Reuters blog archive
Much ink has been spilled over the past several months over when the Bank of England will eventually raise interest rates from a record low of 0.5 percent, and if they'll do it before the Federal Reserve does. The pound is trading near a five-year high against a basket of currencies as a result.
BoE Governor Mark Carney and other Monetary Policy Committee members have tried to remind the public and businesses at every chance they are given that a rate rise is still a way off - likely at least a year - and that when it's time for the central bank to lift rates, it will do so gradually.
Much of the focus until the BoE's February Inflation Report, published last week, was on the jobless rate and how quickly it has fallen. The latest data show a slight rise to 7.2 percent, so a bit above the 7 percent rate the BoE said it would have to fall below to trigger discussions on rate rises.
But they've already scrapped that guidance for something a lot more difficult to challenge. The BoE will be watching 18 separate data points in the second phase of its experiment in forward guidance. And more.
from Anatole Kaletsky:
This has been a banner week for the world economy, inspired largely by events in the United States.
In Washington, the first congressional testimony from Janet Yellen in her position as new Federal Reserve Board chairwoman reassured and impressed two notoriously petulant audiences: Tea Party congressmen, who had assembled a posse of hostile witnesses to attack the Fed’s “easy money” policies; and panicky Wall Street investors, who had spent the previous month swooning on fears that monetary policies might not be easy enough.
Britain’s economy may have seen one of the fastest rebounds among industrialized nations last year, but half of 56 economists polled by Reuters think the Bank of England has lost some credibility over its handling of the forward guidance policy.
The policy – an advance notice that monetary conditions will not be tightened too fast or too soon – was a way of managing market bets, at a time when the scope for stimulating economies through conventional interest rate cuts was limited. Many say it was a necessary transition from the ultra-loose rate policy of recent years to a more normal post-crisis one. Indeed, the use of verbal intervention to guide monetary policy has been on the rise in recent years, as shown by this graphic on the Federal Reserve.
From Turkey, which hiked its overnight lending rate by an astonishing 425 basis points in an emergency meeting on Tuesday, to India which delivered a surprise repo rate hike a day earlier, central banks are increasingly looking to "shock and awe" markets into submission with their policy decisions.
While it's a favourite game of every punter who's not paid to make predictions to trash the track record of those who are, just about everyone who follows the European Central Bank was stunned by the timing of its decision to cut rates on Thursday.
In the days beforehand, a handful of forecasters began speculating after news of a collapse in inflation that the ECB might fire what could be their last shot on standard monetary policy using interest rates in a long time.
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.
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.
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:
While ECB officials have struggled to talk down rising money market rates that point to an undesirable early tightening of monetary policy, they have had more luck influencing market economists in Reuters polls.