Have Global Interest Rates Peaked?

With the ECB adamant that it will continue to raise rates this would seem to be the most untimely of questions, but there are now signs that this may well be the case.

Firstly this in Bloomberg today:

Federal Reserve to Cut Rates in 2007, Corporate Bond Sales Show

Thinking about refinancing your mortgage in the U.S.? Wait a year. Considering a certificate of deposit? Sign up now. While economists debate whether the Federal Reserve will cut its target interest rate for overnight loans between banks from 5.25 percent, investors have already decided the central bank will reduce borrowing costs next year. Nowhere is that clearer than in the market for floating-rate notes, whose interest payments rise and fall with central bank policy. Sales of so-called floaters are slowing for the first time since the Fed started raising interest rates in June 2004. They’ve fallen to $21.5 billion in September from a monthly average of $35 billion this year through August, according to data compiled by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Now one swallow doesn’t make a summer, and it is early days yet, but take a look at ten year US Treasury Bonds:

U.S. 10-year Treasuries fell, halting a five-day rally, before a report today forecast to show consumer confidence gained this month.The gains ended on speculation yields at their lowest since March will deter some investors. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note rose 2 basis points, or 0.02 percentage point, to 4.56 percent as of 6:37 a.m. in New York, according to bond broker Cantor Fitzgerald LP. The price of the 4 7/8 security due August 2016 fell 5/32, or $1.56 per $1,000 face amount, to 102 15/32. Bond yields move inversely to prices.

So today we have nudged the yield back up a little, but the rate has been dropping steadily since March. And yesterday Bloomberg were being even more explicit:
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Is Trichet’s Optimism Justified?

Our next anniversary guest post is from the estimable Mark Thoma.

The Fed and the ECB have different economic outlooks for the U.S. and European economies. For instance, the Financial Times reports:

Fed and ECB diverge on economic outlook, by Chris Giles and Ralph Atkins, Financial Times: The Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank painted contrasting pictures of the US and European economies… Together, the statement by Jean-Claude Trichet, ECB president, and the speech by Mr Bernanke indicated that European interest rates were likely to rise while there was no urgency for further US rate rises.
Mr Bernanke gave an optimistic assessment of the US economy’s ability to continue rapid economic growth without triggering further inflationary pressures. … Across the Atlantic, Mr Trichet announced big upward revisions to the ECB’s inflation forecasts … and called for “strong vigilance” to defend price stability – code words used to signal an interest rate increase in early October. … Mr Trichet’s comments followed the unexpected strength of the eurozone recovery in the second quarter, and ECB fears about the impact on inflation
in 2007… Eurozone consumers’ fears about inflation increased in August to the highest level since the introduction of euro notes and coins in 2002…

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The Most Bizarre Monetary Policy DecisionOf Recent Times?

This was Wolfgang Munchau writing in the Financial Times a week ago:

The pre-announced interest rate rise that the European Central Bank is due to agree this Thursday must rank as one of the most bizarre monetary policy decisions of recent times. The economic recovery in the eurozone remains fragile, as last week’s German confidence indicators have shown. Even the ECB’s own forecast for headline inflation is relatively optimistic, while core inflation remained unchanged at 1.5 per cent in October.”

and he issued a warning:

“It is still not too late to propose ECB reform as part of the next treaty revision. For as long as EU leaders maintain the status quo, they have the central bank they deserve.

Central bank independence seems to be once more ‘a l’ordre du jour’, and the ECB may well live to find to its cost that there is one thing worse than actually playing the game, it’s playing the game and losing. Now why?
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Crying Wolf At The ECB?

The always interesting Paul de Grauwe has a piece in the FT today (subscription only unfortunately, but he does collect all his FT pieces on his website here, so it will doubtless appear eventually). Basically he is arguing a view which I agree with: in its enthusiasm for raising interest rates the ECB is overdoing the inflation problem, and not by a little:

Strange things are happening in Frankfurt these days. Barely two weeks ago the European Central Bank issued its monthly bulletin containing an analysis of the perspectives for inflation in the euro area. In a nutshell the story was the following.

Yes, yearly inflation has increased to 2.5 per cent (October 2005) and this is a source of concern for a central bank that has promised to keep inflation below 2 per cent. But, as we all know, a central bank that targets the rate of inflation should be forward-looking and base its interest rate decisions on the expected future rate of inflation. The remarkable thing about the analysis is that, after voicing its concern about current inflation exceeding 2 per cent, it came to the conclusion that the perspectives for future inflation were favourable.

Paul de Grauwe’s work is generally highly commendable, and this presentation of his on the pluses and minuses of the euro is a really good background primer.

Promises, Promises, But More Than A Technical Detail

Well the eurozone government deficit problem has hit the agenda with a thud again in the last few days. Yesterday the FT ran a story about how the ECB has decided that it will not accept government paper (bonds) in the future from any country which has not maintained at least an A- rating from one or more of the principal debt assesment agencies. (Dave Altig at MacroBlog has also covered the story here, and Nouriel Roubini here). Today the FT has another story about how Trichet has confirmed the policy, and how the Commission too plans to get tough (well they would, wouldn’t they, since this may now become a credibility auction).

This topic must appear appaulingly technical and yawn-provoking to the non-economist. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. Let me explain a bit.
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Rodrigo Rato: Wagging The Finger, Or Wagging The Dog?

I have already posted on my own blog about what I see as the surreal consequences which might follow from this wish becoming a reality. If what I think happens next to the Spanish economy really does happen – and I have no doubt whatsoever that the housing bubble will crash one or other of these days – then the situation will be a bit like having Menem at the head of an IMFwhich is telling Argentina that they should have thought about the consequences before getting into all that trouble……..

My interest here today, however, is more the European dimension of this process. Firstly, if it is true, as the FT seems to contend, that the European candidature will carry the field, what does this tell us about the IMF? Secondly, maybe focussing on the IMF managing directorship is to miss the point. Maybe the real horse-trading is over future control at the ECB. In other words: will this be a case of wagging the finger, or wagging the dog?
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Parmalat Update

Well, well, what do you know: Paramalat’s real debt is much bigger than was first thought. What a surprise. According to the Financial Times Parmalat’s gross debt now stands between ?14.5bn and ?14.8bn ($18.08bn-$18.46bn). At the same time its main Italian operations barely made a gross operating profit last year. Meantime Italy’s unions are threatening a strike iif the government reduces the regulatory role of the central bank. The dispute has arisen as a result of the Parmalat scandal, which the government blames partly on a failure of oversight at the central bank. As a solution the finance ministry wants to reform financial market regulation in Italy so that the central bank would no longer supervise corporate bond issuance and competition in Italy’s banking sector. The unions object to this.

Actually this was meant to be a quick post, but while writing it I cannot help reaching the conclusion that Italy may be begining to fall apart. Just wait till you read this.
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