March 26, 2011 / 2:42 PM / 7 years ago

Bank of Canada warns on capital flows, prices

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canada’s top central banker said on Saturday the commodity price boom could last for decades and urged his emerging market peers facing inflationary pressures not to delay raising interest rates for too long.

The rise in prices for commodities is partly due to supply effects, though underlying demand remains strong, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney said during a panel discussion at the Inter-American Development Bank’s annual meeting in Calgary.

“It’s a mistake to chalk this all up to cyclical, and that’s where one can make pretty big mistakes and delay too much, both on the monetary side, or on the pretty fundamental structural reforms,” Carney said.

“... We’re in an environment that is probably going to be with us for several decades,” he said.

One challenge for Canada, a major producer of oil, gas, grains and metals, is to rebalance trade and investment away from its top buyer, the United States, he added.

In a speech earlier on Saturday, Carney warned that misguided policies for dealing with high inflation and a flood of capital into emerging markets could lead to financial instability and weak economic growth.

“The stakes are very high,” he said.

Carney said some countries were postponing interest rate hikes, needed to arrest inflation, for fear of further boosting currencies that have already been pushed higher due to heavy capital inflows.

As the world recovers from recession, nations have clashed over foreign exchange policy as many countries adjust to ultra-low U.S. interest rates and China’s reluctance to let the yuan appreciate more freely. Investors seeking high yields have put their money into Latin America, exacerbating these tensions.

Referring to what Brazil’s finance minister dubbed the “currency wars,” Carney said that when large economies keep their currencies from appreciating, others feel pressured to follow suit. This leads to a chain reaction of other distortional policies.

“The collective impact of this behavior risks inflation and asset bubbles in emerging economies and, over time, subpar global growth,” he said.

THIS BOOM IS DIFFERENT

Carney sees the current high commodity prices persisting for much longer than in past boom cycles because of the rapid urbanization and mushrooming middle classes in emerging economies such as China and India.

“Even though history teaches that all booms are finite, this one could go on for some time,” he said.

The other thing that is different about this commodity boom -- and which could lead to dangerous global imbalances -- is that the strong demand from emerging markets is combined with tepid growth in core advanced economies such as the United States.

This shift to a “multipolar economy” is permanent and should not be underestimated, Carney said.

“Some countries are postponing monetary tightening in the hope that old relationships reassert.” Others have introduced measures to curb capital inflows. “All appear to be underestimating the scale of what is happening. Therein lies the risk of another crisis,” he said.

Carney said Latin America is the region most affected by these pressures. However, he too has grappled with a sharp currency appreciation in Canada, which has hampered the country’s recovery and allowed the Bank of Canada to keep benchmark interest rates on hold since last September. Foreign investors also bought a record amount in Canadian securities last year.

In terms of measures that can be taken in the short term to contain these pressures, Carney proposed a renewed commitment among G7 countries for floating exchange rates and a global code of conduct on capital flows.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Jones; editing by Peter Galloway

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