Belfast Telegraph

Rapid rise in interest rates needed to stop high inflation

By David Prosser and Sean Farrell

Interest rates must rise sooner rather than later to stop high inflation taking hold, the influential Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has warned.

In its annual report, the BIS said interest rates may have to rise more quickly than expected to stop loose monetary policy from further pushing up prices.

It also warned that delaying cuts to reduce budget deficits could heighten the sovereign debt crisis, with grave results if investors lost confidence in a major economy such as the US.

"With the arrival of sharper increases for food, energy and other commodities, inflation has become a global concern," the BIS said. "Tighter global monetary policy is needed in order to contain inflation pressures and ward off financial stability risks."

The BIS is the international body that came closest to predicting the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009. As the banker to the world's central banks, it is in charge of co-ordinating their response to the turmoil.

Its comments on inflation were aimed at booming emerging markets but also at developed countries where central banks are struggling to balance efforts to support economic growth with rising prices driven by the cost of commodities such as oil, wheat and cotton.

The Bank of England's monetary policy committee last week signalled no early move to lift rates from their record 0.5% low, and it has argued that inflation will ease as short-term price increases are not repeated. But the BIS warned that rising prices could take hold and it cast doubt on the Bank's view.

"The great danger is that long-term inflation expectations will start to climb and current price developments and policy stances are sending us in the wrong direction," it said. "As yet there has been no move by the monetary policy committee but one wonders how long its current policy can be sustained."

The annual report warns that despite making progress towards stability, the global economy remains beset by many of the problems that caused the financial crisis three years ago and could be pitched back into chaos.

The report was published at the end of a three day meeting of central bankers in Geneva at which the BIS proposed additional capital requirements for the world's most systemically important banks - including HSBC, Barclays and other UK lenders.

The BIS proposes that banks should hold up to 2.5% more capital if they are systemically important, with an extra charge if they further increased in size and significance. It warned that a key threat to recovery was "lingering indebtedness in the private sector - households as well as financial and non-financial firms - which must be cut to levels well below those seen in the middle of the last decade".

It also identified the failure of trading nations to tackle the current account imbalances - the root cause of the financial crisis according to many economists.

The report also offered tacit support to George Osborne's aggressive drive to cut Britain's budget deficit.

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