Strategy: All eyes on the 'talking heads'

The art of Kremlinology

This week has been full of speeches from global central banks. According to Bloomberg alone, 14 speeches from the ECB and 17 speeches from Fed members were scheduled. On top of this we had FOMC minutes. The reasons are that the important 26 October ECB meeting, where the board has promised to outline the future for the ECB QE programme, is drawing closer; the Fed is widely discussing balance sheet reduction and low inflation versus a low unemployment rate and, not least, that we have the annual IMF meeting in Washington this week.

However, there is still plenty of information for central bank watchers to scrutinise. Central bank watching is sometimes referred to as the new art of ‘Kremlinology', a term applied to Western analysts during the cold war who were trying to figure out what was really going on behind closed doors at the Kremlin. Even small changes in wording, the removal of certain people from the public and the way articles were arranged in Pravda were scrutinised. The question is whether these signals were intentional and indeed they were probably often misinterpreted by analysts.


Forecasting capabilities have not improved

The uncertainty is how much value we can actually derive from central bank watching. It has been best practice among central banks for years to provide information about monetary policy in order to increase its effectiveness.

However, what about the art of forecasting financial and macroeconomic variables? In a working paper from the Swiss National Bank (SNB), the authors Thomas Lustenberger and Enzo Rossi argue, based on a large sample of data, that increased central bank communication does not improve the accuracy of private forecasts. Furthermore, they argue that more frequent communication increases both forecast errors and their dispersion. So, perhaps ‘speech is silver, silence is golden' when it comes to forecasting on the back of central bank speeches.


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