Contemplating Rate Hikes

The market mood has definitely soured and risk appetite has faltered.  This is good for the USD but bad for relatively high yielding/commodity risk trades. The USD is set to retain a firm tone over the near term even if is temporary, which I believe it is.  

Whether it’s profit taking on crowded risk trades, a lot of good news having already been priced in, fears that other countries will follow Brazil’s example of taxing capital inflows to dampen currency strength, or a reaction to weaker economic data, it is clear that there are many reasons to be cautious. 

It is also unlikely to be coincidental that the rise in risk aversion and drop in equity markets is happening at a time when many central banks are contemplating exit strategies and when many investors are pondering the timing of interest rates hikes globally following the moves by Australia and Israel. 

One of the reasons for the worsening in market mood is that some parts of the global economy may not be ready for rate hikes.  Certainly there is little chance of a US rate hike on the horizon and perhaps not until 2011 given the prospects of a sub par economic recovery.  This projection was given support by the surprise drop in US consumer confidence in October.

It is not just the US that is unlikely to see a quick reversal in monetary policy.  As indicated by the bigger than expected decline in annual M3 money supply growth in the eurozone, which hit its lowest level since the series began in 1980, as well as the drop in bank loans to the private sector, the ECB will be in no hurry to wind down its non-standard monetary policy measures. 

The chances of any shift in policy at next week’s ECB meeting are minimal, with the ECB’s cautious stance emboldened by the subdued money supply and credit data.  As long as EUR/USD remains below 1.50 ECB President Trichet is also unlikely to step up his rhetoric on the strength of the EUR.  

Although the major economies of US, Eurozone, Japan and UK are likely to maintain current policies for a long while yet, the stance is not shared elsewhere.  The Reserve Bank of India did not raise interest rates following its meeting this week but edged in this direction by requiring banks to buy more T-bills. Other central banks in the region are set to move in this direction.

In terms of developed economies, Norway was the latest to join the club hiking rates by 25bps and adding to the growing list of countries starting the process of policy normalisation.   Australia is set to hike rates again at next week’s meeting although a 50bps hike looks unlikely, with a 25bps move more likely. 

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