Same old problems for G7 finance ministers
Finance ministers from the world’s largest developed economies met in Germany a year ago against a backdrop of faltering global growth, scant inflationary pressures and the latest chapter in the Greek debt crisis.
When they and their G7 central bank colleagues convene again in Japan on Friday the first two items remain just as problematic and potentially even trickier than a year ago. Only unusually smooth talks between Athens and its lenders may
keep Greece off the agenda this time around.
The hosts’ monetary and fiscal policy trajectory appears obvious: the Bank of Japan is coming under increasing pressure to counter a damaging rise in the value of the yen that could derail a fragile recovery for the world’s third-largest economy.
Talk of more action gathered pace after an academic seen to be close to Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the BOJ is likely to expand monetary stimulus either in June or July. The government has also said Tokyo is ready to intervene in currency markets.
Whether explicitly on the agenda or not, such interventions are certain to be brought up by counterparts from France, Italy, Germany, Britain, Canada and the United States either side of a planned field trip to see how the northeastern Japanese city of Sendai has recovered from the devastating 2011 earthquake.
On Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe beat the drum for a broader fiscal stimulus, saying most G7 leaders agreed it was necessary as a means of boosting global demand, though getting all of them to enact the same policy steps would be tough.
First-quarter Japanese economic output data on Wednesday – following on from more signs of slowing growth in China – should flesh out the downbeat picture with quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) forecast to have expanded just 0.1 percent, according to a Reuters poll.
“The Bank of Japan has been heavily criticized for its decision not to take further economic stimulus measures at its meeting in April,” said Commerzbank economist Bernd Weidensteiner.
“Because of its refusal to bow to the market expectations of ‘more and more’, the central bank currently faces a tough task to convince the markets of its policy actions.”
Things are not so straightforward for the U.S. Federal Reserve, which is caught in a bind over when to push interest rates higher amid concerns about the health of the labor market at home and fears about the knock-on effects its actions will have abroad.
There was fresh hesitation among economists ahead of the release in the coming week of the minutes from the April 26/27 Fed meeting when the central bank’s rate-setting committee acknowledged that economic growth seemed to have slowed.
The Fed will likely wait until September before raising rates again, a Reuters poll found this week, stretching to nine months the time since its first hike in nearly a decade as it waits for clear signs inflation is picking up.
April’s U.S. inflation figures arrive on Tuesday, a day before the euro zone give an update on its battle to register any kind of price growth and the same day Britain releases its consumer price data for last month.
British price growth is expected to have slowed after a pick up in March while jobless numbers on Wednesday may also show a dip in hiring in the first quarter as employers turn cautious ahead of June’s Brexit vote. Retail sales are due on Thursday.
Latest polling on the EU membership referendum will be just as closely watched to see if the Bank of England’s warning that Brexit would slow the economy sharply, and could even push it into recession, has had any impact on voters.
“Signs of a slowing economy and uncertainty around Britain’s EU referendum appear to have resulted in a shift in emphasis from permanent to temporary hiring among UK employers,” Markit economist Oliver Kolodseike said. “The labor market may therefore be set to cool further in coming months.”
The other big Q1 GDP releases come from Russia and Mexico while interest rate decisions include South Africa.
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