Monthly Archives: February 2011

**Update: Inflation figures came in lower than expected, dampening the bullish message somewhat. Consumer prices rose 2.87 per cent y-o-y to February, a fall from the previous month**

Expect another rate rise on March 9 – maybe even by 50bp. Assistant Governor Paiboon Kittisrikangwan told reporters today that interest rates are still too low, and that “normalisation” will continue if inflation keeps rising. Read more

ECB bond purchases settling last week fell to €369m as yields rose throughout the eurozone. €711m had been bought the week before, with Portugal widely rumoured to be the sovereign in distress.

Bond yields are now higher than when the central bank began its “shock and awe” bond purchase programme, back in May 2010. The ECB bought €16.3bn government bonds in that first week in a strong show of support for the eurozone, intended to reassure bond markets. Markets are no longer reassured; yields are higher; and ECB intervention is a shadow of its former self. Read more

Ralph Atkins

One lesson drawn from the global economic crises of the past few years is the need to improve financial literacy. But the view that problems could be avoided in the future simply by making sure investors understand into what they are putting their money is challenged in two research working papers just published by the European Central Bank.

The first looks at evidence from the UK and Ireland on what causes people to end up in financial distress and concludes that the problem goes beyond financial literacy and education. Read more

Loan growth is losing pace and $10bn short-term capital has left Turkey since the start of its new interest rate policy in December, central bank governor Durmus Yilmaz said Friday. Despite this, the current account deficit – one of the principal targets of the measures – will continue to rise in the first quarter due to base effects. Mr Yilmaz added he did not foresee a change in policy when his governorship ends in April.

The statements add up to declaration of success – but there was a caveat. Oil prices, driven higher by events in Libya, created a “new situation”, Mr Yilmaz admitted. Turkey’s rate-cutting, reserve-requirement-raising policy has so far been possible thanks to falling inflation and fairly high unemployment. (Rate cuts in an inflationary environment would have been far more dangerous.) If oil prices were to remain high, they would create an inflation risk that might constrain Turkey’s monetary plans. For now, as long as Saudi Arabia and its oil reserves stay out of the current turmoil, many believe the oil price shock will be short-lived.

Few analysts expect the European Central Bank to lift interest rates from the current 1 per cent at its policy meeting on Thursday, but Jean-Claude Trichet, president, is expected to further endorse the bank’s hawkish stance on inflation, despite today’s downward revision of January CPI to 2.3 per cent from 2.4 per cent.

“Given the emergency level of G7 rates, the fragility of the financial sector in Europe and the US, and the numerous economic and geopolitical uncertainties, the ECB is playing a long game, primarily to ensure that as and when it wishes to tighten policy, markets will not be shocked,” said Marc Ostwald at Monument Securities. Read more

Colombia raised rates 25bp late on Friday, the first rise since the financial crisis. The move, which took markets by surprise, takes the Bank’s key intervention rate to 3.25 per cent, compared with 10 per cent before the cuts began. Colombia also said it would continue its $20m-a-day dollar purchasing programme, through which it is trying to dampen appreciation of the Colombian peso.

Peru, meanwhile, yesterday raised its reserve requirement ratio for the second time in two months. The quarter-point rise applies to sol- and dollar- denominated bank reserves and is intended “to keep inflation expectations anchored within the 1 percent to 3 percent target range,” the bank said in a statement, according to Bloomberg. Peru also raised rates in January and February, taking the key rate from 3 to 3.5 per cent since the start of the year.

Robin Harding

Janet Yellen prefaces her speech today by saying that “it is not my intention to provide new information about the outlook for the US economy or monetary policy” but it is extremely tempting to read two scenarios that she sets out (as illustrations of the effects of Fed communications) as primary policy options for the next couple of years.

Scenario 1 – Delayed tightening

“If financial market participants appeared to be expecting policy firming to begin somewhat sooner than policymakers considered desirable or appropriate under such circumstances, the language of the forward guidance could be adjusted to shift expectations toward the somewhat longer horizon over which the Committee expected the federal funds rate to remain extraordinarily low.”

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Ralph Atkins

Shock news in the Bundesbank’s latest monthly bulletin: German house prices have gone up. The more-or-less flat profile of residential property prices over the past decade has been one of the defining features of Europe’s largest economy over the past year. It meant the country escaped a house price bubble, the downside of which is now being seen in the US, UK and, within the eurozone, in Spain and Portugal. (Instead German investors piled into US subprime mortgages – but that’s another story.) Read more

Each of the last five major downturns in global economic activity has been immediately preceded by a major spike in oil prices. Sometimes (e.g. in the 1970s and in 1990), the surge in oil prices has been due to supply restrictions, triggered by Opec or by war in the Middle East. Other times (e.g. in 2008), it has been due to rapid growth in the demand for oil.

But in both cases the contractionary effects of higher energy prices have eventually proven too much for the world economy to shrug off. With the global average price of oil having moved above $100 per barrel in recent days – about 33 per cent higher than the price last summer – it is natural to fear that this latest oil shock may be enough to kill the global economic recovery. But oil prices would have to rise much further, and persist for much longer, for these fears to be justified.

