It is becoming increasingly difficult for central banks to surprise the markets with good news. No matter how dovish they are, investors expect them to be even more dovish still. This financial repression has facilitated the rise of populist politicians, who threaten to bring the end of central banks’ independence.
While all eyes are on Italy, the world’s second-largest economy is showing signs of trouble. China, this curious mix of communism and capitalism, is running out of steam – and ideas. Unless the Chinese government finds new ways to stimulate its economy, it might find itself facing the world’s biggest revolution.
The price growth of an “asset” into which investors everywhere around the globe have poured billions since the financial crisis has slowed dramatically, and this should worry policymakers.
When the bank of central banks warns about financial stability, you have to take notice — even if the warning comes in the Bank for International Settlements usually dry, academic style.
The BIS recently published a paper about the effect of prolonged interest rates on financial stability, and it makes worrying reading. (However, as most people are on holidays in August, unless they are reading it on the beach it will largely go unnoticed).
Housing markets in certain developed economies are beginning to lose steam, prompting worries that house prices might see corrections, especially in countries where they had been overheating.
As the major central banks are slowly retreating from their policy of asset purchases, we will probably witness some of the side effects of this withdrawal.
Warren Buffett famously said that “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” The tide is going out only slowly, but we are beginning to see, at least in the UK, the damage the ultra loose monetary policy has done.
A statement from Halifax shares the “good” news: home prices paid by first-time buyers are the highest ever.
In the first half of this year, first-time buyers paid on average £207,693 for a home, the highest price on record. This is 4% higher than a year ago, and 50% higher than five years ago.
The financial repression that central banks started after the global financial crisis of 2007-2009 does not seem to be close to an end. The central banks argue that inflation has not come back to their target of around 2%, but their definition of inflation is flawed.
One of the main complaints of some of the “Leave” voters was that Britain is a “small island” and it is “full up.” Immigration “puts pressure” on local services such as hospitals and schools, but, most importantly, on local housing.
Even Prime Minister Theresa May, when she was Home Secretary, said immigration was putting pressure on the housing sector.
Intriguingly, however, it seems the kind of foreigner whom the UK government welcomes is the foreigner who buys homes but never lives in them – the foreign investor.
There is a widespread view that the Federal Reserve will have to raise interest rates at a steady pace this year, because it cannot afford to fall behind the curve.
I would argue that it has already fallen behind the curve and has no choice but to remain there. And it is not the only one in this situation. All major central banks are playing the same game; they have no choice.