the U.K. and euro area, where they aren’t basically at zero already. Second, carry out “more imaginative forms” of quantitative easing  of any or all types of “less liquid and higher credit risk securities” beyond government bonds. And third, engage in “helicopter money drops,” by which they mean the fiscal authorities in each region should join forces with the central bank to pump money directly into their respective economies.

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