William De Vijlder

Group Chief Economist BNP Paribas

Fiscal and monetary policy

William De Vijlder examines fiscal and monetary policy through the lens of government and central bank decisions (including the ECB, the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England), with a special focus on changes in a country’s budget balance and public sector debt.

BCE

ECB: tough talk and puzzling projections

During the press conference following the latest governing council meeting, Christine Lagarde insisted repeatedly that moving to a 50 bp rate hike versus 75 bp previously did not represent a pivot, adding that rates still have to rise significantly and at a steady pace. Consequently, the likelihood of a terminal rate higher than 3.00% has increased, which explains the jump in bond yields. The large upward revision of the inflation projections is probably another factor behind the hawkish message. Forecasting inflation several years into the future is a difficult task, even more so in the current environment. It will be interesting to see how the governing council will strike a balance between reacting to inflation data, once they have started to decline, and focusing on the ECB’s medium-term inflation projections in setting its policy.

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US Federal Reserve

Federal Reserve: how much is enough?

At which level will the Federal Reserve stop hiking the federal funds rate? The question is hugely important for activity and demand in the US economy as well as for financial markets. During his recent press conference, Fed Chair Jerome Powell remained vague about the reaction function of the FOMC but he did mention that they would be looking at real interest rates. This raises the question which inflation measure to use to move from nominal to real rates. A possible solution is to use the term structure of inflation expectations that is calculated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. Despite its significant recent increase, the real one-year Treasury yield is still below that reached during previous tightening cycles, with the exception of 2018. Against the background of elevated inflation, it is clear the tightening cycle is not about to end. 

 

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Politique monétaire

Synchronous rate hikes: a sum-of-the-parts analysis

A sum-of-the-parts analysis, which is popular in corporate finance, has made its way in the world of central banking, reflecting concern that the multitude of synchronous rate hikes could have a combined tightening effect that is larger than the sum of its parts. To the extent that inflation in a given country is largely a function of global slack, these hikes could cause an unexpectedly large decline in inflation. Rising import prices due to currency depreciation are another factor because they could force countries to tighten monetary policy. Confidence effects may also play a role, especially at the level of export-oriented companies. To address these risks, central banks could insist that synchronous rate hikes should moderate inflation expectations globally. They should also take into account the spillover effects of the actions of foreign central banks when designing their own course of action.

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Drapeau Réserve fédérale

US: vacancies, job turnover and disinflation

The tight US labour market plays a crucial role in the effort of the central bank of bringing inflation back to target. Slower growth in labour income should lead to slower demand growth, whereas smaller wage increases will ease pressure on corporate profit margins and reduce the need for companies to charge higher prices. The labour market is characterized by a dynamic interaction between job openings, unfilled vacancies, voluntary departures (quits) and layoffs. In the US, unfilled vacancies and the quits rate have started to decline and one should expect that this dynamic will gather pace, causing a slowdown in wage growth. The question remains to what extent this will bring down inflation, which is why the Federal Reserve’s policy is completely data-dependent.

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Monetary policy

The monetary cycle: from panic to perseverance to patience

In recent months, the huge and rising gap between observed and target inflation has confronted central banks with an urgency to act. It could be called the panic phase of the tightening cycle. What followed was a swift succession of significant rate increases. Tightening was frontloaded, rather than gradual, to avoid an unanchoring of inflation expectations. This perseverance phase will be followed by a long wait-and-see attitude once the terminal rate -the cyclical peak of the policy rate- will have been reached. During this patience phase of the monetary cycle, the central bank will monitor how inflation evolves. With the risk of further rate hikes having declined, the government bond market should stabilize, which can have positive spillovers to other asset classes. Likewise, the real economy may also sigh a breath of relief, given the reduction in interest rate risk, unless demand and activity would in the meantime have suffered a lot from higher interest rates.  

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William De Vijlder

Monetary policy : from theory without end to the end of theory

The last twelve months, inflation has continued to surprise to the upside, due to a combination of a series of supply shocks (covid-19, disruption and shortages, the war in Ukraine, weather conditions) and the strength of demand, which had been underestimated.

