Facing pressure from competitive easing at the ECB, the Riksbank, and the NationalBank, and with low oil prices weighing on the economy even as the dynamics of fiscal stimulus force the Norges Bank to be a reluctant buyer of NOK, Norway relents, cutting rates by 25bps and hinting at further cuts to come.
We are experiencing 1970’s style stagflation, coming from the supply side, not demand. Prices are going up because Norges Bank continues to destroy the Norwegian Krone, turning it into the Nordic Peso. This is where they are “hiding” the damage to save rest of the economy. For example, housing prices will rise in NOK but fall in USD or gold (universal commodity) terms. It’s a shell game, leading to long term decline or even worse, an unexpected period of elevated inflation, requiring a rapid rise in interest rates.
"If central banks do not achieve their medium-term inflation targets through NIRP, they may have to adopt other policy measures: looser fiscal policy and even helicopter money are possible in scenarios beyond QE and negative rates.
When last we checked in on Norway, we documented the country's currency conundrum which is keeping the krone from depreciating as much as the Norges Bank would probably like in the face of flagging economic growth. On Tuesday we get the latest data out of the country and sure enough, GDP growth has flatlined. A rate cut next month is now virtually assured.
On Tuesday we got the latest evidence that officials across the globe are preparing to institute a cashless “utopia” when Handelsblatt reported (in a piece called "The Death of Cash") that the Social Democrats - the junior partner in Angela Merkel’s coalition government - have proposed a €5,000 limit on cash transactions and the elimination of the €500 note. Berlin is using a familiar scapegoat to justify the plan: the need to fight "terrorists" and “foreign criminals."
Many believed that the NOK was backed by oil, not requiring a gold reserve. However, oil is no longer a scarce resource but an abundant commodity. Switzerland, Germany, America and other first world nations have gold reserves. Norway should have one too.
This is the paradox for Norway: the country needs to buy NOK in order to fund stimulus and support the economy. But by doing so, the Norges Bank is putting upward pressure on the currency at a time when it really needs to depreciate. In other words, what Norway must do to pay for stimulus (buy kroner) is indirectly hurting the economy by keeping the NOK from depreciating and functioning as a counter cyclical buffer.
Slumping crude prices are weighing heavily on Norway's economy as the government looks to its $830 billion sovereign wealth fund to plug budget holes and pay for fiscal stimulus. Officials hope a weaker krone can serve as a shock absorber but with Mario Draghi stuck in easing mode, that may prove to be an increasingly dubious proposition.
Norway is in trouble. As we have detailed previously (here, here, here, and here), the world's largest sovereign wealth fund has begun liquidating assets (after its largest quarterly loss) as the nation faces recessionary fears (key data deterioration as oil stays lower for longer) with expectations building (despite denials by the central bank) that ZIRP (or even NIRP) is coming. Why? Simple - as the following real-time map shows - every one of Norway's oil fields are currently underwater!
When Mario Draghi “disappointed” markets in December by “only” cutting the depo rate by 10 bps and “merely” extending PSPP by six months while electing not to expand monthly asset purchases, the Riksbank, the Nationalbank, the Norges Bank, and the SNB all breathed heavy sighs of relief. And while we doubt the ECB is done when it comes to going "full-Krugman" (as it were), Mario Draghi’s “hawkish” ease did buy his counterparts some breathing room. Case in point: Denmark just hiked.
Look out Stefan Ingves, the 2 and 20 crowd smells blood: "The market seems eager to challenge the Riksbank and there are rumors that many foreign hedge funds are long kronor and see a weakening of the krona after a possible intervention as a good buying opportunity.”
While the market might have been disappointed by the ECB’s “underdelivery in December, it came as a relief for the Riksbank, the SNB, the Norges Bank, and the Nationalbank who are effectively forced to cut each time the ECB eases or risk seeing upward pressure on their respective currencies. That dynamic has led to a veritable race to the Keynesian bottom with Norway as the last man standing in terms of conducting monetary policy with rates above zero. As we enter the new year, a number of questions remain regarding Europe's headlong plunge into NIRP-dom.
Following the latest BOJ statement, the market found itself wrongfooted assuming the BOJ was actually launching another episode of easing, sending the USDJPY soaring, until suddenly the realization swept the market that not only was the incremental action not really material, but even Kuroda spoke shortly after the announcement, confirming that "today's decision wasn't additional easing." The result was one of the biggest FX headfakes in recent days, perhaps on par with that from December 4 when EUR shorts were crushed, as the biggest carry pair first soared then tumbled and since the Yen correlation drives so many risk assets, also pulled down not only Japanese stocks but US equity futures.