IMF acts to avoid markets meltdown
Heather Stewart, economics correspondent
Sunday May 14, 2006
The International Monetary Fund is in behind-the-scenes talks with the US, China and other major powers to arrange a series of top-level meetings about tackling imbalances in the global economy, as the dollar sell-off reverberates through financial markets.
Amid tumultuous trading, which sent the dollar to its lowest level in a year against the euro in late trading on Friday and gave the FTSE its worst day for three years, the IMF was working privately to exercise its new powers to bring decision-makers together.
At the IMF's Spring Meetings last month, its managing director, Rodrigo de Rato, was handed new responsibilities to carry out 'multilateral surveillance', assembling groups of relevant countries to discuss critical issues in the global economy. With the long-predicted dollar bear market sending ripples throughout the world, the IMF is keen to use its powers as soon as possible.
Analysts believe the weakening of the dollar is the beginning of a long-awaited readjustment in the global economy. After the Federal Reserve appeared to hint last week that it could pause in its series of interest rate rises, attention in the markets switched to the weaknesses of the US economy.
David Bloom, currency strategist at HSBC, described the switch of focus as a 'regime change'. 'I'm saying don't use the philosophical methodology you used last year: chuck it away. The market has wholesale changed the way it looks at the world,' he said, predicting that the euro could rise to $1.40 over the next 12 months, from its current level close to $1.29.
Few analysts expect IMF discussions to result in a concerted deal on stemming the dollar sell-off; but governments and central banks will want to avoid a crisis.
'We are in meltdown mode,' said David Brown, chief European economist at Bear Stearns. 'It's all being whipped up into a bit of a selling frenzy. The dollar has a massive portfolio of negatives against it: it's the long-term problems of the trade deficit, and the government's budget deficit.'
Bloom warned that 'phase two' of a sell-off would cause turmoil in the equity markets, as on Friday, when both the Dow Jones and FTSE saw sharp losses. 'I'm expecting an increase in volatility and uncertainty across the board,' he said.
Brown added that the dollar's woes were likely to be exacerbated by central banks shifting their reserves towards other currencies, including the euro. 'Asian central banks have been buying fistfuls of dollars as the flipside of their massive current account surpluses. They're long dollars.'
Yeah.... what a "boom!"