How Global Central Banks are Responding to COVID-19, in One Chart
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How Global Central Banks are Responding to COVID-19, in One Chart

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Central Bank Policy COVID-19

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How Global Central Banks are Responding to COVID-19

When times get tough, central banks typically act as the first line of defense.

However, modern economies are incredibly complex—and calamities like the 2008 financial crisis have already pushed traditional policy tools to their limits. In response, some central banks have turned to newer, more unconventional strategies such as quantitative easing and negative interest rates to do their work.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, central banks are once again taking decisive action. To help us understand what’s being done, today’s infographic uses data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to compare the policy responses of 29 systemically important economies.

The Central Bank Toolkit

To begin, here are brief descriptions of each policy, which the IMF sorts into four categories:

1. Monetary Policies

Policies designed to control the money supply and promote stable economic growth.

Policy NameIntended Effect
Policy rate cutsStimulates economic activity by decreasing the cost of borrowing
Central bank liquidity supportProvides distressed markets with additional liquidity, often in the form of loans
Central bank swap linesAgreements between the U.S. Fed and foreign central banks to enhance the provision of U.S. dollar liquidity
Central bank asset purchase schemesUses newly-created currency to buy large quantities of financial assets, such as government bonds. This increases the money supply and decreases longer-term rates

2. External Policies

Policies designed to mitigate the effects of external economic shocks.

Policy NameIntended Effect
Foreign currency interventionStabilizes the national currency by intervening in the foreign exchange market
Capital flow measuresRestrictions, such as tariffs and volume limits, on the flow of foreign capital in and out of a country

3. Financial Policies for Banks

Policies designed to support the banking system in times of distress.

Policy NameIntended Effect
Easing of the countercyclical capital bufferA reduction in the amount of liquid assets required to protect banks against cyclical risks
Easing of systemic risk or domestic capital bufferA reduction in the amount of liquid assets required to protect banks against unforeseen risks
Use of capital buffersAllows banks to use their capital buffers to enhance relief measures
Use of liquidity buffersAllows banks to use their liquidity buffers to meet unexpected cash flow needs
Adjustments to loan loss provision requirementsThe level of provisions required to protect banks against borrower defaults are eased

4. Financial Policies for Borrowers

Policies designed to improve access to capital as well as provide relief for borrowers.

Policy NameIntended Effect
State loans or credit guaranteesEnsures businesses of all sizes have adequate access to capital
Restructuring of loan terms or moratorium on paymentsProvides borrowers with financial assistance by altering terms or deferring payments

Putting Policies Into Practice

Let’s take a closer look at how these policy tools are being applied in the real world, particularly in the context of how central banks are battling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Monetary Policies

So far, many central banks have enacted expansionary monetary policies to boost slowing economies throughout the pandemic.

One widely used tool has been policy rate cuts, or cuts to interest rates. The theory behind rate cuts is relatively straightforward—a central bank places downward pressure on short-term interest rates, decreasing the overall cost of borrowing. This ideally stimulates business investment and consumer spending.

If short-term rates are already near zero, reducing them further may have little to no effect. For this reason, central banks have leaned on asset purchase schemes (quantitative easing) to place downward pressure on longer-term rates. This policy has been a cornerstone of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s (Fed) COVID-19 response, in which newly-created currency is used to buy hundreds of billions of dollars of assets such as government bonds.

When the media says the Fed is “printing money”, this is what they’re actually referring to.

2. External Policies

External policies were less relied upon by the systemically important central banks covered in today’s graphic.

That’s because foreign currency interventions, central bank operations designed to influence exchange rates, are typically used by developing economies only. This is likely due to the higher exchange rate volatility experienced by these types of economies.

For example, as investors flee emerging markets, Brazil has seen its exchange rate (BRL/USD) tumble 30% this year.

In an attempt to prevent further depreciation, the Central Bank of Brazil has used its foreign currency reserves to increase the supply of USD in the open market. These measures include purchases of $8.8B in USD-denominated Brazilian government bonds.

3. Financial Policies for Banks

Central banks are often tasked with regulating the commercial banking industry, meaning they have the authority to ease restrictions during economic crises.

