Why Joint Central Bank Action Is Unlikely and Won’t Work

Speculation that major central banks are planning coordinated action heightened on Friday on a media report that Group of 20 nations are preparing to provide liquidity to financial markets.


But market watchers tell CNBC that this won’t happen unless results from this weekend’s elections in Greece trigger a “Lehman-type” event, which, they believe is unlikely.

“You will see (global coordinated action) if Greece exits the euro zone and if proves to be a Lehman-type event, and you start seeing a run on the banks across the euro zone,” Alastair Newton, Managing Director and Senior Political Analyst at Nomura International, told CNBC on Friday. “You will get action from the Fed and other central banks. But not as it stands at the moment.”

Reuters reported on Friday that central banks from major economies stand ready to stabilize financial markets and prevent a credit squeeze should the outcome of Greek elections on Sunday cause panic trading next week. Markets have been volatile this week ahead of this Sunday’s elections in Greece, where a victory by the Leftist anti-austerity party Syriza might trigger an exit of the country from the euro zone and spread the turmoil to other financial markets.

U.S. stocks rallied on Thursday on the report, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 Index both gaining more than 1 percent.

The previous round of easing by the Federal Reserveand European Central Bank (ECB) back in 2008 happened because credit markets basically “froze up” after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Standard Chartered Bank’s Head of FICC (Fixed Income, Currency and Commodities) Research, Will Oswald told CNBC. This doesn’t seem to be happening this time round, he said.

“You look at the basis swap market in euro-dollar…you look at the amount of foreign commercial paper issuance in the U.S., it’s all at pretty good levels,” Oswald said. “So are you going to get the ECB stepping in right now when the funding markets are not telling us that it’s under major stress? It’s not a signal at this point.”

Even if central banks wanted to come together, it is still not clear that any action will be effective or even possible, because it will not solve the banking crisis in Europe, analysts say. Any solution will need the Europeans to agree on a pan-Europe guarantee on banking deposits, and Germany, the region’s biggest economy, is adamant against such a move.

“The real problem is the European Central Bank doesn’t have the tools it needs to guarantee the solvency of these (European) banks,” Peter Morici, Professor at University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, told CNBC Asia's "Squawk Box".

“The Federal Reserve put two trillion dollars into banks. The European Central Bank has to, in a crisis, be empowered to do that by some sort of emergency consensus and take up the role of the Federal Reserve’s place in the United States. It simply does not have these powers right now,” Morici said.

For any potential coordinated action to work, central banks may need to come up with a far bigger stimulus package than expected, Diane Swonk, Chief Economist of Mesirow Financial said. The ECB and the Federal Reserve have been reluctant to talk about potential action because there are still too many uncertainties “on too many fronts”, she added.

“Coordinated effort will require a bigger effect if used to react to, than pre-empt a crisis,” Swonk said. “(Central banks) Can't over promise at this stage; [They] don't know what will be needed or if [they] can deliver what is needed."

Don Luskin, Chief Investment Officer of Trend Macrolytics, agrees with Morici that the main issue is the ECB’s failure to implement easing measures, not a global coordinated action.

“Now, if you wanted to do something coordinated that would make a difference, let's say they all announced that they're going to do QE …Well, good luck with that,” Luskin said. “If they did, the thing that would be great about that is not that they're all going to do it, but just that the ECB would do it. For goodness’ sake, the thing that has to get coordinated is the ECB just has to loosen up a little. That's the issue.”

—By CNBC’s Jean Chua. Correspondent Sri Jegarajah contributed to this report.