Daily Archives: February 18, 2011

Chris Giles

Everyone knows that the two prime candidates to replace Mervyn King as Bank of England governor are Adair Turner, chairman of the soon-to-be-defunct Financial Services Authority, and Paul Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank. So this evening’s lecture by Mr Turner at Clare College Cambridge, with a response from Mr Tucker, was a mouth-watering prospect. It required a trip to the University.

Bank wags dubbed it a Sumo showdown.

The title: Creating a stable financial system: is the reform programme sufficiently radical?
The venue: Clare College, Cambridge (packed)
The outcome: a fascinating draw if that is possible in Sumo. Victory seemed to be going Turner’s way because Tucker didn’t show up until Turner had nearly finished, but this was a traffic related delay rather than the deputy governor shrinking from the fight.

Actually, there were very few outright blows landed 

A dramatic reversal of direction occurred in the currency markets today after a central banker spoke of “pre-emptive action” on interest rates.

The euro reversed its fall at lunchtime on Friday, just as Bloomberg news wire published details of an interview with ECB executive board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi. 

Robin Harding

The arguments in the speech and research paper that Ben Bernanke presented in Paris today will be fairly familiar if you’ve come across the influential 2009 AER paper by Ricardo Caballero and Arvind Krishnamurthy (indeed Mr Bernanke cites it specifically).

The basic point is that large capital inflows into the US in 2003-2007 were mainly in search of safe assets: and the US financial system responded by manufacturing them in the form of AAA-rated CDOs and similar moneytraps. 

Rumour has it Europe’s central bank has once again been buying Portuguese government bonds, to shore up demand and reassure existing bondholders. Apparently they’re buying 5-year bonds. Similar rumours flew around last week as yields topped 7.63 per cent during the day – following three weeks in which the ECB had been absent from government bond markets.

Yields on retraded – or “secondary” market – government bonds are a proxy for a government’s cost of debt. (They are not the actual cost of debt, which occurs when the government auctions debt off in the “primary” market.) 

Foreign investors’ hunger for safe US assets helped to cause the 2007-2009 crisis by encouraging banks to turn risky mortgages into AAA rated bonds, Ben Bernanke, US Federal Reserve chairman, argued in Paris on Friday.

“The preference by so many investors for perceived safety created strong incentives for US financial engineers to develop investment products that ‘transformed’ risky loans into highly rated securities,” said Mr Bernanke, presenting a new research paper that he co-wrote with other Fed economists. 

The pace is picking up. China is to tighten policy again, raising reserve requirements by 50bp effective February 24. The news follows a rate rise ten days ago. The People’s Bank’s promise of “intensive adjustment” to its monetary policy in Q1 hasn’t disappointed; the last reserve requirement hike, also of 50bp, was announced on January 14. Reserve requirements for big banks are believed to be 19.5 per cent now; they are 16 per cent for smaller banks.

Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, has criticised Mervyn King, Bank of England governor, saying he should step out of the political arena and stop tying his credibility to the coalition’s “extreme” deficit-reduction plans. In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Balls drew comparisons between Mr King’s stance and the backing lent by the Bank of England to the Treasury’s fiscal hawks during the Great Depression.

“The last thing you ever want is for the Bank of England to be drawn into the political arena,” said Mr Balls, one of the architects of Labour’s plan in the 1990s to give the Bank its independence. “Central bank governors have to be very careful about tying themselves too closely to fiscal strategies, especially when they are extreme and are making their job on monetary policy more complicated.” 

The Bank of Chile “continue[s] to reduce monetary stimulus,” raising rates yesterday to 3.5 from 3.25 per cent. Inflation fell last month and is below the 3 per cent target, at 2.7 per cent in the year to January. The trend, however, is strongly upward and recent deflation will be fresh in the minds of policymakers. Last month, Chile held.