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How Mario Draghi will stop Janet Yellen from raising rates for years

As long as the ECB is printing money, no central bank can lift interest rates

DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi controls global interest rates, which means the U.S. and the U.K. won’t be raising rates any time soon.

(MarketWatch) — Maybe right after Christmas. Perhaps in the spring. Certainly before the summer. In the City, highly paid analysts and economists are still sketching out scenarios for when the Bank of England will hike interest rates for the first time in seven years.

Likewise, on Wall Street an even larger army of Fed watchers is trying to calculate when Janet Yellen will start to tighten policy. It didn’t happen in September, despite widespread expectations that it might. But December is still on the table, and next year looks more likely than not.

While the ECB is still aggressively pumping money into the system, it is impossible for other central banks to tighten.

And yet, in reality, most of them should stop bothering. Why? Because the European Central Bank is now driving this process, and it is likely to keep rates at zero, not just for the euro bloc it manages, but for the world.

The logic is very simple. While the ECB is still aggressively pumping money into the system, it is impossible for other central banks to tighten. Through the currency markets, it would wreak too much havoc on their own economies. And since it looks impossible for rates to rise in Europe any time soon, they are not going to rise anywhere else.

When he is not talking about the European Union, or about climate change, Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney likes to spend his time warning everyone of an imminent rise in interest rates. Carney argued that borrowers should be preparing themselves for a rate rise that was a “possibility,” although he added “not a certainty.”

Back in July, he told a parliamentary committee that “the point at which interest rates rise is getting closer.” He has been wheeling out the same remarks every few weeks for the last couple of years.

And yet, despite that, the day when rates actually do go up never seems to arrive.

It is much the same for the Federal Reserve.

At a meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Lima earlier this month, Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer argued that a rate rise was still a possibility during the remaining months of 2015. New York Fed President William Dudley has made precisely the same point, along with a succession of senior officials. And perhaps it is a possibility, just as a rate rise at the September meeting was, at some point at least, on the cards.

And yet, just like the Bank of the England, the day itself never seems to quite arrive.

So what is holding them back?

The federal funds target rate has been near zero since 2008, but the economic emergency that inspired such low rates is long since over.