With global oil supply already impacted by Libyan shut-downs, the threat of an oil shock has moved well beyond the realms of the theoretical. According to recent reports, about half of Libya’s 1.6m barrels per day of oil output have been knocked out, and this has been enough to trigger a rise of about $14 per barrel in the spot price of oil in the past week.

Total Libyan oil production is less than 2 per cent of the world total, and it is of course most unlikely to be lost on a permanent basis. According to

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Fighting currency appreciation is an expensive business. It cost the Swiss SFr 21bn ($23bn) before they gave up and let the franc rise. New figures out from the Bank of Israel show it cost them NIS 17.6bn ($4.8bn). The Bank’s overall loss was NIS 17.9, of which 98 per cent can be attributed to exchange rate moves.

Israel’s foreign exchange stockpile has been growing – but the governor says these reserves might prove useful if there is a reversal of capital flows. Israel has been raising rates to contain inflation and dampen the too-buoyant housing market. The governor has called for international rules on foreign exchange markets and capital flows, just as exist currently for trade.

Luc Coene, Flemish-speaking vice governor of the National Bank of Belgium, will be promoted to governor when French-speaking Guy Quaden steps down on March 31. His five-year term will begin April 1.

The move was widely expected. Mr Coene had been due the promotion last August when Mr Quaden was meant to retire, but Belgium’s inability to form a government meant no final decision was taken at that time. Read more

High inflation has prompted the first rate rise in Russia since the financial crisis. All rates are affected by the quarter-point rise, including the deposit rate and the benchmark refinancing rate. This has surprised analysts. A Reuters poll, for example, predicted a 25bp rise in the deposit rate, with about half of respondents expecting a simultaneous rise in reserve requirements. The majority had expected the refinancing rate to be left on hold.

The rate rise, which will take the refi rate to 8 per cent, is effective February 28. Reserve requirements – raised at the end of last month – will be increased by the same amounts as last time: i.e. 1 percentage point for corporates, and 50bp for individuals and other. That move will be effective March 1. Use the dropdown below to explore historical reserve requirements (note: the most recent changes are entered by announcement date rather than effective date). Read more

Robin Harding

I’ve written here before that one possibility under discussion at the Fed is tapering off its $600bn QE2 asset purchases in order to minimise market disruption when they end.

Today, president James Bullard of the St Louis Fed raised the option of tapering so total purchases when the programme stops at the end of June are less than $600bn.

“The natural debate now is whether to complete the program or to taper off to a somewhat lower level of assets”

Mr Bullard told reporters after an interesting speech that he would favour a small reduction in the programme at the next meeting in March to reflect the better economic outlook.

Several market commentators have also put forward a slightly different version of a taper: Read more

James Politi

The US is little more than $200bn away – or about 2 months – away from reaching its congressionally mandated national debt limit of $14,300bn.

The need to increase it to avoid a potentially disastrous US default is the next fiscal battleground in Washington, after the lawmakers stop squabbling over a government shutdown.

Republicans want to use the opportunity to push for more spending cuts, while Democrats say this is not the place to negotiate.

On Thursday, Moody’s Investors Service offered its analysis of the likelihood that a major crisis will ensue, threatening America’s triple-A credit rating much earlier than even the most ardent fiscal hawks would imagine. Read more

Only twice since the Bank gained independence has a sitting governor been outvoted. One was in August 2005, when the committee voted for a cut while the governor preferred a hold. In the other, two years later, the governor voted for a rate rise, and was outvoted to keep rates on hold. Might we be about to see a third case?

For the prosecution, three pieces of evidence. The first is the voting pattern. Never since the Bank gained independence has there been such a long period in which members of the committee have voted against the governor. Typically, there’s the odd vote for a change, while the governor and a majority prefer to hold. Demand for change then either grows – taking the governor with it – or fizzles out. But dissent has now lasted for nine consecutive Bank of England meetings – the longest on record. (The previous record was seven.)

Next, an insightful point from Alan Clarke of BNP Paribas. Read more

James Bullard delivered an interesting, chart-rich speech on inflation, QE2 and global output gaps on Thursday. The now non-voting St Louis Fed President was a strong advocate of QE2 as a way to reverse alleged deflationary pressures. Bullard hits back at those claiming the Fed is importing inflation, saying — as Ben Bernanke did in Paris on Friday — that some “countries are choosing to import US monetary policy to some extent”.

But — and now we get to the really interesting bit of the presentation — Bullard does wonder whether the US should consider ‘the global output gap’. As John Kemp pointed out in his column on Thursday morning:

It is the first time a senior official at the U.S. central bank has acknowledged global capacity issues rather than a narrow focus on U.S. unemployment and capacity utilisation might give a better indication of where inflation is headed.

Bullard uses the following chart to suggest that “the global ouput gap is probably much narrower or even positive”:

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Russia’s finance minister has indicated a preference for a hike in interest rates when the board meets on Friday. Governments are often pro-growth, with central banks taking the unpopular – and sometimes anti-growth – decisions needed to fight inflation. Not in this case. “The central bank is independent, but I think it is the time to take additional measures,” Russia’s finance minister Alexei Kudrin told the BBC, Reuters news wire reports.

Bank Rossii surprised markets (and us) in January by following bullish hints with a raise in reserve requirements instead of a rate rise. Prices have risen 2.9 per cent in the first six weeks of 2011: at that rate, annual inflation for 2011 would be 25 per cent. Read more