Monetary policy and financial markets: Is a return to normal on the horizon?

Fritz Zurbrügg, Member of the Governing Board

Money Market Event, Geneva, 21.11.2013

Is a return to normal on the horizon for monetary policy and financial markets? Although there are positive signs on the financial markets - including the calming of the bond markets in Europe's peripheral economies, record highs on stock markets and the rise in long-term interest rates since mid-year - other observations are less encouraging. Global economic recovery is merely sluggish and the risks for growth are still to the downside. Unemployment, particularly in the euro area, is very high and many structural reforms have been postponed.

The exceptional measures taken by the central banks made a major contribution to the calming on financial markets, and in most cases, these measures are still in place. Thus it is clear that monetary policy is still far from returning to normal. As the initial experiences of the US Federal Reserve have shown, an exit from the exceptionally expansionary monetary policy could prove to be bumpy. Looking at the global economic outlook, there is little to substantiate the possibility that a return to normal for monetary policy has moved closer. The recovery in the economy is delayed, and growth forecasts have been reduced.

A prolonged low-interest period also involves dangers, however. These include increasing price distortions and a decreasing motivation to undertake reform measures. It also raises the question of whether the exceptionally expansionary monetary policy will lead to inflation in the long term. However, no inflationary threats can be identified for Switzerland due to the fact that the output gap is still negative, the Swiss franc is strong, and commodity prices are stable or even declining. With interest rates at zero, the minimum exchange rate remains a necessary instrument for the foreseeable future.