Governor Carney sees his interest-rate promises crumble again

by Shaun Richards

Yesterday was quite a day in the life of Bank of England Governor Mark Carney as he faced the problems created by his own Forward Guidance on interest-rates, but later saw one of his hopes and dreams hover tantilisingly in the distance. It will have provided some variety as he pressed the control P button to make sure plenty of copies of his CV were ready to be sent to the International Monetary Fund rather than the usual printing of money. I will look more later at the developments there which had a side-effect of putting a tsunami through even the most fanatical adherents to the cult that continues to claim central banks are politically independent.

Also he was something of a TV star as well as apparently co-writing the script for the BBC2 documentary on the Bank of England.

The Bank is responsible for ensuring our money holds its value and it works tirelessly to protect the economy from the threat of high inflation.

Back to his current job

Governor Carney gave a speech to the Local Government Association and opened with a sentence which seemed to apply to the Bank of England.

These productions will mix tragedy and
comedy in a play whose themes range from magic and creation to betrayal and revenge.

Also if we move on from the PR spinning of the BBC documentary the Governor has a problem which he summarised like this.

In recent months, the expected paths of policy interest rates in advanced economies have shifted sharply
lower, most notably in the US where an expectation of two further rate hikes over the next three years has
flipped to four rate cuts by the end of next year. In the euro area, markets have begun to price in further rate
reductions and asset purchases

He could have mentioned that the Reserve Bank of Australia had cut interest-rates at two meetings in a row that day, which repeated what the Reserve Bank of India had already done earlier in 2019.

This is a problem because he has been giving Forward Guidance about interest-rate increases as the rest of the world has been planning for cuts. Here is how he explained this.

If Brexit progresses smoothly, we expect that the current heightened uncertainties facing companies and
households will fade gradually, business investment will rebound, the housing market to rally, and
consumption to grow broadly in line with households’ real incomes. This would accelerate economic growth,
strengthen domestic inflationary pressures, and require limited and gradual increases in interest rates in
order to return inflation sustainably to the 2% target.

So the UK economy would be able to stand aside from the trends affecting the rest of the world? For a country where trade is a very important part of the economy this is just a fantasy. What is an unreliable boyfriend to do in such circumstances? Step one is of course to put the blame elsewhere.

It is unsurprising that the path of interest rates consistent with achieving the inflation target in this scenario
differs from current market pricing of a lower expected path for Bank Rate given that the market places
significant weights on both the probability of No Deal and on cuts in Bank Rate in that event.

Yes the Brexit Klaxon has been deployed yet again by Governor Carney. This is an attempt to put a smokescreen over the fact that the world economy has been slowing for nearly a year now. After all the economy of Germany contracted in the third quarter of 2018. This morning’s weakening of the Caixin PMI in China notes that today’s weaker number for June is the lowest since October last year. Or to point it another way the attempt by Governor Carney to claim trade tariff problems started in May is an innovative version of history.

Actually in the course of a mere three sentences the Governor contradicts himself.

It just highlights the extent to which the levels of interest rates, sterling and other asset prices might increase if a deal were reached.

Becomes this.

We will also make a detailed assessment of the potential implications of the global sea change currently
underway.

In a smooth Brexit sterling and asset prices are likely to rise although of course many equities do not like higher sterling. But interest-rates higher in a “global sea change”?

Markets

The antennae of financial markets quickly picked up the hint that the unreliable boyfriend was limbering up to go on tour again. This saw the UK Gilt market continue its recent bull run and led to a couple of developments that will have embarrassed Governor Carney. Firstly the UK ten-year Gilt yield fell below the 0.75% Bank Rate and is 0.7% as I type this. Even more so both the two and five-year yields have fallen to 0.5% this morning so they are implying a 0.25% cut which is precisely the opposite of the rises in the Forward Guidance of Governor Carney.

Just as a reminder here is the BBC from the second of May.

Interest rate increases could be “more frequent” than expected if the economy performs as the Bank of England is expecting, governor Mark Carney says.

UK economy

There are doubts as to how accurate the Markit PMI business surveys are as we have seen them get things wrong such as late summer 2016 in the UK. But we also know that the Bank of England looks at it closely as it used it as a signal on its way to cutting Bank Rate to 0.25% in August of that year. So many eyes in Threadneedle Street will have been on this.

At 49.2 in June, the seasonally adjusted All Sector Output
Index fell from 50.7 in May and signalled a reduction in
overall private sector business activity for the first time in 35 months.

This was because the services sector at 50.2 was unable to offset the weaker manufacturing and construction estimates.

Comment

Governor Carney is preparing for yet another U-Turn as his Forward Guidance crumbles yet again in the face of reality. As a consistently unreliable boyfriend I guess he has a list of excuses ready for this. Yet as the day developed there was a further double-swing. The announcement that Christine Lagarde would leave the IMF and become President of the ECB had one clear positive for Governor Carney as the job he has long coveted suddenly became available hence my CV reference earlier. Perhaps he will discover some French ancestry too.

But this had a much more problematic swing as I note the words of the UK Chancellor Philip Hammond.

UK’s Hammond says Bank of England must not be politicized.

That initially provoked thoughts of the current Governor who attracted criticism for playing politics in his time as Governor of the Bank of Canada and has repeated that in the UK. However the appointment of a former French Finance Minister to head the ECB destroyed any fantasies of central banks being politically independent. After all she will be working with a Vice President ( De Guindos) who was formerly the Spanish Finance Minister. Can anybody spot a trend here?

This brought out a barrage of Fake News. For example Madame Lagarde was described as having a good reputation as others were pointing out this.

Useful reminder: Lagarde was judged guilty of gross negligence (ahem) by a French court over the insane payment to Bernard Tapie in the Credit Lyonnais case but escaped the one year jail sentence because (quoting) Of her « personnality» and “international reputation” and the fact that at the time she was fighting an « international financial crisis » ( @jeuasommenulle )

There was a time when being convicted in a fraud case would debar you from any sort of financial role let alone major ones. In the ordinary person’s world the CV would simply have been rejected. Still some places are managing to report that the ECB is safe from political interference now which really is an insult to readers.

Even the supporters of Madame Lagarde seem to be a bit thin on evidence that she has any real grasp of monetary policy. We do know that she helped put the Greek economy into an economic depression with the “shock and awe” policies of 2010 and 11 which she so vociferously supported. So in conclusion it was a good idea to pick a woman but a really bad idea to choose her.