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Column by Neil MacKinnon, Global Macro Strategist at VTB Capital, for World Economic Forum website

27 January 2015

What else can we expect from central bankers in 2015?

If one thing seems certain coming out of Davos, it is the key role of central banks and monetary policy as a means of fixing our ailing economies. The jury is still out on how much of an impact the QE programme has had over the last few years, but if recent news is anything to go by, it appears as though policy-makers still view it as a silver bullet. 
The ECB’s announcement was long overdue. Certainly, it will have to act quickly as there is little sign of any improvement in the Eurozone economies at a time when deflation could set back investment and spending plans. I believe that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Draghinomics might end up like Abenomics. In other words, the economic impact may be minimal and temporary. 
And yet, what can central bankers really hope to achieve? Are we placing too much stock in this small, tightly-knit bunch of technocrats? The fanfare last year that greeted Mark Carney’s appointment as the Governor of the Bank of England was a reminder of their new rock star status. 
It is a topic that Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff explored in a recent essay. He claimed that central bankers (most famously of all, Alan Greenspan) have grown in popularity over the years in part due to their being perceived as omniscient independent figures. The relatively successful handling of the global financial crisis has also boosted the credibility of the people at the wheel. But mostly, Rogoff believes that central-bank policy pronouncements are almost unique in having clear and predictable effects on financial markets, at least in the very short run. Every day, trillions of dollars circulating around the global economy are guided by statements made by central bankers. It is certainly true that any macroeconomic news story now quickly shifts its focus to what the data means for monetary policy. Perhaps the reason the markets didn’t go wild with the ECB announcement is because it was so inevitable and therefore factored into existing pricing. 
So if central bankers now hold the keys, what can we expect from them in 2015? The fact that Janet Yellen recently signalled her intention to shift the Fed away from playing such an active role in financial markets could be one of the boldest policy shifts in US monetary policy for decades. 
In the UK, Mark Carney will have big decisions to make on the huge capital inflows coming into the country (through the property market), and the volatility they could create (the words ‘asset bubble’ send shivers down the spines of those at the Treasury in London). Carney understands the property market is hot – particularly in London – and has fairly robust macro-prudential tools available to try and bring calm to the situation. He will need a lot of resolve but it is important he is seen to be acting. 
Given that the major central banks have already utilised zero interest rate policies and programmes of QE in recent years, it is not clear what the next option is. Helicopter money? Debt monetisation? This enters dangerous economic and financial territory. Central bankers have never had so much power, but they might have fewer hands to play come Davos 2016.

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