The Bank of England has been flashing an amber light for months about the complacency shown by low market volatility, but in house-price obsessed Britain, mortgage excess is the focus of its worry. Last month it became the first of the major central banks to set out to try to control credit using non-monetary tools: in the jargon, “macroprudential measures”. Ms Yellen has been highlighting macropru as the first line of defence against bubbles for a while.
The problem SEEMS simple central bankers. Central bankers want money to lubricate the real economy, not to flow into pointless leverage of existing assets. Higher rates could reduce the incentives to leverage, but at the cost of damage to the real economy. Their solution is to set up barriers inside the banks to direct the flow.
If central bankers ever get serious about using macropru to control bubbles, it will mean limits on more than just mortgages. The obvious place to start is with the froth in junk bonds and the leveraged loans used by private equity houses. It is interesting, therefore, that the Fed’s monetary policy report last week emphasised that the central bank is “working to enhance compliance” with leveraged loan underwriting and pricing standards. If it becomes harder for private equity groups to gear up, they can afford to pay less to buy companies, cutting back one source of demand for shares. READ MORE
The real danger comes if central banks try to use macropru as a semi-permanent way to keep interest rates lower than normal, as Mr Napier fears. In this case investors will face a double setback: they will not be treated as part of the “real economy” deserving of funds, while state-directed allocation of assets has a terrible history of supporting duds, hurting growth.