In two major markets, the United States and Europe, central banks are finding themselves cornered by, respectively, a sluggish economy and a stagnant one.
In truth, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has a clearer path ahead of him than his counterpart at the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi. Both, however, are perched on precipices, surveying the possibilities of the next policy moves.
A year ago in Jackson Hole, Wyo., at the annual Fed getaway, Bernanke laid out plans for a $600 billion quantitative easing program, which provided a jump-start to a then-sluggish recovery, and not much has changed 12 months later.
The plans triggered grumbling around the globe, especially from countries such as China and Brazil who have their hearts set on an expensive U.S. dollar to keep their export businesses profitable.
Should the Fed choose to launch QE 3 -- the easing will be the third round in the post-recession era -- Bernanke will once again need to explain, for what it's worth, that the value of the dollar is not the primary reason for a new round of bond buying. He will convince nobody overseas of this line of reasoning, but he will try anyway.
In a much tighter political situation, Draghi will speak Saturday, following Bernanke's speech Friday.
As a quick aside, it is not an accident that markets will still be open when Bernanke speaks and not when Draghi speaks.
That said, Draghi needs to negotiate a clouded political atmosphere in Europe, where German central bank President Jens Weidmann, a former adviser to Chancellor Angela Merkel, is taking advantage of his new bully pulpit by obstinately opposing bond buying by the ECB.
Merkel last week sounded softer in her approach to Greece, where Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has been seeking an extension on terms that dictate the availability of international loans.
Merkel told members of her own party during the weekend to show some solidarity in the message that the eurozone, including Greece, must remain intact. She said Greece was "making a serious effort" to bring its budget into compliance.
In France, taking a more socialist stance, President Francois Hollande said the terms of the loans should not, in effect, kill the patient. The terms should be "tolerable for the population," he said, as quoted by The New York Times.
This may have prompted Weidmann's comment concerning ECB bond buying that "such a sweeping socialization of risks should be decided by parliaments and not the central banks."
A central bank president advocating for elected officials, rather than appointed financial experts, making monetary policy decisions is a signal that Weidmann is deeply committed to his bond-buying opposition.
How important is this? Draghi, who runs the eurozone bank that happens to operate in Frankfurt, Germany, certainly does not want to alienate his host country, which happens to represent the largest economy in the region he oversees. On the other hand, Weidmann represented the only no vote among 23 members of the ECB's Governing Council concerning its bond-buying policy, which called for bond-buying only after a country sought help from the European Stability Mechanism.
He is isolated, at this point, but he is not holding quiet.
In international markets Monday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose slightly, gaining 0.16 percent and the Shanghai composite index in China shed 1.74 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong lost 0.41 percent and the Sensex in India gave up 0.59 percent.
The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia lost 0.12 percent.
In midday trading in Europe, the DAX 30 in Germany rose 0.9 percent, the CAC 40 in France added 0.65 percent and the Stoxx Europe 600 gained 0.38 percent.
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