The Future of Interest Rates: Higher for Longer

Top economists and central bankers are in agreement that interest rates will remain higher for longer, raising concerns about the global market outlook. Central banks worldwide have been aggressively hiking interest rates over the past 18 months to curb soaring inflation, with varying degrees of success. The United States Federal Reserve, after a pause in its hiking cycle in September, signaled that rates may need to stay higher for a longer period to achieve sustainable inflation levels. This sentiment was echoed by World Bank President Ajay Banga, who highlighted the impact of ongoing geopolitical tensions on the investment landscape.

U.S. inflation has receded from its peak of 9.1% year-on-year in June 2022, but it still came in higher than expected at 3.7% in September, according to a report from the Labor Department. This unexpected inflationary pressure has raised concerns about prolonged higher borrowing costs, resulting in a decrease in capital issuance and a lackluster performance of recent IPOs, such as Birkenstock.

Greg Guyett, the CEO of global banking and markets at HSBC, noted the impact of persistently high borrowing costs on financing decisions. He mentioned that although companies are seeking growth opportunities and seeing synergies as a way to achieve that, financing costs are impeding their ability to act. As a result, the deal environment remains sluggish.

The European Central Bank (ECB) recently raised interest rates for the tenth consecutive time, reaching a record 4% for its main deposit facility. However, it indicated that further rate hikes may not be on the horizon at the moment. ECB governors and members of the Governing Council emphasized the need to remain open to future hikes due to persistent inflationary pressures and potential economic shocks.

Croatian National Bank Governor Boris Vujčić commented that markets in both the U.S. and Europe have been slow to adjust to the expectation of higher rates for a more extended period. He emphasized that rates would not decrease until inflation reaches the medium-term target, which may take some time. Euro zone inflation dropped to 4.3% in September, the lowest level since October 2021, but the decline is projected to continue due to base effects, tightening monetary policy, and a stagnant economy. Vujčić cautioned that if inflation does not converge with the medium-term target, further actions may be required.

Bank of Latvia Governor Mārtiņš Kazāks expressed satisfaction with the current interest rates but acknowledged the need to remain cautious due to two factors: the labor market and geopolitical events. Wage growth has not yet peaked, which could contribute to increased inflationary pressures. Furthermore, potential shocks, such as geopolitical conflicts, could disrupt the market and drive inflation higher. Kazāks stated that monetary policy is entering a new phase of higher rates for a longer period, aiming to secure a solid return to the ECB’s 2% inflation target by the second half of 2025.

Austrian National Bank Governor Robert Holzmann took a hawkish stance, suggesting that risks to the inflation trajectory are tilted to the upside. He highlighted the eruption of the Israel-Hamas war as an example of potential disturbances that could lead to higher oil prices. Holzmann warned against premature discussions of when the first decrease in rates would occur, emphasizing the unknown duration until the desired inflation levels are achieved.

South African Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago stated that their work is not yet complete, implying that further action may be necessary. However, he mentioned that the SARB is currently at a point where it can afford to pause and evaluate the effects of previous monetary policy tightening. The main repo rate has been raised from 3.5% in November 2021 to 8.25% in May 2023, where it has since remained.

The consensus among leading economists and central bankers is that interest rates will likely remain higher for a more extended period, significantly impacting the global market outlook. The U.S. Federal Reserve has already signaled that rates may need to stay higher for longer to achieve sustained inflation levels. The European Central Bank and other central banks share a similar cautious approach due to persistent inflationary pressures and potential economic shocks. As a result, companies face challenges in the investment landscape, with weaker capital issuance and slow deal activity. The future trajectory of interest rates remains uncertain, requiring careful monitoring of inflation figures and geopolitical developments.


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