Business World

Monetary bodies’ tap-turning risks parching recovery


LONDON — The global recovery has powered through into the new year, bringing with it expectatio­ns for tighter monetary policy, something that tends to be followed eventually by recession — and last time round, financial and economic shock.

Major central banks such as the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the Bank of Canada have already raised interest rates, while the European Central Bank (ECB) is moving ever closer to unwinding its own ultra-easy monetary policy.

So far, those banks have been reluctant to move rapidly, instead leaving the monetary taps open to try to drive up stubbornly low inflation and maintain growth.

“The danger is that we end up stoking bubbles which ultimately have even more disastrous longterm consequenc­es,” said Peter Dixon at Commerzban­k.

But if they tighten policy too soon — or too fast — they risk choking off the synchronis­ed global upturn that has delighted policy makers, politician­s, and vast swathes of jobless people who have finally got back into work.

If the current US economic expansion, already 102 months long, lasts another two years as many expect, it will be the longest in more than 150 years.

Already- solid US growth will be lifted this year by tax cuts, something most economists polled by Reuters say is not warranted at this late stage of the business cycle.

But it’s not just the US economy that is steaming ahead. Dozens of countries are now enjoying economic growth well above their 10-year moving averages.

HSBC economists noted in a recent report that periods in which the majority of countries are expanding at above their long-run trends tend to be associated with heightened monetary and financial risks.

“Synchronis­ed global growth has tended to occur during only three stages in each economic cycle: in the initial recovery from recession; the years immediatel­y preceding the next recession; or ahead of some sort of financial trauma,” they said.

While some individual forecaster­s have racked up impressive track records for accuracy, economists as a group consistent­ly fail to predict recessions. In a late-January survey, they said the global economy would expand 3.7% this year and 3.6% in 2019, faster than they expected in October.

“Global growth has been accelerati­ng since 2016 and all signs point to a continuous strengthen­ing of that growth, in 2018 and next year,” the IMF’s Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, told a news conference at January’s World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos.

Meanwhile, stock markets across the world repeatedly set record highs in 2017 but have had a turbulent start to the year.

“It’s hard not to see recent market turmoil as a taste of what’s to come as we enter a world in which centralban­k support for asset prices can no longer be taken for granted,” Alliance Bernstein economists told clients.

About 23% of investors believe the biggest tail risk for markets is a policy mistake by the Federal Reserve or ECB, according to a December survey by Bank of America- Merrill Lynch.

The Fed is almost certain now to raise rates three times in 2018, in line with the central bank’s own projection­s, a Reuters poll found, even though some US policy makers are still worried about weak wage inflation and overall price pressures.

The risks are increasing that it will deliver four hikes. —

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