Opinion

James Saft

ECB set for an error for the ages

Mar 29, 2011 11:45 UTC

In a field of endeavor with a long and glorious history of folly, the European Central Bank is preparing to commit an error for the ages: hike interest rates into the face of a crisis of existence for the euro zone.

There is an increasing likelihood that when the ECB meets  on April 7 they will respond to surging energy costs and 2.4 percent annual inflation – the highest since 2008 – by raising interest rates, probably by a quarter of a percent.

“Inflation rates … are now durably above the common definition of price stability in the euro zone,” ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet told an audience in Paris on Monday.

This reinforced expectations of a hike he introduced in early March when he dropped the words “strong vigilance” into remarks following the last interest rate-setting meeting, a phrase that served as a one month warning of rate hikes to come during the 2005-2007 rate hike campaign.

Reports that the ECB is preparing a new bail-out lending vehicle for Irish banks, taken as a precursor to a wider effort at bank relief, are being read in markets as further evidence that the ECB is ready to tighten. The reasoning is that, having squared away the banks, and their mutually dependent sovereign guarantors, nothing will stand in the way of an old fashioned bout of inflation scourging.

No jam today or tomorrow for Britain

Feb 17, 2011 12:46 UTC

Poor Mervyn King — damned if he doesn’t raise interest rates, futile if he does.

The Bank of England governor is in the unenviable position of having to steer interest rate policy during a period when living standards are being battered, his inflation target is being mocked by even small boys in the street and there is no obvious course of policy which can reconcile the two problems.

The BOE on Wednesday released its quarterly inflation report which judged the chances to be about equal of inflation being above or below its 2 percent target in two years’ time, this despite predicting that it will spike above its current 4 percent rate in the near term.

Good luck hedging against inflation

Feb 3, 2011 13:42 UTC

Looking to hedge against a spike in inflation? Equities may not be much help.

Neither, for that matter, will you do all that well over the longer haul with bonds, cash or even commodities, at least on the historical evidence. In short, when it comes to investing, inflation is a real drag.

It’s impossible to know if, much less when, the current very stimulative monetary policy in the developed world will spur inflation, but increasingly indicators are raising concerns. Emerging market economies show signs of overheating, while prices of food and many other commodities are surging.

The traditional view has been that equities are an effective hedge against inflation, in least over the long term, because companies will, all things being equal, eventually pass on inflation to their clients as higher prices.

Egypt, inflation and Japan debt crisis

Feb 1, 2011 13:16 UTC

Markets are busy speculating on which country might follow Egypt on the revolutionary road, but watch out for the impact on a country where bellies are full and the chances of revolt are exactly nil: Japan.

The same inflation in food and energy which fanned discontent in Tunisia and Egypt could badly hit real wages and purchasing power among Japanese citizens, potentially undermining their willingness to hang on to the debt which the government desperately needs them to own.

That’s right, deflation could actually ease in Japan and, that’s right, its demise could help tip the country into the long-awaited financing crisis.

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