MacroScope

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.

“What India really needs is to have domestic demand slowing down quite rapidly but the government is not prepared to risk that,”says Claire Dissaux, investment strategist at Millenium Global in London.

The RBI has repeatedly said it shouldn’t have to do all the heavy lifting. But lack of support from the government means the central bank will have to put up rates another 100 bps this year, analysts reckon.

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.” 

Giant FX market now $4 trillion gorilla

Global foreign exchange has always been one of the biggest markets in the world but its exponential growth keeps accelerating. The triennial survey by the Bank for International Settlements shows global foreign exchange market turnover leapt 20 percent to $4 trillion, compared with $3.3 trillion three years ago.

FXBIS

The increase in turnover was driven by growth in spot transactions, which represent 37 percent of FX market turnover.  Turnover was driven by trading activity by “other financial institutions” — a category that includes hedge funds, pension funds and central banks, extending a trend seen in the past several years where buyside firms are increasingly trading currencies themselves, via prime brokerage, rather than turning to interbank dealers.

Also notably, emerging market currencies are gradually increasing their share in the marketplace. Turnover of the Russian rouble has increased its share in total turnover to 0.9 percent of 200 percent (FX is double counted as transaction involves two currencies), up from 0.7 percent three years ago, while the Brazilian real rose to 0.7 percent from 0.4 percent. The Indian rupee’s share rose to 0.9 percent from 0.7 percent. The dollar keeps its dominance, although off its 2001 peak, with its share standing at 84.9 percent.

Diplomacy in central banking debate comes back to bite Weber

German central bank board member Thilo Sarrazin

German central bank board member Thilo Sarrazin

Fresh from asserting that diplomacy is over-rated for central bankers, German Bundesbank President Axel Weber is now embroiled in an embarrassing scandal over undiplomatic comments from one of his board members which could ultimately damage Weber’s own career ambitions.

Thilo Sarrazin, who joined the central bank’s board last year, has unleashed a debate in Germany over immigration and integration policy with a book critical of Turkish immigrants and has drawn rebukes from political leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, for asserting that Jews and Basques have a “particular gene” that sets them apart.

The Bundesbank condemned his comments as harming the reputation of the institution and is considering its options, but under German law – designed to safeguard the independence of the central bank from political swings and roundabouts — has only limited options to get him removed.

Central banks should hedge: Gary Smith

Gary Smith, head of central banks, supranational institutions and sovereign wealth funds at BNP Paribas Investment Partners, has written a special guest blog for Macroscope in which he argues that central banks should consider ways to hedge their FX reserves against the crisis.

“After the 2008 crisis, a mathematical approach to measure the adequate level of foreign exchange reserves – import cover or an equation relating to short-term debt – no longer has much credibility. In the absence of sensible guidelines on adequacy of reserves there is now a general desire to have plenty of reserves.

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What is lacking from the reserves debate, however, is whether National Wealth Managers in general (and central bank reserves managers in particular) should invest in assets that might increase in value during a crisis.

Should central banks now sell gold?

Central banks in debt-strapped countries have a golden opportunity ahead of them, if you will excuse the pun, to help their countries’ finances by selling their yellow metal holdings.

At least, that is the message that Royal Bank of Scotland’s commodities chief Nick Moore has been giving in recent presentations — and he thinks it might happen.   The gist is that gold is now at a record price but banks have not come close to  meeting their sales allowance for the year.

Under the Central Bank Gold Agreement there is a quota of 400 tonnes that can be sold by central banks within a 12 month period and with only about three months to go in the latest period less than 39 tonnes has been sold.  At today’s price that remaining 361 tonnes is worth some $14 billion.

The ECB’s half-trillion euro question

ReutersEuropean banks must pay back almost half a trillion euros to the European Central Bank on July 1 as the ECB’s first-ever one-year loans fall due, potentially putting pressure on banks’ ability to refinance and on money market interest rates.

But the ECB is confident it has put the necessary crash protection in place, with offers of unlimited three-month and six-day funds on the menu next week to make sure banks are not starved for funds.

 ”We have taken all precautions,” Austrian central bank governor Ewald Nowotny assured journalists on Friday. “We are confident that this will all occur without tensions.”

No more Mr. Nice Guy

By Louise Egan

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty catapulted to “rock star” status at international meetings in Washington on the weekend, where he took his anti-tax crusade and stared down the powers in Washington and Europe who had plans for a global bank levy.

The Canadians are traditionally peacemakers at these events, building bridges between opposing camps and forging consensus. So when Flaherty stormed into Washington railing against a bank tax being proposed by some of the world’s most powerful leaders in the G20, the reactions ranged from bemused to outright flabbergasted.

“What has happened to the mild-mannered Canadians?” said one bewildered journalist covering the talks among the G20 developing and developed nations.

ECB takes a turn to taciturnity

European Central Bank (ECB) President Jean-Claude Trichet attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 26, 2008. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The European Central Bank’s normally loquacious policymakers have been struck dumb over the last month.

The ECB’s 22 rate-setters generated just 14 Reuters news stories in February, much lower than January’s total of 24 and the 27 stories I count in December.  Even the core Executive Board members have managed only four speeches between the six of them, compared to a flurry of 10 speeches and interviews in the previous two weeks after policymakers returned to work from their end-of-year break.

Even the U.S. Federal Reserve, playing two team members short with just 17 policymakers at the moment, has out-talked the ECB with a rough tally of 26 news stories generated so far this month, a 30 percent increase on January.