Reuters blog archive
After today's surprise ECB move it is safe to forget the code words former ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet never grew tired of using - monitoring closely, monitoring very closely, strong vigilance, rate hike. (No real code language ever emerged for rate cuts, probably because there were only a few and that was towards the end of Trichet's term.)
His successor, Mario Draghi, has a different style, one he showcased already at his very first policy meeting, but no one believed to be the norm: He is pro-active and cuts without warning. Or at least that's what it seems.
Today's quarter-percentage point cut took markets and economists by surprise.
When asked about the ECB's communication strategy by somewhat flabbergasted journalists at the post-meeting news conference, Draghi said: "I will abstain from judging markets. This is one of the hardest things and it is usually useless, because they do what they want, no matter what," he said, setting off some chuckling in the room.
The clue everybody had overlooked in the previous introductory statement had been the condition of an "unchanged overall subdued outlook for inflation", Draghi helped his audience along. "Since the last time I read this statement, there have been changes and these changes have been judged to be of significance."
The ‘taper tantrum’ of May and June, as the mid-year spike in interest rates became known, appears to have humbled Federal Reserve officials into having a second look at their convictions about the power of forward guidance on interest rate policy.
Take James Bullard, president of the St. Louis Fed. He acknowledged on Friday that the Fed’s view of the separation between rates guidance and asset purchases had not been fully accepted by financial markets. “This presents challenges for the Committee,” he noted.
Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve and one of the U.S. central bank’s arch inflation hawks, took us by surprise this week – he told Reuters that, given all the uncertainty generated by the government shutdown, it would not be prudent for the Fed to reduce its bond-buying stimulus this month.
“It is just too tender a moment,” he said. That was on Tuesday, before a last-minute deal averted a debt default but set up additional uncertainty by pushing the statutory spending cap into February.
Federal Reserve officials have largely acknowledged by now that leading markets to believe the central bank would reduce its bond buying stimulus in September and then failing to do so was a communications blunder.
For Zach Pandl, a former Goldman economist now at Columbia Management, this means the Fed may have to reshape its guidance to financial markets – even if the exact contours of the changes remain unclear.
Now that Washington’s circus-like government shutdown has put a damper on hopes for stronger U.S. economic growth going into next year, dovish Federal Reserve officials again appear to have the upper hand in the way of policy commentary.
Take Eric Rosengren, the Boston Fed President who had been unusually quiet as the tapering debate gathered steam. In a speech in Vermont on Thursday, he returned to a familiar theme – the central bank still has plenty of firepower and should not be afraid to use it.
You have to give Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke credit for standing his ground on data-dependence. Despite widespread suspicions, including on this blog, that the central bank would begin reducing the pace of its bond-buying stimulus in September simply because the markets were expecting it, the Fed chose to hold off in the face of a still-fragile economy.
Here’s how Bernanke addressed the issue of the market’s surprise at the Fed’s decision at his press conference:
from The Edgy Optimist:
So the Federal Reserve did not taper after all, as we know from its mini-bombshell of an announcement on September 18th. Having signaled in May and June that the central bank was likely to pare back its monthly purchases of $85 billion in mortgage and treasury bonds, the bank and its chairman Ben Bernanke essentially said “Never mind,” and decided that now was not the time after all.
The reaction was swift, vociferous and excoriating. The financial community reacted as if it had been stabbed in the back. One longtime trader and respected commentator announced that he was “absolutely disgusted” by the decision or lack thereof. The best line came from a strategist at a leading investment house who said, “I am perplexed and baffled. I do this for a living. I shouldn’t be so confused and confounded.”
It’s hard to shake the feeling that the Federal Reserve is about to begin pulling back on stimulus not just on the back of better economic data, but also because financial markets have already priced it in. The band-aid ripping debate over an eventual tapering of bond purchases that started in May was so painful, Fed officials simply don’t want to go through it again.
If anything, recent data have been at best mixed, at worst worrisome. In particular, August job growth was disappointing and labor force participation declined further.At the same time, inflation remains well below the central bank’s objective.
It’s official: Instead of policy doves on the U.S. central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee, there are now only “non-hawks.” A research note from Thomas Lam at OSK-DMG used the term in referring to recent remarks from once more dovish officials like Charles Evans of the Chicago Fed and San Francisco Fed President John Williams.
The implied message from the latest Fed comments (or reticence), namely from the non-hawks, is that policymakers are clearly assessing a broader spectrum of considerations – beyond data-dependence – when mulling over the prospect of tapering in September.
It’s nice to know Federal Reserve officials have a sense of humor about their own forecasting errors. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans was certainly humble enough to admit to some recent misses in a speech on Friday .
Still, he’s sticking to his guns, arguing that U.S. economic growth will finally break above 3 percent next year, allowing the Fed to gradually pull back on its bond-buying stimulus.