role of central bank

Jean-Claude Trichet spoke at the LSE on Monday afternoon.

Much of what he said was a combination of a couple of speeches he gave last week, the central message being that the eurozone needs to monitor member countries’ fiscal and macroeconomic policies and competitiveness more closely, and that there needs to be a sharper stick with which to beat countries that fail to behave themselves. Read more

Chris Giles

Sterling has been knocked to a one month low against the euro on Wednesday after investors interpreted comments by Moody’s, the credit ratings agency, as a warning that Britain could lose its AAA rating.

The news and market reaction raise two questions. Did Moody’s issue a warning on the UK’s sovereign credit rating? If not, why did investors react as if it did?

The answers have important lessons for communications, whether they are from ratings agencies, central banks or international organisations Read more

Chris Giles

Late in the day, the Bank of England has just slipped out a press release revealing that one member of the new Financial Policy Committee has decided not to take the job.

Richard Lambert, former head of the CBI employers’ organisation and editor of the Financial Times, says the post would cramp his stlye:

“Since leaving the CBI I have spent a period away from work and on reflection I have decided, with great regret, that I do not wish to take up my position as an external member of the Bank of England’s interim Financial Policy Committee. I wish to devote my time to a wider range of aspects of public policy. And membership of the committee could place constraints on my ability to do so. Mervyn King, the Governor ofthe Bank, has been very understanding about my change of plans. I wish the committee every success inthe important work which lies ahead of it.”

I have just spoken to Mr Lambert Read more

Chris Giles

Today’s consultation document on financial regulation places the Bank of England at the heart of financial regulation and establishes an interim Financial Policy Committee to identify and reduce system-wide risks to the UK financial system, known in the jargon as macroprudential regulation.

The document is months late. That does not matter and  it is clear that it  has benefited from considerable thought about how the new Bank of England will work. The new Bank will maintain its objectives for monetary and financial stability, while adding banking supervision to its duties, and the new FPC will also have some, as yet undefined, powers to direct the PRA and the new Financial Conduct Authority (which we had known as the Consumer Protection and Markets Authority). These directions will aim to damp speculative credit bubbles when they emerge.

The FPC’s toolkit is broad and ranges from speeches and warnings to the possibility of higher bank capital ratios, higher risk weights for certain assets and direct limits on loan-to-value ratios or other collateral in lending.

But there are two significant problems with the new regulatory structure and the members of the FPC, much discussed outside the Bank, but not addressed in the consultation document at all. Read more

Chris Giles

The title of this post might seem an odd question. But this long analysis with oodles of quotes has demonstrated to me that I no longer have a good answer. I am confused and I know I am not alone.

Judging by Mervyn King’s 2006 Mansion house speech, the governor of the Bank will be concerned that there is confusion about the Bank’s objective and its analysis. Then, he said the answer to my question was fundamental for outsiders’ understanding of a central bank’s monetary policy:

“in order to form judgements about the likely path of interest rates over somewhat longer time horizons, markets do require some information from the central bank.  To be precise, two key pieces of information – our objective, and our analysis of the economy. Our objective is the 2% inflation target given to us by the Chancellor and plain for all to see.  And our analysis of the economy is published in the minutes of our monthly meetings, in more detail in our quarterly Inflation Report, and in speeches by members of the MPC.”
(emphasis in original)

The Bank’s objective and analysis might have been plain to see in the hubristic days of 2006, but it is far from clear today, particularly after last week’s speech by the governor. Read more

Imported inflation from emerging countries can no longer be ignored, and central banks on the receiving end might need to tightly constrain domestic inflation to compensate.

This from an important speech by Lorenzo Bini Smaghi today in Bologna. The ECB executive board member points out that food inflation is here to stay and the era of ever-cheaper TVs is over, too:

Unlike the previous decade, the process of reducing the prices of manufactured goods imported from developing countries seems to have ended, particularly in respect of products imported from China. The gradual appreciation of the exchange rates of these countries should further affect the prices of products imported from advanced countries.

So several factors are working to increase imported inflation: Read more

James Politi

Thomas Hoenig, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, has just offered a tutorial of sorts on the merits of dissenting opinions within the Federal Open Market Committee. In a speech, Mr Hoenig argues that the role of dissents in formulating policy is misunderstood, with too many believing that they are counterproductive and confuse the central bank’s message. On the contrary, Mr Hoenig says dissents are a very good thing, because they increase transparency, boost the institution’s credibility, and, incidentally, have been used previously – most notably in the 1980s when Paul Volcker, then Fed chairman, came close to losing a vote.  Read more

“The strongly increased risks of central banks may act as a constraint on the room for manoeuvre in future monetary policy.” That is the worst case scenario laid out by new research from the Bank of Finland. The thoughtful, comprehensive analysis of eight central banks looks at unconventional tools adopted during the crisis, concluding: “The actions by central banks during the crisis raise a number of questions concerning exit from the measures taken, the impact of the measures, central banks’ risks and independence and their governance structures.”

