As predicted by many commentators, the governing council of the ECB (European Central Bank), the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the United States Federal Reserve and the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of England, all kept interest rates on hold. All three central banks cited the continuing fight against inflation as the reason for keeping interest rates on hold, but as many experts are predicting, interest rates will fall in 2024 in all three jurisdictions.
On Thursday 25th January the Governing Council of the ECB announced for the third time in a row that interest rates were being held at a record high of 4%, reaffirming their fight against inflation. Many traders and analysts in the financial markets are betting on a rate reduction at the next Governing Council meeting on April 11th, 2024.
However, Governor Christine Lagarde announced it was “premature to discuss rates”, though some unnamed members of the council have added that if upcoming data shows that inflation is beaten, then the April meeting could be dovish for a fall in interest rates at the June meeting. Despite these utterances, many in the financial markets believe the ECB have got it wrong and will be forced to cut interest rates in April.
The United States
On Wednesday January 31st, 2024, the Federal Reserve kept policy rates at a 22 year high of 5.25% – 5.50%, where the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell gave a massive endorsement on the economy’s strengths. He further advised that with the on-going expectation of falling inflation, coupled with economic growth, that rates had now peaked and would fall in the coming months. However, despite this pledge, Chairman Powell went on to say that he did not expect a rate cut at their next policy meeting in March, as they wish to see on-going positive data on the reduction of inflation to their figure of 2%.
Interestingly, the Federal Reserve is hoping to accomplish beating inflation through tighter credit without putting the economy into recession, which historians suggest they only accomplished once in the last 100 years. But with inflation falling more quickly than expected, (2.6% as at close of business 2023), the Chairman is coming under political pressure to reduce rates in March.
A massively divided country is going to the polls in November to elect a new president, and Chairman Powel received written requests to reduce interest rates from Senator Elizabeth Warren (Dem, former presidential candidate), and Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown (Dem). Some market experts are suggesting that there is a circa 63% chance that the Federal reserve will cut interest rates in March, but with seven weeks of economic data to come the markets will have much to mull over.
On February 1st, 2024, the Bank of England’s MPC announced that it was holding interest rates steady at 5.25%, admitting that a rate cut had been part of their discussions. In the end there was a split decision in the MPC with six members in favour of holding, two members voting to increase rates and one member voting for a drop in interest rates. Interestingly, this is the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic that a rate-setter has voted for a cut in interest rates, and the first time since the global financial crisis of 2008, that there has been a three-way split in the MPC.
Following the announcement, The governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey announced that “the level of bank rate remains appropriate, and we are not yet at a point where we can lower rates”. He also pointed out that there is an upside risk to inflation due to continuing trade disruptions, and ambiguously advised how long policy remains restrictive depends on incoming data. However, experts suggest that the Bank of England is now warming to rate cuts in 2024, with officials believing that consumer price inflation will be at 2% in the second quarter, mainly due to falling energy prices., a year earlier than forecasted last November.
Market analysts mainly agree that whatever the statement that comes out of the above central banks, interest rates are set to fall in 2024. It would appear that the Bank of England is set to lag behind the ECB and the Federal Reserve when it comes to cutting interest rates. However, better than expected January US employment figures may delay a US interest rate cut beyond March, and as to whether or not they all fall at the same time, only time will tell.