MacroScope

Bank of England on the money with its 1982 vision of a “less cash” society

The Bank of England has a fairly dubious record of forecasting the UK economy, but 30 years ago it was right about one thing – how our use of cash would change.

A look through the Bank’s publications archive, uploaded to its website on Tuesday and going back to 1947, reveals all sorts of historical curios – not least its handling of Nazi gold in 1939

Another is a 1982 report on why demand for cash was growing far more slowly than expected, which at the time was hard to reconcile with a widespread belief that the black economy was on the rise.

It came to the conclusion that new technology was perhaps the most important factor. But it also provided a look at what the future would hold:

“The term ‘cashless society’ is … and will for the foreseeable future continue to be, an implausible prospect for the United Kingdom (and indeed for most other countries).

Central bank guides

The Bank of England will publish the minutes of Mark Carney’s first policy meeting earlier this month which will pored over for signs of how the debate about forward guidance – it’s all the rage in the central banking world now – went, and whether that may herald more money printing or act as a proxy for looser policy.

Carney’s colleague, Paul Fisher, indulged in his own form of guidance yesterday, telling a parliamentary committee that discussions within the Bank were focused on how to give a steer about future policy moves and whether to inject more stimulus, not whether it should start to be withdrawn as the Federal Reserve has signalled it may do before the year-end.

Fisher is one of the three of nine members of the Monetary Policy Committee who has been voting to print more money in recent months, but it was an interesting comment nonetheless. Unemployment data today will give the latest guide to the state of recovery while the independent Office for Budget Responsibility will publish its fiscal sustainability report.

Forward guidance; will it work?

After the European Central Bank broke with tradition and gave forward guidance that interest rates will not rise for an “extended period” and could even fall, some of its members – including French policymakers Benoit Coeure and Christian Noyer, and Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann – head to an annual gathering in the south of France.

Mark Carney’s Bank of England adopted the same tactic, showing just how alarmed the big central banks are at the potential turmoil unleashed by the Federal Reserve’s money-printing exit plan.
The big question is whether forward guidance can possibly allow them to escape the backwash from the Fed’s “tapering” when it comes or, whether in the euro zone’s case, sovereign borrowing costs will rise further, potentially pushing a number of countries back into danger territory.

An early test will come from today’s key U.S. jobs report. If it comes in strong, European bond yields are likely to rise across the curve.

A day to reckon with

This could be a perfect storm of a day for the euro zone.

Portugal’s prime minister will attempt to shore up his government after the resignation of his finance and foreign ministers in successive days. The latter is threatening to pull his party out of the coalition but has decided to talk to the premier, Pedro Passos Coelho, to try and keep the show on the road.

If the government falls and snap elections are called, the country’s bailout programme really will be thrown up into the air. Lisbon plans to get out of it and back to financing itself on the markets next year. Its EU and IMF lenders are due back in less than two weeks and have already said the country’s debt position is extremely fragile.

Given the root of this is profound austerity fatigue in a country still deep in recession a further bailout is increasingly likely. Portuguese 10-year bond yields shooting above eight percent only add to the pressure; the country could not afford to borrow at anything like those levels. President Anibal Cavaco Silva’s will continue talks with the political parties today.

Full blown damage control?

Call it the great wagon circling.

Central bankers are talking tough in the face of the wild gyrations in financial markets. But it’s becoming increasingly clear they are sweating – and drawing up contingency plans to assuage the panic that’s taken hold since Chairman Ben Bernanke last week sketched out the Fed’s plan for winding down its QE3 bond-buying program. U.S. policymakers in particular must have predicted investors would react strongly. But now that longer-term borrowing costs have spiked to near a two-year high, they look to be entering full-blown damage control.

Here’s Richard Fisher, head of the Dallas Fed, speaking to reporters in London on Monday:

I’m not surprised by market volatility – markets are manic depressive mechanisms… Collectively we will be tested. We need to expect a market reaction… Even if we reach a situation this year where we dial back (stimulus), we will still be running an accommodative policy.

Back to banking union

The G8 produced little heat or light on the state of the world economy but if there was one clarion call it was for the euro zone to get on with forming a banking union – the last major initiative needed to draw a line under the euro zone debt crisis.

With the European Central Bank effectively underwriting the bloc’s governments with its bond-buying pledge, a cross-border mechanism to recapitalise or wind up failing banks would do the same for the financial sector.

The trouble is, not unreasonably, Berlin does not want to fall liable for the failure of a bank in a weaker country. Instead, it is pressing for a “resolution board” involving national authorities to take decisions on winding up failed banks, which sounds like the onus would remain on governments to sort out their own banks rather than pooling risk which would convince investors that a proper backstop was in place.

Mervyn King gets a “B” grade from economists… for the time being

As is now customary for retiring central bank chiefs, Bank of England Governor Mervyn King has received a warm – but not a standing – ovation from economists for his time in charge.

But if there’s one thing the last few years have shown, it’s that the legacy of prominent central bankers can sour quickly after retirement.

King received a median 7 out of 10 score for his 10 years as Bank of England governor from 39 economists polled by Reuters this week.

Britain’s Help to Buy unites analysts about its dangers

Even if they can’t agree how much Britain’s Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme will boost the housing market, analysts in the latest Reuters poll are united by an understanding of its dangers.

The government’s Help to Buy programme, unveiled in its March budget, is designed to boost mortgage lending and help buyers with small deposits get on the property ladder.

The poll predicts Britain’s house prices will rise at their fastest pace in four years in 2013, and data from Hometrack show London property was snapped up in April more quickly than at any time since October 2007 – adding to concerns Help to Buy might start a new house price bubble.

Mervyn King’s economic ray of light may be too bright

In his valedictory Quarterly Inflation Report, Bank of England Governor Mervyn King shone a ray of light on the British economy, saying it should grow 0.5 percent in the current quarter.

But according to the latest Reuters poll of more than 30 economists, published on Tuesday, that might be too optimistic.

The consensus showed gross domestic product would only expand 0.2 percent, weaker than the 0.3 percent expansion seen in the first quarter when the country missed sinking into an unprecedented triple-dip recession.

What’s it all about?

G7 finance ministers meet London on Friday and Saturday. Since they and many more met in Washington only three weeks ago and not much has changed since, it’s tempting to ask what is the point of this British gathering. There have been mutterings from some of the travelling delegations to that effect.

If there is an angle, it is the unusual focus on financial regulation (usually not part of the Group of Seven’s remit) with some feeling that more than four years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, efforts to put in place structures to prevent similar events spinning out of control in future are flagging. That puts the euro zone’s fluctuating plans for a banking union firmly in focus, which in turn puts German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble right in the spotlight.

On Tuesday, he said elements of a banking union would have to be pursued without lengthy and arduous treaty change, something he’d previously said would be necessary. Was that a softening of his position? Er, probably not. More likely, the subtext is that because treaty change takes too long, Berlin will pursue only those elements of banking union that don’t require it – i.e. bloc-wide regulation yes, but forget about a bank resolution mechanism let alone a joint deposit guarantee.