Monthly Archives: October 2012

Claire Jones

It’s all looking a little brighter for UK households in need of some credit.

Data out from the Bank of England today showed the average mortgage rate dipped slightly, from 3.84 per cent in August to 3.77 per cent in September. Mortgage approvals edged up, to 94,385 from 90,023 in August. The picture was also a little cheerier for unsecured lending to households.

All of which will delight the Bank of England, keen as it is for any sign that Funding for Lending – its latest flagship scheme to spur lending to businesses and households – is working. However, the Bank should be wary about reading too much into today’s data.

A couple of reasons why. Read more

Claire Jones

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BoJ easing

The Bank of Japan looks set to ease policy next Tuesday, with most expecting a ¥10trn expansion of its quantitative easing programme, which will take the size of the programme to ¥90trn. Read more

Claire Jones

European Central Bank data, out Thursday, showed that the amount of cash that businesses and households are parking in Spanish banks rose in September for the first time since the spring.

Deposits held by Greek and Italian banks also rose last month, while those parked in German banks dipped slightly.

One swallow does not make a summer. But residents of the Eurotower will be cautiously optimistic that the fact that banks in Greece and Spain are no longer haemorrhaging deposits shows that one of the aims of the ECB’s Outright Monetary Transactions programme is being fulfilled with the central bank yet to buy a single bond. Read more

close up of the Bank of England sign©EPA

At ease: the BoE has put £375bn into the UK economy

Two questions arise when the lacklustre performance of the UK economy is discussed: what more should be done? And what more can be done?

Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, gave pretty clear answers to both in a speech on Tuesday nightRead more

Robin Harding

Binyamin Applebaum at the New York Times has a good piece today about who Mitt Romney might appoint as Federal Reserve chairman and what that might mean. His analysis is similar to that of Macro Advisers, and I don’t have much to add, save that I think Glenn Hubbard or Greg Mankiw are more likely choices than John Taylor.

It is worth considering, though, how a more hawkish Fed chairman would interact with the rest of the FOMC. The seven Fed governors at present are:

Term expires Age Notes
Elizabeth Duke 2012 60
Jerome Powell 2014 59
Sarah Raskin 2016 51
Jeremy Stein 2018 52
Ben Bernanke 2020 58 Chairman until Jan 2014
Daniel Tarullo 2022 59
Janet Yellen 2024 66 Vice chair until Oct 2014

 Read more

Michael Steen

The waiting game grinds on to see when (and it’s hard to find anyone who thinks it is an “if” rather than a “when”) Spain will apply to the EU’s rescue funds for a credit line that would allow the ECB to make use of its “outright monetary transactions” bond-buying programme. A repeated theme of the Spanish government has been to say it would like to know more details about OMT before tying itself fast to the fiscal conditions attached to a rescue programme.

Now some clarity from Benoît Cœuré, the ECB executive board member who oversees market operations, who spells it out:

We’ve been very clear on the modalities of the OMTs. They are ready and we’re not going to provide any more details.

 Read more

Robin Harding

This month’s FOMC is likely to produce little visible action but there is a lot going on under the surface. The meeting starts tomorrow, Tuesday, October 23, and should conclude with a policy statement around 12.30 ET on Wednesday, the 24th.

What to expect?

Not much new. QE3 has just begun, Operation Twist 2 is ongoing, and for reasons discussed below, it is probably (although not definitely) too early for communication changes.

The FOMC may want to make slight updates to its statement noting some mildly positive economic data. It might strike a more positive tone on housing, but given that QE3 is tied to the labour market, any change to “growth in employment has been slow” is likely to be cosmetic.

Consensus forecasts

The FOMC is set to discuss consensus committee forecasts on day one. This is not as sexy as QE – it won’t move the markets – but is profoundly important to the future of the Fed. It will affect policy down the line. Read more

Claire Jones

Erkki Liikanen, governor of Finland’s central bank and author of the eponymous review into the structure of Europe’s banks, appeared before UK lawmakers on Monday as part of parliament’s commission on banking standards.

There wasn’t much new information on the Liikanen proposals, which require some aspects of trading activity to be separated from banks’ deposit-taking operations.

But there was an interesting spat between a cantankerous Lord Lawson, the former chancellor of the exchequer who sits on the commission, and Mr Liikanen. Read more

Claire Jones

Our week ahead email helps you to track the most important events in central banking. To see all of our emails and alerts visit

The Federal Open Market Committee meets on Tuesday to set monetary policy for the coming month and a half. The committee votes on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s the FT’s US economics editor Robin Harding on what to expect: Read more

Michael Steen

According to the Maradona theory of monetary policy, as outlined by Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, a central bank can let expectations that it will act – rather than actual action – do the work for it.

The theory is being tested right now by Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, as his controversial “outright monetary transactions” bond-buying programme is forced to sit on the benches until the prime candidate for help, Spain, applies to the EU’s bailout fund.

As a quick reminder, the Maradona theory refers to the 1986 World Cup quarter final between England and Argentina. Diego Maradona scored a celebrated goal with a run from near the halfway line in which he beat five England players by, er, running in a straight line. Read more

Chris Giles

This week the International Monetary Fund argued that Keynesian short-term multipliers used in economic forecasts had been “systematically too low since the start of the Great Recession”.

The multiplier describes the relationship between changes in taxation or public spending and output. For a multiplier of 1, a $1 increase in taxation will reduce GDP by $1. For a multiplier of 0.5, a $1 reduction in spending will reduce GDP by $0.50. The higher the multiplier, the more painful deficit reduction.

