norway

Surprisingly low inflation figures from Norway will weaken the already-dubious case for a rate hike. Annual core inflation in January fell to 0.7 per cent from 1 per cent the month before. Headline inflation fell from 2.8 to 2 per cent. The target is 2.5 per cent and many analysts had expected a rise in core inflation.

Indeed, the persistent downward trend of the two core measures of inflation (red and blue on the chart) might add to the case for some monetary loosening. Care must be taken relying on annual figures, though, as a new source of weightings applies to the consumer price indices as of 2011. Month-on-month figures over the next few months will give a better indication.

Several news outlets are reporting bullish overtones from Norway’s central bank, as it today kept rates on hold for the seventh month. The phrase they refer to is this: “the key policy rate should not be kept low for too long.”

This phrase was also used in October, however, and should not prejudice the reader against data on inflation and exchange rates that encourage a continued low rate. Norges Bank’s phrase might be to manage inflation expectations, or its definition of “too long” might simply be longer than that of the average journalist; but it would be quite odd if the central bank were to raise rates imminently. The bank itself says: “Both the consideration of bringing consumer price inflation up to target and the consideration of stabilising developments in output and employment imply a low key policy rate.”

Norway’s y-o-y inflation is 1.9 per cent, against a target of 2.5 per cent. It is projected to fall below 1 per cent before rising next year, with the outlying scenarios including deflation (see chart, right). Norges Bank is clearly worried about falling inflation. At the last monetary policy meeting in October, the Bank mentioned a fear that “financial imbalances … may trigger abrupt and sharp falls in output and inflation.” 

Norway expects to hold its key rate at 2 per cent for several quarters, barring any shocks, the central bank said today. Reduced growth forecasts for the US and a world recovery “still shrouded in uncertainty” are dampening inflationary pressures. It’s becoming a familiar refrain among former rate-raisers: a moderate recovery domestically offset by continuing fears for trading partners.

Key rates are close to zero in many countries and the expected upward shift in interest rates has been deferred further ahead. Long-term interest rates are very low. The level of activity among Norway’s trading partners will probably be below normal for several years. This will contribute to holding down inflation abroad. 

From Bloomberg:

Norway’s Finance Ministry named Oeystein Olsen as central bank governor starting on Jan. 1 in an appointment that may lead to a slower pace of interest-rate increases in the world’s seventh-largest oil exporter. 

Inevitable, really. Though we wouldn’t have expected the staid Norwegian central bank to be the first (?) to take up legal arms.

After the US Securities and Exchange Commission exposed Citi’s super senior subprime slip — in which the bank misled investors over its subprime exposure between July and October 2007 — now come the lawsuits.

The SEC fined Citi $75m for the subprime deception. Norges Bank is suing over $835m worth of losses on Citi shares and bonds incurred between January 2007 and 2009. (For those wondering — in addition to overseeing monetary policy, Norges also looks after the international investments of Norways’ humongous sovereign wealth fund).

But the 221-page complaint goes much further than just the super senior CDO/liquidity put kerfuffle. 

Norway’s central bank might reduce the rate it offers banks on big deposits, in an effort to discourage cash-hoarding and incentivise interbank lending. More news is expected in 2-3 weeks.

Bloomberg reports

Money market rates have fallen swiftly after Norway’s central bank offered short-term liquidity to banks. Rates remain above those of last week, when they rose following slower-than-normal flows between banks. Tax payments are apparently to blame, reports Reuters:

Norges Bank promised two liquidity loans, called F-loans, in a move designed to reassure markets and which quickly brought down money market rates. The central bank also held out prospects for further loans… 

Simone Baribeau

The increasing cost of electricity helped push consumer prices up 3 per cent in Norway in the year to February, Statistics Norway said today. Core CPI rose 1.9 per cent over the same period. The increase from January to February was 1.3 per cent, more than half of which was due to increases in the price of electricity.

The strong headline reading may pressure Norway’s central bank to raise interest rates sooner rather than later, said Action Economics in a research note. 

Norway is planning a 90 per cent loan-to-value cap on mortgages. Sweden announced a similar measure two weeks ago, effective July.

Bloomberg reported the release of Norway’s financial supervisory authority guidelines to prudent lending, available in Norwegian here

If you can exercise rights by owning just one share of a stock, imagine what you could do with $440bn.

Europe’s largest stock investor – already following quite strict ethical guidelines – is to become more proactive in its pursuit of good. For example, where the Government Pension Fund might previously have excluded a company from its investment universe, it might now use the stock-holding to effect some change. “Active ownership or observation might reduce the risk of continued violations of norms,” says the Finance Ministry statement