• At Jackson Hole, central bankers eye varying goals
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     | August 23,2014
     
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    Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer, right, speaks with protesters Ady Barkan, left, and Reginald Rounds during the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium at the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park near Jackson, Wyo., Friday.

    WASHINGTON — The central bankers meeting this week at their annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo., aren’t exactly in sync. Many are taking steps that clash with the policies of others.

    The Federal Reserve is preparing to reduce its economic support. By contrast, the European Central Bank is considering more stimulus. So is the Bank of Japan. The Bank of England seems to be moving toward raising interest rates.

    It isn’t just the biggest economies whose central banks are pulling in different directions.

    This year, central banks in Mexico, Sweden and South Korea, among others, have lowered rates. Others — in Russia and South Africa, for example — have raised them.

    It’s a long way from the coordinated efforts that major central banks made after the 2008 financial crisis erupted and economies began to stall. As governments slashed taxes and spent stimulus money, central banks shrank rates to unclog credit and avert a 1930s-style depression.

    Today’s diverging central bank strategies aren’t without risk. Consider what happened in developing markets last year after Fed officials hinted that they might soon slow the pace of their monthly bond purchases. Those purchases have been intended to keep long-term U.S. loan rates low to encourage borrowing and spur growth.

    With the prospect of higher U.S. bond yields, some emerging markets went into a tailspin. Investors pulled their holdings from those countries for fear their value would plunge as capital fled for the United States.

    Some emerging economies responded by raising their own rates and bolstering their shaky currencies. The tumult proved temporary. But it showed what could happen once the Fed ends its bond purchases this fall and eventually raises short-term rates — something it says won’t happen for a “considerable time” after its purchases end.

    Many economists say central banks have no choice but to pursue divergent interest-rate strategies now because of their economies’ varying growth rates.

    “It just reflects different stages of the economic recovery in different parts of the world,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group. “The U.S. recovery is well ahead of recoveries in Europe and Japan.”

    Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University, Channel Islands, noted that the United States acted faster than others to boost growth with aggressive low-rate policies. U.S. regulators have also been more forceful in requiring U.S. banks to raise capital and deal with bad loans. Those actions have contributed to stronger U.S. growth, he said.

    Healthier growth prospects and the likelihood of higher rates could make the United States increasingly attractive to investors.

    Sohn and Hoffman think the U.S. dollar will rise in value, particularly against Japan’s yen and the common European currency, the euro, as investors seek rising U.S. yields.

    The Fed has reduced its monthly bond purchases at six straight meetings, from $85 billion a month to $25 billion a month. Chair Janet Yellen has said she expects the Fed to end the purchases altogether this fall. What no one knows is when the Fed will start raising short-term rates. Most economists think it will be in mid-2015. Though U.S. hiring has been strong and the unemployment rate has dropped steadily to 6.2 percent, other gauges of the job market, such as pay growth, remain weak.

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