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Friday, 27 June 2008

Barclays warns of a financial storm as Federal Reserve's credibility crumbles

US central bank accused of unleashing an inflation shock that will rock financial markets,reports Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

Barclays Capital has advised clients to batten down the hatches for a worldwide financial storm, warning that the US Federal Reserve has allowed the inflation genie out of the bottle and let its credibility fall "below zero".

"We're in a nasty environment," said Tim Bond, the bank's chief equity strategist. "There is an inflation shock underway. This is going to be very negative for financial assets. We are going into tortoise mood and are retreating into our shell. Investors will do well if they can preserve their wealth."

Barclays Capital said in its closely-watched Global Outlook that US headline inflation would hit 5.5pc by August and the Fed will have to raise interest rates six times by the end of next year to prevent a wage-spiral. If it hesitates, the bond markets will take matters into their own hands. "This is the first test for central banks in 30 years and they have fluffed it. They have zero credibility, and the Fed is negative if that's possible. It has lost all credibility," said Mr Bond.

"They will have to slam on the brakes. There is going to be a deep global recession over the next three years as policy-makers try to get inflation back in the box."

The Fed's stimulus is being transmitted to the 45-odd countries linked to the dollar around world. The result is surging commodity prices. Global inflation has jumped from 3.2pc to 5pc over the last year. Mr Bond said the emerging world is now on the cusp of a serious crisis. "Inflation is out of control in Asia. Vietnam has already blown up. The policy response is to shoot the messenger, like the developed central banks in the late 1960s and 1970s," he said.

Barclays Capital recommends outright "short" positions on Asian bonds, warning that yields could jump 200 to 300 basis points. The currencies of trade-deficit states like India should be sold. The US yield curve is likely to "steepen" with a vengeance, causing a bloodbath for bond holders.

David Woo, the bank's currency chief, said the Fed's policy of benign neglect towards the dollar had been stymied by oil, which is now eating deep into the country's standard of living. "The world has changed all of a sudden. The market is going to push the Fed into a tightening stance," he said...

A small chorus of City bankers dissent from the view that inflation is the chief danger in the US and other rich OECD countries. The teams at Société Générale, Dresdner Kleinwort, and Banque AIG all warn that deflation may loom as housing markets crumble under record levels of household debt.

Bernard Connolly, global startegist at Banque AIG, said inflation targeting by central banks had become a "totemism that threatens to crush the world economy".

He said it would be madness to throw millions out of work by deflating part of the economy to offset a rise in imported fuel and food prices. Real wages are being squeezed by oil, come what may. It may be healthier for society to let it happen gently.

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