MacroScope

BoEasing

The Bank of England is finally catching a break. With Britain’s economy officially in recession, the BoE had been constrained from further monetary easing by a stubbornly high inflation rate. But as the global economy stumbles and Europe’s crisis rages unabated, UK price pressures may be giving way.

Barclays economist Chris Crowe argues:

We expect the MPC to announce an additional £50bn in QE at the July policy meeting.

CPI inflation fell to 2.8% y/y in May (Barclays 3.1%, consensus 3.0%) from 3.0% in April. Meanwhile, RPI inflation declined to 3.1% y/y (Barclays and consensus 3.3%), from 3.5%. With near-term inflationary pressures easing, the case for additional QE in response to faltering confidence is stronger.

The sense that further stimulus is forthcoming follows a decision last week to offer 100 billion pounds in cheap long-term funding to banks and minutes from the BoE’s last policy meeting showing a very close 5-4 vote against more quantitative easing. Significantly, Governor Mervyn King voted in favor.

The pullback in inflation may just be enough to tilt the balance.

Battening down the hatches

There’s a high degree of battening down the hatches going on before the Greek election by policymakers and market in case a hurricane results.

G20 sources told us last night that the major central banks would be prepared to take coordinated action to stabilize markets if necessary –- which I guess is always the case –  the Bank of England said it would  flood Britain’s banks with more than 100 billion pounds to try and get them to lend into the real economy and we broke news that the euro zone finance ministers will hold a conference call on Sunday evening to discuss the election results – all this as the world’s leaders gather in Mexico for a G20 summit starting on Monday.
Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said the euro zone malaise was creating a broader crisis of confidence.

The central banks acted in concert after the collapse of Lehmans in 2008, pumping vast amounts of liquidity into the world economy and slashing interest rates. There is much less scope on the latter now. The biggest onus may fall on the European Central Bank which may have to act to prop up Greek banks and maybe banks in other “periphery” countries too although the structures to do so through the Greek central bank are in place and functioning daily. In extremis, we can expect Japan and Switzerland to act to keep a cap on their currencies too. As a euro zone official said last night, a bank run might not even be that visible and start on Sunday night over the internet rather than with queues of people outside their local bank on Monday morning.

Forecasting gymnastics on the BoE’s printing presses

The fluctuating fortunes of the British economy in the last year have left forecasters in a fix, unable to make up their minds how much longer the Bank of England’s money printing presses need to roll on.

Forecasting gymnastics on the subject could make many economists Olympic contenders for the gold medal.

Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley and Lloyds Bank are the latest to predict the BoE will announce that it will buy an additional 50 billion sterling worth of government bonds, taking the total amount spent in the programme to 375 billion sterling.

Central bank balance sheets: Battle of the bulge

Central banks across the industrialized world responded aggressively to the global financial crisis that began in mid-2007 and in many ways remains with us today. Now, faced with sluggish recoveries, policymakers are reticent to embark on further unconventional monetary easing, fearing both internal criticism and political blowback. They are being forced to rely more on verbal guidance than actual stimulus to prevent markets from pricing in higher rates.

How do the world’s most prominent central banks stack up against each other? The Federal Reserve was extremely aggressive, more than tripling the size of its balance sheet from around $700-$800 billion pre-crisis to nearly 3 trillion today. Still, the ECB’s total asset holdings are actually larger than the Fed’s – it started from a higher base.

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The Bank of England, for its part, went even deeper into uncharted territory, with its assets as a percentage of GDP surpassing the Fed’s. By the same measure, the ECB has overtaken the Bank of Japan, which has been grappling with deflation for some two decades and started from a much higher level.

Who’d be a central banker?

The focus is already on the euro zone finance ministers meeting in Copenhagen, starting on Friday, which is likely to agree to some form of extra funds for the currency bloc’s future bailout fund. What they come up with will go a long way to determining whether markets scent any faltering commitment on the part of Europe’s leaders.

In the meantime, top billing goes to Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann speaking in London later. He is heading an increasingly vocal group within the European Central bank who are fretting about the future inflationary and other consequences of the creation of  more than a trillion euros of three-year money. There is no chance of the ECB hitting the policy reverse button yet but the debate looks set to intensify.
A combination of German inflation and euro zone money supply numbers today (which include a breakdown on bank lending) will give some guide to the pressures on the ECB.

