The window of opportunity for emerging market countries to start aggressively easing monetary policy seems to have closed just as quickly as it opened. For much of this year, inflation seemed to be on a downward trend, which made room for nations burdened by rising food and fuel prices to consider rate cuts to boost growth.
It was felt — and is still being felt, judging by the European Central Bank’s (ECB’s) decision to leave rates unchanged on Thursday — that the developed world had done all it could to boost growth. It was an opportune time for the bloc of emerging market heavyweights led by China to look at loosening monetary policy, which they did.
Brazil cut rates for the ninth consecutive time on Thursday to boost stagnant growth in the economy. China has cut rates twice this year, while South Africa’s Reserve Bank governor, Gill Marcus, made a surprise 50-basis-point rate cut in July.
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The cycle of easing is getting closer to ending as the inflation problem raises its head once again. The trigger is food prices, which have kicked into high gear after the US, the world’s biggest grower of maize, experienced its worst drought in 50 years. The effect hasn’t fully fed into the real economy, but maize prices have risen significantly from what were historically high valuations.
With higher food and fuel costs coming to the fore again, central bank governors in the emerging world may find even less room to loosen policy to boost growth.
THE ECB finally met the expectations of jittery investors on Wednesday by revealing the details of a bond-buying programme, which aims to reduce the borrowing costs of indebted eurozone members. It’s by no means the final solution, but at least it buys countries such as Italy and Spain some time to continue on their reform path.
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