ECONOMY

Robust Rebound Won’t Augur End to Stimulus: Central Bank Guide

The aggressive rebound in global economic growth still isn’t enough for most of the world’s central banks to pull back on their emergency stimulus.

In Bloomberg’s quarterly review of monetary policy covering 90% of the world economy, the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and Bank of Japan are among the 16 institutions set to hold interest rates this year.

The outlook suggests officials still want to guarantee the recovery from last year’s coronavirus recession by maintaining ultra-low borrowing costs and asset-buying programs. That may require them to accept any accompanying bounce in inflation.

Six central banks, most of them in emerging markets, are still predicted to hike, including Brazil, Russia and Nigeria. Turkey is the only one of those monitored which is forecast to cut borrowing costs this year.

Here is Bloomberg’ quarterly guide to 23 of the world’s top central banks:

A key question for Fed Chair Jerome Powell and his colleagues is when to start talking about scaling back their massive bond purchases if the economy continues to recover as they expect.

Officials have vowed to keep buying $120 billion of Treasuries and mortgage-backed bonds every month until they see “substantial further progress” on inflation and employment. That test could be met sooner than anticipated if the U.S. labor market continues to perform as it did in March, when a better-than-expected 916,000 new jobs were added.

Powell has so far avoided putting any time frame around when he thinks it’ll be appropriate to slow bond buying, but promises to give investors plenty of advance warning. The Fed has also signaled it expects to keep rates near zero through 2023.

Officials at their meeting in March maintained that dovish message, according to a record of their discussion released on April 7, while Powell continues to stress the recovery remains incomplete and uneven.

Part of its hesitancy to talk publicly about bond purchases stems from harsh experience: The Fed wants to avoid a repeat of the 2013 taper tantrum, when unexpected news that it was thinking about slowing bond buying roiled financial markets and hurt the economy.

The ECB has pledged to keep financing conditions for governments, companies and households “favorable” until the coronavirus crisis phase is over, using its 1.85 trillion-euro ($2.2 trillion) Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program to keep bond yields low, and dishing out ultra-cheap loans to banks.

PEPP is due to run until at least the end of March 2022 and while policy makers say they won’t spend the full amount unless needed, most economists expect them to do so. The euro-area recovery has been delayed by a slow vaccination rollout, and ECB President Christine Lagarde has repeatedly warned of the dangers of ending support too early.

The scene is set for a vibrant debate toward the end of the year on when and how to scale back emergency aid and what should replace it. In the meantime, the ECB is urging governments to hurry up with their 800 billion-euro joint recovery fund.

The Bank of Japan is likely to be keep its main policy settings on cruise control after its biggest policy review since 2016 in March. The review gave the BOJ more scope to reduce its asset buying after a fine-tuning it characterized as a shoring up of its stimulus framework for the longer term.

Despite fears of inflation elsewhere in the world, a quarterly outlook report in April is expected to show that the BOJ doesn’t see price growth reaching a stable 2% before Governor Haruhiko Kuroda steps down in April 2023. That will help back up the institution’s argument that it had to take a more flexible approach to policy.

Investors and economists will closely scrutinize how the changes will affect the BOJ’s market operations including its pace of bond and ETF buying, and how quickly it will step in to stop any jumps in 10-year yields after clarifying that its target range reaches up to around 0.25%.

BOJ watchers will also be looking to see if the bank extends its special pandemic funding measures from the current September expiry date. With bankruptcies falling and bank lending growing, there appears little reason to add to the measures supporting businesses. Still, with only about 1% of the population vaccinated in early April, uncertainties for the economy remain with virus cases ticking up again in some major cities.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey is firmly on the fence about whether his next move is to administer another dose of stimulus or monetary tightening to the U.K. economy. Financial markets already have priced out the prospect of negative rates, moving gilt yields and the pound higher than they were a year ago.

After the worst recession in three centuries, the U.K. is headed for a sharp rebound after one of the world’s most successful coronavirus vaccination programs. Debate at the central bank is about whether the recovery will absorb all the workers left out of a job during the crisis and push up inflation, or leave scars that require further care.

While the latest data including a boom in house prices suggest upside risks, companies are increasingly concerned that Britain’s exit from the European Union has choked back trade, leaving the prospect of a painful restructuring of the economy after the pandemic clears. At the institution’s next decision on May 6, policy makers will weigh whether to ease the pace of bond-buying, which at 4.4 billion pounds ($6 billion) a week would, unless adjusted, deliver more than the target for 150 billion pounds of stimulus this year.

The Bank of Canada is signaling it will be one of the first Group of Seven central banks to start paring back monetary policy support as the nation’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis accelerates.

