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.

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: 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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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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Deposit rate lift-off, markets and the ECB

Markets have been pricing in an early lift-off of the ECB’s deposit rate. The ECB argues that, considering its inflation outlook, this is not warranted. This difference in view could reflect a loss of central bank credibility. More likely is that market participants and the ECB disagree on the inflation outlook. Another explanation is that investors focus on the distribution of possible inflation outcomes and are concerned about the risks of inflation surprising to the upside.

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Euro vs dollar

Monetary desynchronisation: a headache to come?

Monetary desynchronisation between the US and the Eurozone seems unavoidable due to a very different performance in terms of inflation. Whether this will complicate the ECB’s task of reaching its inflation target depends, in the short run, on the impact on financial conditions in the euro area. This influence will probably be small. In the medium run, when the US tightening cycle is well underway, US domestic demand growth will be slowing down, which will weigh on imports and hence Eurozone exports to the US. This would complicate matters for the ECB if by then, inflation has not yet reached its target.

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Banque centrale européenne

Eurozone: upside risks to inflation

Although they have eased recently, high Eurozone manufacturing price pressures are fuelling analysts’ concerns that inflation could stay high for longer. There is an impression that the ECB is increasingly sympathetic for this view. This is important in the run-up to the December meeting of the Governing Council. Whether supply bottlenecks and rising input prices will have a longer-lasting effect on inflation depends on the transmission to the rest of the economy. One would expect it to be higher under a combination of strong demand, low inventory levels and long supplier delivery times. This corresponds to the current situation in the sectors producing durable consumer goods, intermediate goods and investment goods. Perhaps, inflation could surprise to the upside after all in the near term.

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ECB: accommodation with no end in sight

The new macroeconomic projections of the ECB staff provide sobering reading for savers hoping that, one day, the policy rate will be raised. It is clear that at the current juncture, certain conditions of the recently updated forward guidance on interest rates states are not met. Based on the latest ECB projections, it seems this would still be the case in 2023, even under the hypothesis of a mild scenario. The slow increase of underlying inflation would probably be considered as unsatisfactory. Savers can only hope that the interaction between growth and inflation will evolve or that the ECB projections turn out to be too cautious.

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Illustration article Agefi septembre 2021

The apparent and hidden cost of States’ lack of fiscal space

The sharp increase in public sector debt due to the pandemic was an inevitable consequence of the automatic fiscal stabilizers, on account of their role. This was suitable and even essential, given the key role of government measures to support economic agents and boost demand. Yet, this increase raises the issue of the future orientation of fiscal policy.

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Fed adapts forward guidance, will ECB do the same?

In the early phase of QE, financial markets perceive central bank forward guidance on asset purchases and on policy rates to be closely linked. This generates a mutual reinforcement of both instruments. At a later stage, there may be mounting concern that the signalling works in the other direction as well. Scaling back asset purchases could be interpreted as a signal that a rate hike will follow soon once the net purchases have ended. In the US, Jerome Powell has been very clear that tapering would not signal a change in the outlook for the federal funds rate. In the Eurozone, both types of guidance are explicitly linked. This may complicate the scaling back of asset purchases in view of the impact on rate expectations. On the occasion of the decision on the PEPP, it might be worth to consider revisiting the link between APP guidance and rate guidance.

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Federal Reserve: enhanced credibility

More FOMC members than before are projecting a rate hike in 2022 and Jerome Powell made it clear during his press conference that tapering would happen when circumstances would justify this. Yet, 10 year Treasury yields, after an initial increase, ended up trading below the pre-FOMC meeting level. Break-even inflation also declined. Bond investors seem to share the view of the Fed that the current elevated inflation will be a transient phenomenon. This also explains the decline in the price of gold. The negative reaction of equity markets reflects an increase in the required risk premium and shows a certain unease about the impact of a less accommodative monetary policy on the growth outlook.

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The ECB: under pressure

Judging by the recent data, the acronym PEPP that was introduced last year when the ECB launched its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme, could also be seen as a reference to the pandemic’s exceptional price pressures.  The upcoming governing council meeting and the new staff projections are eagerly awaited. Whether PEPP will be prolonged beyond March 2022 ultimately depends on the inflation data. It seems likely that the ECB will postpone its decision until after the summer in order to have a better view of the inflation outlook.

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Central bank inflation forecasts: ‘Trust us, we know better’

Strong belief in the quality of central bank economic forecasts enhances monetary transmission and hence the effectiveness of monetary policy. In the current environment of rising inflationary pressures, the belief of market participants that central banks have better forecasting skills should limit the rise in inflation expectations. Research casts doubt on whether such a belief is warranted. Although Fed staff projections tend to have lower forecast errors than private sector forecasts, the difference has narrowed since the 1990s. In the Eurozone, forecast errors for inflation of the Eurosystem/ECB staff projections were equal to those of the Survey of Professional Forecasters.

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Central banks and climate change

Central banks have become increasingly aware of the impact of climate change on price and financial stability. Moreover, by accepting collateral or via asset purchases, central banks are taking explicitly climate risks on their balance sheets. At the European Central Bank, climate change has become integral part of the monetary strategy review launched in 2020. A major question is whether climate objectives should be pursued in the conduct of monetary policy. The fear is that it could be seen as “mission creep”. At a minimum, one would expect the ECB to ask for more disclosure concerning climate-related factors for assets held on its balance sheet. But the question to what extent market neutrality should be abandoned in favour of greener objectives is still open. The outcome of the review should be announced in September 2021.

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