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.
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
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
“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?
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.”
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.