The law of unintended consequences

Currencies, Economic growth

There’s an interesting article on Bloomberg, suggesting that the US Fed’s dramatic interest rates reductions are ‘driving Asia’s governments back to controlled economies’.

Its argument is that by cutting rates, Bernanke is ‘limiting his Asian counterparts’ ability to curb inflation’. It goes on to argue that Asian banks cannot now raise domestic interest rates to restrict demand, as a ‘widening spread between US and Asian borrowing costs draws more foreign money into the region’, causing asset bubbles to appear.

The same effect will occur if they allow their exchange rate to rise too quickly versus the dollar. And Asian central banks certainly don’t want to encourage a repeat of the US housing bubble in their own countries. So they are instead being forced to impose price controls on essential goods, in a bid to restrain inflation.

As I noted on 10 January, China froze the prices of oil products, natural gas and electricity, as well as public transportation. 5 days later, just as the Fed embarked on its 2nd round of interest rate cuts, it added price controls on grain, cooking oil, meat products, milk, eggs and LPG. The rationale can be seen in today’s announcement that inflation hit 7.1% in January, the highest for 11 years.

The problem, of course, is that domestic price controls (which also now apply in many other Asian countries for similar reasons), reduce the incentive to cut back on consumption as world prices move higher. The same is true for oil and gasoline prices, which are subsidised across Asia and also in many OPEC countries.

Thus the law of unintended consequences applies. These subsidies mean that supply and demand will be much slower to rebalance. So the net effect is that as the Fed reduces rates to try to avoid a severe US recession, it is indirectly causing global food and energy prices to rise. And in the end, if inflation starts to spiral out of control, rate increases may become essential, even in the US.

PREVIOUS POST

UK nationalises Northern Rock

18/02/2008

The UK government has today nationalised the country’s 8th largest bank, respo...

Learn more
NEXT POST

4 issues driving today’s oil price

21/02/2008

Quietly, oil has moved back to the $100/bbl level. This is quite different from ...

Learn more
More posts
Markets face major paradigm shifts as recession approaches
06/10/2019

Major paradigm shifts are occurring in the global economy, as I describe in a new analysis for ICIS ...

Read
No Deal Brexit still a likely option if opposition parties fail to support a new referendum
15/09/2019

Canada’s normally pro-UK ‘Globe and Mail’ summed up the prevailing external view of Brexit las...

Read
UK, EU27 and EEA businesses need to start planning for a No Deal Brexit on 31 October
28/07/2019

New UK premier, Boris Johnson, said last week that the UK must leave the EU by 31 October, “do or ...

Read
London house prices edge closer to a tumble
21/07/2019

After the excitement of Wimbledon tennis and a cricket World Cup final, Londoners were back to their...

Read
G7 births hit new record low, below Depression level in 1933
14/07/2019

If a country doesn’t have any babies, then in time it won’t have an economy. But that...

Read
From subprime to stimulus…and now social division
06/07/2019

The blog has now been running for 12 years since the first post was written from Thailand at the end...

Read
Resilience amidst headwinds is key for H2
30/06/2019

Resilience is set to become the key issue as we look forward to H2, as I note in a new analysis for ...

Read
Perennials set to defeat Fed’s attempt to maintain the stock market rally as deflation looms
23/06/2019

Never let reality get in the way of a good theory. That’s been the policy of western central b...

Read

Market Intelligence

ICIS provides market intelligence that help businesses in the energy, petrochemical and fertilizer industries.

Learn more

Analytics

Across the globe, ICIS consultants provide detailed analysis and forecasting for the petrochemical, energy and fertilizer markets.

Learn more

Specialist Services

Find out more about how our specialist consulting services, events, conferences and training courses can help your teams.

Learn more

ICIS Insight

From our news service to our thought-leadership content, ICIS experts bring you the latest news and insight, when you need it.

Learn more