Friday December 08, 2023

Central banks raise rates again as Fed drives inflation fight

By News Desk
September 23, 2022

FRANKFURT: A host of central banks from across the world raised interest rates again on Thursday, following the US Federal Reserve in a global fight against inflation that is sending shockwaves through financial markets and the economy.

Japan, the outlier among major developed economies, kept interest rates steady on Thursday only to be punished as traders pushed the yen to a record low against the dollar - prompting the first intervention by Japanese authorities to support the currency since 1998.

The Fed set the pace on Wednesday with a 0.75 percent rate hike, its fifth increase since March, and a half dozen central banks from Indonesia to Norway followed suit with rises of similar or identical size within hours, often issuing guidance pointing to more action to come.

They are fighting inflation rates ranging from Switzerland's 3.5 percent to nearly 10 percent in Britain - the result of a rebound in demand since the pandemic subsided accompanied by sluggish supply, especially from China, and rising prices for fuel and other commodities in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Central bankers were adamant that curbing runaway price growth was their main task at present but they were bracing for their actions to take a toll on the economy, as rising borrowing costs typically dampen investment, hiring and consumption.

"We have got to get inflation behind us," Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told reporters after Fed policymakers unanimously agreed to raise the central bank's benchmark overnight interest rate to a range of 3.00 percent-3.25 percent. "I wish there were a painless way to do that. There isn't."

The Fed said it expected the economy to slow to a crawl and unemployment to rise to a degree historically associated with a recession - a prospect looming ever larger in the euro zone too and seen as highly likely in Britain.

The Bank of England raised rates and said it would continue to "respond forcefully, as necessary" to inflation, despite the economy entering recession. The BoE met most market expectations as it lifted its key rate by 0.5 percentage points to 2.25 percent, repeating its August move that had already taken borrowing costs to a 14-year high.

"For borrowers, this will mean significantly higher costs yet again and yet still no real control on the soaring cost of living," Emma-Lou Montgomery, an associate director at Fidelity International said.

World stocks fell close to a two-year low and emerging market currencies plummeted as investors prepared for a world where growth is scarce and credit harder to get.

Market participants have also pushed up their rate expectations for the European Central Bank, which is all but certain to hike again on Oct. 23. It is now seen taking its own interest rate to almost 3 percent next year from 0.75 percent now.

Japan opted to hold its rates near zero to support the country's fragile economic recovery, but many analysts believe its position to be increasingly untenable given the global shift to higher borrowing costs.

"There's absolutely no change to our stance of maintaining easy monetary policy for the time being. We won't be raising interest rates for some time," Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said after the policy decision.

But the yen plummeted against the dollar following the decision, forcing Japanese authorities to step in and buy the domestic currency in a bid to stem the slide.

Switzerland and Norway also sprang hefty interest rate hikes on Thursday, two days after a super-sized increase in Sweden. The Swiss central bank raised its benchmark interest rate to 0.5 percent, while Norway lifts rates to 2.25 percent.

South Africa´s central bank raised its benchmark interest rate by a hefty 0.75 percentage points again as it battles to control inflation. In Asia, Indonesia raised rate by 50 basis points to 4.25 percent and the Philippines and Taiwan also tightened monetary policy. Hong Kong raised its base rate by 75 basis points (bps) to 3.5 percent,

Meanwhile, Turkey's central bank continued with its unorthodox policy on Thursday by delivering another surprise interest rate cut despite inflation running at more than 80 percent, sending the lira to an all-time low against the dollar. The central bank lowered its benchmark rate to 12 from 13 percent and blamed skyrocketing consumer prices on external factors such as the global jump in the cost of energy and food caused by Russia´s invasion of Ukraine.