national bank of poland

Claire Jones

Marek Belka (right) with José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. Image by Getty

The debate over monetary policy’s limits is, once again, big news.

In recent weeks, Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, and his deputy governor for monetary policy, Charlie Bean, have both questioned the usefulness of more quantitative easing. On Thursday, the Monetary Policy Committee halted bond-buying, suggesting the majority agrees with the Bank’s top brass.

It is clear that the MPC now believes that it is running out of options, at least as far as “normal” policy is concerned.

But what is normal? Sir Mervyn has always considered quantitative easing an orthodox monetary policy. Marek Belka, president of the National Bank of Poland, disagrees. 

Increasingly hawkish statements from Poland’s interest rate-setting Monetary Policy Council have analysts convinced that Poland is in for another rate hike on Tuesday as the central bank resumes its tightening policy.

The expectation is that the council will increase its policy rate by a quarter point to 4 per cent a year – with analysts at Danske Bank predicting that rates will continue their upward climb, hitting 5 per cent within 12 months.

Inflation expectations are on the rise. According to Citi Handlowy bank, they reached 3.9 per cent a year in March. The central bank has also expressed concern about the lacklustre performance of the zloty, which has been sagging on worries over Poland’s budget and the government’s unenthusiastic fiscal tightening programme.

 

A rate rise was a serious option at the last meeting of Poland’s monetary policy committee. Minutes reveal that policymakers held a vote on a quarter point rate rise, but that the majority voted against it because of heightened doubt over growth, coupled with low drivers of aggregate demand (such as high unemployment and low wage pressure):

The majority … represented the view that recent data increased the uncertainty regarding economic growth… Further arguments in favour of this decision included the persistently high unemployment rate and modest wage pressures in the enterprise sector, both reducing the risk that heightened inflation, which up to now has resulted from factors beyond the direct influence of monetary policy, should persist. Furthermore, in the opinion of some Council members, NBP decisions on interest rates should take into account the monetary policy pursued by major central banks, in particular the European Central Bank.

 

The zloty has fallen against the euro after Poland’s central bank decided to keep rates on hold. A large minority of analysts had expected a raise, following above-target inflation data, plus last month’s decision to increase rates 25bp, the first such move since the financial crisis. Signals from the Bank itself had been mixed.

(This paragraph is an update 1530 GMT) Comments from the central bank governor suggest this is a pause rather than a change of heart. “Some members of the Monetary Policy Council saw the January hike as the start of a cycle and I am one of them,” governor Marek Belka told a news conference. 

Disagreement seems to be a public affair at Poland’s central bank. Where other rate-setters cloak their positions or votes in secrecy, Poland’s 10-strong rate-setting council give their diverging views quite openly. This may well be a smart move.

Today, two opposing views were added to an almost exhaustive list of policymakers’ views. Anna Zielinska-Glebocka gave possibly the most hawkish assessment to date, warning of a race against time to beat rising core inflation. Asked by Reuters whether another rate hike may come as early as the MPC’s next sitting on March 1-2, Ms Zielinska-Glebocka said: “I wouldn’t want to say what we will do in March … It seems there is a need to tighten monetary policy. The depth of tightening will be decided by many factors.” Her bullish sentiments follow comments from Jerzy Hausner and Jan Winiecki, both concerned about inflation and eyeing further rate rises.

But balancing that view was 

It’s time for Poland to begin tightening – and we’re not talking a one-off rate rise, either. Central bank governor Marek Belka told Reuters today that it was time to begin a gradual monetary tightening cycle to help strengthen the zloty and cap inflationary expectations.

“The time for observing the situation in monetary policy is ending. I definitely believe that rates should be raised pre-emptively, not just in case,” Mr Belka told Reuters. Asked whether the rate rise could take place this month, Mr Belka replied: “If other “Irelands” happen then a rate hike would not achieve its goal and would not initiate zloty appreciation. For such a hike to initiate this process and be effective, it must take place at a time of stable markets.”

Mr Belka’s comments follow earlier hints, plus several bullish statements from colleagues on Poland’s monetary policy council. 

Hawkish comments from Poland’s central bank governor, following ambiguous data from the last minutes. The Bank kept its reference rate on hold at 3.5 per cent, as expected, but comments from Marek Belka suggest a rate rise is on the horizon.

Commenting on what he said was a decreased risk of strong capital inflows into Poland in the event of an interest rate rise, Reuters reports the governor telling a news conference: “This changes slightly the risk balance in favour of rate hikes or in favour of the start of a tightening cycle.” Mr Belka also reiterated his view that the Polish zloty has strong potential to appreciate. 

Poland’s latest minutes show something interesting, but we lack the information to interpret quite what. At the last rate-setting meeting, the Polish central bank held rates. Minutes just released showed that, as is now the norm, “some members” proposed a 50bp increase in the refinancing rate. This time, however, in addition, “some members” proposed a 25bp increase as well. This did not happen last time.

Minutes do not divulge who these members are, or even how many of them there are. Thus we cannot figure out whether one 50bp rate-rise proponent has softened their view, or whether all 50bp-rate-rise advocates stood firm, and someone who previously voted for a rate hold is now in favour of a rise. It’s a change, but whether it’s bullish or bearish compared to last month, we cannot tell. The most we can surmise is that at least two members of the ten-strong council are in favour of raising rates. 

Rates have been held today by Poland’s central bank, but some additional liquidity will be drained from the system by the decision to increase the amount of capital banks have to keep with the central bank. The reserve ratio will be increased from 3 to 3.5 per cent, the bank said, via Google translate.

No further information was given as the press conference hasn’t happened yet.

Poland’s central bank will aim to keep annual inflation as close as possible to its target of 2.5 per cent, rather than targeting a range of 2.5 per cent ± 1 per cent.

The shift in emphasis was mentioned in an assumptions document in the Bank’s 2011 Monetary Policy Guidelines. “Monetary policy is clearly targeted at keeping inflation closest to the 2.5 percent target rather than inside the wider range (of 1.5-3.5 per cent),” reads the document according to a Reuters translation. “This solution allows for the anchoring of inflation expectations,” says the document (via Google Translate), “[which] are not yet anchored sufficiently low.”

Polish news agency PAP reports, via Business Week