Analysts anticipate next steps to pare bond purchases will come as early as a policy decision on April 21, while a so-called taper in the U.S. isn’t expected until next year.

Canada’s central bank has been buying a minimum of C$4 billion ($3.2 billion) in government bonds each week, accumulating more than C$250 billion of the securities over the past year. That pace is likely no longer warranted with an outlook that appears to improving dramatically by the week, helped by a recovery in commodity prices and a robust housing market.

The central bank, however, has sought to ease any worries of an imminent change to its benchmark overnight rate — currently at 0.25%. Officials have pledged to keep it there until economic slack has been fully absorbed — expected well after the quantitative easing program ends.

The PBOC cut lending rates and deployed various quantitative tools to inject liquidity into the pandemic-hit economy last year, on top of asking banks to increase loans. That helped to shore up growth but also pushed debt levels to a record high, fueling concerns of property bubbles and financial risks. With the economy’s recovery now well on track, the central bank is seeking to rein in its stimulus without derailing that rebound.

The PBOC is likely to normalize policy by moderating credit expansion rather than hiking rates, economists say. Officials have said they want to match the growth in money supply and credit with the expansion in nominal GDP this year, and stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio. The PBOC recently asked banks to curtail loan growth for the rest of 2021 to keep new advances at roughly the same level as last year.

India’s central bank formally embarked on the path of QE in early April, pledging to buy an assured amount of sovereign bonds this quarter as it fights to keep borrowing costs low and support a recovery in Asia’s third-largest economy. While the RBI already had been buying government securities in the secondary market, April’s meeting marked the first time the central bank committed upfront to buy a specified amount.

Hamstrung by underlying price pressures that could gather pace in coming months, Governor Shaktikanta Das and five other members of the monetary policy committee voted to keep the repo rate unchanged at 4%. However, Das pledged to maintain a dovish stance if economic conditions deteriorate as a number of provinces including Maharashtra, home to the financial capital of Mumbai, grapple with lockdowns amid a fresh wave of Covid-19 cases.

Brazil’s central bank has begun paring back monetary stimulus as inflation surges despite a new wave of the pandemic that threatens the economic recovery. Policy makers raised the benchmark Selic rate by 75 basis points in March, the most in a decade, and signaled that a second move of the same magnitude is on the way at their next decision in May.

Despite the institution’s assurances that price shocks are temporary, futures traders are betting even bigger hikes are in the pipeline. Driven by higher fuel costs, annual inflation blew past the upper limit of the central bank’s target range in March, hitting a four-year high.

The Bank of Russia surprised markets by starting its rate-hiking cycle earlier than expected. The inflation spike proved to be more prominent than policy makers thought before, Governor Elvira Nabiullina said after the board raised the key rate by 25 basis points in March and signaled more increases. The central bank will start publishing forecasts for the key-rate range starting their next meeting on April 23.

The ruble dropped in value after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russian sovereign ruble bonds at the primary market. It recovered some of the losses but the risk of additional steps is weighing on the currency. The U.S. has also warned of “consequences” if jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny dies. These heightened geopolitical tensions are providing another argument for a bigger rate hike this week.

Inflation peaked in March at the level last seen in late 2016, fueled by food prices and the weaker ruble. President Vladimir Putin made the cost of living a political issue when he told the government in December to put caps on prices of certain goods. Since then, Russia increased export duty on grain and negotiated with producers to set limits on some food staples. All administrative steps to curb prices are distorting the market signals and Russia needs to move away from that, Nabiullina said recently.

South African Reserve Bank

The South African central bank’s next move will be to tighten as it projects inflation will tick up to around the 4.5% mid-point of its target range. Still, the timing of the first hike is uncertain.

The implied policy rate path of the MPC’s quarterly projection model in March indicated two increases of 25 basis points in the second and fourth quarters of 2021. Last week, Governor Lesetja Kganyago said the central bank is in no rush to take the benchmark back to where it was before the pandemic and that it would likely maintain an accommodative monetary policy stance to support the economy as long as the inflation outlook gives it room to do so.

Forward-rate agreements, used to speculate borrowing costs are pricing in only one 25 basis point increase by year-end. Most economists are less hawkish and see the rate remaining at its record low until the end of 2021.

Mexico’s central bank held its benchmark rate at 4% in March, amid an inflation surge that is leading many economists to predict its monetary easing cycle has drawn to a close. Led by rising fuel costs, consumer prices rose 4.67% last month from a year earlier, jumping above the ceiling of the institution’s target.

