- A traderâ€™s week to remember
- The choices of the ECB
- The mainland dilemma
Considering the size and scope of the weekâ€™s events, calamitous equity falls worldwide on Monday, what appeared to be an imminent American plummet on Tuesday, a massive Federal Reserve rate cut and continued intransigence from the European Central Bank (ECB), perhaps the most remarkable development was the relatively small effect all this sound and fury had on the dollar. On Tuesday the euro closed at 1.4627 and on Friday it finished at 1.4670. The Tuesday close did disguise the volatility of a more than three figure move trough to peak on the day. But the most telling fact for the future direction of the euro (and the dollar) was the united currencyâ€™s close for the week more than a figure below its peak against the dollar.
Another 50 basis point cut in the US Fed Funds rate is coming at Thursdayâ€™s FOMC meeting and it is fully priced into the market. The ECB has made it abundantly clear that it will not be cutting rates in response to equity market turmoil. Jean Claude Trichet, the President, Alex Weber, governing board member and head of the German Bundesbank, and Jurgen Stark another board member took turns diminishing market expectations for an ECB rate reduction. As Mr. Weber said in the most succinct comment such expectations were wishful thinking.
Tuesdayâ€™s surprise did not deviate from the projected overall US rate scenario, it only altered the timing. 125 basis points in total reductions and a 3.00% Fed Funds rate by the end of the first quarter has been priced into the dollar for several weeks, at least since the December Retail Sales results were released. An ECB rate ease, or even a move to a neutral bias has not been priced. The beginning of such an adjustment to an ECB policy change which had resulted in the euro move down to below 1.4400 was short circuited by Mr. Bernanke on Tuesday.
Equity markets, led by the New York exchanges have been falling since the turn of the year and as the decline became more panicky the dollar benefited. That economic logic has not changed measurably and in that logic is the hope for the Usd. The European central bankers have done their rhetorical best to deny what many traders believeâ€”that the next ECB rate move will be a cut. If the markets truly expected a widening of the US-EMU rate divide beyond what is already priced in, then 1.5000 should be in the rearview mirror; it is not. In the background is the belief, already expressed so dramatically by the equity markets world wide, that a US slowdown will affect the entire globe, and the ECB will sooner or later have to reduce rates.
European and Asian investors seem to be just waking up to the perils of the worldwide financial market. If US bond insurers fail portfolios globally will have to be rewritten. If European banks have been less than aggressive in writing down sub prime debt that does not obviate the final accounting and the ECBâ€™s stalwart inflation stance will not then prevent recession.
European Central Bank
It was the same old story from the ECB this week, inflation, inflation, inflation; or was it? On Tuesday, amid historic equity volatility, Jurgen Stark, governing board member said the crisis in the financial markets should not be overemphasized, We should not dramatize the situation. Is the Fed just histrionic? After all, European and Asian bourses have been as hard hit as Americaâ€™s. The equities markets are speaking with one voice, decoupling is a mirage and the ripples from a US slowdown will effect economies worldwide. A US recession, assuming it gets that far, will seriously damaging economic growth around the globe. That is the inescapable message from the worldâ€™s stock traders. All bourses have suffered severe losses in the past several weeks, not one has been spared.
Jean Claude Trichet the ECB president, speaking before the EU parliament, acknowledged the risks to European economic growth. But still, he said, the bank was not ready to change its anti-inflation policy. There is no sign, no hint from the public spokesmen for the ECB that a rate cut is being prepared or even considered. In demanding times of significant market correction and turbulence, it is the responsibility of the central bank to solidly anchor inflation expectations to avoid additional volatility in already highly volatile markets. We have a baseline scenario and at this stage Iâ€™m not going to modify thisâ€¦. I would say that the risks [to economic growth] are on the downside, stated Mr. Trichet.
There is however another more benign scenario. ECB spokesman have made it patent that their corporate concern is the â€˜secondary effects of inflationary expectationsâ€™ meaning a wage price spiral where rising prices, and more importantly the anticipation of future price increases, push workers and unions to demand ever higher wages. Since union contracts tend to be multi year, when such expectations are written into a contract they imbed inflationary expectations into the economy. That is precisely what the ECB is seeking to avoid.
By both stressing the need to solidly anchor inflation expectation, that is to prevent European workers from developing inflationary expectations and by emphasizing the transitory nature of the current inflationary pressures, the ECB is speaking directly to Europeâ€™s unionized labor force. I am not happy with current inflation of more than 3.0% but it is probably temporary, said Mr. Stark. Translation -- we are determined to prevent inflation, the present spike above 3.0% will pass, there is no need to seek large multi year wage increases. Is there an unspoken addendum that when the â€˜temporary inflationâ€™ subsides, the ECB will attend to economic growth?
A whiff of panic clung to Tuesdayâ€™s surprise 75 basis point cut in the Fed Funds and in the Discount Rate. But by the end of trading on Wednesday the Fed governors had the result they desired, the relentless selling that had gripped the equity markets was over. On Tuesday the Dow managed to erase most of an early 400 point decline finishing off only a little more than 100 points. Wednesday evinced an even more powerful reaction, with the NYSE ending the day up 298 points, almost doubling the opening 300 point decline. Yet the economic outlook had not changed from one day to the next, nor had the Fed added to the total anticipated rate reductions.
The Fed statement explaining the surprise move stressed weakening economic outlook and increasing downside risks to growth, that broader financial market conditions have continued to deteriorate and credit has tightened for some businesses and households, and that a deepening of the housing contraction exists, and appreciable downside risks to growth remain. But the overriding motivation of the Fed governors was to break the panicky psychology of the equities markets and in that they were successful
Bank of England
The Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England (BOE) voted 8 to 1 to leave rates unchanged at 5.5% at the January meeting. The chance for another cut at the February 7th meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee is now rated even.
The Bank of Canada cut the overnight rate 25 basis point to 4.0% on Tuesday in step with the US Federal Reserve. It is likely that there will be two more cuts of 25 points each in February and March. Financial market conditions have deteriorated since October. The outlook for the US economy is now significantly weaker. For Canada the effects of the weaker US economic outlook will lead to additional downward pressure on export growth said the accompanying statement.
The slow revaluation of the yuan is proceeding, it has gained 2 % against the dollar since early December and is worth 6.93% more than it was a year ago. But for Chinese economic planners striving to rein inflation and curb excessive economic growth a stronger yuan is a two edged sword. A rapid appreciation of the yuan could inflict much damage on Chinese exports and industry. A dearer yuan makes foreign goods more expensive, which helps combat inflation but it also draws capital into the country, fueling both economic growth, and inflation. CPI was at 6.9% in November an eleven year high. If the American economic slowdown spreads and if the US enters recession the Chinese economy will not be unscathed. If the US consumption weakens our countryâ€™s exports will be very much affected, said Zhang Tao, head of the Peopleâ€™s Bank of China (PBOC) International Department quoted by Market New International. The Fed rate cuts have already made it much harder for the PBOC to raise interest rates as investors seek the higher returns in China coupled with the potential for yuan revaluation.
The Bank of Japan left rates unchanged at 0.5%, to universal expectation and universal disinterest. There is no expectation for a rate increase in the near future and little chance that a rate cut would have any economic effect should the Japanese economy start to recede. The vote of the policy committee was unanimous.