MacroScope

from Global Investing:

Hungary’s Orban and his central banker

"Will no one rid me of this turbulent central banker?"  Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban may not have voiced this sentiment but since he took power last year he is likely to have thought it more than once.  Increasingly, the spat between Orban's government and central bank governor Andras Simor brings to memory the quarrel England's Henry II had with his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, over the rights and privileges of the Church almost 900 years ago. Simor stands accused of undermining economic growth by holding interest rates too high and resisting government demands for monetary stimulus.  The government's efforts to sideline Simor are viewed as infringing on the central bank's independence.

So far, attacks on Simor have ranged from alleging he has undisclosed overseas income to stripping him of his power to appoint some central bank board members. But  the government's latest plan could be the last straw -- proposed legislation that would effectively demote Simor or at least seriously dilute his influence. Simor says the government is trying to engineer a total takeover at the central bank.  "The new law brings the final elimination of the central bank's independence dangerously close," he said last week.  
 
The move is ill-timed however, coming exactly at a time when Hungary is trying to persuade the IMF and the European Union to give it billions of euros in aid. The lenders have expressed concern about the law and declined to proceed with the loan talks.  But the government says it will not bow to external pressure and plans to put the law to vote on Friday. That has sparked general indignation - Societe Generale analyst Benoit Anne calls the spat extremely damaging to investor confidence in Hungary. "I just hope the IMF will not let this go," he writes.

Central banks and governments often fail to see eye to eye. But in Hungary, the government's attacks on Simor, a respected figure in central banking and investment circles,  is hastening the downfall of the already fragile economy. For one, if IMF funds fail to come through, Hungary will need to find 4.7 billion euros next year just to repay maturing hard currency debt. That could be tough at a time when lots of borrowers -- developed and emerging -- will be competing for scarce funds.  Central European governments alone will be looking to raise 16 billion euros on bond markets, data from ING shows. So Orban will have to tone down his rhetoric if he is to avoid plunging his country into financial disaster.

But this week the tussle has intensified as the central bank has shrugged off Orban's call for more "growth-friendly policies" and raised interest rates by half a point. The rate rise, the second in as many months, brings interest rates to 7 percent, sparking rage in the ruling party. But the central bank, quite logically,  argues higher rates are necessary to protect Hungary's currency, the forint, from further weakness. And it has signalled it is fully prepared to raise rates again at the next meeting if required.

Love, dissent and transparency at the Fed

All four Federal Reserve policymakers who dissented on U.S. central bank policy this year will lose their votes next year. That could make the New Year full of love, but not necessary free from dissent, Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher joked on Friday.

Fisher, like Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota and Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser, lobbied and lost against Fed easing earlier this year; all three dissented twice. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans dissented twice from the other side of the aisle, arguing for further easing at the most recent two meetings against the majority’s decision to stand pat.

None will have votes next year. Not, of course, because they voiced their opposition to the majority, but simply because votes rotate among regional Fed presidents according to a set schedule, and it just so happened that all four regional Fed presidents with votes this year used those votes to dissent.

from Global Investing:

Phew! Emerging from euro fog

Holding your breath for instant and comprehensive European Union policies solutions has never been terribly wise.  And, as the past three months of summit-ology around the euro sovereign debt crisis attests, you'd be just a little blue in the face waiting for the 'big bazooka'. And, no doubt, there will still be elements of this latest plan knocking around a year or more from now. Yet, the history of euro decision making also shows that Europe tends to deliver some sort of solution eventually and it typically has the firepower if not the automatic will to prevent systemic collapse.
And here's where most global investors stand following the "framework" euro stabilisation agreement reached late on Wednesday. It had the basic ingredients, even if the precise recipe still needs to be nailed down. The headline, box-ticking numbers -- a 50% Greek debt writedown, agreement to leverage the euro rescue fund to more than a trillion euros and provisions for bank recapitalisation of more than 100 billion euros -- were broadly what was called for, if not the "shock and awe" some demanded.  Financial markets, who had fretted about the "tail risk" of a dysfunctional euro zone meltdown by yearend, have breathed a sigh of relief and equity and risk markets rose on Thursday. European bank stocks gained almost 6%, world equity indices and euro climbed to their highest in almost two months in an audible "Phew!".

Credit Suisse economists gave a qualified but positive spin to the deal in a note to clients this morning:

It would be clearly premature to declare the euro crisis as fully resolved. Nevertheless, it is our impression that EU leaders have made significant progress on all fronts. This suggests that the rebound in risk assets that has been underway in recent days may well continue for some time.

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.

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.