January 26, 2015

The Markets

There may be potential for a reality television program starring central bankers and the making of economic policy. It could be called, ‘The Real Central Bankers of the European Economic Community.’ Just imagine the last two weeks’ episodes. Two weeks ago, the Swiss National Bank shocked markets by unpegging its currency and sending the value of the Swiss franc skyward.

Affairs last week were less unexpected. The European Central Bank finally made up its mind and committed to a new round of quantitative easing. There was no exchange of rings embedded with multi-carat precious gems, but the bank pledged to buy 60 billion euro of assets (public debt and government bonds, primarily) every month from March 2015 through September 2016. That’s quite a leap from the 10 billion euro of assets it was already buying.

Sure, it’s exciting, but let’s not lose sight of the reason behind the ECB’s decision. After watching the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, the Bank of England, and the Bank of Japan engage in QE, the ECB decided it might be just the thing to reflate the Eurozone’s economy. Global markets seemed to think it’s a pretty good idea, too. Many finished the week higher.

The Big Mac Index

The Economist invented the Big Mac Index in 1986 as an entertaining way to assess whether currencies were at the “correct” levels. The index uses purchasing power parity (PPP) to measure one currency against another. PPP is the idea that exchange rates should adjust so the same product (in this case, a hamburger) has the same price in two different countries when the price is denominated in the same currency.

Last week, in Switzerland, a Big Mac cost $7.54. Since a Big Mac in the United States cost about $4.79 last week, the Swiss franc was quite overvalued. That’s not the case with currencies elsewhere, though. Here are the prices of a Big Mac in a few key locales:

Norway           $6.30
Denmark         $5.38
Brazil               $5.21
Australia          $4.32
Euro area         $4.26
Mexico            $3.35
China               $2.77
India                $1.89
Russia              $1.36

It should be noted the Big Mac Index is not a perfect measurement tool. The price of a burger should be less in countries with lower labor costs and more in countries with higher labor costs. When prices are adjusted for labor, the Swiss franc is not the most overvalued currency in the world, the Brazilian real is.

Weekly Focus

“The hardest skill to acquire in this sport is the one where you compete all out, give it all you have, and you are still getting beat no matter what you do. When you have the killer instinct to fight through that, it is very special.”
-Eddie Reese, USA Olympic Swim Team Head Coach, 2004 and 2008′

Image courtesy of Bruce Marlin, used in accordance with the Creative Commons Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

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