The Americans rushed ahead with a key rate hike of 0.75 percentage points on Tuesday, the Bank of England raised its key interest rate by 0.25 points on Thursday, and higher interest rates will also apply in Switzerland from this Friday.
Although they are still in negative territory, the Confederates are still a bit ahead of the European Central Bank (ECB). Because their fight against inflation has so far been limited to announcements and the convening of special meetings.
These different approaches to the problem of inflation allow several conclusions to be drawn at once. First, they reveal that all central banks are currently acting as driven. Second, this is exactly what creates even more uncertainty, which further exacerbates the crisis.
And thirdly, it makes it clear that different conditions prevail in the USA and in the euro zone. So different, in fact, that a uniform fight against inflation is hardly possible.
What the US Federal Reserve and the ECB have in common is that confidence in their work has been shaken. Fed Chair Jerome Powell now wants to convey determination with his rapid turnaround in interest rates. This is also necessary, since he has already had to admit that he completely underestimated the rising prices. A devastating admission from a central bank governor – especially since inflation also has a psychological component that works worse when citizens assume inflation is spiraling out of control.
Economists also agree that the stimulus packages of Joe Biden’s government were too unfocused and thus unnecessarily increased the flood of money. Powell’s long hesitation can also be explained by the fact that the Fed – in contrast to the ECB – not only has the task of monetary stability, but is also pursuing the goal of full employment. With the US labor market doing well, Powell can now justify the rate hikes by saying that without stable prices, long-term jobs are at risk.
The ECB doesn’t have it that easy. While in the US there is a growing realization that fighting inflation is more important than driving growth, concerns about the economy are greater in Europe. The main reason for this is the debt burden of many euro countries. If interest rates in Europe rise too quickly, countries like Italy or Spain could no longer pay their debts. Suddenly Europe would be faced with the risk of state bankruptcies and a new euro crisis.
The fact that the euro stabilized, although the ECB sent out the signal at its surprising special meeting on Wednesday that the loose monetary policy might not be over yet, shows how great this fear is. In addition: Resource-poor Europe is facing huge investments in renewable energies if it no longer wants to be dependent on fossil energy imports, which will become even more expensive in the future. This becomes difficult with high interest rates.
But even interest rate hikes in the US can weaken the euro as capital is drawn into the US. The Fed, whose focus is on domestic well-being, can be relatively indifferent. But the basis for global investment and cooperation is trust in stable currencies. Recovering this is an important task for the central banks. On both sides of the Atlantic.