The Great Debate UK
When it decided the time was right to crack down on inflation, the European Central Bank did so without the man who is often regarded as its toughest inflation hawk: Bundesbank chief Axel Weber. The ECB took financial markets by surprise by announcing on Thursday it could raise rates as soon as April -- a decision its policymakers reached without Weber even in the room.
The German, who has appeared isolated at times over the last year because of his staunch commitment to price stability above all else, was absent without leave and did not attend the meeting.
"He's tied up today," a spokesman for the Bundesbank said of Weber, who last month announced he would step down from the central bank a year before his term ended and that he was no longer a candidate to head the ECB when Trichet's term expires in October. Weber said his hardline views were not well received by other decision makers.
The ECB's decision to flag a rate hike took markets completely unawares.
"The position of the Governing Council is that an increase in interest rates at the next meeting is possible," Trichet said in his matter-of-fact style, sending the euro soaring.
A month before China ushers in the year of the Tiger, its central bank has begun to address the effects of its roaring liquidity boom. It is encouraging that the authorities in Beijing are alert to the threat of an overheating financial system. But with so many countervailing forces, the liquidity tiger will not be tamed so easily.
Markets yelped Tuesday after the central bank raised the minimum ratio of capital to loans at banks by half a percentage point. But this amounts to little more than scooping water out of the sea. Some 1 trillion yuan ($146 billion) of government bills mature in the next two weeks. If they are not rolled over, three times more money would flow into the system than the reserve hike will leech out. Then there are foreign speculative flows - an estimated 378 billion yuan in the fourth quarter of 2009.
Spot gold prices are up over 40 percent year on year. Yet, according to the World Gold Council, demand for gold in the third quarter of 2009, dropped by 34 percent year on year. Of course, demand in the third quarter of 2008 was exceptionally high due to the financial crisis. As well, relative to the third quarter average of the five years to 2007, demand for gold in Q3 2009 was down 4 percent.
When confronted with the ferocity of the rally in gold, the fact that the third quarter demand for gold was below the seasonal average is surprising. The dynamic between price and demand suggests some fall in supply perhaps led by increased hoarding.
- David Kuo is director at The Motley Fool. The opinions expressed are his own. -
The Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee decided to leave interest rates unchanged at 0.5 percent in May. This came as no great surprise given that the Central Bank has already slashed interest rates to a level where further cuts would have made no discernible difference to the cost of money.