The turn of the year – and the final post on this blog for 2010 – make a summary of this paper seem appropriate. Which of the unconventional tools – if any – will be discarded in 2011? Read more

Chris Giles

When the FT reported that senior Bank of England staff including Monetary Policy Committee members thought Mervyn King, Bank governor, had overstepped the line separating monetary and fiscal policy, the governor was dismissive.

He rounded on my excellent colleague, Daniel Pimlott, who asked him whether he had the unanimous support of the MPC in endorsing the political decision on the speed and scale of the new government’s deficit reduction.

“And, just for the record, I’ve spoken far less on this than almost any other central bank governor around the world; less than Ben Bernanke, less than Jean-Claude Trichet, both of whom have given speeches in great length and regularly. I haven’t spoken on this except in response to direct questions at the Treasury Committee, and when asked by the Coalition. So perhaps we’ll move on to a serious question about the economy.”

 Read more

Ralph Atkins

Ireland’s bank bail-out plans came as a relief to the European Central Bank, after providing another example of the increasingly political role being played by the euro’s monetary guardian. Alarmed at the massive amounts of liquidity it was pumping into Irish banks, the ECB lobbied hard behind the scenes for action to shore up the country’s financial system.

A successfully completed rescue, helped by the International Monetary Fund, would reduce the immediate pressure on the ECB, which welcomed Dublin’s decision in a statement late on Sunday – but not allow the Frankfurt-based institution to escape the political area. It is pushing hard for bolder reforms of the eurozone’s system of government – demanding tougher surveillance of fiscal and other economic polices, backed up with sanctions, to prevent crises from erupting.

Fresh ECB involvement would be required were the eurozone’s financial crisis to engulf Portugal or Spain. Even if it does not, the ECB is still likely to be active in buying government bonds under an emergency programme launched when the eurozone crisis was at its most intense in May. “The ECB has become part of the game to an extent it was not before,” said Jörg Kramer, chief economist at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. Read more

Ralph Atkins

Jean-Claude Trichet, ECB president, sometimes refers to the “brotherhood of central bankers”. He rarely criticises, even indirectly, his colleagues elsewhere in the world. At an ECB conference in Frankfurt that has opened this afternoon, Mr Trichet noted recent comments by Ben Bernanke, the US Federal Reserve chairman, describing an inflation rate of “about 2 per cent or a bit below” as consistent with the Fed’s mandate. The developed world’s two largest central banks “could hardly be more closely aligned” on inflation aims, he exclaimed.

But he drew a clear distinction when it came to the use of “non-standard measures” by the world’s central bankers. One view was they could be used like “engaging the four-wheel drive” once the end of the road had been reached. That was a clear reference to “quantitative easing” by the Fed.

In contrast, the ECB used non-standard measures to “remove the major roadblocks in front of us”. Read more

Ralph Atkins

The European Central Bank’s monthly bulletin, just released, has a retro feel about it. I’ve flipped through its 99 pages (saving the statistical annexe for later) but failed to find any reference to the crisis hitting the eurozone’s periphery, apart from a few factual points on bond spreads.

There were certainly plenty of questions it could have addressed. For instance, what exactly is the current aim of its government bond purchase programme? Launched in May, at the height of the eurozone crisis, the programme had an initial “shock and awe” function, along with the political actions taken then.

Now it seems neither one thing nor the other – it is not a large-scale asset purchase scheme like QEII, nor has the programme been formally ended (as Axel Weber, Bundesbank president, would prefer). Officially, the programme is about restoring the functioning of markets, but what does that mean right now? Read more

A speech just made by an ECB board member illustrates perfectly the divergent fortunes of the ECB, Bank of England and the Fed.

In the UK and US – where the recovery is more fragile – markets, economists and journalists are increasingly looking to their central banks for a monetary solution. Not in Europe. The economy is on a “good recovery track”, which can be ensured by fiscal responsibility and structural reform, says the ECB. So, no monetary solution here: responsibility is firmly back with the state. Read more

Imagine that in January, you will become your country’s chief firefighter, but that the very best reports of smoke currently available are unreliable and intermittent. Scared?

Well, the European Systemic Risk Board is due to launch in January, and the ECB’s vice president has just pointed out that, on current data availability, the Board would struggle to do its job. That job, as a quick reminder, is to “assess and prevent potential risks to financial stability in the EU.” No small task, with markets febrile and bank bail-outs still in vogue.

The ECB has a fair bit of data already, but it is geared towards monetary policy rather than macro-prudential regulation. So, what’s missing? Read more

The IMF has tried to rally the troops at a meeting in China, urging central bankers to maintain the international co-operation forged during the financial crisis, and looking to Asia to lead the way.

