Many year-end reviews of market behaviour in 2012 have rightly argued that the role of the central banks has once again proven critical, trumping all other factors, including the state of the global economic cycle. In fact, two brief statements by ECB President Mario Draghi have been the decisive events in the global financial system this year.
The first, which actually took place in the early hours of a eurozone summit on 9 December 2011, was Mr Draghi’s favourable assessment of the latest political moves towards fiscal union. This unleashed the ECB’s Long Term Refinancing Operations in the first half of the year. The second, on 26 July 2012, came when Mr Draghi said that the ECB would do “whatever it takes” to keep the single currency intact. This led to the launching of the Outright Monetary Transactions programme in September. Although still unused, the mere possibility of unlimited ECB bond buying in Spain and Italy via the OMT was enough to produce a powerful rally in global risk appetite, despite mounting concerns about the US fiscal cliff.
Understanding the developing attitude of the central banks, and the effects of their actions, obviously remains central for investors in all financial assets. The “big picture” for global financial assets, involving very low government bond yields and a gradual shift of risk appetite into credit and equities, is unlikely to change until one of two events takes place.
The first would be a decision by the central bankers themselves that the era of unlimited quantitative easing must end, either because of the risk of inflation and asset price bubbles, or because of concerns about fiscal dominance over the monetary authorities. The second would be a realisation by the markets that further action by the central bankers is irrelevant because they have run out of effective ammunition. Either of these events would probably remove the central prop from the equity bull market which began in March, 2009, but neither seems very likely in 2013. Read more