Saturday, April 4, 2020

Coronavirus may speed up shift to digital payments-BIS

     The Covid-19 pandemic has fanned pubic concern the coronavirus can be transmitted by cash, potentially speeding up the shift toward digital payments, according to researchers at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS).
     Central banks have reported a jump in the number of inquiries from the media regarding the safety of using cash, and the number of internet searches pertaining to "cash" and "virus" are at record highs, three staff members of Swiss-based BIS said in a bulletin from April 3.
     Scientists find some viruses can persist for hours or days on banknotes but the virus seems to survive best on non-porous materials, such plastic or stainless steel, and to date there are no known cases of transmission of the virus via banknotes or coins.
     To bolster trust in cash, the Bank of England, has said the risk posed by banknotes is no greater than touching other surfaces and Germany's Bundesbank has said the risk of transmission through notes is minimal.
     Other central banks, however, have taken preventative measures.
     The People's Bank of China (PBOC) has sterilized banknotes from regions affected by the virus, the Federal Reserve has quarantined bills arriving from Asia, and central banks in South Korea, Hungary and Kuwait have also moved to sterilize or quarantine banknotes, the authors write.
     "Irrespective of whether concerns are justified or not, perceptions that cash could spread pathogens may change payment behavior by users and firms," said the article by Raphael Auer, Giulio Cornelli and Jon Frost.
     But at this point not all digital forms of payments are contactless, including those transactions that require a signature or a PIN entry on a device.
     Digital wallets or other smartphone-based payment are one solution while online payments for e-commerce are not susceptible to any viral transmission.
     Central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) could quickly become more prominent but would have to be designed to allow for access for those parts of the population that are unbanked or older to avoid opening a "payments divide" between those with access to digital payments and those without.
    "The pandemic may hence put calls for CBDCs into sharper focus, highlighting the value of having access to diverse means of payments, and the need for any means or payments to be resilient against a broad range of threats," the article said.

    Click to read BIS Bulletin "Covid-19, cash, and the future of payments."

Friday, April 3, 2020

Sri Lanka cuts rate 25 bps in 2nd emergency move

    Sri Lanka's central bank lowered its two key interest rates by a further 25 basis points at a second unscheduled monetary policy meeting, saying the move should help ease market conditions and provide further relief to businesses and households affected by the outbreak of the coronavirus and the restrictions put in place to contain its spread.
     The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) cut its Standing Deposit Facility Rate (SDFR) and the Standing Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) to 6.0 percent and 7.0 percent respectively.
     CBSL was the first central bank worldwide to lower its rate in January in response to the growing economic uncertainty surrounding the outbreak of COVID-19 in China.
      At its scheduled policy meeting on March 4, the central bank maintained its rate but at an urgent meeting on March 16 it then lowered the rates by 25 basis points along with a 100 point cut in its reserve ratio "in light of the urgent need to support economic activity with the rapid spread" of the virus.
      CBSL has now cut its policy rates five times and by a total of 200 basis points since May 2019, including the three rate cuts this year.
      The central bank said there would not be a monetary policy announcement on April 9, as scheduled, but the policy stance may be reviewed and changed if necessary "as and when required."

