December 2, 2017, 4:00 pm EST
We have big central bank meetings this week. Let’s talk about why it matters (or maybe doesn’t).
The Fed, of course, has been leading the way in the move away from global emergency policies.
But they’ve only been able to do so (raising rates and reducing their balance sheet) because major central banks in Europe and Japan have been there to pick up where the Fed left off, subsidizing the global economy (pumping up asset prices and pinning down market interest rates) through massive QE programs.
The QE in Japan and Europe has kept borrowing rates cheap (for consumers, corporates and sovereigns) and kept stocks moving higher (through outright purchases and through backstopping against shock risks, which makes people more confident to take risk).
But now economic conditions are improving in Europe and Japan. And we have fiscal stimulus coming in the U.S., into an economy with solid fundamentals. As we’ve discussed, this sets up for what should be an economic boom period in the U.S. And that will translate into hotter global growth. So the tide has turned.
With that, global interest rates, which have been suppressed by these QE programs, will start moving higher when we get signals from the key players, that an end of QE and zero interest rates is coming. The European Central Bank has already reduced its QE program and set an end date for next September. That makes the Bank of Japan the most important central bank in the world, right now. And that makes the meeting next week at the Bank of Japan the most important central bank event.
Let’s talk a bit more about, why?
Remember, last September, the Bank of Japan revamped it’s massive QE program which gave them the license to do unlimited QE. They announced that they would peg the Japanese 10-year government bond yield at ZERO.
At that time, rates were deeply into negative territory. In that respect, it was actually a removal (a tightening) of monetary stimulus in the near term — the opposite of what the market was hoping for, though few seemed to understand the concept. But the BOJ saw what was coming.
This move gave the BOJ the ability to do unlimited QE, to keep stimulating the economy, even as growth and inflation started moving well in their direction.
Shortly thereafter, the Trump effect sent U.S. yields on a tear higher. That move pulled global interest rates higher too, including Japanese rates. The Japanese 10-year yield above zero, and that triggered the BOJ to become a buyer of as many Japanese Government Bonds as necessary, to push yields back down to zero. As growth and the outlook in Japan and globally have improved, and as the Fed has continued tightening, the upward pressure on rates has continued, which has continued to trigger more and more QE from the BOJ – which only reinforces growth and the outlook.
So we have the BOJ to thank, in a pretty large part, for the sustained improvement in the global economy over the past year.
As for global rates: As long as this policy at the BOJ appears to have no end, we should expect U.S. yields to remain low, despite what the Fed is doing. But when the BOJ signals it may be time to think about the exit doors, global rates will probably take off. We’ll probably see a 10-year yield in the mid three percent area, rather than the low twos. That will likely mean mortgage rates back well above 5%, car loans several percentage points higher, credit card rates higher, etc.
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