The World When the Fed Raises Rates

VIENNA – The United States Federal Reserve is the world’s most powerful bank, and its most powerful component is the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the twelve men and women who meet eight times a year to determine – essentially by setting interest rates – the monetary policy of the world’s largest economy. The last time the Fed raised interest rates was in 2006, before the growth-sapping impact of the global financial crisis persuaded it and other central banks to lower rates effectively to zero and to employ so-called quantitative easing (QE) to pump money into advanced economies.

But this year, for the first time since 2007, every advanced economy in the world is growing – including America’s. And that means that the FOMC, fearful of asset bubbles, will at some point decide that America’s interest rates must rise. That may (or may not, depending on the timing) be good for the US economy, but what will it mean for the rest of the world?

Our research shows why the world, especially emerging countries, will be paying nervous attention. In mid-2013, when the Fed announced that it would gradually reduce its unconventional monetary-policy measures (for example, large-scale purchases of mortgage-backed securities), emerging markets suffered large capital outflows. In other words, when the Fed even hints at tightening monetary policy, other countries suffer. Depending on just how much the FOMC decides to tighten at a future meeting, we foresee negative effects on world GDP in the medium term, not only for emerging markets but also for industrialized economies.

Since the Fed started to curb its QE program, there has been constant speculation over just when its current accommodative monetary policy will end. Market participants, be they lenders or borrowers, know that “easy money” has an expiry date. They can see that after three large asset-purchase programs, the Fed’s balance sheet has more than quadrupled since 2007, totaling about $4.5 trillion in February 2015.