The Great Debate UK

Bank of England’s focus on growth might stir ghost of inflation

–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.

How central bankers have got it wrong

If you asked someone to list the chief qualities needed to be a good central banker I assume that the list may include: good communicator, wise, attention to detail, clear thinking, credibility, and good with numbers.  However, in recent months these qualities have been sadly lacking, most notably last week when the Federal Reserve wrong-footed the markets and failed to start tapering its enormous QE programme.

The market had expected asset purchases to be tapered because: 1, Ben Bernanke had dropped fairly big hints at his June press conference that tapering was likely to take place sooner rather than later and 2, because the unemployment rate has consistently declined all year and if it continues moving in this direction then it could hit the Fed’s 6.5% target rate in the coming months.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

If Europe wants Thatcherism, it must abandon austerity

Among all the obituaries and encomiums about Margaret Thatcher, very few have drawn the lesson from her legacy that is most relevant for the world today. Lady Thatcher is remembered as the quintessential conviction politician. But judged by her actions rather than her rhetoric, she was actually much more compromising and pragmatic than the politicians who now dominate Europe. And it was Thatcher’s tactical flexibility, as much as her deep convictions, that accounted for her successes in the economic field.

Governments in Europe and Britain today are obsessed with hitting preordained and unconditional targets: Inflation must be kept below 2 percent; deficits must be reduced to 3 percent of gross domestic product; government debt must be set on a declining path; banks must be recapitalized to arbitrary ratios laid down by some committee in Basel. In sacrificing their citizens’ well-being and their own political careers to these numerical totems, modern leaders often claim inspiration from Thatcher. And when voters turn against them, Europe’s leaders keep repeating Thatcher’s most famous slogans, “There is no alternative” and “No U-turn”.  But are these the right lessons to draw from Thatcher’s political life? A closer look at her economic achievements suggests otherwise.

from Blogs Dashboard:

A devalued pound can’t save the British economy

There it goes again. Sterling has been dropping sharply this year against the U.S. dollar and especially the euro, as Britain turns to a tried and trusted remedy for its economic problems: devaluation. Even with its slight uptick on Wednesday, sterling is down more than 6 percent against the euro since the beginning of 2013 and has slid 10 percent over the past six months.

This is not something the British government is boasting about, especially at a time when there’s concern over -- and sometimes a high-level condemnation of -- countries such as Japan that allegedly seek to manipulate their currencies. But it’s also not something the British government or the Bank of England is trying to hide – or stop.

Economic quagmire adds pressure for monetary policy change

–Darren Williams is Senior European Economist at AllianceBernstein. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Bank of England governor-elect, Mark Carney, has raised hopes that the central bank may soon switch to a nominal GDP target. Although the costs seem to outweigh the benefits, the attractions of a radical new approach will grow if the economy remains stuck in the doldrums.

Salvation through inflation: The British way out

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By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.

Accusing policymakers of acting out of sheer desperation is a pretty standard jibe by critics trying to put them off their stride.

Unfortunately, the latest round of QE came wrapped in comments from the Governor of the Bank of England which amounted, more or less, to saying: “Look! I’m staying calm – but it’s taking a hell of an effort, believe me!”

Why is the West bankrupt?

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By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.

The UK, USA, the PIIGS (Ireland and Italy are together in the same stye), France is in poor fiscal shape  – OK, Germany is ostensibly living within its means, but it looks a lot less solvent when you remember that it has underwritten the rest of the euro zone (in large part, to protect its own irresponsible banks). In any case, as I have argued in previous blogs, this or a future German Government is likely to cave in to the pressure from its own electorate and from inflationist economists at home and abroad to join the party and spend, spend, spend. Only Australia and Canada, riding high on the commodities price boom, and a handful of small countries, look stable.

Where will it all end?

With inflation, almost certainly, but beyond that, it is hard to say. However, there is one prediction I would offer for the medium to long term outcome, and it applies not only to the euro zone, but to Britain and America too – in fact to the whole of the comfortable, complacent industrialised world – and it is this.

What could the Q1 GDP figures mean for my business?

By Jamie Jemmeson

-Jamie Jemmeson is a Trader at Global Reach Partners, the foreign exchange company. The opinions expressed are his own.-

The alarm bells have been ringing in the UK since the surprise contraction in Q4 GDP 2010.  The Bank of England (BoE) remains in limbo between the ECB, who recently hiked despite their problems with sovereign debt and the US, where quantitative easing remains in force until at least June. The release of the preliminary Q1 GDP on the 27 April could be instrumental in determining not just how the currency and financial markets perform, but in directing measures the BoE and coalition government may have to take. Since the surprise contraction in GDP, the BoE has been forced to sit on its hands and watch inflation continue to increase while reiterating its belief that this is just a temporary phase. There is a real dilemma in the UK that has split the market; will the UK face the daunting reality of a double dip recession?

from Breakingviews:

Tragic quake may add to inflation pressures

The full economic impact of the sixth most powerful earthquake ever recorded is not yet known. Many hundreds of lives have been reported lost in Japan. Aftershocks are a danger and other nations fear a tsunami running across the Pacific will spread the damage more widely. Though uncertainty is rife, the earthquake is more likely to add to global growth and attendant inflationary pressures than subtract from them. It also raises concerns about Japan's long-running fiscal dangers.

The earthquake struck close to a relatively sparsely populated area of Japan. In contrast, the Kobe earthquake in January 1995 struck one of the most populated and industrialized regions, killing 6,434 people and causing damage estimated at around $100 billion. The current quake will leave a large reconstruction bill -- but, on current indications, a smaller one than for Kobe.

Two very different inflation problems

-Kathleen Brooks is research director at forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-

There was more evidence in February that the world economy is re-flating; both China and the UK released inflation data that showed prices running above 4 percent. Authorities in these economies have a difficult few months ahead, if prices continue to rise at this clip then they may have an economic crisis on their hands.

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