Fear factor: Traders working in the S&P options pit at the Chicago Board of Options Exchange in Chicago, illinois. The prospect of the first hike in US rates in almost a decade had kept emerging markets on edge in the weeks leading up to the Fed’s decision.
It doesn't sound like much - but its significance is mighty.
After nearly a decade of what has been, essentially, a global economic effort - and experiment - to save the world from financial calamity, the Federal Reserve, the central bank to the world's largest economy, has decided, finally, to try a touch of "normalisation".
Getting economies "back to normal" was always the hope during that remarkable time when the financial system was in danger of going bust.
Central banks around the world slashed interest rates to near zero and created billions of pounds of support for governments and the wider economy.
I'm not sure anyone thought that, eight years on, we would still be in a near zero interest rate world. Or, in cases such as the eurozone, a negative interest rate world.
The financial crisis - a banking crisis which so damaged confidence and put the world in "risk-off" mode - more fundamentally damaged the global economy than many initially predicted.
Paying off debts - deleveraging - and not taking on more risk became the order of the day for governments that had over-borrowed and banks, businesses and consumers that had become drunk on easy credit.
Now the Federal Reserve has moved interest rates up a small notch.
The hike is a "doveish" one, with the Fed statement making it clear that any future increases will be "gradual".
Primarily, the rate rise is a signal about the strength of the US economy and shows that the chairwoman of the Fed, Janet Yellen, believes that the long march back to more normal economic conditions can begin.
Employment levels in America are high and growth is running at just over 2%.
Ms Yellen, a cautious governor, does not want to overdo it. She says the pace of growth in the US economy is "modest". And inflation is below target.
When America stirs, the rest of the world takes notice.
Rising US interest rates could mean higher debt repayments for emerging market governments and businesses - as the amount owed is denominated in dollars.
And with higher interest rates in America, investment capital will be encouraged across the Atlantic and away from Asia in the hunt for better returns.
That could affect Europe as well.
On the upside, the stronger dollar which has followed the rise might be good for European and Asian economies as it means exports to America are cheaper.
Could it increase pressure on Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, and his colleagues on the Monetary Policy Committee, to raise interest rates in Britain in 2016?
Many say yes.
The UK economy is strengthening, as is America.
The Bank insists the positive signs are not yet strong enough, but with employment rising and wage increases above the rate of inflation, a 2016 interest rate rise is certainly considered possible by many economists, including Sir Charlie Bean, the former deputy governor of the Bank of England.
Mr Carney has made it clear, in a way similar to the Federal Reserve, that when a rate rise comes it will be small and any subsequent increases will be gradual.
Homeowners with mortgages will need to factor in higher payments.
Savers who have seen years of very low interest rates are likely to heave a sigh of relief as, finally, the world starts approaching economic normality.
By Kamal Ahmed Business editor BBC
Markets rise on rate hike - However, concerns linger on adverse impact of further increases
PETALING JAYA: Key regional markets, including Bursa Malaysia, reacted positively to the United States Federal Reserve’s (Fed) first interest rate hike in nine years, although concerns linger on the impact to be felt on the future rate hikes anticipated to take place next year.
In a knee-jerk reaction to the rate rise, which sent out a signal that the US economy was now on a stronger footing, the local key benchmark index, the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KL Composite Index, closed 1.37% or 22 points up to 1,656 points, with market breadth across the bourse generally positive.
World Bank country manager for Malaysia Faris Hadad-Zervos said the issue of the Fed hike had been the longest-talked-about and most-anticipated one to date.
“It is still too early to tell the impact of the move, but our analysis so far indicates that the Malaysian Government policy and market have long internalised the move into their estimates and sentiment about the economy.”
Yesterday, the Fed raised its key interest rate from a range of 0% to 0.25% to a range of 0.25% to 0.5%, signalling that the economic health of the world’s largest economy had improved since the days of the 2007/2008 financial and subprime crises.
“I feel confident about the fundamentals driving the US economy, the health of US households and domestic spending,” CNN Money quoted Fed chief Janet Yellen as saying. Yellen was reported to have said that further increases would be gradual, with rates likely to remain low “for some time”. Economists in the US have predicted that the Fed could raise the rates by between 50 basis points (bps) to 100 bps next year.
