MacroScope

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.

When asked about the ECB’s communication strategy by somewhat flabbergasted journalists at the post-meeting news conference, Draghi said: “I will abstain from judging markets. This is one of the hardest things and it is usually useless, because they do what they want, no matter what,” he said, setting off some chuckling in the room.

The clue everybody had overlooked in the previous introductory statement had been the condition of an “unchanged overall subdued outlook for inflation”, Draghi helped his audience along. “Since the last time I read this statement, there have been changes and these changes have been judged to be of significance.”

Romer, taking aim at Fed, advocates ‘regime change’ and a shift to nominal GDP

By Alister Bull

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Christina Romer, former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and a strong advocate for Janet Yellen to take over from Ben Bernanke as the next chair of the Federal Reserve, slammed the Fed in a lecture last week that accused the U.S. central bank of being too meek and of fighting the wrong battle by being fixated on asset bubbles.

Romer, sometimes touted as a potential candidate to fill one of the 3 vacancies on the Fed’s Board in Washington, or maybe run a regional branch (Cleveland has an opening), also discussed deliberately aiming for 3 or 4 percent inflation, as well as targeting nominal GDP.

One key observation from her remarks was central banks must tackle financial instability head-on. The Greenspan-era disdain for using monetary policy to burst asset bubbles has become a luxury which the post-crisis world can no longer afford:

How to play down a housing boom like it’s 1999

Here’s some of the top reasons from a 1999 Reuters poll on why a housing bubble wouldn’t form, which are re-appearing 14 years later.

The Bank of England will stop a bubble forming

    2013: “If there’s another bubble, the Bank of England and the Government of course have means by which we can anticipate that and ensure that that doesn’t happen again.” – Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the UK Treasury.
    1999 Reuters poll: ”Economists and property specialists say the Bank of England won’t let another inflationary boom happen. The Bank has already said it will monitor house prices closely. ‘It’s unlikely to become inflationary unless the monetary policy stance becomes too loose and that’s highly unlikely,’ said economist Trevor Williams of Lloyds Bank TSB.”

 

House prices expressed in real terms are below their peak and affordability is better

Time for Fed to rethink its forward guidance?

Federal Reserve officials have largely acknowledged by now that leading markets to believe the central bank would reduce its bond buying stimulus in September and then failing to do so was a communications blunder.

For Zach Pandl, a former Goldman economist now at Columbia Management, this means the Fed may have to reshape its guidance to financial markets – even if the exact contours of the changes remain unclear.

Last month’s surprise may have increased the odds that the committee will rework its forward guidance in some way (though this will depend importantly on the identity of the next Fed Chair).

Fed doves strike back


Now that Washington’s circus-like government shutdown has put a damper on hopes for stronger U.S. economic growth going into next year, dovish Federal Reserve officials again appear to have the upper hand in the way of policy commentary.

Take Eric Rosengren, the Boston Fed President who had been unusually quiet as the tapering debate gathered steam. In a speech in Vermont on Thursday, he returned to a familiar theme – the central bank still has plenty of firepower and should not be afraid to use it.

Unfortunately, most of the risks to the outlook remain on the downside. Concerns over untimely fiscal austerity here and abroad, and the possibility of problems once again emerging in parts of Europe, could cause the Federal Reserve to miss on both elements of its dual mandate – employment and inflation – through 2016.

A market-dependent Fed?

It’s hard to shake the feeling that the Federal Reserve is about to begin pulling back on stimulus not just on the back of better economic data, but also because financial markets have already priced it in. The band-aid ripping debate over an eventual tapering of bond purchases that started in May was so painful, Fed officials simply don’t want to go through it again.

If anything, recent data have been at best mixed, at worst worrisome. In particular, August job growth was disappointing and labor force participation declined further.At the same time, inflation remains well below the central bank’s objective.

Argues Dean Croushore, a former regional Fed bank economist and professor at the University of Richmond:

Note to markets: it’s been September all along for the Fed taper

Now that the outcome of one of the most anticipated Federal Reserve monetary policy meetings in history is just hours away, most investors and traders have settled on the view that the central bank will announce a plan to trim the pace of its $85 billion in monthly purchases of government and mortgage-backed securities on Wednesday. We just don’t know which, if any, of the two asset classes it will focus on, and by how much it will taper what it buys each month.

What most probably don’t know is that for all the incessant talk in financial markets over the past few months about uncertainty, the timing hasn’t really been in question. The consensus of forecasters polled by Reuters has been pretty clear since Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke hinted in May that quantitative easing might have to slow later in the 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.

Fed doves becoming an endangered species

 

It’s official: Instead of policy doves on the U.S. central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee, there are now only “non-hawks.” A research note from Thomas Lam at OSK-DMG used the term in referring to recent remarks from once more dovish officials like Charles Evans of the Chicago Fed and San Francisco Fed President John Williams.

The implied message from the latest Fed comments (or reticence), namely from the non-hawks, is that policymakers are clearly assessing a broader spectrum of considerations – beyond data-dependence – when mulling over the prospect of tapering in September.

Lam neglected to mention the silence from arguably the most dovish Fed member of all, Boston’s Eric Rosengren. He and Evans were at the forefront of calling for continuous and aggressive stimulus in the form of asset purchases. But recently, the Fed as a committee has shifted away from its emphasis on balance sheet expansion toward forward guidance –  thus far with mixed success.

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.