Central banks drop tightening talk as easy money enters 2014

The era of easy money is shaping up to keep going into 2014.

The Bank of Canada’s dropping of language about the need for future interest-rate increases and today’s decisions by central banks in Norway, Sweden and the Philippines to leave their rates on hold unite them with counterparts in reinforcing rather than retracting loose monetary policy. The Federal Reserve delayed a pullback in asset purchases, while emerging markets from Hungary to Chile cut borrowing costs in the past two months.

“We are at the cusp of another round of global monetary easing,” said Joachim Fels, co-chief global economist at Morgan Stanley in London.

Policy makers are reacting to another cooling of global growth, led this time by weakening in developing nations while inflation and job growth remain stagnant in much of the industrial world. The risk is that continued stimulus will inflate asset bubbles central bankers will have to deal with later. Already, talk of unsustainable home-price increases is spreading from Germany to New Zealand, while the MSCI World Index of developed-world stock markets is near its highest level since 2007.

“We are undoubtedly seeing these central bankers go wild,” said Richard Gilhooly, an interest-rate strategist at TD Securities Inc. in New York. They “are just pumping liquidity hand over fist and promising to keep rates down. It’s not normal.”

Limited Payoff

Normal or not, that’s been the environment now for five years after monetary authorities fought to protect the world economy from deflation and to hasten its recovery. In the advanced world, central banks drove interest rates close to zero and ballooned their balance sheets beyond $20 trillion through repeated rounds of bond purchases, a policy known as quantitative easing.

The economic payoff has been limited. The International Monetary Fund this month lopped its forecast for global economic growth to 2.9% in 2013 and 3.6% in 2014, from July’s projected rates of 3.1% this year and 3.8% next year. It also sees inflation across rich countries already short of the 2% rate favored by most central banks.

Central bankers are on guard to keep low inflation from turning into deflation, a broad-based decline in prices that leads households to hold off purchases and companies to postpone investment and hiring.

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