Central banks ‘not out of the woods’ in inflation battle

Central banks ‘not out of the woods’ in inflation battle

Central banks 'not out of the woods' in inflation battle - BIS
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The tower of the headquarters of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) is seen in Basel, Switzerland March 18, 2021. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

By Marc Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – Global central bank umbrella body, the BIS, eased its hardline stance on inflation on Monday, calling recent progress encouraging, but stressed that central banks were not out of the woods yet.

Global economic data has begun to show a clear trend that multi-decade highs in inflation — caused by the rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic and spike in energy prices — are in the rear-view mirror.

Money markets are pricing in over 100 basis points of rate cuts from both the U.S. Federal Reserve and European Central Bank next year, and have shifted the expected timing of the first moves firmly into the first half of 2024.

The pace of that shift has left some policymakers uncomfortable and for the Bank for International Settlements, which hosts behind-closed-doors meetings of the world’s top central bankers, there is a balance to strike.

“The outlook has improved but the key point we have to bear in mind is that we are not out of the woods and that the job has to be done,” Claudio Borio, the head of BIS’s monetary and economics unit, said.

Central banks are proving “laser focused” in bringing inflation down, Borio added, but in a further sign of the softening rhetoric he said they needed to be “flexible and nimble” if a slowing global economy required it.

“Unfolding of credit risk” following the huge rise in borrowing costs was still to come, he said, although the measured reaction of markets to October’s rise in Middle East tensions after Hamas’ attack on Israel was reassuring.

The quarterly report from the BIS, often dubbed the central bankers’ central bank, looked a number of specific issues bubbling under the surface in global finance.

One of those was a corner of the consumer credit market known as buy-now-pay-later, or BNPL, which has grown in popularity in recent years.

BNPL, which offers payments by instalments for people to buy clothes and other products, has faced crackdowns in some major economies already.

The BIS said the sector, which remains relatively small and no threat to the wider financial system, thrived because of very low interest rates.

“It remains to be seen how well they will do in this much more challenging environment, and I think it will be reasonable to conjecture that once you don’t have this favourable combination, that they will not do as well,” said Hyun Song Shin, head of research at the BIS.

Speaking more broadly, Borio reiterated that the era of ultra-low interest rates had been “left behind”, although there was clearly a tug-of-war about where markets and central bankers think interest rates will start to level out.

Central banks “are well aware of the risks and they will keep interest rates up as long as it is needed in order to get inflation down,” Borio said. “We will see exactly how long that will have to be”.

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