Central bankers face a very mixed picture with U.S. recovery and high oil vying with the unresolved euro zone debt crisis and signs of slowdown in China.

A Very British Budget

Today we get the what could possibly be the most pre-spun British budget ever, though don’t rule out the traditional “rabbit from the hat” surprise so beloved of British finance ministers.

The important stuff for the markets is that with ratings agencies still threatening to rob Britain of its AAA status, it will be pretty much fiscally neutral – i.e. no serious economic stimulus on offer – borrowing will have come in  a little lower than expected this year and the government’s independent forecasting body will predict the economy will eke out just enough growth this year to avoid a new recession.

In other words, don’t expect much market reaction, though the fact the slightly lower borrowing may allow slightly lower debt issuance in the coming year could give gilts a small fillip.

There be feudin’ at the BoE

The once-good relationship between Bank of England Governor Mervyn King and his most likely successor, Deputy Governor Paul Tucker, is coming  under increasing strain, according to a new book by former Daily Telegraph journalist Dan Conaghan.  It  alleges   King’s management style and and alleged disdain for the financial markets is to blame.

While the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee remains reasonably collegiate, on other matters King more than lives up to the description from former chancellor Alistair Darling that he is ‘incredibly stubborn’, says Conaghan, who now worksas an asset manager.

“The governor can be particularly dogmatic,” he told Reuters. “One of the key things … is the attitude to the capital markets. One of my sources described Sir

from Amplifications:

The ECB’s battle against central banking

By J. Bradford DeLong
The opinions expressed are his own.

When the European Central Bank announced its program of government-bond purchases, it let financial markets know that it thoroughly disliked the idea, was not fully committed to it, and would reverse the policy as soon as it could. Indeed, the ECB proclaimed its belief that the stabilization of government-bond prices brought about by such purchases would be only temporary.

It is difficult to think of a more self-defeating way to implement a bond-purchase program. By making it clear from the outset that it did not trust its own policy, the ECB practically guaranteed its failure. If it so evidently lacked confidence in the very bonds that it was buying, why should investors feel any differently?

The ECB continues to believe that financial stability is not part of its core business. As its outgoing president, Jean-Claude Trichet, put it, the ECB has “only one needle on [its] compass, and that is inflation.” The ECB’s refusal to be a lender of last resort forced the creation of a surrogate institution, the European Financial Stability Mechanism. But everyone in the financial markets knows that the EFSF has insufficient firepower to undertake that task – and that it has an unworkable governance structure to boot.

BoE rate decision has echoes of Jan 2007

By Sumanta Dey in Bangalore Mervyn King

The BoE is expected to keep rates on hold at its monthly meeting today. Sixty-two out of 63 economists polled by Reuters expect such an outcome. Statistically speaking, that is more than a fair majority. But are we in for another upset like the one more than four years back? At that time, Simon Ward of Henderson Global Investors was the only economist correctly calling a rate hike.

There are a number of spooky similarities today that point to an almost identical scenario.

Leading up to January 2007, inflation in the UK was almost 3 percent, well above the bank’s 2 percent target. January 2011 inflation read at 4 percent. Then, Simon Ward forecasted the BoE to raise rates by 25 basis points in January, and placed a 55 percent probability on it — the only one out of 50 economists . Last week, he made exactly the same call for the outcome at this meeting and was the only one who saw a hike in rates today out of 63 economists.

Broadbent’s BoE appointment keeps hawks in health

BRITAIN-BOE/Ben Broadbent’s appointment to the Monetary Policy Committee ought to dispel any notions that the Bank of England would be left short of hawks after the departure of Andrew Sentance.

A brief look at the history of Reuters polls shows that Goldman Sachs’ UK economists – led by Broadbent – were uber-hawkish in their outlook for British interest rates early last year.

In January 2010, Goldman predicted rates would rise to 1.5 percent by end of the second quarter of last year, and 2.5 percent going into 2011 — hugely out of step with both the consensus and as it turned out, reality. Rates went nowhere last year, and are still at a record low of 0.5 percent.