MacroScope

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.

A hotel in Baltimore reported occupancies had been pushed up by big events and an increase in family reunions. However, gains in tourism on the East Coast probably came at the expense of a loss of visitors to the oil-spill tarnished Gulf Coast, the Fed said.

The housing market remained weak across the nation, and home prices continued to slide, the report said. Still, fancy homes were going like hot cakes in some places. Washington area-houses in the mid to upper price range were selling quickly, with the hottest items in th $800,000 to $1.25 million range. In Colorado, sales of high end homes in some mountain resorts were strong.

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.” 

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.