Middle East

Israel has raised its key interest rate for April by half of one per cent – the largest rate rise since before the financial crisis. Bank of Israel was one of the first central banks to begin raising rates, starting in September 2009 with a quarter point rise from a record low of 0.5 per cent. Since then, there have been eight quarter-point rises, but this is the first half-point rise. In April, the Bank’s rate will be 3 per cent.

The move is an attempt to slow the economy and housing market, and rein in inflation. Israel’s economy is expanding, “converging towards a situation of full utilization of the factors of production”. The stats would send most Western central bankers green with envy. Last year, the economy grew by 4.6 per cent, rising to an annualised rate of 7.7 per cent in the last quarter. Unemployment is about 6.6 per cent and improving. But there is concern over inflation and housing. Consumer prices are rising 4.2 per cent annually, against a target of 1-3 per cent. Even stripping out house prices, inflation is 3.5 per cent annually. And there is evidence that inflation expectations and real wages are beginning to rise, too. Meanwhile the housing market continues to boom, with prices rising 16.3 per cent in the year to February and no decline evident in the appetite for new mortgages. Read more

The whereabouts of the governor of Libya’s central bank, the man who holds the key to the Gaddafi regime’s finances, have confounded officials, diplomats and bankers who have been desperate to find him over the past two weeks.

Farhat Omar Bengdara has spent much of the time since the outbreak of the uprising against Muammer Gaddafi outside Libya but it is has been unclear whether he supported the regime or was co-operating with the oppositionRead 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.

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.

The Bank of Israel has raised its March interest rate by a quarter of one per cent, prompted by higher than expected inflation, strong economic activity and continued fears about an overheating housing market.

Israel’s central bank also said “the expected timing of an increase in the Fed interest rate has been brought forward”. Read more

No reversal in Turkey. The central bank held rates at its latest policy meeting, hinting it would continue with its new monetary policy, data permitting. Since December, the Bank has been cutting rates and raising reserve requirements – a combination that they say has a tightening effect overall. Early indications suggest the policy is working.

The measures taken by the Central Bank since November are reducing macro-financial risks by leading to a more balanced growth path, mainly through a slowdown in import growth… Read more

There are international rules to govern global trade, but none to oversee foreign exchange markets or capital movements, Israel’s central bank governor has observed.

Stanley Fischer said standards for capital movements were needed, even though it was not possible to govern how much central banks could intervene in markets. Reuters news wire reports: “It is important that the IMF is now trying to develop such rules, to figure out what works and what doesn’t work when the exchange rate starts to appreciate and … what measures they can take that are acceptable from the viewpoint of managing the international economy,” he told a conference. “Those are rules we have to develop just as we developed rules gradually in the years since the 1950s that produced a global trading system,” he added.

Many countries grappling with “hot money” blame the US openly and directly, but Professor Fischer did not join them. “I believe the US is doing what needs to be done for growth. Read more

Early indications suggest Turkey’s unorthodox monetary policy is working: the maturity of deposits held at banks seems to have lengthened since December and consumer credit is falling. With a weakening lira and falling inflation, it is likely the ultimate objective – of reducing the current account deficit – is also being achieved.

So, deposit maturities. I confess I don’t have exact maturity data, but my conclusion is implied by the chart to the right. The chart shows the split of lira-denominated deposits at both private and public banks in Turkey.

The thin yellow strip represents lira deposits by non-residents and since the data do not split them further we shall ignore them for this analysis. The blue area represents “sight” deposits (i.e. like a current account, you can grab your money and run). These, then, have the minimum possible maturity (zero). The red area are “time” deposits, which are placed with the bank for a certain time. They might be a month or ten years, the data do not tell us. But they definitely have a longer maturity than sight deposits. And the proportion of sight deposits has fallen substantially since December, from 15.9 to 14.5 per cent. Read more

Israeli foreign currency reserves rose to $73.4bn by the end of January as the country’s central bank bought foreign currency to dampen the shekel. The Bank bought $2.09bn and benefitted from an upward revaluation of its reserves by $628m, reports Bloomberg news wire.

Since the start of the year, the shekel weakened against the dollar, from 3.51421 to 3.712 per dollar, which explains the upward revision. Last time there was a net weakening in the currency over the month, it was followed by a net reserve reduction the month after (October-November last year). By that logic we could expect Israel’s foreign exchange purchases to fall during February. Read more

Higher interest rates might be on their way in India if oil prices remain high, according to the central bank. Events in Egypt could drive up oil prices and impact monetary policy, the deputy governor has said.

“A whole set of events unfolded in the Middle East which are starting to have an impact on oil prices and that is something we didn’t anticipate at the time of making the policy announcement on January 25,” Subir Gokarn said on Sunday. “It is going to have an impact on our thinking, on our actions going forward.” Rates were raised 25bp on January 25. Mr Gokarn’s comments suggest that with hindsight the Bank might have raised them further. Read more