Posted Nov 19, 2019 by Martin Armstrong
The central banks are keenly aware that they cannot stimulate economic growth, although they will not state that publicly. The wheel of fortune has completed its revolution. The central bankers are quietly lobbying the political side of the aisle to swing back to Keynesian fiscal policy and reverse austerity.
The 63-year-old Christine Lagarde was supported among members of the ECB who disagreed with Draghi. This resulted in a deadlock among Eurozone policymakers that began behind closed doors, but toward the end it began to spill out onto the streets. What I was hearing 2 years ago behind the curtain was starting to leak out. The Eurozone’s faltering economy was creating a huge divergence in ideas with Draghi. This resulted in a serious clash when it came time to the ECB’s rate-setting committee with departing President Mario Draghi’s negative interest rates and never-ending QE. If such policies were to work, it should have done so quickly within a year or two, and not 5 years of negative rates and 11 years of QE.
Lagarde was providing hints that she would seek consensus among politicians in the Eurozone for fiscal policy changes. She knew that the ECB could not win the fight to support the economy by itself. Publicly, Lagarde implied she would follow Draghi’s path and keep monetary policy ultra-loose to lift euro-area inflation. She really had no choice in that regard. Nevertheless, she is aware Draghi’s policy has been a failure but the ECB is trapped. Monetary policy at the ECB is doomed despite the fact she has said that the tools to tackle a downturn are available to the ECB and they must be ready to use them if needed.
Lagarde is steeping into a growing confrontation at a time of rising challenges for central bankers when the economy is turning downward despite all the stimulus and inflation remains subdued. At the same time, interest rates remain artificially low and there are questions over what policymakers have that could do anything to combat a more serious downturn. Lagarde has begun lobbying governments and arguing they need to step in with fiscal stimulus to fill the gap. Central bankers have lost their ability to control inflation or steer the economy while politicians are anything but united in the face of rising political separations and unrest.
Lagarde realizes the economy faces downside risks with inflation in a deflationary position. She has stated it’s “therefore clear that monetary policy needs to remain highly accommodative for the foreseeable future.” While she pretends that the ECB can cut interest rates further despite already being at a record-low -0.4%, she also realizes it is causing massive problems. It has become a deterrent for the euro to be considered a reserve currency. There have been other side effects from keeping rates well below zero for too long, such as promoting a pension crisis nobody wishes to address publicly for fear of creating a panic. She acknowledged these problems stating that the “ECB has hit the effective lower bound on policy rates, it is clear that low rates have implications for the banking sector and financial stability more generally.” Lagarde further acknowledged that “it will be essential to closely monitor whether adverse side effects may emerge in the future, the longer low interest rates are in place.”