One option is to ease the countercyclical capital buffer. During periods of economic growth (and increased lending), banks must accumulate reserves as a safety net for when the economy eventually contracts. Easing this restriction can allow them to increase their lending capacity.

Banks need to be in a position to continue financing households and corporates experiencing temporary difficulties.

—Andrea Enria, Chair of the ECB Supervisory Board

The European Central Bank (ECB) is a large proponent of these policies. In March, it also allowed its supervised banks to make use of their liquidity buffers—liquid assets held by a bank to protect against unexpected cash flow needs.

4. Financial Policies for Borrowers

Borrowers have also received significant support. In the U.S., government-sponsored mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have announced several COVID-19 relief measures:

  • Deferred payments for 12 months
  • Late fees waived
  • Suspended foreclosures and evictions for 60 days

The U.S. Fed has also created a number of facilities to support the flow of credit, including:

  • Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility: Purchasing bonds directly from highly-rated corporations to help them sustain their operations.
  • Main Street Lending: Purchasing new or expanded loans from small and mid-sized businesses. Businesses with up to 15,000 employees or up to $5B in annual revenue are eligible.
  • Municipal Liquidity Facility: Purchasing short-term debt directly from state and municipal governments. Counties with at least 500,000 residents and cities with at least 250,000 residents are eligible.

Longer-term Implications

Central bank responses to COVID-19 have been wide-reaching, to say the least. Yet, some of these policies come at the cost of burgeoning debt-levels, and critics are alarmed.

In Europe, the ECB has come under scrutiny for its asset purchases since 2015. A ruling from Germany’s highest court labeled the program illegal, claiming it disadvantages German taxpayers (Germany makes larger contributions to the ECB than other member states). This ruling is not concerned with pandemic-related asset purchases, but it does present implications for future use.

The U.S. Fed, which runs a similar program, has seen its balance sheet swell to nearly $7 trillion since the outbreak. Implications include a growing reliance on the Fed to fund government programs, and the high difficulty associated with safely reducing these holdings.

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The World’s Biggest Real Estate Bubbles in 2021

According to UBS, there are nine real estate markets that are in bubble territory with prices rising to unsustainable levels.

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Ranked: The World’s Biggest Real Estate Bubbles in 2021

Identifying real estate bubbles is a tricky business. After all, even though many of us “know a bubble when we see it”, we don’t have tangible proof of a bubble until it actually bursts.

And by then, it’s too late.

The map above, based on data from the Real Estate Bubble Index by UBS, serves as an early warning system, evaluating 25 global cities and scoring them based on their bubble risk.

Reading the Signs

Bubbles are hard to distinguish in real-time as investors must judge whether a market’s pricing accurately reflects what will happen in the future. Even so, there are some signs to watch out for.

As one example, a decoupling of prices from local incomes and rents is a common red flag. As well, imbalances in the real economy, such as excessive construction activity and lending can signal a bubble in the making.

With this in mind, which global markets are exhibiting the most bubble risk?

The Geography of Real Estate Bubbles

Europe is home to a number of cities that have extreme bubble risk, with Frankfurt topping the list this year. Germany’s financial hub has seen real home prices rise by 10% per year on average since 2016—the highest rate of all cities evaluated.

housing bubble index 2021

Two Canadian cities also find themselves in bubble territory: Toronto and Vancouver. In the former, nearly 30% of purchases in 2021 went to buyers with multiple properties, showing that real estate investment is alive and well. Despite efforts to cool down these hot urban markets, Canadian markets have rebounded and continued their march upward. In fact, over the past three decades, residential home prices in Canada grew at the fastest rates in the G7.

Despite civil unrest and unease over new policies, Hong Kong still has the second highest score in this index. Meanwhile, Dubai is listed as “undervalued” and is the only city in the index with a negative score. Residential prices have trended down for the past six years and are now down nearly 40% from 2014 levels.

Note: The Real Estate Bubble Index does not currently include cities in Mainland China.

Trending Ever Upward

Overheated markets are nothing new, though the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamic of real estate markets.