Today, the broad-based nature of inflation and its persistence are the real issues, which reduce the visibility in terms of future inflation developments. Therefore, central banks have decided to change their approach. The theory of inflation and monetary policy has been put aside, the only thing that matters are the data.

The main worry of the ECB and the Fed is that inflation expectations become unanchored and influence pricing decision of companies as well as wage negotiations. Consequently, the central banks’ overriding objective is to slow down demand growth by hiking rates, hopefully helped by the absence of new supply shocks.

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Politique monétaire

The new meaning of ‘whatever it takes’

At the Jackson Hole symposium, Fed chair Powell and Banque de France governor Villeroy de Galhau have insisted that their responsibility to deliver price stability is unconditional. . It gives a new meaning to ‘whatever it takes’. Faced with uncertainty about the persistence of elevated inflation, the Federal Reserve and the ECB will increase their policy rates to bring inflation under control, whatever the short-run cost to the economy, because not doing enough now would entail an even bigger economic cost subsequently.  Equity markets declined and bond yields moved higher. Tighter financial conditions will help the monetary tightening in achieving the desired slowdown in growth. To what extent this is reflected in the inflation dynamics to a large degree will depend on what happens to the supply side, which is beyond the control of central banks.

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ECB

ECB: into a new era

The ECB Governing Council has surprised markets by a 50 bp rate hike and by dropping its forward guidance and moving to a data-dependent tightening cycle. This may reflect unease about how quickly the euro area economy might react to the policy moves and about the consequences of uncertainty about gas supply during the winter months. Another key decision was the introduction of the Transmission Protection Instrument (TPI), a tool to address unwarranted spread widening that would weigh on the effectiveness of monetary policy transmission. The data dependency of further rate hikes and the vagueness about the triggers for using the TPI may lead to an increase of the volatility in interest rates and sovereign spreads whereby investors try to understand the ECB’s reaction function.

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European Central Bank

ECB: addressing unwarranted spread widening

Next Thursday’s meeting of the ECB Governing Council is eagerly awaited. The rate hike decision has been pre-announced so the more important question is whether the new tool to address unwarranted sovereign spread widening will be unveiled. The rationale for such an instrument is well understood but its design and use raise several questions. One is easy to answer. To avoid a conflict with the monetary policy stance, bond purchases by the central bank would need to be sterilized. The others are more challenging. Where is the threshold to call a spread widening ‘unwarranted’? Should the ECB be clear or ambiguous on this threshold and on its reaction when it would be reached? The final question concerns moral hazard and, hence, conditionality. When the ECB intervenes to address unwarranted spread widening, what are governments supposed to do in return in terms of fiscal policy?

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Central banks

Central banks: the need and courage to act

Elevated inflation, if left unaddressed, could cause a de-anchoring of inflation expectations, an increase in risk premia, greater price distortion and hence longer-term costs for the economy. Although at first glance, central banks face a dilemma -hiking interest rates to lower inflation at the risk of causing an increase in unemployment or focusing on the labour market and accepting the risk that inflation stays high for longer-, they can only choose between acting swiftly or face an even bigger challenge later to bring inflation back under control. Recent statements by officials of the Federal Reserve, the ECB and the Bank of England acknowledge the need to act but their decisions and guidance are very different and reflect the differences in the macro environment.     

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Federal Reserve

Federal Reserve: when will it stop hiking?

The FOMC has started a new tightening cycle and its members project 6 additional increases in the federal funds rate this year and 4 more in 2023. This hawkish stance is unsurprising. After all, the policy rate is very low, inflation is exceptionally high and the economy is strong. Given the Fed’s dual mandate, the pace and extent of rate hikes will depend on the evolution of inflation as well as the unemployment rate. Previous tightening cycles suggest that concerns about the risk of an increase in the unemployment rate have played an important role in the decision to stop hiking. The central bank will have to hope that inflation has dropped sufficiently by the time that this risk would re-emerge.

