Global monetary policy took a turn toward continued low interest rates last week as Chile and Hungary extended their easing cycles while the Bank of Japan (BOJ) sent a clear signal that it will not let up on quantitative easing until it's completely convinced that it has escaped the ogre of deflation.
Reinforcing the message that monetary policy will remain loose for some time, finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of 20 (G20) leading economic nations recognized this weekend in Sydney that "monetary policy needs to remain accommodative in many advanced economies" with the normalization of policy conditional on the outlook for price stability and economic growth.
But while there is broad agreement that monetary policy has to remain accommodative to aid the sluggish global economy, the U.S. Federal Reserve's start last month of tapering asset purchases was clearly on policymakers' minds when they said monetary policy should be carefully calibrated and clearly communicated, with central banks "being mindful of impacts on the global economy."
It was a clear nod to Raghuram Rajan, governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), who last month accused the Fed and other advanced economies of running selfish economic policies and criticized the lack of international economic policy coordination.
The reference by the G20 that central banks have to be "mindful" of how their national policies affect other countries shows a growing political consensus toward developing deeper collaboration among the world's major central banks amidst volatile asset prices and massive outflows of capital from emerging markets toward advanced economies.
How such collaboration can extend beyond the current informal framework is not clear and the G20 communique didn't go beyond underscoring the need for communication by central banks.
Apart from having each other on speed dial, governors of the world's major central banks only see each other regularly every two months at the Bank for International Settlements (NASDAQ:BIS) in Basel, and at more formal intergovernmental occasions, such as G20 meetings.
Meanwhile, minutes from the BOJ's policy meeting on Jan. 21 and 22 once again showed the central bank's determination to boost inflation and rid the country of some 15 years of debilitating inflation.
In April, when the BOJ embarked on its latest aggressive easing campaign, its stated aim was to increase inflation to 2 percent "at the earliest possible time, with a time horizon of about two years" by doubling the country's monetary base by the end of 2014.
Although Japan's inflation has been positive since June, and consumer prices rose by an annual 1.6 percent in December, the BOJ clearly wants to make sure that financial markets understand it will not rest until it achieves its goal.
The minutes show that "many members" of the BOJ policy board believe it is necessary to avoid any misunderstanding by financial markets and clearly explain that the bank's quantitative and qualitative monetary easing will not automatically end in two years.
In addition, it should also be clear that any future change to the BOJ's guidance should not weaken its commitment to achieving the 2 percent inflation target.
The BOJ minutes showed that board members still see inflation, excluding the impact of the consumption tax rise in April, of around 1.25 percent for some time, but there is also the welcome recognition that inflation expectations are rising.
Economists' expectations for inflation 2-6 years ahead have been rising since mid-2011 but the latest surveys still only show expectations of 1.25 percent, according to the minutes.
Japanese households, however, are more optimistic that inflation will start to rise.
The latest consumer confidence survey from January shows that 45 percent of households expect inflation of above 2 percent but below 5 percent a year from now while only 14 percent expect inflation of less than 2 percent. It is interesting to note that a full 30 percent of households expect inflation of over 5 percent.
Households' expectations have clearly been affected by the actions of the Japanese government and the BOJ, with inflation expectations jumping by a full 8 percentage points in April 2013, the same month the BOJ announced its aggressive easing campaign.
Surveys from January 2013 showed that only 27 percent of households expected inflation of 2-5 percent while 22 percent expected inflation of less than 2 percent. Only 11 percent expected inflation to exceed 5 percent.
LIST OF LAST WEEK'S CENTRAL BANK DECISIONS:
- Sri Lanka holds rates, sees minimal hit from Fed tapering
- BOJ holds QE target, doubles bank and growth facilities
- Turkey holds rates, repeats tight stance till inflation falls
- Hungary cuts rate by 15 bps, to review stance in March
- Chile cuts by 25 bps, further cuts may be necessary
- Namibia holds rate, slow credit by targeted measures
TABLE WITH LAST WEEK'S MONETARY POLICY DECISIONS:
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This week (Week 9) seven central banks will be deciding on monetary policy, including Israel, Angola, Brazil, Albania, Fiji, Egypt and Moldova.
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