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.
Earlier this year, the need to stimulate the British economy was articulated by Chancellor George Osborne, when he told the Bank of England to be more flexible with its inflation target and to think carefully about the trade-off between combating inflation and the impact on the real economy. The Chancellor made it very clear that the Bank would be held accountable for this judgement.
Mark Carney seems to be taking this advice seriously. The new governor recently said that the Monetary Policy Committee would weigh the “potential trade-offs” between growth and inflation as part of its decision on when to raise interest rates. He pointed out that: “Such policy trade-offs will inform future MPC decisions on the timing of any Bank Rate increase after the threshold is reached,” referring to the 7.0% unemployment rate which underpins the Bank’s forward guidance.
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.
from Anatole Kaletsky:
It’s cynical, manipulative and hypocritical – and it looks like it is going to work. How often do you hear a sentence like this, to describe a government initiative or economic policy? Not often enough.
The media and a surprisingly high proportion of business leaders, financiers and economic analysts seem to believe that policies which are dishonest, intellectually inconsistent or obviously self-interested in their motivation are ipso facto doomed to fail or to damage the public interest. But this is manifestly untrue. The effectiveness of public policies and their ultimate desirability is in practice judged not by their motivations, but by their results.
from Nicholas Wapshott:
In the nearly five years since the worst financial crash since the Great Depression, the remedy for the world’s economic doldrums has swung from full-on Keynesianism to unforgiving austerity and back.
from Anatole Kaletsky:
The Age of Austerity is over. This is not a prediction, but a simple statement of fact. No serious policymaker anywhere in the world is trying to reduce deficits or debt any longer, and all major central banks are happy to finance more government borrowing with printed money. After Japan’s election of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the undeclared budgetary ceasefire in Washington that followed President Obama’s victory last year, there were just two significant hold-outs against this trend: Britain and the euro-zone. Now, the fiscal “Austerians” and “sado-monetarists” in both these economies have surrendered, albeit for very different reasons.
Much attention has been focused this week on the chaos in Cyprus. Coming after the Italian election and subsequent easing of Italy’s fiscal conditions, the overriding necessity to keep Cyprus within the euro -- and its military bases and gas supplies outside Russian control -- will almost surely mean another retreat by Germany and the European Central Bank from their excessive austerity demands. But an even more remarkable shift has occurred in Britain. The Cameron government, which embraced fiscal austerity as its main raison d’etre, was suddenly converted to the joys of debt and borrowing in this week’s budget.
By Nick Hostler, tax expert at BDO. The opinions expressed are his own.
Following the recent loss of the UK’s AAA rating, Chancellor George Osborne will be keen to show real progress and dedication towards eliminating the UK’s structural fiscal deficit, but must balance this with ensuring that the UK is a highly competitive and attractive location for multi-national businesses. The Budget should mark a watershed moment for the coalition government as Osborne, with an eye on the next general election, treads a fine line while demonstrating an understanding of the pressures faced by individuals and businesses across the country.
Whether he strikes this balance remains to be seen, but here is what I believe the Budget will have in store.
By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.
Budget Day again, and the pressure on Chancellor George Osborne is rising ominously. There is little agreement about what needs to be done, but complete agreement that something has to change because the state of Britain’s economy is simply awful.
Yet just look at the facts in the table below (all the data are taken from Eurostat, the EU’s own statistical agency). For the latest quarter, the UK economy contracted by 0.3 percent – but France’s performance was just as dismal, Germany’s economy shrank by twice as much, as did the euro zone as a whole. Only the USA achieved a significantly better outcome, a dazzling growth rate of zero – but at least it didn’t shrink. Year-on-year (Y-O-Y, as the pros call it), the picture is even clearer. Britain’s economic growth, a miserable 0.3 percent, was not significantly lower than Germany’s, but better than France’s minus-0.3 percent, or indeed the euro zone as a whole, which was down by 0.9 percent. Only the USA grew to any significant extent – and there are signs that it may now be starting to slow down, even before the impact of the fiscal cliff and the sequester are felt.
By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.
The title of this piece may sound like a political rant. It is not. I am probably the least political person you could meet. I am part of the generation where political apathy looms large – you won’t find me interrupting a UKIP member live on TV. In fact, my defence of Osborne is not only from his foes, but also from himself. If that hasn’t turned you off, then read on.
As we lead up to the Budget on March 20, Osborne is coming under intense pressure to do something to save the UK’s economy from a triple-dip recession. And this pressure isn’t just coming from business leaders and the opposition Labour party, it is also coming from fellow Tories, who want to have some chance of winning the next election. It could also be coming from within – Osborne’s approval ratings are dreadful, if they don’t pick up soon he could face the axe.
Following the Autumn Statement last week, pressure remains on Chancellor George Osborne to tackle the continuing fall in living standards and the growing divide between the UK’s highest and lowest earners.
While battles rage about the nature of the Government’s welfare reforms, it was refreshing to see a growing number of commentators acknowledge that it is not just those out of work that are struggling to get by. Indeed those in work will feel the greatest impact from the Government’s upcoming benefits cap, as tax credits, maternity pay and other in-work benefits are affected.
The Autumn budget is one of two scheduled statements the Chancellor gives each year to inform the public about tax and spend plans and provide the latest growth forecasts. These budget statements are useful not only for the public, but also for investors in our debt, rating agencies and global businesses. Hence they are a big deal, and it is important that they are accurate.
However, the latest statement delivered by George Osborne didn’t quite ring true. Let’s look at growth forecasts first. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), who creates this forecast, revised down 2012 GDP for the second time to -0.1% from the original forecast of 0.8%. So rather than grow at a modest, but positive, rate the economy is now expected to contract this year. If you invested in the UK partly based on this data, you could be forgiven for being rather cheesed off that your investment had yet to bear fruit.