Governor Alejandro Diaz de Leon still didn’t close the door to additional rate cuts, saying that officials will continue taking a data-dependent approach to monetary policy. Consumer prices, he said, have been pressured by supply shocks, a weaker peso, and a shift in demand for goods instead of services, but the Mexican economy is likely to have a negative output gap “for some time.”

Banxico, as the bank is known, expects annual inflation to peak during the second quarter, before slowing toward the end of the year.

Rising global bond yields have all but shut Bank Indonesia’s window for further easing this year. Governor Perry Warjiyo is turning his attention to preserving the country’s interest-rate differential from the U.S. to stem foreign outflows and protect the battered rupiah, which he considers “very undervalued.” Targeted macroprudential measures, such as the recent relaxation of home and auto loan rules, will likely be Warjiyo’s main lever to revive bank lending and aid growth.

The central bank insists it won’t unwind monetary support for the economy anytime soon, with demand and inflation still weak. The institution also has signaled that when it is time to tighten, it could focus on restricting liquidity before raising rates.

That will be one less thing for investors to worry about as they keep an eye on growing political pressure for BI to work more closely with the government. President Joko Widodo has called for the central bank’s mandate to be expanded to include employment and economic growth, even as he pledged to respect BI’s autonomy.

Installed after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan abruptly fired his market-friendly predecessor following a bigger-than-expected rate increase, new Governor Sahap Kavcioglu is under pressure to reduce borrowing costs to boost growth.

Turkey’s central bank left its benchmark rate unchanged in Kavcioglu’s first monetary policy meeting. While the decision matched market expectations, the institution omitted an earlier pledge to keep monetary policy tight and even deliver additional hikes if needed. Although Kavcigolu has said he would not rush to loosen the stance he inherited, the changes in the rates statement prompted further speculation that cuts might be imminent.

Meantime, Erdogan, who holds the unorthodox view that high rates cause inflation, continues to express his determination to both reduce price growth and reduce borrowing costs to single digits.

The Nigerian central bank is inching closer to hiking its benchmark rate for the first time since July 2016. In March, three of nine MPC members who attended the policy-setting meeting voted to tighten by at least 50 basis points, a shift from January when the panel was unanimous in its decision to hold.

Governor Godwin Emefiele said at the time the central bank can only effectively shift to taming inflation that’s at a four-year high once the recovery of Africa’s largest economy from last year’s recession has reached a comfortable level. Since then the International Monetary Fund has increased its projection for the country’s 2021 output growth to 2.5% from 1.5%. That would be the fastest expansion since 2015.

A rebound in oil prices could improve the prospects for growth further, giving the central bank room to focus on taming inflation, even if it’s only from the second half of the year. Higher rates will also help support the naira, which was devalued twice in 2020.

The Bank of Korea is expected to maintain a long hold as its optimism over the economy is tempered by continued uncertainty over the outlook and a slow vaccine rollout. The central bank sees faster-than-previously expected growth in the mid-3% range as exports surge on global tech demand and recoveries in China and the U.S. But Governor Lee Ju-yeol has played down talk that a tightening of policy is anywhere near the horizon.

Keeping the BOK cautious is a renewed uptick in domestic virus cases. The resurgence is pushing the government to consider ramping up public restrictions on activity. A shortage of vaccines is also making it increasingly unlikely that the country will achieve its goal of herd immunity by year-end. If things take a turn for the worse, the central bank doesn’t have much room to go the other way and reduce its benchmark rate further after 75 basis points of cuts last year. Rising household debt poses a risk to the country’s financial stability and Lee has said the rate is already near its lower bound.

For the time being, standing pat appears the institution’s best option for safeguarding the recovery while ensuring financial imbalances don’t accumulate further. The majority of economists surveyed by Bloomberg see the BOK holding its policy rate at the current level until the third quarter of next year.

Reserve Bank of Australia

With the RBA targeting unemployment in the low 4% range and pledging rates won’t rise until inflation has sustainably returned to the 2-3% target, monetary stimulus will be in play for some time.

The central bank has reinforced the economy’s rapid recovery by holding down borrowing costs through a firm defense of three-year debt — its variant of yield curve control. That has also helped weaken the currency a touch in combination with QE that targets 5-10 year securities outside the YCC framework.

Key decisions over whether to roll over the yield target to the November 2024 maturity, and whether to extend QE when the current round expires in September/October will likely be influenced by the economy’s resilience to a withdrawal of government stimulus.

While the RBA has also said it will “carefully” monitor surging home prices, any action to stem gains is likely to come from tighter bank lending rules, not monetary tightening.

The RBA has learned from its experience in 2009, when it led the world in raising rates. This time round it will wait for other major economies to move first to avoid renewed currency strength choking off the expansion.