Malawi holds rate, cuts LRR, Lombard to boost liquidity

     Malawi's central bank cut its Liquidity Reserve Requirement (LRR) and its Lombard rate to immediately boost liquidity in in the banking system and lower the cost of funds to give commercial banks an incentive to support those economic sectors that are hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
      At a meeting by the the Reserve Bank of Malawi's (RBM) monetary policy committee advanced to April 1 from later this month, the central bank cut LRR on domestic currency deposits by 125 basis points to 3.75 percent, immediately releasing liquidity of about 12 billion kwacha.
     The Lombard rate was cut 50 percent to 20 basis points above the policy rate, lowering the cost of accessing funds from the RBM.
     The policy rate was maintained at 13.5 percent "to mitigate against potential upward risks from the pandemic while monitoring developments as they evolve and act as and when necessary," RBM said.
      RBM last cut its policy rate in May 2019 but has lowered its rate by 13.50 percentage points since November 2016 when the rate was twice the current level at 27 percent due to easing inflation.
     The Reserve Bank raised it rate sharply in 2012 to curb inflation that soared to 38 percent in February 2013 and then raised it further in 2015 as drought pushed up food prices.
     Malawi's kwacha had fallen sharply beginning in May 2012, hit by a combination of aid suspension by the U.K. and other donors such as the International Monetary Fund, in response to poor governance, and a sharp fall in the exports of tobacco due to Europe's debt crises.
      But after depreciating some 75 percent in the four years from May 2012 to May 2016, the kwacha has been more stable and was trading around 736 to the U.S. dollar today, unchanged this year
      Better weather in recent years has led to improved food production and Malawi's inflation rate eased to 11.0 percent in February from 11.1 percent in January and 11.5 percent at the end of 2019.
      RBM forecast inflation to end this year at 9.3 percent as food prices continue to decline from an improved maize harvest, with continued exchange rate stability and lower oil prices helping contain non-food inflation.
      "However, uncertainties surrounding the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic is the key upward risk," RBM said, confirming its inflation target of 5.0 percent, plus/minus 2 percentage points.
       A strong harvest helped boost economic growth to 5.0 percent in 2019 from 4.0 percent in 2018 but the path of growth this year will depend on the impact of the virus, the bank said, adding it still expects growth in the medium term to rise to 6-7 percent, supported by an infrastructure that is more resilient to shocks from climate change, improved access to financing, crop diversification and an improved business climate.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Egypt maintains rates after earlier emergency cut

     Egypt's central bank left its benchmark interest rates steady, saying this would be consistent with achieving its inflation target following the 300 basis point rate cut at an unscheduled monetary policy meeting on March 16.
     The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) left its overnight deposit rate at 9.25 percent, the overnight lending rates at 10.25 percent, and the rate on its main operation and discount rate at 9.75 percent.
     The decision was largely expected by analysts, with Egypt's inflation rate easing to 5.3 percent in February from 7.2 percent in January on favorable base effects and contained inflationary pressures, CBE noted.
     CBE targets inflation of 9 percent, plus/minus 3 percentage points in the fourth quarter of this year and price stability over the medium term.
     Egypt's tourism sector has been hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus and the associated containment measures worldwide and CBE said its rate cut on March 16 was a pre-emptive move to support economic activity, especially within households and businesses, and support employment, which is "essential in order to avoid a prolonged slowdown in economic activity and help speed the recovery once the outbreak is contained."
     Egypt's economy grew 5.6 percent in the third quarter of 2019 year-on-year, down from 5.7 percent in the second quarter.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

After 103 corona interest rate cuts in Q1, what now?

     Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, central banks from the South Pacific to the North Atlantic have slashed interest rates 103 times, injected trillions of dollars of liquidity into the financial system, launched a flurry of loan programs and bought bonds in a firefighting exercise to prevent a global recession from becoming a global depression.
     Judging from the recent easing of strains in financial markets, this massive bout of monetary stimulus, along with a trillions of dollars of spending by governments worldwide, will help the global economy overcome the shock from the shutdown of large parts of the global economy to limit the spread of Covid-19.
     But in the process, interest rates at all the world's major central banks are now effectively at the zero-lower bound, raising uncomfortable questions about the future of monetary policy.
     Even if policy makers are successful in engineering a recovery, both in asset markets and the underlying economy, is there any ammunition left to tackle the next downturn or a sudden crises?
    And if asset markets fail to recover, what then? More stimulus? 

     With interest at rock-bottom, the answer by central banks in advanced economies is large-scale purchases of both government and private securities, a tactic now used by all Group of Seven (G7) central banks: the U.S., Japan, the euro area, the U.K and Canada. 
      But it's not just central banks in developed markets that are using the monetary tool of asset purchases, or quantitative easing. Now it's being used worldwide.
       Chile's central bank is buying bank bonds while the central banks of Israel, Poland, Colombia, the Philippines, South Africa, Jamaica and Iceland are buying government debt in the secondary market.
      The problem is this tool has been employed to little avail by the Bank of Japan for almost two decades, by the European Central Bank for five years and by the Federal Reserve in various phases  since the global financial crises in 2008.
       While asset prices prices have risen and debt has accumulated, economic growth has trended downward and the wealth gap has widened.

