A central bank is an institution that is responsible for setting the monetary and interest rate policies for the country in which they reside. This means that it’s the job of the central bank to make sure that the economy is stable and growing while the prosperity of its nation's citizens continues to strengthen. This is no small task either because most major nations are rather large and have a lot of moving parts within their economy.
Introduction to Central Banks
All developed nations have their own central bank that is tasked with controlling the country’s monetary policies. The monetary policy actions of the central bank will directly influence the price movements of the country’s currency. This is because they have full control over the available money supply and set the interest rates. This makes them a big deal to the Forex market.
Control over interest rates, money supply, monetary policy, and much more is why central banks are so important to watch for all Forex traders. Everything that they do will have a certain degree of impact on the price of their currency, and therefore, will have an impact on the trading decisions that Forex traders will take.
There will be many times when the central banks will dictate how a trader will navigate Forex the market. In fact, when central banks need to make decisive policy actions these are the times when it’s actually less risky and there are more pips to be made. Even though it can be more volatile in these times it can make for very safe trades if a trader has an excellent understanding of the fundamental situation with central banks and the Forex market.
One of the things that a Forex trader needs to do is monitor what the central banks are doing and saying. The process for monitoring central banks is quite simple. But before a trader gets too bogged down worrying about all the policies and intricacies of the central banks, all they really need to understand is what the central banks are thinking or what is currently concerning them the most right now in real-time. Traders typically do not need to concern themselves with things that the central banks themselves are not concerned with. This makes the interpretation of a central bank a bit simpler.
It’s important when a trader is analyzing a central bank to appreciate that there are only one or two things that they need to concern themselves with at any given time. The things that Forex traders need to be concerned with are the exact same things that the central banks are saying they are concerned with. Whatever they are concerned with is going to drive their decisions on how they are looking to enact their monetary policies to keep the economy stable and growing. As a consequence of this analysis, traders get insight into where interest rates may be headed in the near future.
Why Traders need to know what Central Banks are Thinking
The reason traders need to know what a Central Bank is thinking is that if traders know how the central banks are thinking, what they are happy and unhappy with, then they can use that information to try and predict how the market will react to that information in the very near future. This is because big institutional players are searching for these same clues because they too are trying to get in on developing price trends as early as possible. It’s human nature to want to predict where the price of something is heading so that we can make the most money with the least risk in the shortest amount of time possible. This is the thought process of the big players and is the same process that retail traders want to be in tune with.
Questions to Ask about Central Banks
- What are the central banks thinking?
- What is their next possible move on interest rates and why?
- How is their nation’s economy performing?
- What is the central bank concerned with?
- What economic data has the central bank stated they are watching closely? (These will be the economic data sets that traders want to monitor closely as well).
A Brief History of Central Banks
Let’s take a quick look at central bank history for some context on how the modern financial system got to where it is today.
1870 - 1914
Between 1870 and 1914 the value of most major currencies was pegged to gold. This meant that it was much easier to maintain a stable currency price than it is today when there is no [gold standard] in place. This is because the amount of gold available in the world was limited so it wasn’t too difficult to keep inflation under control. The price of gold was also historically quite stable at the time.
During this time the main role of the central bank was to ensure that people were able to convert gold into currency and issue an appropriate number of bank notes based on the country’s reserve of gold.
World War 1 and 2
Then came along World War 1 and 2 which forced central banks all over the world to change course. The financial toll associated with the cost of war became so large that governments needed to raise a lot of extra money and they needed to do it fast to keep up with all the cost pressures. War is certainly not a cheap thing to do.
They raised this extra money by abandoning the [gold standard]. With this newfound power to do whatever they wanted governments started printing vast sums of money to pay for the extra costs of war and repairing all the damages that resulted from the fighting. Doing this led to steep inflation, which in many parts of the world became completely out of control. Inflation went so high that it forced most governments to eventually return to the gold standard.
Because it was obvious that politicians with too much power over the supply of money is not good for the stability of their country’s currency the solution was to create completely independent central banks to guide monetary policy outside of politics.
Central banks have been around for hundreds of years but in their current status and design, they have only been around since about the mid-20th century.
Central Banks and Interest Rates
Before delving further into central banks it makes sense to understand a little about interest rates first. Traditionally, Forex market traders have been heavily invested in understanding interest rates and interest rate policies. It is consumed over what interest rates are for a particular nation and, more importantly, where they think interest rates are heading over the medium and long term outlook. The expectations are one of the most important things the Forex market will attempt to price in and nowhere is this truer than when it comes to interest rates.
The Forex market participants will aggressively try and price in their expectations of future interest rate policy virtually every day. This is because there are so many asset management firms that are heavily dependent on the interest paid for holding particular currencies in their portfolios. These large asset management firms rely heavily on guaranteed interest payments from central banks and government bonds. Many of the largest asset management firms in the world are heavily invested in multiple countries and therefore need to watch the particular currencies of the countries they are invested in quite closely.
If interest rates are rising in a particular nation then this is generally considered to be a positive thing for the native currency which tends to move higher in interest rate hiking cycles. If interest rates are falling within a particular nation then this is typically a bad thing for the native currency and prices typically fall.
