Reuters blog archive
from Anatole Kaletsky:
Students of British history will recall the story of Thomas a’Becket, the 12th century prelate who was handpicked by Henry II to become Archbishop of Canterbury because of his loyalty to the Crown. Within months of his appointment, a’Becket turned against the King in the numerous conflicts between church and state. As a result, a’Becket was murdered at the altar of Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, after four of Henry’s henchmen heard their royal master mutter in irritation: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Archbishops do not have much political clout these days, but comparable spiritual importance now attaches to central bankers. And a central banker who suddenly seems reminiscent of Thomas a’Becket is Mark Carney, the recently appointed governor of the Bank of England.
When George Osborne, the British chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister), delivered his Autumn Statement on Britain’s economic and fiscal prospects this week, he intended it as a “soft launch” for the Tory-Liberal government’s campaign for re-election in May 2015. The big set-piece speech offered Osborne an ideal opportunity to boast about the British economy’s sudden improvement this year and to announce some populist measures, such as a “voluntary” price-control regime for energy utilities, that were carefully designed to wrong-foot the Labour opposition. Osborne’s speech marked the start of a long political campaign designed to create a Pavlovian association in voters’ minds between government policies, rising house prices and the economic recovery. If this campaign is successful it will virtually guarantee election victory for the Tory-Liberal coalition -- and it could even make an outright majority for the Tories conceivable in 2015.
Last week, however, the plan for a mutually-reinforcing cycle of rising house prices, strengthening consumer confidence, accelerating economic activity and improving Tory fortunes suddenly came under threat from the most unexpected quarter. Mark Carney was hand-picked this year by Osborne and was imported all the way from Canada because he seemed to offer less resistance than any plausible British candidate to the Tory plan for a pre-election economic recovery powered by rising property prices and re-leveraging by homeowners.
If Mervyn King were still governor, it is inconceivable that Osborne could have launched the audacious guarantee scheme for highly leveraged mortgages that has been one of the main driving forces for this year’s dramatic housing recovery (the other being the flow of money into London property from southern Europe, Russia and China). Last Thursday, however, Carney suddenly changed his tune, unexpectedly announcing that “we don’t want a housing market driven by deterioration in bank balance sheets and underwriting standards.” That, of course, was exactly the purpose of Osborne’s Help to Buy scheme, announced in the March Budget and accelerated in October, with its guarantees for mortgages of up to $1 million with leverage ratios as high as twenty-to-one. In response to Carney’s broadside, Osborne made his dissatisfaction clear: “The market for higher loan-to-value mortgages remains very restricted by historical standards...and this is a significant barrier to first-time buyers.”
The European Central Bank holds its last rates meeting of the year with some of the alarm about looming deflation pricked by a pick-up in euro zone inflation last week – though at 0.9 percent it remains way below the ECB’s target of close to two percent.
The spotlight, as always, will be on Mario Draghi but also on the latest staff forecasts. If they inflation staying well under target in 2015 (which is quite likely), expectations of more policy easing will gather steam again.
from The Great Debate UK:
--Darren Williams is Senior European Economist at AllianceBernstein. The opinions expressed are his own.--
The Bank of England appears to have moved the goalposts. After 30 years of focusing almost exclusively on inflation, monetary policy is now being more explicitly directed toward generating faster growth and lower unemployment.
Ukraine continues to top the European worry list.
Monday demonstrated how quickly the financial side of the equation can spiral out of control. The hryvnia currency slumped and the cost of insuring against Ukrainian default soared, forcing the central bank to intervene and urge its citizens not to spark a bank run.
Having turned its back on the EU, Kiev must find more than $17 billion next year to meet gas bills and debt repayments. Presumably Russia will have to help out if it is not to have a basket case on its doorstep.
Ukraine’s shock decision to turn its back on an EU trade deal continues to reverberate with mass rallies on the streets of Kiev in protest at President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision.
To try to defuse tensions, Yanukovich issued a statement saying he would do everything in his power to speed up Ukrainian moves toward the EU. Is this another U-turn or mere semantics? The answer is important.
By Ian Campbell
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
George Osborne has something to boast about during his budget update on Dec. 5. UK growth is up and the deficit is down. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer has engineered an all-too-British recovery, in which house-price inflation will soon be too prominent. A radical policy shift is needed to build a genuinely sustainable revival.
Third quarter UK GDP data are likely to show robust growth – 0.8 percent or more, following 0.7 percent in Q2 – more kudos to a resurgent finance minister George Osborne who only a year ago was buried in brickbats.
We can argue about the austerity versus growth debate ‘til the cows come home – there is still a strong case that if the government hadn’t cut so sharply, growth would have returned earlier and debt would have fallen faster. But the fact that the economy is ticking along nicely 18 months before the next election means Osborne has won the argument politically.
UK finance minister George Osborne is speaking at a Reuters event today, Bank of England Deputy Governor Charlie Bean addresses a conference and we get September’s public finance figures. For Osborne, there are so many question to ask but Britain’s frothy housing market is certainly near the top of the list.
The government is extending its “help to buy” scheme at a time when house prices, in London at least, seem to be going through the roof (no pun intended). Property website Rightmove said on Monday that asking prices for homes in the capital jumped 10.2 percent in the last month alone.
The British government is poised to announce the extension of its “help to buy” scheme for potential home owners.
As of today, any buyer(s) of a property up to a value of 600,000 pounds ($960,000) who can put up a five percent deposit, will see the government guarantee to the lender a further 15 percent of the value so a bank or building society will only be lending on 80 percent of the property’s value. Until now, demands for cripplingly large deposits have shut many prospective buyers out of the market.
from The Great Debate UK:
It was only a few days ago that George Osborne declared victory on economic malaise saying that the UK economy has turned a corner. The economic data has improved dramatically in the last six months, which gave Osborne a battering ram to launch a political attack on the Labour Party. Osborne used his moment in the sun to prove Ed Balls and all on the other side of the political bench wrong, saying that his austerity programme is right for Britain.
However, a little over 24 hours after Osborne’s speech a report from the Local Data Company made for uncomfortable reading as it detailed grim conditions on the UK’s high streets. High Street vacancy rates remain stubbornly high; out of 650 town centres in the UK the average vacancy rate is 14.1 percent, which is basically unchanged since February.