Global Liquidity and U.S. Monetary Policy

The events in Greece and the Ukraine have only partially drawn attention away from the financial markets’ focus on changes in U.S. monetary policy. Federal Reserve officials seem to be split over when they will raise their Federal Funds rate target, and by how much. But while U.S. policymakers are closely monitoring domestic labor developments, the impact of their actions will have repercussions for foreign markets.

The growth of cross-border financial flows has led to research on global liquidity. Jean-Pierre Landau of SciencesPo (Paris) defines global private liquidity as the international components of liquidity, i.e., “cross-border credit and portfolio flows or lending in foreign currencies to domestic residents,” while official global liquidity is the funding available to settle claims on monetary authorities. Before the global financial crisis, global banking flows were instrumental in extending private credit across borders, while more recently portfolio flows have been important.

Eugenio Cerutti, Stijn Claessens, and Lev Ratnovski of the IMF examined the determinants of global liquidity using data on cross-border bank flows for 77 countries over the period of 1990-2012. They identified four financial centers: the U.S., the Eurozone, the U.K. and Japan. The drivers of global liquidity included factors such as the TED spread (3 month LIBOR minus 3 month government bond yield), an indicator of uncertainty that affects bank behavior. They also included measures related to monetary policy, including the real interest rate and term premium, i.e., the slope of the yield curve, defined as the difference between 10 year and 3 month government securities.

The authors first used U.S. global liquidity factors in their empirical analysis. When the U.S. term premium fell, there was a rise in international lending as banks sought higher returns. The U.S. real interest rate had a positive coefficient, which the authors saw as a sign that global banks lent less when there were favorable domestic conditions. The authors then introduced the same variables for the three other financial centers, and found that term premiums from the U.K. and the Eurozone have the same effect on cross border bank lending as did the U.S. measure. The Japanese term premium, on the other hand, had a positive coefficient, which may reflect the record of Japan’s interest rate.

When cross-border claims were broken out by lending to Asian and the Western Hemisphere countries, the TED spreads for British and European banks were significant determinants for lending to both areas. The U.S. term premium was the only term premium variable with explanatory power in lending to bank and non-banks in the two regions. The authors interpret these results as an indication that the global financial cycle is driven in part by U.S. monetary policy and British and European bank conditions. The authors also find that a borrower country can reduce its exposure to global liquidity drivers through flexible exchange rates, capital controls and stringent bank supervision.

The latest Annual Report of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) also looks at financial flows across borders in its chapter on the international monetary and financial system. The authors of the chapter detail the growth in dollar- and euro-denominated credit through bank loans and debt securities, which can go to domestic residents in the U.S. or Eurozone, or non-residents. They point out that while U.S. households, corporations and its government account for 80% of global non-financial dollar debt at the end of 2014, the remaining one-fifth—about $9.5 trillion—of dollar credit was held outside the U.S.

These loans and securities have been growing rapidly since the global financial crisis. In particular, non-U.S. borrowers issued $1.8 trillion in bonds between 2009 and 2014. The authors of this chapter of the BIS Report attribute this growth to low lending rates and the reduction of the term premium for U.S. Treasury securities, which reflects the large scale purchase of these securities by the Federal Reserve in its Quantitative Easing (QE) programs. The European Central Bank’s bond purchases and the resulting compression of term premiums on euro-denominated bonds may lead to a similar phenomenon.

Changes in U.S. monetary policy, therefore, will influence global financial flows in both bank lending and bond issuance. If the end of QE results in higher term premiums in the U.S. as the rates on long-term securities rise, then cross-border flows could be negatively impacted. A rise in the Federal Fund Rate, on the other hand, could initially decrease the term premia, although other interest rates would likely follow. These changes take place, moreover, while the Eurozone and Japan are moving in opposite directions, which may intensify their effect. Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, warned last January that the resiliency of the financial system will be tested by Federal Reserve tightening. Once again, policymakers may be forced to respond to fast-breaking developments as they occur. But this time they may not have as much flexibility to maneuver as they need. We may not know the consequences for financial stability until it is too late to avoid them.