It’s the central bank of each nation that controls the interest rate for their respective nation. If the Forex market is obsessed with interest rates and the path they are headed on, then it makes logical sense that Forex traders would want to get to know the central bank of the nation’s currency that they are interested in trading.
Because the central banks control interest rates this forces the Forex market participants to become laser focussed on what each individual central bank is talking about and doing in the market. The market also pays very close attention to the individual central bank members as well.
Overview of what Central Banks do
Money Supply: This is simply the total amount of money that is available within the financial system of a particular nation. It’s the amount of money currently in circulation within an economy.
Central banks are generally considered to be the “lender of last resort”. This means that when the economy is struggling and commercial banks cannot cover the demand for money the central bank has the power and the resources to step in and take an appropriate level of action. In other words, the central bank is there to stop the banking system from collapsing in on itself. They do this by manipulating the available money supply.
Most modern economies are very complex, and because of the lack of regulations, financial systems tend to get themselves into trouble about once every 10 years on average. This is why central banks need to keep a close eye on developing trends in the economy to make sure that things don't get out of control, cause a financial system shock, or become unmanageable.
Aside from the primary objective of controlling the money supply, most central banks are also tasked with providing the country’s currency with price stability. It also has regulatory authority over the country’s monetary policy along with the sole right to produce and circulate new currency inside the country.
Central banks are separate from the governments of each nation. The idea is that they should perform mostly autonomously from any political issues that may be going on inside the world of politics. This is because politicians don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to managing money. This is exactly why we have central banks.
Having said that, the central bank is often referred to as “the government’s bank” in the sense that it’s the one that handles the buying and selling of government bonds and other similar transactions.
Monetary Policy and Money Supply
Monetary policy consists of the actions that a central bank takes which determine the size and rate of growth of the available money supply. This in turn will have an effect on interest rates because interest rates are one of the central bankers favorite monetary policy tools they use to help steer the economy.
Monetary policyy is maintained through actions such as modifying the interest rate, buying or selling government bonds, and changing the amount of money banks are required to keep on hand for client withdrawals.
Expansionary Monetary Policy
Expansionary monetary policy attempts to “Increase” the money supply in order to lower unemployment, boost private-sector borrowing, encourage consumer spending, and stimulate overall economic growth.
This is often referred to as "easy monetary policy." This easy monetary policy description applied to almost all major central banks after the 2007-2008 Great Financial Crisis. Almost all developed nations slashed their interest rates in an attempt to get their economies growing and expanding again.
Many economists have described this time as a modern-day depression. Interest rates were driven way down and in many cases near zero across most G8 central banks. In fact, some central banks set their interest rates below zero which means they had negative interest rates! This is not something that the world has ever seen before and we are not totally sure what the long-term ramifications are for such untraditional actions just yet.
Can you imagine putting your money into a bank and having them tell you that they are going to charge you interest for the privilege of holding onto your cash? But this is exactly what happened and is currently still happening.
Contractionary Monetary Policy
Contractionary monetary policy attempts “Decrease” or slow the rate of growth in the money supply. Sometimes a central bank will need to outright decrease the money supply in order to control inflation that is growing at a rate higher than the central bank's mandate.
Historically speaking, this has sometimes been a necessary option for a central bank. There are times when contractionary monetary policy is needed to slow economic growth, increase unemployment and depress borrowing and spending by consumers and businesses. It is just not sustainable to think an economy can grow infinitely at large growth rates. This is only done in a situation where inflation is getting way too high and needs to be controlled.
The point here is that central banks are trying to keep inflation stable and in line with their mandate. This is typically around 2% per year. If inflation starts to get too low then they will have an expansionary monetary policy and will use the tools they have to stimulate inflation. If inflation starts to get too high then the central bank will switch to a contractionary monetary policy. The whole point is to control boom and bust cycles by keeping volatility within the economy low.
When Contractionary Monetary Policy Goes Wrong
Monetary policy is not perfect all the time. It really is quite a difficult balancing act to steer economies that are so large and have so many moving parts. Let’s look at a quick example of when contractionary monetary policy goes so wrong for a couple of obvious reasons.
In the early 1980s, the Federal Reserve was forced into a situation where they had no choice but to stage an intervention. The Fed really dropped the ball and allowed inflation to get completely out of control which now reached roughly 15% annually. Do you think this was a little out of line with their mandate of keeping inflation levels stable at around 2%? It’s not like inflation went up to 15% overnight, it was years in the making.
This out-of-control inflation forced the Fed to take decisive action. In a historical event, they chose to raise the benchmark interest rate to 20%! This hike resulted in a severe recession. However, it did keep the out-of-control inflation in check by unfortunately causing harm to many everyday people and companies. There was simply no way for regular people to prepare for that level of interest rate shock.
It's obvious that inflation got so out of control because the Fed waited way too long to start slowing down the economy. Had the Fed reacted years earlier it could have kept with one of its mandates to keep price stability under control. This is considered one of the few times that a major central bank failed miserably to meet its mandates to the economy.
