G-20 finance chiefs meet to calm jitters over China's slowdown

(From left to right) Turkish central bank governor Erdem Basci, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, Australia's Finance minister Joe Hockey, Governor of the Banque de France Christian Noyer, Governor of the Bank of Mexico
(From left to right) Turkish central bank governor Erdem Basci, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, Australia's Finance minister Joe Hockey, Governor of the Banque de France Christian Noyer, Governor of the Bank of Mexico Agustin Carstens and Governor of Reserve Bank of India Raghuram Rajan take part in a meeting as part of the G20 finance ministers meeting in Ankara.PHOTO: AFP

ANKARA (AFP) - G-20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the world's top 20 economies met in Turkey on Friday (Sept 4), hoping to calm the nerves of markets rattled by China's slowing performance and the prospect of a US rate hike.

The finance chiefs gathered in Ankara under Turkey's G-20 presidency - a role that in 2016 goes to China - at a time of some alarming indicators from the global economy, in particular from key emerging markets.

But a source close to the talks said that it is not likely the two major sources of concern - China's slowdown and the US Federal Reserve's monetary policy - will be directly referenced in the final communique.

"It's not the way things are done here" at the G-20, said the source, adding it would be highly unusual for the statement, whose every word is negotiated months in advance, to refer to a specific central bank or country.

It would also be next to impossible to produce a unified text on the issue, with major divergences between the economic superpowers of the world.

The United States has already publicly rebuked Beijing for the opacity of its statistics and its strategy of supporting the domestic economy before anything else.

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said on Thursday that he would be looking for China's leaders to take responsibility for their sharp devaluation of the yuan in August and improve transparency.

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Ms Christine Lagarde, has urged the world's top economies to be vigilant in the face of the consequences of a slowing Chinese economy, which has already caused panic selling on global stock exchanges and a further sharp fall in the price of oil.

But a senior government source from a major economy insisted there was "no need to stigmatise anyone" and noted that the Chinese stock market's fall of 40 per cent came after it had doubled in value in recent times.

"There is no sense that China is going to be put in the dock for the accused," the source said.

"We have every confidence in the capacity of the Chinese government but it has to communicate in a clearer way."

Besides China, markets have also been shaken by uncertainty over the future monetary policy of the Fed.

Markets have for months been speculating about the possibility of a rate rise from the Fed's Sept 16 to 17 policy meeting, which could be justified on the grounds of the robustness of the US economy.

But a tightening of US monetary policy would also have the effect of hoovering up liquidity from the global economy - bad news for key emerging markets like Brazil and Russia which are in a deep slump.

It would also be worrisome for host Turkey which has seen its own growth slow amid persistently high inflation and a sharp fall in the value of its currency.

London-based consultancy Capital Economics said on Friday that on some measures the slowdown in emerging markets in the second quarter of this year means their growth is now not much faster than developed markets.

"In pretty much every case (in the second quarter), growth slowed and several major emerging markets, notably Brazil and Russia, are now in recession," its chief emerging markets economist Neil Shearing said in a note to clients.

The Institute of International Finance, an industry association, said the recent decline in equity and currency values in several emerging markets "has reached crisis proportions".

Even if the Fed were to postpone the mooted rate hike until later this year "it would provide only short-term relief", it added.

The IMF indicated on Thursday that the Fed has the room to hold off from raising interest rates for the moment amid a "pretty bumpy" global economic situation.

The Fed has held its benchmark federal funds rate at the zero level since 2008 to pull the US economy back from crisis.

In a closely watched release, the US Labor Department said on Friday the unemployment rate fell to 5.1 per cent, the lowest since early 2008, but economists said the data would not push the Fed to raise interest rates.

US and European markets tumbled after the release, with investors apparently still uncertain over the Fed's intentions.

Rumours that Brazil's finance minister Joaquim Levy was about to step down added to growing jitters in the world's seventh-biggest economy. But the government denied the speculation.