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Sudden swings expose fragility of financial markets: BIS

Traffic flows in front of the Bank for International Settlements in Basel

Sudden swings in financial markets recently suggest they are becoming increasingly sensitive to unexpected events, the global organization of central banks said on Sunday, warning “more than a quantum of fragility” underlies the current bullish mood.

MSCI’s all-country world stock index is hovering around multi-year highs after rebounding from sell-offs in August and October.

The downturns were triggered by uncertainty over the global economic outlook and monetary policy, as well as geopolitical tensions, and the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) said the sharp and sudden dips pointed to frailty in the markets.

“These abrupt market movements (in October) were even more pronounced than similar developments in August, when a sudden correction in global financial markets was quickly succeeded by renewed buoyant market conditions, ” the BIS said in its quarterly review.

“This suggests that more than a quantum of fragility underlies the current elevated mood in financial markets, ” it said, adding that recent developments suggest markets are becoming “increasingly fragile”.

“Global equity markets plummeted in early August and mid-October. Mid-October’s extreme intra-day price movements underscore how sensitive markets have become to even small surprises, ” it said in the report.

The comments followed the organization’s warning in September that financial asset prices were at “elevated” levels and market volatility remained “exceptionally subdued” thanks to ultra-loose monetary policies being implemented by central banks around the world.

Since then, the U.S. Federal Reserve has brought its monthly bond-purchase program to an expected end. However, Japan’s central bank has spurred global markets by expanding its massive stimulus spending while China unexpectedly cut interest rates, adding to stimulus measures from the European Central Bank.

The BIS said these divergent monetary policies, coupled with the recent appreciation of the dollar, could have a “profound impact” on the global economy, particularly in emerging markets where many companies have large dollar-denominated liabilities.

Separately, the BIS report said that international banking activity expanded for the second quarter running between end-March and end-June.

Cross-border claims of BIS reporting banks rose by $401 billion. The annual growth rate of cross-border claims rose to 1.2 percent in the year to end-June, the first move into positive territory since late 2011.

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