MacroScope

Supervising the supervisors

A new Brookings Institution report from the self-appointed Committee on International Economic Policy and Reform suggests that, given a spotty recent record, supervisors and policymakers at the world’s top central banks need to be watched themselves. The group of 16 high-profile economists and financial experts, which includes former Brazilian central bank chief Arminio Fraga, Berkeley professor Barry Eichengreen, Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff and Mohamed El-Erian from Pimco, proposes a new international watchdog that might ensure actions taken by individual countries are coordinated and smoothed out:

We call for the creation of an International Monetary Policy Committee composed of representatives of major central banks that will report regularly to world leaders on the aggregate consequences of individual central bank policies.

The proposal comes as the Federal Reserve, faced with a weakening U.S. economy, ponders another round of unconventional monetary stimulus. Many analysts believe the Fed will take some type of step to support low long-term rates at its September 20-21 meeting. When the Fed implemented its second round of bond-buying, it came under harsh criticism from emerging economies for pushing up their exchange rates with ultra-low rates in the United States.

The Brookings report suggested the Fed’s go-it-alone approach can be self-defeating:

Central banks are more likely to safeguard their independence and credibility by acknowledging and explicitly addressing the tensions between inflation targeting and competing objectives than by denying such linkages and proceeding with business as usual.

from Global Investing:

Emerging consumers’ pain to spell gains for stocks in staples

Food and electricity bills are high. The cost of filling up at the petrol station isn't coming down much either. The U.S. economy is in trouble and suddenly the job isn't as secure as it seemed. Maybe that designer handbag and new car aren't such good ideas after all.

That's the kind of decision millions of middle class consumers in developing countries are facing these days. That's bad news for purveyors of everything from jeans to iphones  who have enjoyed double-digit profits thanks to booming sales in emerging markets.

Brazil is the best example of how emerging market consumers are tightening their belts. Thanks to their spending splurge earlier this decade, Brazilian consumers on average see a quarter of their income disappear these days on debt repayments. People's credit card bills can carry interest rates of up to 45 percent. The central bank is so worried about the growth outlook it stunned markets with a cut in interest rates this week even though inflation is running well above target

Hungary’s central bank in policy bind

Pity Hungary’s central bank. If ever there was a country that needed an interest rate cut, here it is.  With the euro zone in the doldrums, the Hungarian economy is taking a big hit, with April-June growth coming in at a measly 1.5 percent on an annual basis, well below expectations. Quarter-on-quarter growth was in fact zero. Data last week showed annual inflation at two-year lows last month. Despite a cut to personal income tax rates this year, household consumption is stagnating. Unemployment is running at 11 percent. 

Yet the central bank’s hands are tied. A rate cut would weaken the forint currency and that would hurt the Hungarian families, municipalities and companies that are struggling with tens of billions of dollars in Swiss franc-denominated loans. The surging franc has already lopped half a percent off  Hungarian growth this year as families cut back on consumption to keep up loan repayments, Nomura analysts calculate. Another reason Hungary cannot really afford a weaker forint at this stage is its dependance on imports — they make up some 75 percent of GDP, far higher than in neighbouring Poland, says Neil Shearing at Capital Economics

Bond markets are betting on a rate cut — swaps are pricing in a half point cut over the next year. But will the central bank bite the bullet any time soon? ING Bank analysts think not. Hungary could need the protection of high interest rates in event of a global market selloff, they note. Hence the bank can afford to cut rates only next year. Shearing of Capital Economics agrees: “The central bank is in a bind. Provided the euro zone doesn’t melt down, there could be room for one or two rate cuts next year but at the moment its hands are tied by the currency issue.”

Price stability key to ECB bond buys?

Price stability remains the only needle in the compass for the European Central Bank, even when it is buying government bonds, the 17-country bloc’s central bank strived to argue on Sunday.

ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said, in the statement announcing extension of its bond-buying programme, that the decision was made to keep inflation at an acceptable level.

“This programme has been designed to help restoring a better transmission of our monetary policy decisions – taking account of dysfunctional market segments – and therefore to ensure price stability in the euro area,” Trichet said.

Beige, black and blue

It would have been worse without Canadians, big families and stately homes.

U.S. growth slowed in most parts of the country in June and into mid-July, the Federal Reserve said in its Beige Book survey of economic conditions across the country.

That’s bad news because most economists thought a slowdown in the first half of the year was a temporary soft patch. Weak momentum going into to the second half may point to lingering malaise.

However, there were a few bright spots in the gloom.

In general, consumer spending picked up as lower gas prices gave people more money to spend and made travel less expensive. Retail sales were booming in New York because Canadians, flush with a strong currency, were flocking to one specific large mall in the western part of the state.

