When you read the newspaper, you find always news about the Fed, the ECB, the BoE or the BoJ. These are the initials of the most important central banks: the Federal Reserve in US, the European Central Bank for the euro-countries, the Bank of England in Great Britain and the Bank of Japan. This year, another bank has emerged because of the influence of its decisions in the global economy: the People’s Bank of China.
What are these banks? They are not commercial banks, but they have relevant tasks for the economies. The origin of each is different: for instance, the Fed was created before de WWI after a deep banking crisis; the ECB is the result of an agreement amongst the countries which use the euro as a currency…
What are the main tasks? Well, central banks have the monopoly of printing money. Due to this responsibility, they control the monetary policy through the main instrument: the interest rate. This regulates the amount of money in the system. They are also lenders of last resort for commercial banks. Of course, the tasks can be wider depending the country. For instance, if the currency is pegged to another, they decide also the exchange rate.
Why do they have such influence? Governments delegate the monetary policy in these institutions. They usually have the mandate of controlling the inflation. This is the main role for the ECB in Europe. The mandate of the Fed, on the contrary, is double, because it has to take into account not only the inflation, but also the economic growth. Decisions have to be taken in order to achieve both.
As an investor, why are they relevant for me? You surely have heard the news in August about the drop of the stock exchanges. The origin was in the sudden decisions of the People’s Bank of China, which devaluated the yuan three times in three days. The worldwide effects can be perceived in this chart:
This is not the only example. The exchanges follow continuously the steps of these banks, as the interest rate has a relevant influence in the evolution of the economy or the companies. For instance, it is expected that the Fed tightens this year its monetary policy increasing the interest rate. The debate has been continuous since the last year and keeps on. As a result, the S&P was quite unstable in the last 12 months. It is relevant the drop before Christmas, when the Fed met for last time in 2014:
The relevance of the Fed is also huge in the commodity markets, as they are nominated in dollars. In the case of the ECB, it has built an own vocabulary. It was famous with the former president Jean-Claude Trichet that the increase of the rates was announced two months before saying that the institution was “vigilant” with the price evolution and a month before saying “very vigilant”. The bank prefers to be foreseeable in order to avoid sudden market movements. Current chairman Mario Draghi was also famous, because his words defending the euro stopped the instability over this currency in 2012.
In any case, you, as an investor, should watch what the central banks say. If you are a trader, follow every word. If you are a long-term investor, take care of the statements to rebalance your portfolio in certain moments.