The Great Debate UK

UK chancellor has mixed message for gilt investors

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– Ian Campbell is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

The UK sounds Greek again. Britain’s new government is finding skeletons in the fiscal cupboard. George Osborne, the incoming chancellor of the exchequer, is appointing an independent watchdog to check the numbers out. The gilt market perhaps ought to recoil at the revelation that things are even worse than thought. But it’s more likely to look on the bright side: coalition honeymoon, transparency and rectitude to come.
UK government bonds will for now probably continue defying threats that kill in the Aegean. A record peacetime deficit, an inflation rate of 3.4 percent, a plunging pound: no matter, UK 10-year paper has risen in value by about 2 percent this year and yields a miserly 3.8 percent. But while Osborne’s deficit-cutting commitment will reassure, the medium-term risks to gilts remain great.
Gilts’ appeal is largely relative. UK debt levels have worsened appallingly — but are not yet appalling. Britain, like the United States, is rightly judged to have a more adaptable economy than the euro zone’s. The pound can weaken, helping competitiveness and growth and therefore favouring rebalancing of the government’s accounts.
But the growth that can save is not strongly in evidence now. Mervyn King, the Bank of England governor, has warned of possible growth disappointment as fiscal cuts kick in. Ironically this is another factor supporting gilts. Inflation is up, but is expected to be dragged down by economic weakness. That means interest rates will probably remain low, favouring bonds.
Still, gilts investors cannot be complacent. The fiscal deficit is huge but money-printing — quantitative easing — exceeded it in the year to March. Spencer Dale, the BoE’s chief economist, speculated last week that QE had taken about one percentage point off gilt yields. Unless the economy worsens, the BoE is unlikely to resume gilt purchases. And one day it must start selling its gilt mountain.
There are other big risks. The coalition honeymooners may fall out. The economic turnaround will be extremely hard to generate. And Osborne’s fiscal surgery may half kill the patient. For a UK that has much to do to stop its debt spiralling, gilt returns look poor. But the remarkable bonds may smile through the honeymoon all the same.

Tory-LibDem pact looks good for UK, but is unlikely

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-Ian Campbell is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.-

The UK’s third political party faces an ugly dilemma. Which way it turns will be critical for the British economy.

Weak UK recovery argues for consensus on cuts

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– Ian campbellCampbell is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

A first estimate of UK first-quarter growth is a chilly 0.2 percent.  Failure of government policy, the opposition will say. Shows the folly of proposed Conservative spending cuts and tax increases, Gordon Brown, the prime minister, will claim. But a colder financial look will see that enormous stimulus has so far produced the weakest of recoveries. Whatever the election outcome, the UK’s leaders are going to have to be grown-ups. In this emergency, cooperation – or coalition – is required.

Inflation impoverishes Britons the easy way

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– The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –
campbell
Critics might say the UK’s inflation target is just for fun. Consumer prices were 3.4 percent higher in March than in the previous year, well above the 2 percent target rate, but the Bank of England will do nothing at all.

If the central bank were serious, shouldn’t it raise interest rates and crush every bit of life out of the UK economy? Not really. The UK has above target inflation because world oil prices are high, the pound is low and VAT is up. But it has inflation for poorer and richer.

Election may be fought on peak between dips

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campbellBy Ian Campbell

LONDON, April 13 (Reuters Breakingviews) – Gordon Brown says his Labour party will “secure the recovery” if it wins the UK election in May. The opposition Conservatives would kill the upturn, he says. Brown is right in one sense: the “recovery” can easily be broken. But only because it is so fragile in the first place.

The UK’s data looks more encouraging than it actually is. The UK needs exports and production to surge ahead. Trade figures released on April 13 might appear to herald that: February’s trade deficit was its smallest since June 2006.

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