     This year started out on a promising note, with uncertainty from the U.S.-China trade conflict easing, confirming the general view the global slowdown was bottoming out.
     Several important emerging markets, such as Turkey, South Africa and Malaysia, still lowered rates in January due to lingering uncertainty and domestic weakness.
     Meanwhile, under the radar of most investors, the coronavirus claimed its first Chinese victim on Jan. 11 before authorities on Jan. 23 shut down the industrial of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, to prevent the spread of the virus.
     Despite a 10 percent drop in Shanghai stocks in late January, U.S. and global stock markets continued their upward march until Feb. 19, ignoring the growing storm on the horizon.
     Although central banks normally trail changes in financial markets, this time they were ahead.
     Illustrating just how interwoven the global economy has become, Sri Lanka's central bank was the first central bank to refer to the coronavirus when it lowered its rate on Jan. 29, days before China's central bank on Feb. 3 began to pump in liquidity to the banking system at lower interest rates.
      Thailand's central bank then followed suit by cutting its rate on Feb. 5 and since then the rate cuts have come at a fast and furious pace, spanning the globe from Mongolia to Mauritius.

      Since late January, when the outbreak of the coronavirus first began to affect financial markets, policy rates have been cut an astounding 103 times, with many central banks cutting rates multiple times in response to the growing threat to economies worldwide.
     Illustrating the speed with which the threat to economic growth has mushroomed, 53 of those rate cuts have been taken at multiple extraordinary policy meetings, such as those by the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England and the Reserve Bank of Australia.
     From the beginning of 2020, 68 different central banks have cut policy rates 111 times by a cumulative 86.28 percentage points, or a net reduction of 81.88 points when taking into account the four rate hikes seen this year from Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic, the Kyrgyz Republic and Denmark.
     Including other measures taken to ease monetary policy in addition to rate cuts - such as cutting lowering reserve requirements, countercyclical capital buffers, injecting large-scale liquidity, launching new low-cost loan programs or restarting asset purchases - there have been at least 189 steps to ease monetary policy.
     The global monetary policy rate (GMPR), the average interest rate by 97 central banks worldwide, has plunged 84 basis points this year to 4.85 percent from 5.69 percent at the end of 2019, 6.42 percent at end-2018 and 5.99 percent at end-2017.

      2020 MONTH-BY-MONTH
       The following 63 central banks cut rates 84 times in March: Australia (twice), Malaysia, USA (twice), Saudi Arabia (twice), Bahrain (twice), UAE (twice), Qatar (twice), Kuwait (twice), Jordan (twice), Hong Kong (twice), Macau (twice), Moldova (twice), Canada (three times), Paraguay (twice), Argentina, Mauritius, UK (twice), Iceland (twice), Serbia, Mongolia, Ukraine, Norway (twice), New Zealand, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Czech Republic (twice), Egypt, Chile (twice), Costa Rica, Armenia, Turkey, Pakistan (twice), Vietnam, Tunisia, Morocco, Poland, Fiji, Trinidad & Tobago, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, South Africa, Honduras, Thailand, Namibia, Romania, Mexico, Eswatini, Seychelles, Lesotho, Kenya, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Albania, Zimbabwe, India, Colombia, Barbados and Vanuatu.
      Singapore is not included in this list as it uses the exchange rate as a monetary policy tool. However, it has also eased its policy by letting its dollar depreciate.
      Kazakhstan and Denmark stand out as the only central banks to have raised rates in March.
      14 central banks cut rates 15 times in February: Iceland, Thailand, Brazil, Honduras, Philippines, Russia, Belarus, Mexico, Argentina (twice), Namibia, Turkey, China, Indonesia and The Gambia.
      Two central banks, the Czech National Bank and the National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic, raised rates.