The IMF justified its concern over multipliers by evaluating its April 2010 forecasts for growth. It found that in countries that planned significant fiscal consolidation, its growth forecasts were systematically too optimistic and they were too pessimistic for countries planning to let spending rise quickly or cut taxes. Read more

When David Marsh wrote his definitive biography of the Bundesbank in 1993, he chose the following sub title: “The Bank That Rules Europe“. Feared and revered in equal measure, the Bundesbank was the model on which the ECB was built. Imitation was not, however, the sincerest form of flattery for Germany’s central bank. The arrival of the ECB removed most of its direct authority over monetary policy, leaving it with only one out of 23 votes on the governing council of the new central bank.

Recently, the Bundesbank’s President Jens Weidmann has been in a minority of one on the question of whether to launch the ECB’s new programme of Outright Monetary Transactions, to which he is fundamentally opposed. He views the proposed purchases of government debt in the troubled eurozone economies as a thinly disguised monetary bail-out of profligate governments, something which the Bundesbank had believed from the very beginning to be outside the intention of the treaties.

 Read more

Michael Steen

File photo of Yves Mersch

Still not there: Yves Mersch

Yves Mersch’s long, slow ascent to a place on the six-member executive board of the European Central Bank has just hit another potentially serious roadblock.

The governor of the Bank of Luxembourg is male, like all his central bank peers in the eurozone, and the economic and monetary affairs committee of the European Parliament has decided it is time to draw a line in the sand.

In September, the committee, which has to approve his appointment, postponed his confirmation hearing because no women candidates had been considered for the job. This evening, the news from Brussels is that the committee will hold a formal hearing on October 22, but it will make a negative recommendation about his candidacy.

The reason for this remains the committee’s objection that no female candidate was offered for consideration. It is saying it will not make any judgment on Mr Mersch’s competence as a central banker. Read more

Claire Jones

Our week ahead email helps you to track the most important events in central banking. To see all of our emails and alerts visit

IMF/ World Bank meetings

Many of the world’s top central bankers will travel to Tokyo this week for the IMF/ World Bank annual meetings. The meetings take place on Friday and Saturday.

Details of the meetings and the full programme of seminars is available here. Highlights include a talk by Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, on Sunday at 11:30 a.m Tokyo time (2.30am GMT), and appearances by Fed chair Ben Bernanke and ECB president Mario Draghi at a BoJ/IMF event later in the day. Read more

Professor Michael Woodford of Columbia University is an extremely renowned macro-economist, and rightly so, but only recently has he occupied a central place in market thinking. Since his paper on US monetary policy at Jackson Hole, and the favourable remarks which Ben Bernanke made about him, everyone is trying to understand what his influence on the Fed might eventually mean.

His writing can be complex and intricate, which is in the nature of the subject, but his current policy recommendation is quite clear: the Fed should adopt a target for the level of nominal GDP which would have the effect of increasing price inflation, and inflation expectations in the period ahead, and thus reduce the real rate of interest.

 Read more

Claire Jones

Mario Draghi. Image by Getty.

Mario Draghi. Image by Getty.

Hello and welcome to our live blog on the European Central Bank’s press conference, which follows the governing council’s vote earlier today.

Today’s presser is held in Kranj, Slovenia. ECB president Mario Draghi will be flanked by Vitor Constâncio, ECB president, and Marko Kranjec, governor of the Slovenian central bank.

All times are London time.

14.26 And that’s that from Kranj. The ECB president painted a gloomy picture of the economic outlook, but there was little indication of what the central bank would do if conditions worsened.

14.25 Time for one more question. This one on the possibility of a conflict of interest between supervising banks and monetary policy. “We have to make sure that we have an organisation that ensures separation between monetary policy decisions and banking supervision,” Mr Draghi says.

14.20 Mr Draghi reiterates for the umpteenth time that the ball is now very much in the court of governments: “The ECB is there to make an environment that is conducive to reforms, but the decision is with governments,” he says.

14.15 Marko Kranjec, governor of Slovenia’s central bank, says the country’s borrowing costs “don’t reflect fundamentals.” The governor says he expects them to fall in the months ahead. A related question from Peter Spiegel:

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Any takers? Read more

Claire Jones

Foreign exchange intervention has long had a bad reputation; it earned the beggar-thy-neighbour tag back in the 1930s. Now, even actions that aren’t explicitly aimed at influencing the exchange rate, such as the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing, prompt accusations that central banks are provoking a “currency war”.

A fascinating piece of research, published by the Bank for International Settlements on Tuesday, claims this bad rep is no longer fair. Read more

Claire Jones

The Swiss National Bank’s attempt to cap the franc’s gains against the euro has resulted in a 65 per cent expansion of its reserves over the past year. The central bank now holds Sfr421bn in foreign exchange reserves, compared with Sfr255bn at the end of August 2011.

Because of the magnitude of this balance sheet expansion, the cap’s influence has gone far beyond European shores. The latest Cofer data on central banks’ foreign exchange reserves, released by the IMF on Friday, show the significance of the SNB’s cap on a global scale.

According to the data, the total amount of reserves held by the world’s central banks was $10.5tn as of the end of June 2012. They also show the currency allocation for $5.8tn of these reserves (many central banks refuse to declare the currency composition of their FX reserves).

The currency allocation data showed the proportion of reserves denominated in euros had edged up, from 25 per cent in the first quarter of 2012 to 25.1 per cent at the end of June (which doesn’t account for the dollar’s appreciation against the euro). The data suggest that this owes an awful lot to the SNB. Read more