Central Banks Go on the Offensive

ECB and People’s Bank of China cut rates, while the Bank of England resumes bond purchases.

Global central banks went on the offensive against the faltering world economy, cutting interest rates and increasing bond buying as the recent round of international stimulus gathers pace.

In a 45-minute span, the European Central Bank and People’s Bank of China cut their benchmark borrowing costs, while the Bank of England raised the size of its asset-purchase program. They acted two weeks after the Federal Reserve expanded a program lengthening the maturity of bonds it holds and Chairman Ben S. Bernanke indicated more measures will be taken if needed.

“The actions had the look and feel of a coordinated global easing campaign,” said Nick Kounis, head of macro research at ABN Amro Bank NV in Amsterdam. “The central banks are trying to arrest the synchronized slowdown in global economic growth that has taken shape.”

Policy makers are reacting as Europe’s debt crisis persists, U.S. hiring slows and emerging markets soften. The jury is out on whether the additional monetary medicine will work five years after central banks began to dole it out to battle the financial crisis or if more will be needed.

The Bank of England began today’s stimulus push, announcing it would restart buying bonds two months after stopping as it tries to pull its economy from recession. Governor Mervyn King and colleagues raised their asset-purchase target by 50 billion pounds ($78 billion) to 375 billion pounds, meeting the forecast of most economists. They said the economy will likely remain sluggish after contracting in the past two quarters.

Within a minute of that decision, the People’s Bank of China cut its key interest rate for the second time in a month and allowed banks to offer bigger discounts on their own lending costs. The one-year lending rate will fall by 31 basis points and the one-year deposit rate will drop by 25 basis points effective tomorrow. Banks can offer loans of as much as 30 percent less than benchmark rates.

The world’s largest emerging market is acting more aggressively to promote growth that may have decelerated for a sixth quarter. Officials moved after two manufacturing indexes fell in June and ahead of a report on second-quarter gross domestic product, due on July 13.

At 1:45 p.m. in Frankfurt, the ECB also cut its main rate by 25 basis points to a record low of 0.75 percent and said it will no longer pay anything on overnight deposits as it tries to prevent the sovereign debt turmoil from driving the 17-nation euro economy into recession. Both actions were anticipated by economists.

While President Mario Draghi has questioned the economic impact of lower interest rates, they could make it easier for banks to borrow and lend as well as build on the confidence boost euro-area governments delivered last week when they took measures toward a deeper economic union.

Asked today if there was any coordination with other central banks, Draghi said there “wasn’t any communication beyond the normal exchange of views.”

The steps by the U.K. and euro area will push JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s average interest rate for developed economies to a crisis-era low of about 0.5 percent and add to the balance sheets of major central banks, which have already swelled 40 percent since mid-2007.

Today’s shifts come after the Fed expanded its Operation Twist program on June 20 to lower longer-term interest rates in financial markets. Data tomorrow is forecast to confirm the weakest quarter for U.S. employment in more than two years, evidence the world’s biggest economy has lost momentum.

The central banks of Australia, the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Vietnam and Israel also cut rates in June, while the Swiss National Bank is buying euros to defend its franc ceiling.

Forcing central bankers’ hands is Europe’s debt crisis, which has caused the weakest patch of global growth since the end of the 2009 recession. All but three of the 26 developed economies monitored by JPMorgan will see inflation undershooting their central banks’ targets by the end of the year, according to New York-based economist Joseph Lupton.

Monetary policy makers have been at the forefront of efforts to insulate economies from the crises that began to rage in August 2007. They have sometimes acted together, most famously in October 2008 when they cut interest rates in unison. Last year they intervened to check a soaring yen and six of them made it cheaper for banks to borrow dollars in emergencies.

It remains to be seen whether the additional measures can bolster growth. The Bank for International Settlements said last month that central banks are confronting the limits of their ability to aid recoveries and risk creating longer-term problems for their economies.


Bloomberg News

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