      11 central banks cut rates 13 times in January: Argentina (3 times), North Macedonia, Turkey, South Africa, Malaysia, Kenya, Lesotho, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Costa Rica and Azerbaijan, with rates lowered by a cumulative 1,125 basis points while Tajikistan raised its rate.

      2020 BY MARKETS

      Central banks worldwide have taken 198 policy decisions so far this year, with policy rates cut 111 times and only raised five times.


      Central banks in developed markets have decided on monetary policy 29 times this year, with seven banks cutting their rates 14 times: Australia, the United States (twice), Hong Kong (twice), Canada (three times), the UK (twice), Norway (twice) and New Zealand.
      Denmark raised its rate but this is the context of a policy framework in which the Nationalbank pegs the krone to the euro. The rate hike should support the krone which has come under downward pressure as capital flows to more liquid currencies.


     Emerging market central banks have decided on monetary policy 58 times, with 21 banks cutting rates 34 times: Turkey (three times), South Africa (twice), Malaysia (twice), Thailand, Brazil (twice), Philippines (twice), Russia, Mexico (twice), China, Indonesia (twice), UAE (twice), Qatar (twice), South Korea, Chile (twice), Czech Republic (twice), Egypt, Pakistan (twice), Poland, Taiwan, India and Colombia cutting policy rates.
      After raising its rate in February, the Czech Republic reversed course in March and cut its rate.


     Central banks in frontier markets have decided on monetary policy 41 times, with 15 banks cutting rates 26 times: Sri Lanka (twice), Kenya (twice), Ukraine (twice), Bahrain (twice), Kuwait (twice), Jordan (twice), Mauritius, Serbia, Morocco, Tunisia, Vietnam, Ghana, Romania and Bangladesh. Argentina has cut six times.
     Kazakhstan has raised its rate once while Nigeria raised its reserve requirement.


     Central banks in other markets have decided on monetary policy 69 times, with 25 banks cutting rates 33 times: North Macedonia, Kenya, Lesotho (twice), Azerbaijan, Honduras (twice), Iceland (three times), Belarus, Costa Rica (twice), Namibia, The Gambia, Saudi Arabia (twice), Macao (twice), Moldova (twice), Mongolia, Trinidad & Tobago, Dominican Republic, Sierra Leone, Paraguay (twice), Fiji, Eswatini, Seychelles, Democratic Republic of Congo, Albania, Zimbabwe and Vanuatu.
     Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have raised their rates while Curacao has raised its reserve requirement to curb liquidity.

     Prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus, 2019 was characterized by the most synchronized monetary easing since the global financial crises in 2008-2009.
     Sixty-seven different central banks cut their key interest rates 159 times in response to the lowest growth of in a decade due to the damaging effect of trade conflicts on global manufacturing, confidence, and the lagged effect of monetary tightening in 2018.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Chile cuts rate 2nd time, economy to contract 'severely"

     Chile's central bank cut its policy rate for the second time this year to what it said was a "technical minimum" of 0.50 percent after it became clear "the economy entered a process of severe contraction in the second half of March that will extend throughout the second quarter."
     The Central Bank of Chile cut its rate by 50 basis points to 0.50 percent, it's second rate cut this month after a 75-basis-point cut on March 16. This means the rate has been cut by a total of 125 points this year, and by 250 points since June 2019 when it began a monetary policy easing cycle.
      "The external scenario has deteriorated significantly after the rapid global expansion of Covid-19," the central bank said, adding it had extended its program to purchase bank bonds by US$4 billion, raising the outstanding balance of the program to $5.5 billion.

