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Interest Rates Or Growth; What Gives?

Written by A Forex View From Afar on Tuesday, June 16, 2009

With the recent green-shots in the global economy taking root it seems, the major central banks now have to face a difficult situation; keeping the yields on long-term bonds at relative low values.

Most market participants consider that inflation will pick up strongly in the coming quarters, in-line with the major central banks currently running strong expansionary policies. Historically speaking, most times that a central bank intervenes in the debt market inflationary expectations rise at a strong pace – Japan of the 1990’s being the only exception.

As traders price in high inflation they build in to fair value the requirement of additional yields on Treasuries, especially on the longer-term maturities, to counter the effects of money printing and asset depreciation. However, this has negative effects in the real economy, not only do yields on Treasuries rises, but on every financial instrument linked to the bond market; corporate bonds, and especially consumer and housing credit, including mortgage rates.

Consumer and housing credit pose the biggest threat to any global recovery; consumers pay more on their mortgages and credit costs, and that leaves less money to spend or save. Higher interest rates are directly linked to higher default rates as well.

For now, the major central banks have two big options to use as an exit strategy. The first would be to increase the quantitative easing programs, something that does not seem likely, since almost no central bank would obtain a substantial increase in their available funds at this point in time. Even a small increase would make most market participants think the bank had its hands tied.

The other option a central bank has is to pledge that it will maintain overnight interest rates at low levels for a longer period of time than may seem prudent, something that further fuels inflation expectations, whilst trying to address the confidence requirement that consumers need to borrow, whilst at the same time creating the pool of liquidity that regional and commercial banks can dip in to at fair value rates.

However, before any central banks has to search for an exit strategy, the global economy has to show some solid signs of growth, and maybe take the lead from the emerging markets who look to be capable of drawing on the higher savings rate to get consumers confident, and to get rates contained.

The Fed looks to be the region that will have an interest rate headache for the longest period; the printing, and key to this, the subsequent re-buying, of new notes, has inflationary pressures inherently built in. Getting out of a quantative easing program is very likely to be at the expense of forward growth, and at the expense of affordable consumer interest rates.

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