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.
For those who are afraid of zombies, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has some bad news: they’re on the rise. What’s more, many people may be working for zombies.
But on the flip side, zombies may spook central banks enough that they don’t raise interest rates too high.
How afraid should investors be of the end of quantitative easing? Judging by recent comments, but also by the markets’ reaction until now, not too afraid.
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).
This past week, there has been a frenzy of selling of emerging markets assets. The outflows from both stocks and debt in emerging markets reached their highest level since December 2016.
This amounted to $3.7 billion withdrawn from emerging market equities and bonds, according to data analysed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. These outflows have helped push our old friend, the Bull/Bear indicator developed by BofA Merrill Lynch, to 4.8 — its lowest level since January 2017.
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.
Some people wonder why the Federal Reserve is in such a hurry to raise interest rates, pointing out that growth in the world’s first economy is hesitant at best. Inflation, of course, is an issue — even the stripped-down official version of inflation, “core” as they like to call it, is rising.
Beyond the depressing, backward-looking policies that the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as US president seem to have brought, there is a ray of hope.
People elsewhere in Europe, seeing the first ugly consequences of populism, might find enough motivation to go to the polls in elections just to try to keep populists out of government. I am talking about the decent people who are tired of politicians but aren’t seduced by the populists’ siren calls.
“Happiness is a candle. In fact, don’t laugh too loud, you risk putting it out.”
— Christophe Maé – Il est où le bonheur
“Brexit Armageddon simply hasn’t happened,” writes with delight the Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliot.
“The 1.4% jump in retail sales in July showed that consumers have not stopped spending, and seem to be more influenced by the weather than they are by fear of the consequences of what happened on 23 June. Retailers are licking their lips in anticipation of an Olympics feelgood factor.
The financial markets are serene. Share prices are close to a record high, and fears that companies would find it difficult and expensive to borrow have proved wide of the mark. Far from dumping UK government gilts, pension funds and insurance companies have been keen to hold on to them,” writes Elliot.
Perhaps this optimism is partly justified. After all, confidence goes a long way in financial markets, as any observer of emerging markets can testify. As long as you can project confidence, the battle is, if not won, at least not entirely lost. In most cases, anyway.
It’s unclear when it all started, but it has reached the point where it would make the biggest banker of all times, John Pierpont Morgan, turn in his grave.