US Fed sets up repo facility with foreign central banks

     The U.S. Federal Reserve took another step to ensure global financial markets operate smoothly during the coronavirus crises by setting up a repurchase agreement facility for foreign central banks so they can obtain U.S. dollars that can be used by banks in their own countries.
      The Fed, which has already taken several other initiatives this month to ensure U.S. dollars are readily available worldwide, established a temporary repurchase agreement facility for foreign and international monetary authorities (FIMA Repo Facility) that enables other central banks to temporarily exchange their U.S. Treasury securities for U.S. dollars.
       In addition to making U.S. dollars available abroad, the facility will also help stabilize the U.S. market by ensuring foreign central banks are not selling their holdings of treasuries on the market.
    "This facility should help support the smooth functioning of the U.S. Treasury market by providing an alternative temporary source of U.S. dollars other than sales of securities in the open market," said the Fed.
     The FIMA Repo Facility will be available from April 6 for at least 6 months.
     Given the dominant role of the U.S. dollar in the global financial system, the Fed has taken several other actions this month to ensure funding is available.
      On March 15, when the Fed cut its benchmark fed funds rate for the second time to effectively zero percent, it also cut the price of standing U.S. dollar liquidity swaps b 25 basis points in coordination with the central banks of the euro area, Canada, the UK, Japan and Switzerland.
      On March 19 it then established temporary swap lines with the central banks of Australia, Brazil, Denmark, South Korea, Mexico, Norway, New Zealand, Singapore and Sweden to help ease any strains in dollar funding markets.
      The following day, March 20, the Fed, the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank and the Swiss National Bank increased the frequency of their standing dollar swap funding operations to daily from weekly, continuing through April.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Barbados cuts lending rate 500 bps as economy to shrink

     The central bank of the Caribbean island of Barbados cut its interest rates for providing overnight funds to banks by 500 basis points to 2.0 percent and launched further monetary policy easing measures to "support the domestic banking sector in light of the projected impact of COVID-19 on the economy and the financial system.
      The Central Bank of Barbados also announced a moratorium on loan payments for firms and individuals impacted by the pandemic for up to six months and will provide additional credit to its customer to address short-term liquidity challenges.
     "COVID-19 has had a crippling effect on the global economy," the central bank said, noting the impact from a suspension of incoming flights to the island, the closure of hotels, attractions and restaurants.
     "We expect economic activity to contract, bringing with it the potential for signifiant job losses," Governor Cleviston Haynes said.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

This week in monetary policy: Kyrgyzstan, Lesotho, Chile, Bulgaria, Egypt and Romania

    This week - March 29 through April 4 - central banks from 6 countries or jurisdictions are scheduled to decide on monetary policy: Kyrgyz Republic, Lesotho, Chile, Bulgaria, Egypt and Romania.
    Following table includes the name of the country, the date of the next policy decision, the current policy rate, the result of the last policy decision, the change in the policy rate year to date, and the rate one year ago.
    The table is updated when the latest decisions are announced and can always accessed by clicking on This Week.

MAR 29 - APR 4, 2020:
CHILE31-Mar1.00%-75-753.00%         EM
BULGARIA31-Mar0.00%000.00%         FM
EGYPT2-Apr9.25%-300-30015.75%         EM
ROMANIA3-Apr2.00%-50-502.50%         FM

