When Mr Bernanke of the Fed speaks, the world listens.
Last month he made the commonsense point that Quantitative Easing would not continue for ever. It is surprising so many people needed telling. He explained that sometime it woudl be tapered back and eventually ended. Indeed, on two past occasions US programmes of QE have ended without major financial disruption.
This week he provided a little more detail. QE will be tapered later this year, and ended possibly by the middle of next if the US economy continues to grow well. There did not seem to be anything surprising or even worrying about that. Surely it is good news if the world’s largest economy can soon manage without the artificial stimulus of printing extra dollars to buy its own debt.
It fits in with the progress made to restore most US banks to health, to have more normal credit creation in the private sector, to see a recovery in growth, progress in getting more people into work and relatively low inflation. The US has experienced a sharp downward adjustment in property prices, and more recently a good bull run in shares reflecting the better prospects.
So why has there been such a sell off around the world? These days large operators in markets move rapidly and together when the mood changes. They decided Mr Bernanke’s speech marked a change of mood. So now everyone is hunting bad news around the world to justify the sudden reversal in attitudes. They have been selling gold, usually a safe haven in a crisis, as well as selling emerging market shares. Japan had a bear market in a few days, falling 20%. They have sold bonds as well as shares, fearing and creating higher interest rates.
Commentators looking for bad news turn to the Brazilian and Turkish riots, to the slowing of growth in India and the build up of credit in China. The outlook is not as bleak as some now suggest. Forecasters are beginning to move their forecasts for the US, the UK and even Euroland up . There is no likelihood of higher short term interest rates on either side of the Atlantic this year, and little likelihood of any increase in the UK or Euroland next year either.
There is still a big bond bubble, but the western authorities will not want to explode that too dramatically yet.