The ongoing race to the bottom for currencies this year is hurtling towards a zero-sum result.
The U.S. and British central banks are scrambling to be the first of the majors to raise interest rates after a long period of unprecedented monetary generosity. It won’t happen immediately but both Janet Yellen, who chairs the U.S. Federal Reserve, and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney say there will be a hike this year (Yellen) or around the end of the year (Carney). Might this be a bit of a rush? Not everything in the world economy is as sanguine as the U.S. and British economies purport to be.
Euro zone inflation rose to zero in April from -0.1 percent and in Britain it fell to -0.1 percent from zero, the first negative reading since the 1960s.
San Francisco Fed President John Williams believes deeply that monetary policy is data-dependent, so much so that he has printed the mantra on T-shirts that he is giving away coast to coast. On Friday at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., however, he didn’t discuss the current state of U.S. economic data or the stance of monetary policy. Instead, he focused on why forcing the Fed to follow a strict monetary policy rule to make interest rate decisions would be, well, a problem (http://reut.rs/1bmCfvB). It’s a view that a number of his colleagues, including Fed Chair Janet Yellen, have publicly embraced. Monetary policy — it’s independent. Sounds like something you could put on a T-shirt.
The U.S. Federal Reserve may find it even more tough to raise interest rates as the year wears on if dwindling expectations for growth are any guide.
The Bank of Canada will almost certainly hold policy steady on Wednesday but nearly half of the banks who do business directly with it predict at least one more rate cut this year.
For all the measures India’s central bank has taken to increase transparency in policy making, predicting rate moves by Governor Raghuram Rajan is still difficult.
Currency concerns in the central banking world have come to the fore again.
Sweden cut interest rates further into negative territory out of the blue last week, fearing its strong currency will engender deflation. The Swiss National Bank said it would aim to weaken what it sees as a “significantly overvalued” franc. And the Bank of England flagged the risk that sterling could strengthen further and leave inflation below target for longer.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen may signal later today that she is no longer patient about when to consider raising rates but any eventual hike is likely to come after June, judging by how many key economic reports so far this year have undercut expectations.
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.