Israel cuts reserve requirement to ensure flow of credit

      Israel's central bank, one of the few central banks to have kept interest rates steady this year, lowered its capital requirement for regulatory purposes by 1 percentage point "to ensure the banks' ability to continue offering credit" during the coronavirus crises.
      The Bank of Israel (BOI), which has kept its key rate steady since raising it in November 2018, said its banking supervision department lowered the requirement for large banks to maintain a minimum Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) ratio of 9 percent from 10 percent and to 8 percent from 9 percent for midsized and small banks.
      Israel's banks entered the coronavirus crises in a strong position, BOI said, adding they have large capital surpluses, strong liquidity ratios and high-quality credit portfolios.
     "Since the outbreak of the crises, demand for credit has increased sharply, and the risk level in credit provision has increased in parallel in view of the impact to the to the financial state of businesses and households," BOI said, adding it expects to use the capital that has been released to increase credit to businesses and households.
      Given their central role in societies, banks have always been required to hold certain amounts of capital to absorb unexpected losses. Years ago, capital meant gold or silver but today it comprises a many forms of stock or equity invested by its owners and shareholders, government and private securities and loans that generate interest.
      The requirements and methods of measuring capital has changed over the decades, with the most recent changes following the global financial crises. Banking regulators worldwide, grouped under the Basel Committee, tightened the requirements significantly to ensure banks would remain financially sound even during an economic or financial crises.
      CET1 is the most basic form of liquid assets that a bank can hold, such cash and stock.
      Another measure of reserve requirements is based on deposits at a bank. BOI has for many years set a 6 percent reserve requirement against demand deposits but the bank's statement did not say whether this ratio was changed.
       BOI said its decision to lower the capital requirement was in line with similar decisions in other countries and would be valid for six months and would be extended if necessary.
       In response to the crises, central banks worldwide have been slashing both reserve requirements and countercyclical capital buffers.
      The buffer was created after the global financial crises to ensure banks raise their capital during economic booms as a countercyclical measure so they can draw it down during a crises.
       BOI said the today's reduction of the capital requirement was based on the 2 percent capital buffer of each bank's total risk assets, an excess demand that went beyond the Basel standards to protect the country's banking system and the economy from unforeseen developments.
       BOI also instructed boards at banks to "re-examine their dividend and share buyback policies," in light of the material change in economic conditions, freeing up additional sources that can be used to provide credit and absorb losses, if necessary.
      This is similar to a move by the Czech National Bank (CNB).
      On March 16, when CNB cut its rate for the first of two times this month, it also cut the countercyclical capital buffer for its banks and said it expected banks to "refrain from a any dividend payouts or any other steps that might jeopardize individual bank's resilience."
       BOI's monetary policy committee is scheduled to meet on April 6. At its last meeting on Feb. 24, it maintained is key interest rate at 0.25 percent and confirmed its guidance that it expected to maintain the rate at this level for "a prolonged period."
       On March 15 the policy committee decided to carry out open market operations, offer repo transactions to financial institutions and purchase government bonds of various types and maturities "in necessary quantities" to ensure smooth functioning of the bond market.
      On March 23 BOI then said it would purchase 50 billion shekel of government bonds in the secondary market to ease the volatility in bond yields from a lack of liquidity and lower the cost of longer-term credit for firms and households as a complement to its low interest rate policy.


Friday, March 27, 2020

Colombia cuts rate 1st time in 2 years, boosts liquidity

    Colombia's central bank cut its key interest rate for the first time in almost two years and launched new measures to boost liquidity to ease the financial burden on households and business during the outbreak of the coronavirus and ensure financial markets continue to function properly.
     The Central Bank of Colombia (CBC) cut its benchmark interest rate by 50 basis points to 3.75 percent, the first rate cut since April 2018.
     CBC's board was unanimous in its policy decision, which it said would contribute to the future recovery of domestic demand once markets begin to function normally.
    "The country and the economy are going through an extraordinary and unprecedented situation," CBC said, prioritizing an ample and timely provision of liquidity, both in pesos and U.S. dollars.
     In addition to earlier measures, the central bank on March 30 will auction up to $1 billion in U.S. dollars, with any amount not awarded to be auctioned on the next occasion until the quota is exhausted or until the remaining amount is $25 million.
     On the same day, March 30, CBC will conduct currency swaps of up to $400 million in which the central bank sells U.S. dollars for cash and buys them back in 60 days. Any amounts not awarded on the first day of the auction will also be auction on the next occasion until the quota is exhausted or the amount is less than $25 billion.
     These new measures will raise the balance of FX swaps to $800 million and currency forwards to $2 billion, CBC said.
     Colombia's peso fell sharply on March 11 and 12 in response to the fall in crude oil prices and plunging stock markets worldwide, but has rebounded slightly since then.
     But today the peso again fell in response to the rate cut to 4,024.1 to the U.S. dollar to be down 18.4 percent since the start of this year.
     At an extraordinary board meeting on March 23, CBC decided to inject around $10 billion in permanent liquidity into the financial system through the purchase of private securities issued by credit institutions, with a remaining maturity of less than three years. The first auction took place on March 24.
     CBC also decided to buy up to $2 billion of treasury bonds, known as TES, during the rest of March and to continue carrying out auctions of private securities for $500 billion on days when there are no scheduled auctions by private parties.