Blog Post

Big Macs in big countries: an update on euro area adjustment

Have prices moved in the direction of correcting real exchange rate misalignments everywhere in the euro area in recent years? Not between the largest euro-area economies, i.e. France, Germany and Italy, says evidence from the Big Mac index. However, latest trends may be working in the right direction in these countries too.

By: Date: September 20, 2018 Topic: Global Economics & Governance

What can the Big Mac Index tell us about real exchange rate misalignments in the euro area? Have relative prices between countries adjusted so as to correct them?

Despite its many limitations, The Economist’s Big Mac Index remains a popular and intuitive measure of exchange rate over/undervaluation. In the absence of nominal exchange rates, one would expect prices of Big Macs to vary across euro area countries according to local productivity.

For one thing, Big Mac prices reflect both the competitiveness misalignments that prevailed in the euro area on the eve of the crisis and the subsequent adjustment in the periphery. Despite systematic productivity differentials between Germany and Greece or Italy, in 2011 Big Macs sold for nearly identical prices. As Figure 1 shows, a burger was slightly cheaper in Greece (€3.26) and marginally more expensive in Italy (€3.50) than in Germany (€3.40).

In the years that followed, price increases in the euro-area periphery were contained relative to other euro-area countries, leading to the recovery of competitiveness. Figure 2 illustrates the adjustment in relative prices: by 2018 prices in Greece (+€0.09), Ireland (+€0.27) and Portugal (+€0.35) had increased by less than the euro area weighted equivalent (+€0.63).

Another point to note is that relative prices of Big Macs have not changed among the large euro-area economies. Prices in France and Italy have grown (+0.70 EUR) virtually as much as prices in Germany (+0.72 EUR) (Figure 1) and faster relative to the euro area in general (Figure 2).

To the extent that 2011 prices captured a misalignment in real exchange rates, that misalignment persists (or has possibly been exacerbated by widening productivity differentials in the same period). The International Monetary Fund made this case much more formally in its latest External Sector Report: it found an overvalued real effective exchange rate in France and Italy (by 4% and 5% respectively) and a significantly undervalued one in Germany (by 15%) for 2017.

On a brighter note, however, recent developments may be finally working in the desired direction. Figure 3 helps unpack the story: the relative price gap of Big Macs between Germany on the one hand and France and Italy on the other actually widened from 2011 to 2016, as prices in the former remained flat and continued to rise in the latter. Since 2016, however, these trends have actually reversed, helping to gradually reduce the price differential.

References

International Monetary Fund (2018). 2018 External Sector Report. IMF Policy Paper. July 2018.

 


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Inflation targets: revising the European Central Bank’s monetary framework

The ECB is looking to evaluate whether its definition of price stability is effective in helping anchor inflation expectations. We argue that the current definition does not make for a very good focal point. To become a focal point the ECB needs to do two things. Price stability should be defined as inflation at 2 percent,. Remove therefore the unnecessary ambiguity of "below but close to 2 percent". But that is not enough. Around that 2 percent, the ECB should say which levels of inflation it is prepared to tolerate. There need to be explicit bands defined around that 2 percent to provide a framework for economic agents to evaluate Central Bank performance. And as the ECB will have to operate under high levels fo uncertainty these bands need to be wider than tolerance of inflation between 1 and 3 percent, which is what many inflation targeting Central Banks have tolerated over the years.

By: Maria Demertzis and Nicola Viegi Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 20, 2020
Read about event

Upcoming Event

Mar
31
12:30

How adequate is the European toolbox to deal with financial stability risks in a low rate environment?

Bruegel is delighted to welcome the governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, Gabriel Makhlouf. He will deliver a keynote address about how adequate the European toolbox is to tackle financial stability risks in a low rate environment. Following his speech, a panel of experts will further discuss the topic.

Speakers: Gabriel Makhlouf, Guntram B. Wolff and Agnès Bénassy-Quéré Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Finance & Financial Regulation Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

A Major Step Toward Combating Money Laundering in Europe

Combating money laundering in Europe took a momentous step with finance ministers of France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, and Spain putting forward a joint proposal.

By: Nicolas Véron and Joshua Kirschenbaum Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: November 25, 2019
Read article More by this author

Blog Post

Bank regulation in the European Union neighbourhood: limits of the ‘Brussels effect’

The EU model of financial market regulation is increasingly copied by third countries. In this context, the EU’s efforts to promote its model beyond its borders should take into account the underdevelopment of financial markets in many partner countries, and the often insufficient capacity of regulators and supervisors.

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Finance & Financial Regulation Date: November 20, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Opinion

Politics, not policy will help Lagarde save the eurozone

Her success at helm of Europe’s central bank will depend on her ability to mend fences with hawkish policymakers.

By: Guntram B. Wolff and Rebecca Christie Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: November 4, 2019
Read article Download PDF More on this topic More by this author

Policy Contribution

With or without you: are central European countries ready for the euro?

The debate on euro adoption by central European EU countries has intensified in the last years. In this Policy Contribution the author does not review all the complex aspects of euro-area enlargement, but analyse a particularly important issue: the build-up of macroeconomic vulnerabilities and the subsequent adjustments.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: October 10, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Long term real interest rates fell below zero in all euro area countries

The 10-year real government bond yield, which is the nominal yield deflated by expected inflation, has fallen below zero in Italy and Greece, boosted by increased market confidence for their new governments. Romania is the only remaining EU country with a positive real interest rate. Negative real interest rates vastly help fiscal sustainability and provide a great opportunity to invest in much needed infrastructure and the transition to a carbon-neutral economy.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: October 8, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Economic priorities for new EU leadership

Europe is no longer in crisis mode. However, it remains vulnerable; it is unprepared and it is procrastinating. Following European elections this May, new leaders are about to take their positions at the main European institutions for the next 5 years. They have the power in their hands to take action. But more importantly, they have the power to convene 28 states, which, if united, can play a significant global role. What are the urgent challenges that require collective European action?

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: September 10, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Backstage at BAM19: Priorities for Europe's monetary union

Backstage at the Bruegel Annual Meetings, Nicholas Barrett talks with Zsolt Darvas on Europe's monetary union.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: September 5, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Backstage at BAM19: Which priorities for the new EU leadership?

Backstage at the Bruegel Annual Meetings, Rebecca Christie talks with Guntram Wolff on priorities for the new EU leadership, the Annual Meetings and Commissioner Malmstrom's keynote.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: September 4, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

External Publication

La Banca centrale europea

This external publication delves into the new responsibility given to the European Central Bank: supervision on banks in the euro-area. It tells its history and illustrates its functions, structure and responsibilities and the exceptional answers to respond to the "perfect storm" of the crisis.

By: Francesco Papadia Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: July 31, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

European champion-ships: industrial champions and competition policy

This blog post investigates the debate on whether European competition rules should foster European industrial champions, or allow national champions to grow to a European scale. It explores the criteria that one would intuitively ascribe to industrial champions, illustrating the difficulties in defining either ‘European’ or ‘Champion’. It then conducts a brief look into whether EU Merger decisions have impeded the formation of ‘European Champions’.

By: Mathew Heim and Catarina Midoes Topic: Innovation & Competition Policy Date: July 26, 2019
Load more posts