Major central banks on the brink of peak rates
The central banks of some of the world’s biggest economies are now widely considered to have reached, or be at the brink of reaching, the highest level they will take interest rates.
The European Central Bank last week signalled that its Governing Council feels rates may have got there.
Following a long deliberation over its updated forecasts for inflation and economic growth and what they should mean for monetary policy, the ECB hiked its key rate to a record high of 4 percent. While its accompanying statement by no means ruled out further hikes completely, it said rates were at levels that if “maintained for a sufficiently long duration, will make a substantial contribution to the timely return of inflation to the target.”
The short-term inflation outlook remains grim, and set to hit households hard. ECB staff macroeconomic projections for the euro area now see inflation averaging 5.6 percent this year, from a prior forecast of 5.4 percent, and 3.2 percent next year, from a previous forecast of 3 percent.
But the forecast for 2025, one of its most closely watched metrics measuring the medium-term outlook, was nudged down from 2.2 percent to 2.1 percent. Discussion will now shift to how long rates will plateau at the current level,economists including Berenberg’s Holger Schmieding, said following the announcement.
Analysts at Deutsche Bank said they saw no cuts before September 2024, implying a 12-month pause at 4 percent.
Challenges to this remain, however, with one being the prospect of significantly higher oil prices. Crude futures recently climbed to a 10-month high, which could impact goods costs and inflation expectations in Europe as well as the US.
Raphael Thuin, head of capital markets strategies at Tikehau Capital, said that despite consensus around the end of the ECB hiking cycle, “an alternative and less optimistic scenario remains possible: inflation is surprisingly strong and resilient, and appears to be structural.”
“Recent disinflationary factors (goods and commodity prices) seem to be running out of steam … There is a risk that, in the absence of a more convincing downward trend in prices, the ECB will consider its battle against inflation unfinished, with the risk of further rate hikes on the horizon,” Thuin said in a note.
“In this respect, macroeconomic data developments over the coming weeks will be decisive.”
Fed Chair Jerome Powell made clear last month that further hikes were on the table, and the central bank is deeply concerned about inflation experiencing a fresh acceleration if financial conditions ease.
In its June forecast, which is likely to be revised in an updated projection this week, it did not see inflation reaching 2.1 percent until 2025.
Monthly data shows continuing price pressures. The consumer price index rose at its fastest monthly rate this year in August, mainly driven by energy prices, and was 3.7 percent year-on-year. Core inflation came in at 0.3 percent on a monthly basis and 4.3 percent on an annual basis, while producer price inflation showed the biggest monthly gain since June 2022.
But markets are all-but certain the US Federal Reserve will hold rates steady in September, and are split on whether another hike will be delivered this year. In a Reuters poll of economists, 20 percent expected at least one.
“Given the relatively strong economic data and sticky inflation, [the Fed] will maintain a hawkish bias,” said economists at J Safra Sarasin.
The Federal Open Market Committee “will probably leave a final hike by year end in its updated dot plot, even though we don’t think they will follow ultimately through with it.”
The dot plot refers to the interest rate projections released quarterly by Fed policymakers. – CNBC