MacroScope

Another backhand volley from forward guidance

Forward guidance is quickly proving to be rather backward.

While it’s a favourite game of every punter who’s not paid to make predictions to trash the track record of those who are, just about everyone who follows the European Central Bank was stunned by the timing of its decision to cut rates on Thursday.

In the days beforehand, a handful of forecasters began speculating after news of a collapse in inflation that the ECB might fire what could be their last shot on standard monetary policy using interest rates in a long time.

But the vast majority were caught off guard by the ECB’s refinancing rate cut to a record low of 0.25 percent. Even those who thought it might do so didn’t think it would until December. The quick, violent fall in the euro showed it.

The most puzzling bit is that this “surprise” move – as it is billed by nearly everyone writing about it – came only months after President Mario Draghi joined other central bank colleagues in announcing “forward guidance.”

That is a policy (which rather suspiciously was drawn up in haste after there was hardly anything in the way of interest rates left to cut) that surely has droves more people scratching their heads about what the point of it is now.

ECB rate cut takes markets by surprise – time to crack Draghi’s code


After today’s surprise ECB move it is safe to forget the code words former ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet never grew tired of using – monitoring closely, monitoring very closely, strong vigilance, rate hike. (No real code language ever emerged for rate cuts, probably because there were only a few and that was towards the end of Trichet’s term.)

His successor, Mario Draghi, has a different style, one he showcased already at his very first policy meeting, but no one believed to be the norm: He is pro-active and cuts without warning. Or at least that’s what it seems.

Today’s quarter-percentage point cut took markets and economists by surprise.

from Sakari Suoninen:

Beer washes out German inflation angst

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Germans, many say, have inflation angst in their DNA. But there is one exception to that. Beer.

Although prices at Oktoberfest have been inflation-beating for years, consumption keeps rising. Average price of the 1-liter (35 oz) stein of beer will be 9.66 euros ($ 12.85), up 3.6 percent from last year's festivities, compared with German overall annual inflation of 1.5 percent.

Since 1985, the Wiesn Visitor Price Index has risen more than twice as fast as the country's overall inflation rate, Unicredit calculations show. But this has failed to stem the tide of more beer flowing down visitors' throats, with millions and millions of litres to be consumed again this year.

ECB can claim one early victory for forward guidance

The European Central Bank can claim at least one early victory for forward guidance: forecasters have been persuaded by its promise to keep key interest rates low or lower for a long time.

While ECB officials have struggled to talk down rising money market rates that point to an undesirable early tightening of monetary policy, they have had more luck influencing market economists in Reuters polls.

That’s significant because both euro zone central banks and the Bank of England use Reuters polls as a measure of interest rate expectations.

Italian market test

Italy will auction three different bonds, aiming to raise 7.5 billion euros against a volatile domestic backdrop.

A sale of one-year bills on Wednesday saw yields rise, this after the Treasury asked parliament to raise the ceiling on this year’s net debt issuance to 98 billion euros from 80 billion, given the struggle to rein in public finances and a government commitment to pay outstanding bills to firms, which at least could give the economy a boost.

Parliamentarians have a bigger fish to fry in the form of Silvio Berlusconi. A cross-party Senate committee that must decide on whether to bar him from political life drew back from the brink on Tuesday but has caused growing tension between the coalition parties with some of Berlusconi’s allies threatening to pull the shaky government down.

ECB’s Draghi walks the line

After today’s news conference we would happily endorse a new skill on Mario Draghi’s LinkedIn profile: Tightrope walking.

Draghi – having just returned from a summer holiday and looking a lot more relaxed than a month ago – tried to convince markets that the euro zone economy was recovering as expected, yet not sounding too upbeat to warrant higher market rates.

And so he did. Recent confidence indicators confirmed the expected gradual improvement in the economy, he told a smaller than usual crowd of journalists – whether the low attendence was down to the blue sky and 30 degrees outside or the brighter economic climate remains unclear.

Recalculating: Central bank roadmaps leave markets lost

Central banks in Europe have followed in the Federal Reserve’s footsteps by adopting “forward guidance” in a break with traditionBut, as in the Fed’s case, the increased transparency seems to have only made investors more confused.

The latest instance came as something of an embarrassment for Mark Carney, the Bank of England’s new superstar chief from Canada and a former Goldman Sachs banker. The BoE shifted away from past practice saying it planned to keep interest rates at a record low until unemployment falls to 7 percent or below, which it said could take three years.

Yet the forward guidance announcement went down with a whimper. Indeed, investors brought forward expectations for when rates would rise – the opposite of what the central bank was hoping for – although the move faded later in the day.

Forward!

The Bank of England will give the government its blueprint for “forward guidance” when it publishes its quarterly inflation report, a big moment in British policymaking.

Canadian Mark Carney, in his second month at the helm, was heralded in advance as the man to kick start a languishing economy but with green shoots sprouting all over the place that may not be needed. Nonetheless, if companies and households can be convinced interest rates will stay at record lows for a prolonged period, that could boost investment and spending and help solidify a recovery that now looks to be in train.

After the U.S. Federal Reserve indicated that it may soon start to phase out its bond purchases – two of its policymakers again pointed to September yesterday – the Bank of England made a first stab at forward guidance last month, saying a rise in UK market rates was misguided. Now it will be more precise.

Full blown damage control?

Call it the great wagon circling.

Central bankers are talking tough in the face of the wild gyrations in financial markets. But it’s becoming increasingly clear they are sweating – and drawing up contingency plans to assuage the panic that’s taken hold since Chairman Ben Bernanke last week sketched out the Fed’s plan for winding down its QE3 bond-buying program. U.S. policymakers in particular must have predicted investors would react strongly. But now that longer-term borrowing costs have spiked to near a two-year high, they look to be entering full-blown damage control.

Here’s Richard Fisher, head of the Dallas Fed, speaking to reporters in London on Monday:

I’m not surprised by market volatility – markets are manic depressive mechanisms… Collectively we will be tested. We need to expect a market reaction… Even if we reach a situation this year where we dial back (stimulus), we will still be running an accommodative policy.

Draghi on the IMF and Greece: Hindsight’s a wonderful thing

ECB President Mario Draghi had an interesting couple of things to say about historical perspective at his press conference on Thursday, responding to the IMF’s admission that it lowered its normal standards to bail out Greece, among other things.

While the EU Commission came out and said some of the IMF’s conclusions were flatly wrong, Draghi took another approach. Basically, hindsight is a wonderful thing:

“If this paper by the IMF, which I have read, besides being a mea cupla, identifies the reasons for mistakes that have been made an other things, we certainly have to take them into account in the future.