Are We Nearing the Peak of Central Bank Liquidity?Learn more about this firm
Monetary policy will be back in full force in September. It will start with a meeting of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) during the first week of the month, at which macroeconomic projections will be presented; this meeting will be followed in close succession by meetings of the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan in mid-September. The Bank of England and the Swedish and Russian central banks will also meet in the middle of September.
By the end of 2017, the Fed is likely to start reducing its portfolio of US Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities through a previously announced procedure in which it will reduce the amount of the proceeds from maturing bonds that it reinvests. We expect the Fed to reduce its $4.5 trillion balance sheet by approximately one half over the next few years.
The ECB may not be in such a hurry, but it will also face a time of reckoning. Given the economic upturn in the euro zone, it is becoming increasingly hard for the ECB to justify its expansionary policy. The projected economic trend could prompt ECB President Mario Draghi to give the long-awaited signal for tapering (a gradual reduction in bond purchases). This would be the perfect time to do so, since Germany’s foremost protector of the constitution, the Federal Constitutional Court, has referred a case on the ECB’s asset purchase programme (quantitative easing) to the European Court of Justice for review on the grounds that it violates the ban on using the central bank’s deep pockets to directly finance governments. And no wonder. In the case of Germany and Portugal, the ECB is already buying up almost one-third of new issues. The Eurosystem’s balance sheet has almost quadrupled since 2007. As for the sequence of the withdrawal, the ECB’s Governing Council will presumably adhere to its current guidelines. In other words, a “QE exit” will likely come before interest-rate hikes. As a result, the first step in this direction is not expected until later in 2018.
While the Bank of Japan is likely to continue to pursue its expansionary policy, central-bank liquidity in aggregate could peak in 2018. In that case, the peak liquidity flood could also turn into the peak of “financial repression”. This has been a phase of unnaturally low – indeed, in many parts of the world, negative – yields on top-rated government bonds during which investors unwillingly have helped finance ministers reduce government debt. As financial repression abates, it certainly does not mean that in the foreseeable future government bonds will offer decent returns again – even after deducting the loss in purchasing power (i.e., inflation). The hunt for returns should continue, even though yields should peak.
And don’t forget: Geopolitics could also provide an excuse for the monetary authorities to wait for a while before beginning the descent. However, the closer we get to descending from the peak, the more uneasy the markets will become.
The material contains the current opinions of the author, which are subject to change without notice. Statements concerning financial market trends are based on current market conditions, which will fluctuate. References to specific securities and issuers are for illustrative purposes only and are not intended to be, and should not be interpreted as, recommendations to purchase or sell such securities. Forecasts and estimates have certain inherent limitations, and are not intended to be relied upon as advice or interpreted as a recommendation.
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