x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Central Bank makes some star signings

The world of fiscal policymaking is as reliant on its major players as any other field and the country's banking regulator has just drafted in four of the very best.

As signings go it was like a football club securing the services of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, David Villa and Wayne Rooney in one swoop.

The UAE Central Bank last week announced the recruitment of four of some of the biggest names from the world of finance and economics.

Professor Robert Mundell, Sir John Bond, David Dodge and Dr Joseph Yam may not be household names like Ronaldo and his colleagues, but the four are highly regarded in their respective fields.

They arrived in Abu Dhabi last week for the first meeting of the regulator's International Advisory Council. Launched to offer guidance on future fiscal and monetary policy, the body last week held its first meeting, attended by Sultan al Suwaidi, the Governor of the Central Bank.

Prof Mundell is a Nobel-prize winning economist and Mr Dodge is a former governor of the Bank of Canada. Dr Yam is the executive vice-president of the China Society for Finance and Banking and Sir John is a former group chief executive and chairman of the UK banking giant HSBC.

Combining decades of experience across government, the private sector and academia, their appointments should go some way to helping the regulator achieve its ambitions of fine-tuning financial regulations and stimulating growth after the global financial crisis.

"This is an important step in building technical capacity," said Philippe Dauba-Pantanacce, a senior economist covering the MENA region for Standard Chartered. "We know this region will have to build its capacity if it's to go towards a more autonomous monetary policy."

A closer look at the CVs of the men suggests their individual skills may come in handy to advise on some of the most pressing policy areas facing the Central Bank.

One of the biggest tasks for the regulator in the coming months is likely to be keeping a lid on inflation. Inflationary pressures are slowly edging up, data released this week indicates.

Officials are anxious to avoid a repeat of the period before the financial crisis when inflation reached double-digit highs.

It is perhaps little surprising then that both Prof Mundell and Mr Dodge are experts on inflation.

Prof Mundell, of New York's Columbia University, has been studying inflation and its dynamics within the global financial system since the 1960s. He successfully predicted the wave of inflation to hit western economies in the 1970s and recently said there was a one-year lag between a falling US dollar and a higher inflation rate.

In his seven-year stint as the governor of the Bank of Canada until 2008, Mr Dodge was credited with helping to keep inflation under control through the use of inflation targets.

Dr Yam should also prove a valuable member of the council. As the first chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, he has had experience of regulating an economy with similar dynamics to the UAE.

Like the UAE, Hong Kong is an emerging market with large financial and property sectors and limited room for independent monetary policy due to a fixed exchange rate with the US dollar. Hong Kong has also been vulnerable in recent years to capital inflows, as has the UAE, which can risk stoking inflation in asset and consumer prices. Central Bank officials are likely to be keen to hear how Dr Yam dealt with such inflows.

The UAE was bruised by capital inflows shortly before the financial crisis. A steady stream of largely speculative money entered the country's financial markets in 2007 helping to create a housing bubble as investors brought in funds on the expectation of a currency revaluation.

The revaluation did not happen and much of the flows exited, leading to property prices tumbling and aggravating the credit crunch.

Capital inflows are likely to return in greater volumes to GCC economies in the medium term, says Masood Ahmed, the director of the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia department.

Before he stepped down from his post last October, Dr Yam was examining measures to limit lending by banks to ensure they were not over-exposed to risky assets such as the property sector.

The UAE is considering similar action. Mr al Suwaidi said this month the regulator was considering rules to cap the credit portfolio of banks.

Sir John should have views on this topic as a retired career banker who spent 45 years with HSBC, formerly the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, until 2006.

Prof Mundell may also offer his views on the thorny question of whether the UAE should move towards a more independent exchange rate by loosening the dirham's link to the US dollar.

He has been investigating the results of floating exchange rates since the 1960s. His work on monetary policy helped lay the groundwork for the creation of the euro.

Mr al Suwaidi has made it clear the UAE has no plans to de-peg the dirham from the dollar or to rejoin the GCC's proposals for a monetary union.

But ultimately, the scale of influence the four men will have on the country's fiscal regulatory future is likely to be determined by how much time they spend with leading politicians and finance chiefs, and how much say the star signings are given over Central Bank policy decisions.