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from Anatole Kaletsky:

British economic governance encounters turbulence

Students of British history will recall the story of Thomas a’Becket, the 12th century prelate who was handpicked by Henry II to become Archbishop of Canterbury because of his loyalty to the Crown. Within months of his appointment, a’Becket turned against the King in the numerous conflicts between church and state. As a result, a’Becket was murdered at the altar of Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, after four of Henry’s henchmen heard their royal master mutter in irritation: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Archbishops do not have much political clout these days, but comparable spiritual importance now attaches to central bankers. And a central banker who suddenly seems reminiscent of Thomas a’Becket is Mark Carney, the recently appointed governor of the Bank of England.

When George Osborne, the British chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister), delivered his Autumn Statement on Britain’s economic and fiscal prospects this week, he intended it as a “soft launch” for the Tory-Liberal government’s campaign for re-election in May 2015. The big set-piece speech offered Osborne an ideal opportunity to boast about the British economy’s sudden improvement this year and to announce some populist measures, such as a “voluntary” price-control regime for energy utilities, that were carefully designed to wrong-foot the Labour opposition. Osborne’s speech marked the start of a long political campaign designed to create a Pavlovian association in voters’ minds between government policies, rising house prices and the economic recovery. If this campaign is successful it will virtually guarantee election victory for the Tory-Liberal coalition -- and it could even make an outright majority for the Tories conceivable in 2015.

Last week, however, the plan for a mutually-reinforcing cycle of rising house prices, strengthening consumer confidence, accelerating economic activity and improving Tory fortunes suddenly came under threat from the most unexpected quarter. Mark Carney was hand-picked this year by Osborne and was imported all the way from Canada because he seemed to offer less resistance than any plausible British candidate to the Tory plan for a pre-election economic recovery powered by rising property prices and re-leveraging by homeowners.

If Mervyn King were still governor, it is inconceivable that Osborne could have launched the audacious guarantee scheme for highly leveraged mortgages that has been one of the main driving forces for this year’s dramatic housing recovery (the other being the flow of money into London property from southern Europe, Russia and China). Last Thursday, however, Carney suddenly changed his tune, unexpectedly announcing that “we don’t want a housing market driven by deterioration in bank balance sheets and underwriting standards.” That, of course, was exactly the purpose of Osborne’s Help to Buy scheme, announced in the March Budget and accelerated in October, with its guarantees for mortgages of up to $1 million with leverage ratios as high as twenty-to-one. In response to Carney’s broadside, Osborne made his dissatisfaction clear: “The market for higher loan-to-value mortgages remains very restricted by historical standards...and this is a significant barrier to first-time buyers.”

from Breakingviews:

BoE’s small-firm stimulus is blueprint for Draghi

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By Neil Unmack

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The euro zone is no longer collapsing, but credit is. The European Central Bank is reportedly considering giving banks cheap loans to stimulate lending. The Bank of England’s so-called Funding for Lending scheme shows that’s tricky, but the euro zone shouldn’t hold back.

from Breakingviews:

Blueprint for new BoE could start with rebrand

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By Dominic Elliott and Christopher Hughes
The authors are Reuters Breakingviews columnists. The opinions expressed are his own.


Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has hired McKinsey and Deloitte to advise on strategy. Breakingviews imagines what the consultancies might recommend.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Mark Carney abandons Thatcher-era supply-side policy

The era of laissez-faire monetarism is over, as the world moves by small but inexorable steps towards a new kind of Keynesian demand management. One after another, governments and central banks in the leading economies are accepting a responsibility for managing unemployment that they abandoned in the 1970s, during the monetarist counter-revolution against Keynesian economics. On Wednesday it was Britain's turn, as Mark Carney, the new governor of the Bank of England, joined Ben Bernanke in making the reduction of unemployment his main monetary policy goal.

Carney was until recently Canada’s top central banker and was headhunted by the British government specifically to inaugurate a new era of “monetary activism.” On Wednesday, at his first official press conference, he lived up to this billing.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Who will get credit for Britain’s economic turnaround?

Mark Carney, the former head of the Bank of Canada who has just taken over as governor of the Bank of England, presided Thursday over his first monthly meeting of Britain’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC). The meeting produced no change in monetary policy, yet Carney is already being hailed as Britain’s economic savior. The BBC even paid him the greatest compliment that any middle-aged white male could wish for, when it compared his appearance and hairstyle to George Clooney’s. Carney may continue basking in this adulation because he is lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

He has arrived at the BoE at the precise moment when the economic figures have started to suggest that the British economy is pulling out of its longest and deepest recession on record. One of the main reasons for this turnaround has been a sudden pickup in housing prices and mortgage lending, the traditional driving forces of the British economy. This improvement, in turn, has reflected a bold new government-backed borrowing program, whereby the British Treasury is guaranteeing up to £600,000 of new mortgage debt for anyone who can put up 5 percent of equity into buying a home. While this audacious policy attracted surprisingly little attention in the media when George Osborne announced it in his March budget, British homeowners and bankers were quick to catch on. As a result, house prices are rising rapidly across Britain, mortgage lending has rebounded to its highest level since the Lehman crisis and homebuilders’ shares have almost doubled. And all this is before the government incentives are expanded from newly-built houses to secondhand properties and remortgages in January 2014. For the moment, house prices are being bid up by cash-rich buyers who are front-running the government subsidies, in the confident expectation that a full-scale property boom will begin in 2014.

from The Great Debate UK:

Expect no immediate fireworks from Mark Carney

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

On July 1, former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney will replace Sir Mervyn King as Governor of the Bank of England. For many observers, this will herald a new dawn in the conduct of British monetary policy. The process, however, will be more evolutionary than revolutionary.

from Breakingviews:

Carney in doesn’t mean pound down as QE heads out

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By Ian Campbell

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Is Mark Carney really Mr. Easy Money, about to devalue the pound in a bid for growth? The incoming head of the Bank of England has spoken of the need to attain “escape velocity”. But the logical deduction - that he will open the monetary floodgates and send the pound down to $1.40 - ignores the latest economic news and the new international mood on monetary policy.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Britain’s two cheers for Carney

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When Mark Carney, the respected head of Canada’s central bank, was appointed on Monday to the even more august position of governor of the Bank of England, Britain’s reaction was a characteristic blend of self-deprecation and smugness.

The self-deprecation was publicly expressed by an Opposition MP, Barry Sheerman: “Isn’t it a little surprising that the leading banking nation on earth could not find a British candidate for the job?” This feeling of mild embarrassment seemed to be quietly shared by many Britons in addition to the distinguished domestic candidates who were passed over.

from MacroScope:

There be feudin’ at the BoE

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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.

from Breakingviews:

UK banks need government to solve funding squeeze

By George Hay
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.The Bank of England is tooling itself up. The UK central bank announced on Dec. 6 a new facility to help domestic lenders if the euro zone crisis causes a fully-fledged freeze in short-term funding markets. But banks may still need more help.

The BoE already has two ways to combat liquidity squeezes. It allows banks to borrow against liquid collateral for three or six months through its Indexed Long-Term Repo (ILTR) auctions. And it allows desperate banks to swap illiquid collateral for gilts for up to a year via its Discount Window Facility (DWF) – in return for a fat fee and big haircuts.

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