Thursday, December 10, 2009

Central Bank Transparency

Here is an excerpt from an interview by Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the ECB with De Tijd and L'Echo (the full interview can be found at the ECB web site).

Q. For some financial assets, such as gold, we are seeing a return to risk-taking on the part of investors. Is this a parameter that the ECB takes into account in its strategy?

A. I will not make any specific comments regarding gold.

Generally speaking, one of the fundamental lessons of the crisis is that when we underestimate financial risks and focus only on the short term, we set the stage for a future catastrophe. The new principles for bank remuneration, which the international community have agreed within the framework of the Financial Stability Board, were established precisely in order to ensure that there is no incentive for operators and traders in particular to favour the most risky attitudes and decisions, leading to illusory profits in the short term at the expense of the long-term interests of the financial enterprises concerned and the stability of the financial system as a whole.

It is always interesting to see how central bankers tend to start their answers by saying that they will not make any specific comment on a market or an asset price and then make a broad statement about how financial markets need to be careful and not create bubbles. This reminds me of the famous question by Alan Greenspan back in December 1996: "How do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values?" Great question and I would like to know the answer!

Should central banks provide more guidance to help us answer our questions and doubts about asset prices (or other financial market developments)? Should they share their views and forecasts on the evolution of asset prices as they do for other financial variables, such as interest rates? I do not know what the right answer to these question is but I find the current communication style from central banks ("no specific comment on that question but...") unsatisfactory.

Antonio Fatás

on December 10, 2009 |   Edit