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

Israel’s foreign currency reserves stood at $70.9bn at the end of December, according to Bloomberg – but they may well be needed.

Central bank governor Stanley Fischer has warned that capital inflows could reverse sharply, leading the Bank to sell its reserves to try to slow any sudden weakening of the shekel. “One of the things that does concern us is that we have a lot of money coming in,” Mr Fischer told Bloomberg Radio in Davos. “If opinions change quickly money goes right back out and it could go out very fast.” Read more

Israel historical interest rate graphic“Monetary policy is still expansionary”, says the central bank, but will be a little less expansionary from February 1 when the base rate rises from 2 to 2.25 per cent. It will be the first rate rise in four months and it is likely more will follow*. The tightening move follows the introduction of a 10 per cent reserve requirement on foreign derivatives, effective January 27.

House prices have risen 17.3 per cent in the past year in Israel, a trend that accelerated last month. “The volume of new housing loans increased steeply in December,” adds the Bank. “The outstanding balance of housing loans at the end of 2010 was 14.7 percent higher than that at the end of 2009.”

It is likely the fear of a housing bubble has prompted the timing of Israel’s rate hike. Read more

Incentive realignment continues at the Central Bank of Turkey. Reserve requirements have been raised as signalled last week – though by more than many will have been expecting.

Turkey is trying to lengthen the maturity of deposits flowing into the country, as it explained at the outset of its new strategy in December: “The fact that maturities of liabilities are shorter than those of assets in the Turkish banking sector exposes the sector to liquidity and interest rate risk, which increases the sensitivity of the banking system to shocks,” it said.

 Read more

Turkey’s rate cut yesterday will be followed by another raise in reserve requirements in the coming days, continuing the central bank’s plan to discourage short-duration capital flows. Bloomberg news wire reports:

The Turkish central bank’s decision to reduce the benchmark interest rate was unanimous, Turalay Kenc, a member of the Monetary Policy Committee told Bloomberg HT television. Read more

Reserve requirements are so in vogue. Israel’s central bank is the latest to adjust their ratio, bringing in a 10 per cent requirement for non-residents dealing in foreign exchange derivatives, specifically FX swaps and forwards. The move will be effective January 27. The bank said:

In the last few months the volume of foreign exchange derivative transactions by nonresidents has increased markedly. A significant part of the increase in nonresidents’ transactions is in short term instruments. This measure will strengthen the Bank of Israel’s ability to achieve the objectives of its monetary, foreign exchange and financial stability policies.

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Turkey’s central bank has just cut their benchmark rate 25 basis points, building upon moves last month that cut the same rate 50bp and raised reserve requirements. The two-pronged move was intended to weaken the lira, make exports more attractive and thus reduce the current account deficit – a blight on an otherwise booming economy.

The particular problem with Turkey’s bank reserves is their maturity profile, which is quite short-term, making the country vulnerable to external shocks. Rather than focusing on inflation and growth, a great deal of attention in Ankara must be focused on securing the next slice of funding. Encouraging longer-term maturities is a smart move; financial stability increases in proportion to the average maturity of deposits. Read more

As expected, Turkey’s central bank has cut its key rate as part of a two-pronged strategy to address hot money and inflation. The following information is from the Bank, courtesy of Google translate:

“The bank said the measures, taken in tandem with hikes to the lira required reserve ratio due to be announced on Friday, would not have an expansionary effect on monetary conditions,” reports Reuters. Read more

Markets are already expecting a cut today: yields on Turkish government bonds are at record lows following hints of a new strategy from the country’s central bank. That strategy could include cutting rates to combat hot money, while raising reserve requirements to mop up the extra liquidity that this would create.

Lex points out the irony of cutting rates to slow the economy in an article entitled: Turkey: an anti-stimulus stimulus. The move, if it happens, is quite a gamble. Cutting rates, with the threat of more to come, may discourage yield-hungry foreign investors, as intended. But will government and the banks play their part in restraining the consumption that will be encouraged by lower rates? It’s possible, says Lex,but such virtue is unlikely with an election looming and little tradition of financial restraint.” If the plan backfires, expect inflation. Read more

Cutting rates while increasing reserve requirements is the best way to tackle Turkey’s current account deficit, the central bank has said. The rate cut hint has sent sovereign bond yields to historic lows.

“Tightening tools other than interest rates to prevent loan acceleration on the one hand, and gradual decreases in short-term interest rates to limit the appreciating trend in the forex rate, are the ideal policy strategy against an increasing current account deficit,” deputy Governor Erdem Basci said in a presentation. Read more

A fully electronic trading platform dedicated to Shariah-compliant products has just been launched by Bahraini exchange BFX, which was itself only launched earlier this year. The central bank of the tiny island state will be regulating trading activity on the new platform, e-Tayseer, of the new Islamic finance division, Bait al-Bursa.

e-Tayseer, aimed at the Middle Eastern and North African markets, will initially offer automated murabaha transactions. This is the region’s first exchange-operated platform dedicated to Islamic finance products. Read more