Back in mid-July, there was much febrile speculation UK interest rates would finally start rising before the end of this year. Amidst signs of stronger US growth, and predictions the Federal Reserve would raise borrowing costs over the next few months, it was widely assumed the Bank of England would follow suit.
Last Thursday, though, as the UK base rate remained at 0.5pc for the seventy-eighth successive month, speculation of a pre-year-end rate rise dissolved, as some of us predicted. Most analysts now forecast, once again, the Bank of England won’t make a move before March 2016.
Interest rates are going up! Or are they? Is the era of ultra-cheap money, on both sides of the Atlantic, about to end? Or is this renewed bout of rate-rise speculation another false alarm?
Janet Yellen, who chairs the mighty Federal Reserve, is clearly signaling a rise in US interest rates soon – a move the Bank of England would probably follow. “Prospects are favorable for further improvement in the US labor market and economy more broadly,” Yellen boomed last Wednesday.
“Storm clouds gather over emerging markets”, boomed The Financial Times’ influential leader column in mid-January. This inclement headline was whipped up after the paper choose to focus on a “disorderly adjustment scenario” outlined across just a few paragraphs of the latest edition of The World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects. The 150-page tome is, in large part, about the Western world, not emerging markets. The question at its heart is whether the “advanced” economies, having remained sluggish since the 2008 sub-prime collapse, are now staging a proper return to growth.
“For the first time in five years,” reads the opening lines of the World Bank’s report, “there are indications a self-sustaining recovery has begun among high-income countries – suggesting they may now join developing nations as a second engine of global economic growth”.
Economies across Africa and Asia, in other words, along with the emerging markets of Latin America and BNE’s home region of Eastern Europe and Eurasia, are performing quite well. These nascent capitalist societies are the “engine of global economic growth”, says the World Bank.
Financial markets remain fixated on the question of whether or not America’s political classes will impose an entirely avoidable disaster on themselves, their fellow US citizens and, by extension, the rest of the world. While there are signs of rapprochement this weekend, Congress may yet fail to agree a new “debt-ceiling” limit. That could spark a world-wide market meltdown, so upending the fragile global recovery.
Those on the Democrat side of the aisle feel they’re on solid ground. The party controls both the White House and the Senate. President Obama’s sweeping healthcare reforms have been extensively debated, passed into law and ratified. And last year he was re-elected, no less, having campaigned on a ticket featuring this policy.
“As a practitioner of markets, I love this stuff,” said Stanley Druckenmiller. “This stuff is fantastic for every rich person. It’s the biggest distribution of wealth from the poor and the middle classes to the rich ever.”
Druckenmiller is among Wall Street’s most fabled investors. He started Duquesne Capital in the early 1980s then teamed up with George Soros, running the legendary Quantum Fund. Together they made billions by “breaking the Bank of England”, shorting the pound in massive volumes and forcing sterling out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism. That was in 1992.
The quotation above is more recent. Druckenmiller said these words on CNBC television last Thursday and the “stuff” was quantitative easing. While extremely critical of America’s $85bn-a-month money-printing habit, Druckenmiller is at least decent enough to acknowledge that, as a wealthy chap with a bucket-load of equities, the Federal Reserve’s asset-buying programme has made him even richer.