“Assessing risks to financial and macroeconomic stability from housing prices and household debt: The Swedish case,” presentation at the workshop “Addressing housing market imbalances,” European Commission, December 6, 2019. Slides.
Much is right with Swedish macroprudential policy. But regarding risks associated with household debt, the policy does not pass a cost-benefit test. The substantial credit tightening that Finansinspektionen (FI, the Swedish FSA) has achieved – through amortization requirements and more indirect ways – has no demonstrable benefits but substantial costs. The FI, and international organizations, use a flawed theoretical framework for assessing macroeconomic risks from household debt. The tightening was undertaken for mistaken reasons. Several reforms are required for a better-functioning mortgage market. A reform of the governance of macroprudential policy – including a decision-making committee and improved accountability – may reduce risks of policy mistakes.
Update, June 202: Problems of the amortization requirements confirmed
The paper was written before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. It emphasizes that the FI’s mandatory amortization requirements substantially increase the mortgagors’ housing payments and reduce their cash-flow margins. Thereby the amortization requirements reduce households’ resilience to shocks – in contradiction to the FI’s objective to increase the resilience.
The paper also notes that the FI is aware of the problem that amortization requirements reduce households’ resilience. Its response to this problem and contradiction is to allow mortgage firms to make exemptions from amortization payments for mortgagors “for a limited period” on “special grounds.” However, the special grounds FI mentions refer to situations when individual mortgagors face individual problems in fulfilling their debt service for reasons such as “unemployment, long periods of absence from work due to illness and the death of a close relative.” There is no suggestion in the FI’s discussion that mortgage firms might consider mortgagors’ consumption or the macroeconomic risk from a reduction in mortgagors’ consumption—the FI’s official rationale for having introduced the amortization requirements. It difficult to believe that mortgage firms would exempt mortgagors from amortization on the ground that certainly they can fulfill their debt service, but they cannot maintain their normal consumption. The mortgage firms will most certainly be focused on any risk to their individual debt service rather than on any macroeconomic consequences. Thus, the FI has not provided any mechanism through which the exemptions to amortization payments would avoid the reduced resilience caused by the amortization requirements.
The problems of the mandatory amortization requirements were confirmed, when the corona pandemic forced the FI in March 2010 to adapt and to make a surprise special recommendation: “Loss of income due to the corona-virus [is] a cause for exemption from amortization.” But borrowers have no right to an exemption; it is still the mortgage firm that decides. And the recommendation did not apply to those that have not yet lost their income. In April, the FI corrected the latter and stated that banks may grant all mortgagors amortization exemption. But the exemption is only in force until the end of June 2021. As Bäckman has argued – and is argued in the paper – it is better to simply abolish the amortization requirements.
Op-ed in Dagens Nyheter, November 9, 2019, English translation: The amortization requirements and other credit tightening by Finansinspektionen (FI, the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority) have large individual and social costs, but according to research they have no demonstrable social benefits. It is irresponsible to push through a credit tightening that fails a cost-benefit analysis, write Robert Boije, Chief Economist, SBAB; Harry Flam, Professor Emeritus, Institute for International Economic Studies; John Hassler, Professor, Institute for International Economic Studies; and Lars E.O. Svensson, Affiliated Professor, Stockholm School of Economics.
Every economic-policy measure should pass a cost-benefit analysis. It should show that the benefits exceed the costs. The FI’s amortization requirements and the other credit tightening that it has achieved fails such an analysis. The credit tightening has obvious, large costs but no demonstrable benefits.
Finansinspektionens amorteringskrav och övriga kreditåtstramning har stora individuella och samhälleliga kostnader, men enligt forskningen ingen påvisbar samhällsnytta. Det är ansvarslöst att driva igenom en åtstramning som inte klarar en nyttokostnadsanalys, skriver Robert Boije, Harry Flam, John Hassler och Lars E.O. Svensson på DN Debatt.
“The conclusion that the amortization requirements have been introduced for mistaken reasons holds also after Statistic Sweden’s revision of the household saving rates,” Ekonomistas post, September 23, 2019 (Swedish).
“The Swedish FSA’s amortization requirements: Mistaken reasons, negative effects, and reduced resilience,” presentation at Almedalen, Visby, July 2019 (Swedish).
Finansinspektionen har de senaste åren infört amorteringskrav och genomdrivit en övrig åtstramning på bolånemarknaden. Detta har skett på felaktiga grunder, har negativa välfärds- och fördelningseffekter och försämrar bolånemarknadens funktionssätt. Syftet har varit att öka bolånetagarnas motståndskraft och minska risken för djupare lågkonjunkturer, men i själva verket minskar amorteringskraven motståndskraften och snarast ökar risken för djupare lågkonjunkturer.
“The Swedish FSA draws the wrong conclusions,” reply to op-ed on Dagens Nyheter Debatt, June 17 (Swedish).
Riskerna med hushållens skulder har överdrivits. Utländska erfarenheter beskrivs på ett missvisande sätt. Amorteringskraven har införts på felaktiga grunder. De drabbar nya bolånetagare utan hög inkomst eller förmögenhet, särskilt unga. De minskar också hushållens motståndskraft mot inkomststörningar. Continue reading
“Monetary Policy Strategies for the Federal Reserve,” International Journal of Central Banking 16 (February 2020) 133-193. Paper.
A previous version was prepared for the conference Monetary Policy Strategy, Tools, and Communication Practices—A Fed Listens Event, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, June 4–5, 2019. Video (my presentation starts 3 min 5 sec into the session).
The paper finds that the general monetary policy strategy of “forecast targeting” is more suitable for fulfilling the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate of maximum employment and price stability than following a Taylor-type rule. Forecast targeting can be used for any of the more specific strategies of annual-inflation targeting, price-level targeting, temporary price-level targeting, average-inflation targeting, and nominal-GDP targeting. The specific strategies are examined and evaluated according to how well they may fulfill the dual mandate, considering the possibilities of a binding effective lower bound for the federal funds rate and a flatter Phillips curve. Nominal-GDP targeting is equivalent to a single mandate and is found to be inconsistent with the dual mandate. Average-inflation targeting is found to have some advantages over the others.
“The FSA’s amortization requirements: Should they be abolished?“, discussion on Swedish Radio with Mikael Kulle and Henric Braconier (Chief Economist at the Swedish FSA), May 29, 2019 (Swedish).
I P1 morgon med Mikael Kulle och Henric Braconier, 29 maj 2019.
“The FSA’s amortization requirements: Mistaken reasons and negative effects,” report to the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, May 27, 2019 (Swedish).