MacroScope

Back to banking union

The G8 produced little heat or light on the state of the world economy but if there was one clarion call it was for the euro zone to get on with forming a banking union – the last major initiative needed to draw a line under the euro zone debt crisis.

With the European Central Bank effectively underwriting the bloc’s governments with its bond-buying pledge, a cross-border mechanism to recapitalise or wind up failing banks would do the same for the financial sector.

The trouble is, not unreasonably, Berlin does not want to fall liable for the failure of a bank in a weaker country. Instead, it is pressing for a “resolution board” involving national authorities to take decisions on winding up failed banks, which sounds like the onus would remain on governments to sort out their own banks rather than pooling risk which would convince investors that a proper backstop was in place.

In other words, the “doom loop” of weak banks and sovereigns weighing on each other would be unbroken.

U.S. President Barack Obama, whose administration has been urging progress on this front, is in Berlin today for a lot of ceremony and some talks with Angela Merkel.

A week to reckon with

The week kicks off with a G8 leaders’ summit in Northern Ireland. Syria will dominate the gathering and the British agenda on tax avoidance is likely to be long on rhetoric, short on specifics. But for the markets, this meeting could still yield some big news. For a start, Japanese prime minister Abe is there – the man who has launched one of the most aggressive stimulus drives in history yet has already seen the yen climb back to the level it held before he started. Abe will also speak in London and Warsaw during the week.

The financial backdrop could hardly be more volatile with emerging markets selling off dramatically since the Federal Reserve warned the pace of its dollar creation could be slowed. Berlin has said the G8 leaders are likely to discuss the role of central banks and monetary policy, and Angela Merkel will hold bilateral talks with Abe during the summit. President Barack Obama travels to Berlin after the summit for talks with Merkel.

The central banks of Turkey, Switzerland and Norway all have monetary policy decisions to make in the coming week and may have some interesting things to say about the revival of market turmoil after months of calm. The Norwegians have said interest rates are likely to stay at 1.5 percent for months to come and the Swiss National Bank is unlikely to loosen its cap on the Swiss franc which has served it so well, particularly given markets are now back in flux and traders are starting to talk about flight-to-safety moves again. The elephant in the room is the Federal Reserve’s latest policy decision on Wednesday, followed by a Ben Bernanke press conference.

Mervyn King gets a “B” grade from economists… for the time being

As is now customary for retiring central bank chiefs, Bank of England Governor Mervyn King has received a warm – but not a standing – ovation from economists for his time in charge.

But if there’s one thing the last few years have shown, it’s that the legacy of prominent central bankers can sour quickly after retirement.

King received a median 7 out of 10 score for his 10 years as Bank of England governor from 39 economists polled by Reuters this week.

Mervyn King’s economic ray of light may be too bright

In his valedictory Quarterly Inflation Report, Bank of England Governor Mervyn King shone a ray of light on the British economy, saying it should grow 0.5 percent in the current quarter.

But according to the latest Reuters poll of more than 30 economists, published on Tuesday, that might be too optimistic.

The consensus showed gross domestic product would only expand 0.2 percent, weaker than the 0.3 percent expansion seen in the first quarter when the country missed sinking into an unprecedented triple-dip recession.

Battening down the hatches

There’s a high degree of battening down the hatches going on before the Greek election by policymakers and market in case a hurricane results.

G20 sources told us last night that the major central banks would be prepared to take coordinated action to stabilize markets if necessary –- which I guess is always the case –  the Bank of England said it would  flood Britain’s banks with more than 100 billion pounds to try and get them to lend into the real economy and we broke news that the euro zone finance ministers will hold a conference call on Sunday evening to discuss the election results – all this as the world’s leaders gather in Mexico for a G20 summit starting on Monday.
Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said the euro zone malaise was creating a broader crisis of confidence.

The central banks acted in concert after the collapse of Lehmans in 2008, pumping vast amounts of liquidity into the world economy and slashing interest rates. There is much less scope on the latter now. The biggest onus may fall on the European Central Bank which may have to act to prop up Greek banks and maybe banks in other “periphery” countries too although the structures to do so through the Greek central bank are in place and functioning daily. In extremis, we can expect Japan and Switzerland to act to keep a cap on their currencies too. As a euro zone official said last night, a bank run might not even be that visible and start on Sunday night over the internet rather than with queues of people outside their local bank on Monday morning.

Who’d be a central banker?

The focus is already on the euro zone finance ministers meeting in Copenhagen, starting on Friday, which is likely to agree to some form of extra funds for the currency bloc’s future bailout fund. What they come up with will go a long way to determining whether markets scent any faltering commitment on the part of Europe’s leaders.

In the meantime, top billing goes to Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann speaking in London later. He is heading an increasingly vocal group within the European Central bank who are fretting about the future inflationary and other consequences of the creation of  more than a trillion euros of three-year money. There is no chance of the ECB hitting the policy reverse button yet but the debate looks set to intensify.
A combination of German inflation and euro zone money supply numbers today (which include a breakdown on bank lending) will give some guide to the pressures on the ECB.

Central bankers face a very mixed picture with U.S. recovery and high oil vying with the unresolved euro zone debt crisis and signs of slowdown in China.

There be feudin’ at the BoE

The once-good relationship between Bank of England Governor Mervyn King and his most likely successor, Deputy Governor Paul Tucker, is coming  under increasing strain, according to a new book by former Daily Telegraph journalist Dan Conaghan.  It  alleges   King’s management style and and alleged disdain for the financial markets is to blame.

While the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee remains reasonably collegiate, on other matters King more than lives up to the description from former chancellor Alistair Darling that he is ‘incredibly stubborn’, says Conaghan, who now worksas an asset manager.

“The governor can be particularly dogmatic,” he told Reuters. “One of the key things … is the attitude to the capital markets. One of my sources described Sir

Broadbent’s BoE appointment keeps hawks in health

BRITAIN-BOE/Ben Broadbent’s appointment to the Monetary Policy Committee ought to dispel any notions that the Bank of England would be left short of hawks after the departure of Andrew Sentance.

A brief look at the history of Reuters polls shows that Goldman Sachs’ UK economists – led by Broadbent – were uber-hawkish in their outlook for British interest rates early last year.

In January 2010, Goldman predicted rates would rise to 1.5 percent by end of the second quarter of last year, and 2.5 percent going into 2011 — hugely out of step with both the consensus and as it turned out, reality. Rates went nowhere last year, and are still at a record low of 0.5 percent.

The perils of predicting BoE policy

BRITAIN/As we’ve noted extensively, economists often get it wrong. Leaving aside their collective failure to recognise an impending global recession, you might recall a shock interest rate hike from the Bank of England in January 2007.

This was another event that almost every economist polled by Reuters failed to spot, and there are signs that four years on, economists might be setting themselves up for a similar shock.

The consensus from the last Reuters BoE poll last week showed interest rates would stay on hold into the fourth quarter, even though UK money markets have priced in a 100 percent chance of a rate hike by May. Since the January meeting, some of the bank’s Monetary Policy Committee members have publicly stated their determination to fight strong inflation.

How uncertain exactly is the uncertain BoE?

king-inflation.jpgFor a central bank that looks certain to bust its 2 percent inflation target for most of the time between now and the London 2012 Olympics, there is still a lot of uncertainty out there.

Bank of England Governor Mervyn King referred to “uncertain” or “uncertainty” about the outlook five times at the May quarterly Inflation Report press conference according to the bank’s transcript, and the latest one didn’t seem much more confident in tone.

“There is great uncertainty about the outlook for both the United States and our most important trading partner, the euro area,” King said in his opening remarks before taking questions from reporters.