Bank of England

Mervyn King

Mervyn King. Image by Getty.

A few weeks ago, the big central banks were calmly embarking on their “exit” strategies from unconventional monetary accommodation. Then the global economy slowed but for a while inflation remained too high for the Fed or the ECB to consider further easing. Their hands were tied until inflation peaked. Recognising this, markets collapsed. But now that there are some tentative signs of inflation subsiding, the central banks are rediscovering their ammunition stores.

There are basically three types of action that they are considering. In order of orthodoxy, and stealing some of Mervyn King’s terminology, here is a taxonomy of possible measures:

1. Conventional liquidity injections

This is safe territory for the central banks, and they are willing to act swiftly and decisively if necessary. Yesterday’s injections of dollar liquidity into the European financial system are a case in point. Some European banks, especially those in France, were finding it very difficult to raise dollar financing, which they needed in order to pay down earlier dollar borrowings, and to make loans to customers in dollars. The resulting strains in the money markets were undermining confidence in the ability of these banks to remain liquid, and markets were increasingly unwilling to accept their credit. This presented a classic case for the ECB to inject liquidity, using conventional currency swap arrangements to raise dollars from the Fed. Although the ECB will incur a minimal amount of currency risk in the process, and will also incur some credit risk (which will be collateralised), this is very much business as usual for any central bank, as it was in 2008. Read more

The Bank of England’s latest Inflation Report was certainly a downbeat document. Mervyn King, Bank governor, said there are “difficult times ahead”, because the economy is still undergoing a slow adjustment to the impact of the financial crisis. By reducing its GDP growth forecasts while simultaneously increasing its inflation projections, the Bank has signalled that it believes the UK is now facing a series of supply side problems – and those are always the most difficult for any central bank to handle. Read more

This week in global macro, the emerging markets reminded us that they are, well, emerging markets. The Egyptian crisis may have moved towards resolution, but there are risks of contagion elsewhere in the region. India continues to be the worst performing stock market of the year, and China is slowing under the weight of tightening monetary policy.

Developed equity markets continue to out-perform, although headline inflation is rising, notably in the UK. Although many people are claiming that the Bank of England is losing credibility, that is not yet showing in the gilt market. In the US, there were some signs of greater hawkishness from certain members of the FOMC, but none where it really counts – which is in the minds of Ben Bernanke and his senior lieutenants. The US equity market ended the week at its highest level since June 2008. Read more

From now on, GDP figures in the UK will be watched with more than usual interest, because Britain is embarking upon the most significant fiscal tightening among the G7 nations. Can the economy withstand it?

Today’s GDP statistics for the third quarter, which show that the economy is growing at an annualised rate of 3.2 per cent, were much stronger than expected, and suggest that the economy is in better shape than many economists had predicted as the government is launching its fiscal retrenchment. However, the composition of the data is somewhat less encouraging than the picture painted by the headline figures. Read more

The shift in market prices since the Fed meeting on Tuesday has been very minor in the great scheme of things, but it has obviously got some people worried that it is the start of a much bigger move in the coming weeks.  Read more

The Fed decision announced last night seems to have disappointed markets, yet it will surely come to be seen as a clear win for the doves. Prior to yesterday, the default option at the Fed was to allow the size of its balance sheet to decline whenever its holdings of mortgage debt matured. Although this would not have led to much shrinkage of the balance sheet in the near future, it signalled that the Fed was looking for opportunities to reverse its policy of unconventional easing. That bias has now been removed, though not yet reversed. Read more