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Fed caution belies a greater weakness in Central Banks, but may free up metals

Fed caution belies a greater weakness in Central Banks, but may free up metals
Control of interest rates dollars isn't the tool it once was

Metal prices responded with mild indifference to the Fed’s decision yet again to keep rates on hold.

“Thanks to Yellen there’s less metal sellin’,” wrote one commentator. The dollar dropped, a little, and metals gained, a little.

Gold did well, although in spite of what CMC Markets called a “huge” jump following the Fed’s decision, it is still down from its mid-summer highs.

All told, it was such that on the day, and in spite of the ubiquitous media coverage of the Open Markets Committee meeting, other events were still able to move prices.

Thus, sentiment about striking transport workers ended up exerting more of an upward pull on the iron ore price than anything the Fed did or did not say, according to commentary by Marex Spectron.

In the event iron ore closed 4% higher and dragged zinc and nickel up too, although for the base metals there was also a certain amount of short-covering at work too.

Does any of this mean that the Fed’s decision-making process is becoming less influential on the metals markets?

Up to a point.

A decision to do nothing is still a decision, and market pundits will need to wait for the effect of the next rise - when it does finally come - before a real judgement as to the current strength of the Fed’s influence can be made.

As to that, the question is when - or indeed if - such a rise will ever come?

Markets are now pricing in December as the most likely date for the next rise, this after the Fed said at the beginning of 2016 that it expected four increases across the year.

But with the uneventful passing off of the September meeting, that aspiration has now fallen by the wayside.

Will the new aspirations fall away too?

This time round, the timing of the Fed meeting coincided almost exactly with a decision by the Bank of Japan to extend and elaborately tweak its quantitative easing programme.

In that context, any Fed move was always going to be hard to justify, in spite of increasing dissent from Messrs George, Mester and Rosengren.

But the BoJ will always be out there, as will the late, but now accepted European inclination towards easing and, to the extent that it’s still relevant, the easing programme of the Bank of England.

What the Fed really has to make its mind up about is not whether it wants to raise rates – it does - but whether it wants to swim against the international tide.

Other central banks are not raising rates. Exceptionalist America, led in part by Donald Trump, but also including some very respectable economic opinion, says that ought not to matter.

Those of a more liberal turn argue that the new interlinking of the global economy means that it matters a great deal.

And so it may be that the discussion eventually turns away from a purely economic analysis to the broader question: can America still stand on its own, taking on all comers?

Or does it now, in a world where Chinese credit policy is becoming almost important as US interest rate policies, admit that it no longer has quite the clout it once did?

Of course, reports of the death of American global hegemony have been greatly exaggerated. It was hardly a hegemony when thousands of Soviet missiles were pointing in all sorts of nasty directions and half of the world was economically and ideologically opposed to US aims and strategies.

Now, the Chinese have to some extent replaced the Soviet Union as the great American bête noir, but there’s a sense that the hearts of both naturally capitalistic nations aren’t really in this antagonism.

In the end, everyone wants to get rich. The Chinese government wants its own citizens to get rich so they don’t rise up and overthrow it. And the American government, when all is said and done, has very similar policy goals.

The falling away of the Fed’s ability to influence events with active monetary intervention probably says less about declining US power, and more about the declining power of Central Banks and big government to influence global economics.

If that is the case, markets will go their own way, and it may be true after all that the Fed’s ability significantly to influence metals prices is on the wane.




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