IMF’s Georgieva urges central bank independence amid election-year rate-cut pressures

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 5:05 AM

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva warned on Thursday that central banks face growing political pressure to cut interest rates during a major election year but policymakers need to maintain their independence.

Georgieva said in a blog posted on the IMF website that central banks with stronger independence scores are more successful in controlling inflation and keeping inflation expectations in check.

“Calls are growing for interest rate cuts, even if premature, and are likely to intensify as half the world’s population votes this year,” Georgieva said.

“Risks of political interference in banks’ decision-making and personnel appointments are rising. Governments and central bankers must resist these pressures,” she added.

She said that central bankers’ success in preventing a global financial meltdown during the COVID-19 pandemic was quickly followed by monetary tightening to bring down inflation. Both efforts were a function of their independence and the credibility that goes along with that.

By contrast, Georgieva said that during the high inflation period of the 1970s, central banks did not have clear mandates to prioritize price stability, nor clear laws protecting their autonomy, and as a result, they were often pressured by politicians to cut interest rates.

She cited IMF research showing that between 2007 and 2021, central banks with strong independence scores were more successful in keeping inflation expectations in check.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said on Wednesday that the U.S. central bank was still on track for three rate cuts this year, but their timing depended on Fed officials becoming more confident that inflation was declining towards a 2% target even as the economy outperforms expectations.

The Fed has faced increasing calls from U.S. lawmakers to cut rates to help bring down mortgage costs for homebuyers and boost financing for small businesses and clean energy projects.

Georgieva said strong governance was important to ensure central bank independence, and other branches of government had responsibilities in helping central banks achieve their objectives, including through fiscal prudence.

“Enacting prudent fiscal policies that keep debt sustainable helps to reduce the risk of “fiscal dominance” – pressure on the central bank to provide low-cost financing to the government, which ultimately stokes inflation,” Georgieva said.

She added that the IMF stood ready to provide technical assistance to member countries that were seeking to strengthen their monetary policy frameworks.

“We make independence an explicit pillar in some Fund-supported financing programs, agreeing with members on actions to measure and achieve it,” Georgieva added.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Stephen Coates)