While yesterday’s rate hike caused emerging markets to react positively, as most of them had already priced in a rate hike in the US, concerns of further increases on interest rates on capital flows remained.
The biggest fear is that investors would take even more of their capital out of emerging markets, which have enjoyed rapid growth in recent years, and move it to the US, which presumably will yield higher returns now that its economy is firmly on the path to recovery.
Already, investors have pulled out about US$500bil from markets in emerging countries in 2015, the first annual outflow since 1988, Forbes reported, citing the Institute of International Finance estimates.
Notably, a strengthening US dollar will negatively affect regional companies which have dollar-denominated bonds.
In its Asean strategy report entitled “May the Fed be with you”, Nomura Research noted that lower commodity prices, fiscal consolidation and rising costs were weighing down on domestic demand in Malaysia even as the export sector continued to perform well and support overall growth.
“Stocks to focus on will likely be ones that are cheap, large-cap, higher-yielding and ones more recently under pressure. But it is still unlikely that Malaysia will outperform, given the weaker earnings outlook,” Nomura told clients.
It added that banks offered “earnings visibility at cheap valuations”, while healthcare stocks and exporters benefited from the depreciation of the ringgit.
Year-to-date, the ringgit has lost as much as 23% against the US dollar, making it one of the worst-performing currencies in the region although it strengthened against the greenback and other key regional currencies at yesterday’s close.
Interestingly, Nomura said the Philippines offered the best growth prospects and it was “overweight” on it.
“Despite the recent correction and negative momentum in earnings revisions, the macro fundamentals remain very favourable for double-digit earnings growth next year,” it said.
Elsewhere in the commodity markets, crude oil continued to be under pressure owing to more supply than demand, with the benchmark West Texas Intermediate and Brent crude oil prices trading at US$35.52 and US$37.19 per barrel, respectively, almost 50% down from June last year.
By Yvonne Tan The Star/Asia News Network
A sigh of relief from Asian central bankers - Regional currencies and stocks reat favourably to US rate hike
SYDNEY: Asian governments and central bankers has breathed a collective sigh of relief after currencies edged up and stocks rallied rather than recoiled at the US Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates.
The prospect of the first hike in US rates in almost a decade had kept emerging markets on edge in the weeks leading up to the Fed’s decision, amid fears investors would redirect capital to higher-yielding US debt in a fresh blow to their shaky economies.
However, an initial rally smoothed the brows of Asian central bankers who were the first to respond to the hike as US policymakers sought to end an era of ultra-low rates that followed the global financial crisis.
“It is a relief that even despite the Fed rate hike, turbulence in global financial markets has not been large,” said South Korea’s Vice-Finance Minister Joo Hyung-hwan.
The more composed initial reaction was aided by the fact the Fed had clearly flagged the move in advance, and also said the pace of tightening would be gradual – an important signal for many asset markets adjusting to less stimulus after years of flush Fed liquidity.
However, Citibank’s Asian economic team said while equities and credit market had perked up, the response of commodity market suggested caution.
“We have long argued that early signs of growth in emerging markets would be seen in commodity markets, so we take heed that neither energy nor metal prices shared the optimism of the equities and credit markets,” the analysts said in a report.
Hong Kong’s top central banker, who was obliged to immediately match the Fed’s hike under the Chinese-run city’s peg to the US dollar, said he expected only a modest outflow of capital as a result of the central bank’s move.
China’s central bank also added to the reassuring mood, pencilling in economic growth of 6.8% for next year in a working paper released on Wednesday, down only slightly from an expected 6.9% this year.
A senior researcher at an official Chinese think tank chimed in, saying the hike would not lead to major economic disruption.
Zeng Gang, director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences banking research division, told the official People’s Daily paper that as the rate rise had been widely expected, it had been priced into markets and the announcement impact was limited.
Data showing drops in exports from Japan and Singapore, including big falls in shipments to China, sounded some of the few sour notes yesterday, but Tokyo too voiced relief that emerging markets were taking the US rate hike in their stride. — Reuters