At an IMF-sponsored meeting of central bankers and regulatory luminaries in Shanghai, an “important consensus” was reached, according to PBoC deputy governor Yi Gang, on the need for international co-operation in ensuring strong macro-prudential policies, because systemic risks “are very likely to spread over borders.” In practice, this means central banks and national regulators taking on more international roles.

Central banks also need to take a broader view domestically, said IMF managing director Dominique Strauss Kahn, seeming to suggest that financial stability would be part of central banks’ remits going forward. “Clearly, conventional macroeconomic policies and macro-prudential tools are intrinsically linked, just as price stability and financial stability are intrinsically linked,” Strauss-Kahn said. “We need a holistic approach, which means a changing role for central banks in the years ahead.” Read more

Robin Harding

One of the main things I took from chairman Bernanke’s speech last Friday was a wish to refocus attention on the Fed as an inflation-targeting central bank.

Although attaining the long-run sustainable rate of unemployment and achieving the mandate-consistent rate of inflation are both key objectives of monetary policy, the two objectives are somewhat different in nature.

Most importantly, whereas monetary policymakers clearly have the ability to determine the inflation rate in the long run, they have little or no control over the longer-run sustainable unemployment rate, which is primarily determined by demographic and structural factors, not by monetary policy. Thus, while central bankers can choose the value of inflation they wish to target, the sustainable unemployment rate can only be estimated, and is subject to substantial uncertainty.

Moreover, the sustainable rate of unemployment typically evolves over time as its fundamental determinants change, whereas keeping inflation expectations firmly anchored generally implies that the inflation objective should remain constant unless there are compelling technical reasons for changing it, such as changes in the methods used to measure inflation.

I think this highlights the enormous problems caused by targeting inflation without being willing to be admit that you have an inflation target. The Fed fondly imagines that the world understands it is targeting inflation. It is not a surprise it believes this: it talks to economists who run models in which it has a 2 per cent inflation target and to hacks like me who are misspending our lives studying Fed-speak. Read more

Canada’s central bank is the latest to ask whether central banks should expand their remit beyond inflation targeting. “If we look only at interest rates, inflation and output, we may miss bubbles and other elements of systemic risk as they build,” Canada’s deputy central bank governor said on Tuesday.

Tiff Macklem said the Bank needed to develop models that include elements of banking and capital markets. “When the financial system is not working normally,” he said, “we cannot rely on the short-cut from interest rates to output and inflation.” The WSJ recently reported the Fed was also developing a more comprehensive model, the Quantitative Surveillance Mechanism (QSM)Read more

It’s official: financial system stability is part of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s mandate. This doesn’t mean, though, that the RBA will be bailing out banks.

The Reserve Bank’s mandate to uphold financial stability does not equate to a guarantee of solvency for financial institutions, and the Bank does not see its balance sheet as being available to support insolvent institutions.

With little fanfare, a statement published on the Bank’s website “records [its] common understanding of the Reserve Bank’s longstanding responsibility for financial system stability… arrangements which served Australia well during the recent international crisis period.” Read more

Chris Giles

Adam Posen, an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee, has just sounded the alarm: not about a temporary double-dip recession, but about Japanese-style prolonged economic weakness, high unemployment, trade conflicts, and extremist politics.  It is strong stuff. Monetary policy needs to do more to foster a stronger recovery, he says. Now.

His argument is worth reading in full because it is directed much wider than solely to other MPC members in the UK.

The one sentence summary. Policymakers should not settle for weak growth out of misplaced fear of inflation.

In a paragraph. Mr Posen believes output is clearly below any reasonable measure of potential, so worrying about an inflation problem is absurd. We must also not underestimate the potential for the economy to grow. If we do, that will destroy workforce skills and potentially productive machinery as well as inhibiting investment, creating a self-fulfilling bad outcome. Read more

Chris Giles

Adam Posen, one of the more outspoken external members of the Monetary Policy Committee, has dangled the intriguing possibility of the Bank shifting into “heavy-duty credit easing” if necessary.

The Bank had promised to release the remarks he made in the US last night and I understand the reason they have not is cock-up not conspiracy. That means we have to rely on wire reports of his words. Without much context, Bloomberg is reporting Mr Posen saying:

“Because we have only done quantitative easing up till now, our plan B or our next page in my opinion, and I’ve said this, is to shift into heavy-duty credit easing.”

For Bank of England watchers, this should come as little surprise. While the bank has usually emphasised the amount of money it has created (a liability on its balance sheet), Mr Posen has regularly highlighted the effect of QE on the assets markets. It is also not much of a departure. Mr Posen has repeatedly said similar things. In a speech last October he bemoaned the fact that:

“Other central banks were able to buy a wide range of assets from the private sector, under the heading of ‘credit easing,’ as described in Bernanke (2009), to good effect.”

 Read more