Last week 11 central banks took policy decisions with every single bank keeping rates on hold though Norway, as Canada in January, delayed a planned rate rises due to lower inflationary pressure from sluggish growth that continues to plague the global economy.
Norway’s decision illustrates how central banks are uneasy with very low policy rates as they tend to encourage risk taking and fuel asset bubbles. Yet, the central banks feel they have little choice but to keep rates low with major downside risks dominating the global economy, keeping consumers and investors on edge and thus holding back demand and inflation.
In addition to Norway, the central banks of Mauritius, Mozambique, Kenya, Serbia, New Zealand, Korea, the Philippines, Switzerland, Latvia and Russia kept rates on hold last week.
Through the first 11 weeks of the year, 78 percent of the 102 policy decisions taken by the 90 central banks followed by Central Bank News lead to unchanged rates, up from 76 percent after 10 weeks, strengthening this year’s trend toward steady policy rates worldwide.
Globally, 19 percent of policy decisions so far this year have lead to rate cuts, largely by central banks in emerging economies, down from 21 percent after the first 10 weeks, a policy rates continue to decline.
But the pace of rate cuts is slowing as many central banks shift toward a more neutral stance to gauge the impact of last year’s rate cuts.
Of last week’s 11 policy decisions, seven were from central banks that cut rates last year, including Kenya and Mozambique, among the most aggressive cutters
Oil-rich Norway is experiencing growing household debt and house prices, and following a rate cut in March 2012, Norges Bank started in June to prepare markets for higher rates as inflationary pressures were expected to rise.
But last August it started to push back the time frame for a rate rise and then in October a rate rise was delayed until sometime this year. Now, a rate rise has been postponed until next spring as inflation and economic growth remains lower than expected.
But Norwegian debt and house prices continue to rise so the central bank, like New Zealand, is preparing to introduce a counter-cyclical buffer in an attempt to rein in banks’ willingness to extend credit and also strengthen banks’ ability to withstand a crises.
While New Zealand’s strong currency, drought and fiscal consolidation is restraining growth, reconstruction after the 2010 Canterbury earthquake along with rising house prices are creating upside risks. Seeking to strike the right balance, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand said it expects to keep rates on hold through the year.
Russia’s central bank struck a less hawkish tone last week, dropping its previous statements that the risk of a slowdown from tight money was minor and the economy was operating at close to potential.
Instead, the Bank of Russia noted slowing economic growth, strengthening the impression – already boosted by the nomination of Putin aide Elvira Nebiullina as new bank president – that rate cuts are on their way.
Switzerland also took note of the lack of inflationary pressure, trimming its inflation forecast to continued deflation this year and only a slight 0.2 percent rise in consumer prices next year, maintaining downward pressure on the Swiss franc.
The contrast between Europe and Southeast Asia remains stark.
Although the Bank of Korea underlined the downside risks to global growth from Europe and the U.S., it is looking ahead to rising inflation while the Philippines again cut rates on its Special Deposit Account (SDA) in an effort to stem the inflow of foreign funds and curb the rise in the peso.
Fueled by ample global liquidity and low rates in advanced economies, many emerging markets with solid economic fundamentals are adjusting their policy framework to stem the flow of hot money yet still stimulate domestic growth.
Like Turkey last year, the governor of Bangko Sentral ngPilipinas told journalists that he is moving to an interest rate corridor system to help manage capital flows which not only puts upward pressure on currencies but also leads to asset bubbles.
New Zealand’s central bank governor emphasized his concern over the strong kiwi dollar, warning markets that he would cut rates if the currency rises more than justified by the economic fundamentals.
Meanwhile, Serbia – the only central bank worldwide to have raised rates this year in addition to Denmark – lived up to expectations and held rates after eight rate hikes despite the continuing rise in inflation.
Last month the National Bank of Serbia signaled that it was starting to soften its tightening stance due to an expected drop in inflation, and this week it made good on that promise, saying that the last four months show that inflation is easing.
LAST WEEK’S (WEEK 11) MONETARY POLICY DECISIONS:
1 YEAR AGO
Next week (week 12) features eight central bank policy decisions, including India, Nigeria, the United States, South Africa, Iceland, Egypt, Chile and Trinidad & Tobago.
The U.S. Federal Reserve changed the time for announcing policy decision to 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time from 2:15, with the press conference at 2:30 p.m.