forward guidance

Michael Steen

Not the ECB (Getty)

The Bundesbank has weighed in on what forward guidance means for the European Central Bank and if you want the short version it boils down to: we have not forgotten about inflation.

The ECB pledged in July to keep interest rates at or below current levels “for an extended period of time,” which, as we’ve noted before has caused some confusion as to what precisely it means.

According to Germany’s central bank, that promise does not actually mean that interest rates cannot rise or that they will necessarily remain low for a long time. As it writes in its latest monthly report:

The decisive point in correctly interpreting this statement is that it is conditional on the unchanged obligation of the Eurosystem [the ECB and the eurozone’s 17 national central banks] towards its mandate of maintaining price stability (which means, operationally, medium term inflation that is below, but close to 2 per cent)… It follows that the ECB’s governing council has not bound itself. If higher price pressures become apparent in future compared to those expected now, forward guidance in no way rules out a rise in interest rates.

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John Aglionby

The Bank of England has promised to keep interest rates at record lows until the unemployment rate falls to 7 per cent, a radical change of monetary policy in the world’s sixth largest economy.

Mark Carney, the BoE’s new governor, unveiled the policy on Wednesday, alongside forecasts that show the central bank does not expect the unemployment rate to reach that level until at least mid-2016.

The policy, which is similar to the one adopted by the US Federal Reserve, is aimed at reassuring markets and the public that monetary policy will not tighten any time soon.

But the Bank of England said it would reconsider if inflation was set to be 2.5 per cent or higher in the medium-term, if inflation expectations were becoming out of control, or if the policy was threatening financial stability

“The message is that the MPC is going to maintain the exceptional monetary stimulus until unemployment reaches 7 per cent and then we will reconsider,” Mr Carney told his first press conference since he took on the top job last month. “We will do this while maintaining price and financial stability.”

There was a muted response from investors. The FTSE 100 fell 0.8 per cent, yields on 10-year government bonds climbed 3 basis points and sterling rose 0.5 per cent against the dollar.

Mr Carney said the economy was recovering, but remained far too weak. “This remains the slowest recovery in output on record,” he said. “We’re not at escape velocity right now.”
He stressed the 7 per cent unemployment rate was not a target, but a “way-station” on the path to full recovery.

By Sarah O’Connor, John Aglionby and Catherine Contiguglia. All times are London time

 

Michael Steen

Graffiti outside the ECB's future headquarters. (Getty)

Could the European Central Bank be learning a thing or two about managing the message? Ahead of Thursday’s interest rate-setting meeting, when policymakers will want to do nothing more than say “we’re holding steady”, it looks like the bank may come up with an eye-catching announcement to give everyone something to write about.

That something is the long-running and vexed question of why the bank that loves to tell you how transparent it is (well, at certain times, once you’ve cleared security and as long as you understand no quotes should be used from this conversation) keeps the minutes of its governing council meetings secret for 30 years. The practice makes it an outlier – the Federal Reserve, Bank of England and Bank of Japan all publish minutes of their monetary policy meetings within a month of the meeting that they cover. Read more

Michael Steen

After ditching its long-standing policy of never commenting on future interest rates in order to launch “forward guidance” last week, the European Central Bank has landed itself into something of a pickle as to what it really means when it says rates will stay at or below their current level for an “extended period”.

Mario Draghi, ECB president, was pressed on the question immediately after launching the policy last Thursday and said:

Well, I said an extended period of time is an extended period of time: it is not six months, it is not 12 months – it is an extended period of time.

That is from the official ECB transcript and has punctuation that helps to suggest that Mr Draghi was refusing to say it was any given period of time. However it was also clearly open to misinterpretation and that is why a certain amount of briefing took place after the press conference in which officials made clear that what Mr Draghi meant to do was avoid giving an answer on a time frame, rather than suggest rates would be low for at least 12 months.

So today’s comments by Jörg Asmussen, a member of the six-person ECB executive board and close ally of Mr Draghi, were all the more surprising. Read more

Robin Harding

One topic the Federal Open Market Committee is likely to discuss this week is replacing its forecast of low rates “at least through mid-2015″ with some sort of economic conditions. The idea here is pretty well known by now: rates stay low until unemployment falls below x per cent as long as inflation remains below y per cent.

As I understand the state of play, pretty much everyone on the FOMC prefers this approach to the mid-2015 date, and discussion is well advanced. The challenge is to find a good formulation for x and y that everyone can agree on. My guess is there may be some kind of staff proposal at this FOMC meeting, but more likely one for comment by the committee, rather than one ready to act on.

Choosing x and y is tricky. Here are some thoughts on how the Fed may approach it. Read more