Exchange rates, or the pricing of currency, are generally moved by forces outside of the control of central banks. But this is not always the case because sometimes central banks will step into the market and attempt to influence the pricing of exchange rates.
We have a larger Wiki on Exchange rates that covers everything you need to know including What an Exchange Rate is, Exchange Rate Examples, The Technical Aspects of Exchange Rates, How Exchange Rates are priced and Exchange Rate Pricing Theories.
The money supply is just that; it’s the available supply of money that is circulating within an economy and globally of one particular currency. The central bank of each nation is tasked with controlling their country’s supply of money. The money supply is sometimes referred to as the “Money Stock”.
The central bank of each nation manipulates the money supply. They will increase or decrease the money supply depending on what their current monetary policies are. They do this by using a series of tools that can be employed in different market environments. A lot of this depends on where they believe they are in the economic cycle.
There are several tools that central banks can use to enact their monetary policies. In the next section, we will take an in-depth look at what tools the central banks have and how they use these tools to move the economy in the direction they desire.
Central Bank Monetary Policy Tools
Central banks are major monetary authorities that attempt to control the size and growth of money in several ways using Monetary Policy Tools. In the following Wiki on Monetary Policy Tools we will cover the types and kinds of tools that Central Banks use to control and steer the economy in their desired direction. We will look at:
- Interest Rates
- Price Controls
- Reserve Requirements
- Credit Control
- Central Banker Language
- Moral Suasion
- Open Market Operations
- Quantitative Easing
Now we are going to look at the individual central bank members' stances. That’s right, not all central bankers within a particular central bank will want the same thing when it comes to monetary policies. This means that some may prefer to have higher interest rates and other members will prefer lower interest rates and they are called Hawks and Doves. The differences in those opinions are what we discuss in the following Wiki on Hawks and Doves.
In this Wiki on Hawks and Doves you will learn the differences between a Hawk, a Dove and a Centrist. We will also explore Central Bank Member Speeches, Why not all Central Bankers are Created Equal, and why we as traders Care about Hawks and Doves.
Major Central Banks
USA – Federal Reserve (Fed)
The Federal Reserve is by far the most influential central bank in the world at the time of this writing in mid-2022. Its currency is involved in an estimated 70% of all FX transactions that take place every single day. Because of this, the actions that the Fed takes can have a strong impact on most of the world’s currency valuations. This is because the USD is one-half of most all major currency pairs.
For these reasons and more, we have created a separate Wiki devoted to understanding the Federal Reserve. In this Wiki, you will learn about the Fed Structure, its Mandate, Fed Minutes, Forward Guidance, and How the Fed Enacts its Monetary Policies.
Europe – European Central Bank (ECB)
The European Central Bank (ECB) is the prime component of the Eurosystem and the European System of Central Banks (ESCB). It is also one of seven institutions of the European Union. At the time of this writing the ECB is one of the most important central banks in the world.
United Kingdom – The Bank of England (BOE)
The Bank of England (BOE) is the central bank of the United Kingdom and the model on which most modern central banks have been based. The BOE was established in 1694 to act as the English Government's banker, and is still one of the bankers for the Government of the United Kingdom.
Japan – The Bank of Japan (BOJ)
The Bank of Japan (BOJ) is headquartered in the Nihonbashi business district in Tokyo. The BOJ is the Japanese central bank, which is responsible for issuing and handling currency and treasury securities, implementing monetary policy, maintaining the stability of the Japanese financial system, and providing settling and clearing services.
In this Wiki we will look at the BOJ structure, BOJ jawboning, their mandate and more.
Switzerland – Swiss National Bank (SNB)
The term Swiss National Bank (SNB) refers to the central bank of Switzerland. Founded in 1906, the SNB is located in Berne and Zurich, with six other offices in the country along with a branch office in Singapore. The central bank acts as an independent body, taking charge of the country's monetary policy and ensuring national price stability.
Canada – The Bank of Canada (BOC)
The Bank of Canada (BOC) is Canada's central bank and was established in 1934 under the Bank of Canada Act. The Act stated that the Bank of Canada was created “to promote the economic and financial welfare of Canada.” The BOC and its Governor are responsible for setting monetary policies, printing money, and determining the Canadian banks' interest rates.
Australia – The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA)
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) is the central bank of Australia. The bank sets the country's monetary policy and issues and manages the Australian dollar. The RBA is involved in banking and registry services for federal agencies and some international central banks. The bank is owned entirely by the Australian government and was established in 1960.
In this Wiki, we will explore the RBA, its structure, mandates and more.
New Zealand – The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ)
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) is the name of the central bank of New Zealand. Its primary purpose is to maintain the stability of New Zealand's financial system.
Other Central Banks
There are of course other central banks that you can trade around but the ones presented here are the major ones that will present traders with the majority of their trading opportunities. Once you get comfortable with how to analyze a central bank you then might want to check out some of the Scandinavian central banks or Mexico as their currencies are liquid enough to trade and are increasing in popularity with brokers and retail traders.
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