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European Central Bank

ECB: enhanced policy optionality

Since its launch, the ECB’s asset purchase programme has had, through various transmission channels, a significant impact on financial markets, activity and inflation. In recent months, doubts about the positive effects of additional purchases and concerns about possible negative consequences have increased. Against this background, the ECB has cut the link between the timing of the end of net asset purchases and the rate lift-off. This is a welcome decision that increases the governing council’s optionality. The new staff macroeconomic projections remind us of the pervasive uncertainty we are facing. In such an environment, monetary policy can be nothing else than data-dependent.  

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ECB

ECB: rules and a lot of discretion

Based on Christine Lagarde’s latest press conference, it is clear that the ECB’s Governing Council view on the inflation outlook has evolved quite significantly. Since the December meeting, upside risks to inflation have increased, raising unanimous concern within the Council. Financial markets interpreted this as a signal that the first rate hike might come earlier than previously expected and bond yields moved significantly higher. The ECB’s forward guidance, which can also be considered as a description of its reaction function, suggests a rule-based approach to setting interest rates with clear conditions in terms of inflation outlook and recent price developments. In reality, a lot of judgment will be used as well. This makes perfect sense given the many uncertainties surrounding the outlook, although it makes the outcome less predictable. With this caveat in mind, we expect a first 25bp rate hike in September, to be followed by a similar increase in December.

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US Federal Reserve

US monetary policy outlook: more questions than answers

In his press conference last week, Fed chairman Jerome Powell was very clear. Based on the FOMC’s two objectives –inflation and maximum employment- the data warrant to start hiking interest rates in March and, probably, to move swiftly thereafter. In doing so, it will be “led by the incoming data and the evolving outlook”. This data-dependency reflects a concern of tightening too much and makes monetary policy harder to predict. The faster the Fed tightens, the higher the likelihood of having it take a pause to see how the economy reacts.

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Federal reserve

US: bye bye QE, here comes QT

The minutes of the December meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) have shown a distinct and sudden shift towards a more hawkish stance. The reduction of the pace of net asset purchases (tapering) has been stepped up, the first rate hike is expected to come earlier and the FOMC participants favour an early start and a faster pace of quantitative tightening (QT). Although they are more relaxed about QT than in 2017, it remains a tricky operation. The challenge will be to find the right balance between QT and the number of rate hikes in order to bring inflation under control without jeopardizing growth. History shows that achieving a soft landing is difficult.

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Bank

Central banks: Same objective, different data, different policies

It was a rare coincidence that last week, four major central banks –the Federal Reserve, the ECB, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan- held their monetary policy meeting. Considering that they all target 2% inflation, their decisions shed light on the role of differences in terms of approach as well as in the economic environment and outlook. However, they share a preparedness to react when circumstances require. Given the mounting concern about the Omicron variant, more than ever, monetary policy is data-dependent.

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EcoTVWeek - December 2021

Beyond interest rates: the role of fiscal, financial and monetary conditions

The list of factors that need to be taken into account when assessing the influence of monetary policy on growth and inflation has grown over the years. Long gone are the days that it was sufficient to look at interest rates against the background of the gap of inflation versus target and unemployment versus its natural rate. Forward guidance and management of the balance sheet (quantitative easing or tightening) are now part of the standard toolkit of central banks.

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European Central Bank

High inflation, optionality and central bank patience

The ECB insists on the need for patience before considering a policy tightening, despite current elevated levels of inflation. It believes that inflation will decline next year and that a wage-price spiral is unlikely to develop. Moreover, inflation expectations remain well anchored. Demand in the euro area is suffering from the headwind created by the jump in energy prices. Reacting to this type of inflation by tightening monetary policy would create the risk of reducing demand even more. To avoid such an outcome, it makes sense for the central bank to wait for more information to arrive, thereby adopting a risk management approach of monetary policy. When policy leeway is limited, central banks, confronted with a high degree of uncertainty, will opt for a patient stance considering the potential cost of a policy mistake. The higher their credibility, the more they can be patient.

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