Central Bank of Argentina

Argentina has relied on a mix of orthodox and unconventional policies to maintain its currency market relatively calm. While largely refraining so far this year from the mass money printing of 2020, policy makers have amplified price controls and slowed a crawling peg depreciation in a bid to cool inflation, currently around 40% a year. In order to absorb liquidity, the central bank has allowed financial institutions to pile into its short-term debt, with the amount of outstanding repo notes rising to over 1.5 trillion pesos ($16.2 billion) from 125 billion pesos a year ago.

Monetary policy in the medium term remains clouded by the uncertainty surrounding negotiations with the IMF. The government has indicated a deal is unlikely to happen before mid-term elections in October, and Central Bank President Miguel Pesce has stayed on the sidelines of talks. While foreign reserves have slightly rebounded this year, they hover near a four-year low. The government’s strict currency controls, once labeled temporary measures, have no expiration date in sight.

G-10 CURRENCIES AND EAST EUROPE ECONOMIES

The SNB’s monetary policy consists of negative rates and currency-market interventions.

In light of the small local bond market, the strategy is the most effective, SNB President Thomas Jordan has said. Data also indicate the intensity of interventions has diminished in recent months, as the franc dropped versus the euro.

Having slumped the most in decades due to the pandemic, the Swiss economy is due to return to its pre-crisis level in the latter half of this year. Still, inflation also remains weak.

Sweden’s central bank remains focused on bond purchases to keep rates low and stabilize markets. Still, Some policy makers are highlighting the option of a rate cut to stimulate demand and restore confidence in the Riksbank’s 2% inflation target.

The central bank kept rates unchanged at its last meeting, and maintained its QE program at 700 billion kronor ($82 billion). Policy makers agreed that it was too soon to discuss withdrawing monetary support despite signs of economic stabilization and an uptick in consumer prices.

Governor Stefan Ingves has signaled he prefers QE to rate cuts, and said last month he sees no risk of above-target inflation “in the foreseeable future.” Meanwhile, the property market soaring to record price levels is an increasing worry for Ingves, who said Sweden’s high level of household debt “will become problematic sooner or later.”

Norway’s central bank is expected to be the first among wealthy western nations to tighten policy after its economy took a smaller hit than most in 2020. Its March forecast implies that the likelihood of a rate increase is split 50/50 between September and December.

While soaring house prices signal financial imbalances are building up, Governor Oystein Olsen has said substantial uncertainty still remains regarding the recovery.

Norway’s economic resilience has been boosted in part by an effective lockdown strategy and billions of dollars in government support backed by the country’s $1.3 trillion sovereign wealth fund. Still, restrictions to fight the spread of the more contagious strains of Covid-19 this year have hampered the recovery, with a deeper contraction in the first two months than the central bank had forecast.

Reserve Bank of New Zealand

New Zealand’s red-hot housing market has been driving the outlook for monetary policy this year after the government changed the RBNZ’s remit, forcing it to take house prices into account. After an initial flurry of bets that the central bank could start raising rates in 2022, the emerging consensus is that the cash rate will stay at its record low for longer. That’s partly because a raft of new government measures to cool the property market have taken the pressure off the RBNZ to act.

While New Zealand’s successful handling of the pandemic initially enabled its economy to stage a V-shaped recovery, it now faces the possibility of a double-dip recession as its closed border hurts its tourism sector. The opening of a long-awaited travel bubble with Australia in April may help alleviate the pain, but support for the economy is still needed to ensure the recovery stays on track this time. Governor Adrian Orr has also made clear he wants to see a sustained inflation pickup before he considers removing stimulus.

Poland’s central bank intends to keep its benchmark rate at a record low until at least early next year, when the term of the Monetary Policy Council ends.

The economy shrank for the first time in nearly three decades in 2020, and offficials responded by introducing a QE program and reducing the key rate from 1.5% in three steps between March and May.

The EU’s biggest eastern economy is set to rebound this year, though the outlook has recently become more uncertain on the third wave of the pandemic.

Even as neighboring central banks in the Czech Republic and Hungary are seen taking a less accommodative approach, their policies “play no role whatsoever” in monetary policy in Poland, according to Governor Adam Glapinski.

The Czech central bank has been telegraphing monetary tightening for over half a year but the prolonged coronavirus crisis is set to delay the first rate increase until the third quarter.

Government programs to protect jobs are driving wages up and deferred consumption is set to fuel inflation once shops and services reopen after one of the world’s deadliest Covid-19 outbreaks. Still, policy makers agreed in March that a “longer-lasting pandemic-induced downturn” will probably mean a slower pace of monetary tightening than outlined in the institution’s forecast, which assumed three rate hikes for this year.

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