At 13.25 percent, Brazil’s towering interest rate looks totally out of line at first glance.
Despite the Federal Reserve’s trillions of dollars in newly printed money, workers’ wages and overall U.S. inflation have failed to take off since the recession. Longer-term borrowing costs, from 10-year Treasury yields to 30-year home mortgages, have also compressed without any real signs of reversing. While this has perplexed many economists, transcripts of the U.S. central bank’s crisis-fighting meetings in 2009 show that Janet Yellen, then the head of the San Francisco Fed, was prescient in warning colleagues of these very problems.
The Federal Reserve faces two big challenges in the months and years ahead: how to finally “liftoff” after more than six years of rock bottom interest rates, and how to begin drawing down its $4.5-trillion balance sheet after three massive rounds of bond purchases. But, it turns out, those questions were being raised at the U.S. central bank as far back as 2009.
The U.S. Federal Reserve just released full transcripts of its crisis-fighting meetings of 2009, when the U.S. economy was in the depths of recession and unemployment was soaring to 10 percent. Janet Yellen, who at the time was head of the San Francisco Fed, gave a sense of just how scary things were getting:
Borrowing in dollars is like playing “Russian roulette”, India’s central bank chief Raghuran Rajan said on Bloomberg TV this week.
The world’s major central banks have long followed the same general flight path, guided by the economic winds of growth, inflation and financial markets. It has worked pretty well for policymakers in the United States, Europe, Japan, and the United Kingdom: moving together to tighten or loosen monetary policy makes things more predictable for citizens, businesses and investors. It also serves as buffer to any volatile currency movements, at least among developed economies. But six years after the worst recession in decades, this could be the year central bankers split off and – with some risk – go their own way.
To most people, the idea of falling prices sounds like a good thing. But it poses serious economic and financial risks – just ask the Japanese, who only now finally have the upper hand in a 20-year battle to drag their economy out of deflation.
The last seven days has been a glaring example of fallout from the cross-border carry trade. That’s the sort of trade, well known in currency markets, where investors borrow funds in low-rate countries and invest them in higher-rate ones. Some $4 trillion is estimated to have flooded into emerging markets since the 2008 financial crisis to profit off the ultra accommodate policies of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Bank of Japan, European Central Bank and the Bank of England. Now that central banks in developed economies are looking to reverse course and eventually raise rates, that carry trade is unraveling fast, resulting in the brutal sell-off in emerging markets such as Turkey and Argentina over the last week.