The meaning of a dollar

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The harshest congressional critic of the Federal Reserve faced the toughest internal questioner of central bank policy across a witness table on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Surely there would be a meeting of the minds. Alas, it was not to be.

As Congress remained stalemated over avoiding a catastrophic U.S. debt default with a crucial deadline days away, Representative Ron Paul grilled a top Fed official over an issue that has been troubling him: Why is the dollar money and gold not? As Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig testified before the House Financial Services domestic monetary affairs committee, which Paul chairs, the congressman told him:

Last week I learned that gold is not money. I’ve been able to put that out of my mind … so I’m still trying to find out what money is.

Could Turkey’s central bank surprise markets this month?

TURKEY/This Thursday, Turkey’s new central bank governor Erdem Basci will chair his first monetary policy meeting.  What can we expect from the man who is seen now as the architect of the country’s novel monetary policy? Most analysts predict there will be no change this month to interest rates and banks’ reserve requirement ratios. But could the bank, which shocked markets with an out-of-the-blue  rate cut in December and a big further rise in short-term RRRs last month, throw another  curveball? 

ING Bank is among those which believes the central bank could again surprise markets this week.  Using Turkish banks’ net off-balance sheet currency positions as a proxy, ING analyst Sengul Dagdeviren reckons short-term capital inflows are on the rise again. Banks’ net off-balance sheet FX positions had halved between Nov 5 to March 4  to just over $12 billion, as the central bank drastically widened the gap between the overnight borrowing and  lending rates — a move that discouraged short-term swap positions. But these positions have risen back over $21 billion in the month to 8 April, Dagdeviren says, noting this coincides with a 5 percent gain in the Turkish lira against the dollar.

“Given the (central bank’s) strong stance against short-term inflows and strong lira, the chances of seeing CBT action on the FX side in the 21 April meeting have increased,” ING tells clients, suggesting the bank could choose to apply reserve requirements on short-term swap transactions or raise the RRRs on banks’ hard currency reserves.

India’s central bank battles alone in inflation struggle

INDIA-ECONOMY/RATES What more does India’s central bank have to do? Last week data showed March inflation rising to almost 9 percent on an annual basis. More importantly, core inflation is above 7 percent for the first time in 3 years meaning demand-side pressures are rising fast. And that’s despite the Reserve Bank of India raising interest rates eight times since last March.

The inflation data comes just after a quarterly HSBC report based on purchasing managers indexes showed that inflation in India seemed impervious to monetary policy tightening.

The truth, is the inflation-fighting central bank has little backup from the government which remains stubbornly in spending mode. Its foot-dragging on reform and foreign investment contributes towards keeping food price inflation high. This year’s fiscal deficit target is 4.8 percent of GDP and even this
is seen as optimistic.

from Global Investing:

Jean-Claude Trichet, EM c.bankers’ new friend

What a friend emerging central bankers have in Jean-Claude Trichet. Last month the ECB boss stopped euro bears in their tracks by unexpectedly signalling concern over inflation in the euro zone. Since then the euro has pushed steadily higher  -- against the dollar of course, but also against emerging currencies. The bet now is that interest rates -- and the yield on euro investments -- will start rising some time this year, possibly as early as this summer.

That's ptrichetrovided some relief to central banks in the developing world who have struggled for months to stem the relentless rise in their currencies.

Being short euro versus emerging currencies was a popular investment theme at the start of 2011, partly because of EM strength but also because of the euro zone debt crisis. "What that also means is that people who were short euro against emerging currencies had to get out of those positions really fast," says Manik Narain, a strategist at investment bank UBS. Check out the Turkish lira -- that's fallen around 5 percent against the euro since Trichet's Jan 13 comments and is at the highest in over a year. South Africa's rand is down 6 percent too. Moves in other crosses have been less dramatic but the euro's star is definitely in the ascendant. The short EM trade versus the euro  has more room to run, Narain reckons.

Dutch ECB knowledge as holey as their cheeses

ECB President Jean-Claude TrichetThe Dutch public’s knowledge about the European Central Bank is as holey as the some of the country’s infamous cheeses, a new ECB survey has shown.

 When asked about the ECB’s main objective and being given the option to mark statements as true or false, more than 60 percent of Dutch respondents knew the ECB strives for price stability, but close to half of those surveyed also believed it tries to keep unemployment below five percent and more than a third think its primary objective is high economic growth.

    “Knowledge about the ECB’s main policy objective is far from perfect,” the study which was carried out last year said.”The average number of correct answers to our eleven statements is less than five.”