For years, house price appreciation in city centers was all but guaranteed as construction boomed and people were eager to live an urban lifestyle. Remote work options and office downsizing is changing the value equation for many, and as a result, housing prices in non-urban areas increased faster than in cities for the first time since the 1990s.

Even so, these changing priorities haven’t deflated the real estate market in the world’s global cities. Below are growth rates for 2021 so far, and how that compares to the last five years.

housing bubble price increases 2021

Overall, prices have been trending upward almost everywhere. All but four of the cities above—Milan, Paris, New York, and San Francisco—have had positive growth year-on-year.

Even as real estate bubbles continue to grow, there is an element of uncertainty. Debt-to-income ratios continue to rise, and lending standards, which were relaxed during the pandemic, are tightening once again. Add in the societal shifts occurring right now, and predicting the future of these markets becomes more difficult.

In the short term, we may see what UBS calls “the era of urban outperformance” come to an end.

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Mapped: Distribution of Global GDP by Region

Where does the world’s economic activity take place? This cartogram shows the $94 trillion global economy divided into 1,000 hexagons.

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Map of Global Wealth Distribution

Mapped: The Distribution of Global GDP by Region

Gross domestic product (GDP) measures the value of goods and services that an economy produces in a given year, but in a global context, it is typically shown using country-level data.

As a result, we don’t often get to see the nuances of the global economy, such as how much specific regions and metro areas contribute to global GDP.

In these cartograms, global GDP has been normalized to a base number of 1,000 in order to show a more regional breakdown of economic activity. Created by Reddit user /BerryBlue_Blueberry, the two maps show the distribution in different ways: by nominal GDP and by GDP adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP).

Methodology

Before diving in, let us give you some context on how these maps were designed. Each hexagon on the two maps represents 0.1% of the world’s overall GDP.

The number below each region, country or metropolitan area represents the number of hexagons covered by that entity. So in the nominal GDP map, the state of New York represents 20 hexagons (i.e. 2.0% of global GDP), while Munich’s metro area is 3 hexagons (0.3%).

Countries are further broken down based on size. Countries that make up more than 0.95% of global GDP are broken down into subdivisions, while countries that are smaller than 0.1% of GDP are grouped together. Metro areas that account for over 0.25% of global GDP are featured.

Finally, it should be noted that to account for some outdated subdivision participation data, the map creator calculated 2021 estimates for this using the formula: national GDP (2021) x % of subdivision participation (2017-2020).

Nominal vs. PPP

The above map is using nominal data, while the below map accounts for differences in purchasing power (PPP).

Adjusting for PPP takes into account the relative value of currencies and purchasing power in countries around the world. For example, $100 (or its exchange equivalent in Indian rupees) is generally going to be able to buy more in India than it is in the United States.

This is because goods and services are cheaper in India, meaning you can actually purchase more there for the same amount of money.

Anomalies in Global GDP Distribution

Breaking down global GDP distribution into cartograms highlights some interesting anomalies worth considering:

  1. North America, Europe, and East Asia, with a combined GDP of nearly $75 trillion, make up 80% of the world’s GDP in nominal terms.
  2. The U.S. State of California accounts for 3.7% of the world’s GDP by itself, which ranks higher than the United Kingdom’s total contribution of 3.3%.
  3. Canada as a country accounts for 2% of the world’s GDP, which is comparable to the GDP contribution of the Greater Tokyo Area at 2.2%.
  4. With a GDP of $3 trillion, India’s contribution overshadows the GDP of the whole African continent ($2.6 trillion).
  5. This visualization highlights the economic might of cities better than a conventional map. One standout example of this is in Ontario, Canada. The Greater Toronto Area completely eclipses the economy of the rest of the province.

Inequality of GDP Distribution

The fact that certain countries generate most of the world’s economic output is reflected in the above cartograms, which resize countries or regions accordingly.

Compared to wealthier nations, emerging economies still account for just a tiny sliver of the pie.

India, for example, accounts for 3.2% of global GDP in nominal terms, even though it contains 17.8% of the world’s population.

That’s why on the nominal map, India is about the same size as France, the United Kingdom, or Japan’s two largest metro areas (Tokyo and Osaka-Kobe)—but of course, these wealthier places have a far higher GDP per capita.

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