Once upon a time, the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee sounded like a group of nine individuals with differing views. One of the most interesting aspects of Mark Carney’s arrival is the monotone now coming from the interest-rate setting committee.
It has been noticed: for example Fathom Consulting put this slide up at its recent monetary policy forum.
In a note last week, JP Morgan also made a rather damming comparison between the BoE’s reticence to acknowledge any discussion over a new form of guidance with the Federal Reserve’s minutes which demonstrated a healthy debate over the options. Allan Monks, the author of the note, concluded:
” In our view, the lack of discussion about the presentation and specifics of this new ‘framework’, or the consideration of any alternatives, does not suggest the committee as a whole is strongly invested in it. While Governor Carney may suggest policy-setting has undergone another innovation, the rest of the MPC has merely acquiesced and views the changes through a different lens.”
The question seems absurd. John Rentoul of the Sunday Independent would be tempted to add it immediately to his list of journalistic questions to which the answer is “no”. I think the answer is obviously “no”.
But the Treasury and the Information Commissioner believe anyone revealing details of the Bank of England’s forecasts is doing something that is:
“likely to have a destabilising effect on the financial markets and thus have a prejudicial effect on the economic interests of all or part of the UK”.
Hence, in the eyes of government, Mr Carney, who revealed details of the BoE forecasts on Wednesday, is something of a traitor. At least that was the view of the Treasury last year. Read more
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mark Carney got to speak briefly at the main debate on the global economy. Asked about the news on forward guidance he talked about it coming to the end of its “first phase”. He said:
In terms of exit, I am not signalling an exit on UK monetary policy, just to be clear. Our first phase of forward guidance with a 7 per cent threshold of unemployment rate is approaching – we don’t know exactly when – the achievement of that threshold. We will assess the overall conditions in the labour market; more broadly the supply capacity of the economy, just as we’ve said all along that we would do at that point and set policy appropriately. Read more
Headlines are headlines. British unemployment plummeted from 7.4 per cent between August and October to 7.1 per cent between September and November. This puts it 0.1 percentage points away from the point the Bank of England said it would start considering raising interest rates. It is a big story but there has to be a question whether the unemployment rate is a false friend to the BoE. Could it be suggesting strength in the labour market and a drop in slack that other labour market measures do not show.
Luckily, when the BoE introduced guidance, it published a pentagon diagram of other labour market indicators. It is inserted below and each point shows the same degree of slack, pretty much, (1 standard deviation from normal levels). I call it the BoE’s presumptive pentagon. It was presumptive because it was suspiciously regular (rarely things show such a consistent message in economic data) and it presumed unemployment would behave similarly to other indicators. The time has come to find out. Read more
On Wednesday, the Office for National Statistics for the first time published regional growth figures for the UK. The obvious question that popped into my mind was to compare the Scottish growth with that published by the Scottish government.
I produced the following chart and wrote what looked like a cracking story because the ONS measure showed little over half the growth of the Scottish Government data, raising questions over the strength of Scotland’s economy. Read more
A wealth of data was published by the Office for National Statistics today, as officials try to clear the decks before Christmas. In chart form, here is a condensed version of the inflation statistics, producer price figures and house price statistics for November.
1. Inflation is getting close to the 2 per cent target Read more
Understanding the significance of George Osborne’s Autumn Statement is complicated by political posturing. These eight charts will enable you to cut through the spin and surprise people with knowledge of what really matters.
1. Forget the announcements Read more
Real business investment grew 1.4 per cent in the third quarter, prompting many City economists such as Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight to welcome the fact that “business investment is finally kicking in”. If so, that is hugely important to the UK economic debate. Investment growth will enable the recovery to rebalance away from squeezed households who cannot easily borrow more and more to support spending for a lot longer, exporters whose prospects depend to a large extent on the still-troubled eurozone, and the government which will continue its austerity drive.
The following five charts about business investment should make you pause for thought and raise quite a few questions about data reliability as highlighted by the Bank of England governor on Tuesday.
Investment in buildings, plant and machinery did not drive Q3 growth
Far from investment being important to the 0.8 per cent real growth and 1.7 per cent nominal growth in the third quarter, this chart shows that the good growth figures were almost entirely generated by household consumption and a build-up of unsold stocks within companies. Investment contributed only 0.1 percentage points to the 0.8 per cent growth. Read more
The Bank of England is a powerful organisation, which rarely hears criticism from insiders or outsiders because economists are quite polite people.
A leading economist I respect sent me these views on the communication of forward guidance, but did not want to be identified. I thought they deserved an airing. So in the style of the secret footballer, here the “secret economist” compares what senior BoE officials say about guidance with what they mean.
What we say … and what we mean
This is the right policy for a recovery … Please forget all that stuff about guidance is the right policy for an economy that is flat-lining.
We have made policy more effective …We can’t explain how. This statement sounds like code for a change in the stance of policy, but we don’t want to re-open that can of worms.
I’ve written quite a bit about the effectiveness of the Bank of England’s forward guidance on monetary policy. One reason is that the BoE has been willing to say guidance “makes the exceptionally stimulative monetary stance more effective”, but not by how much. Indeed, the governor and other officials have always — and sometimes embarrassingly –dodged questions about whether the BoE thinks guidance imparts stimulus at all.
There is no easy answer to the question of how much stimulus has forward guidance imparted. That said, I think I have found a reasonable method for reverse engineering the answer to a different question: what effect did the Monetary Policy Committee believe could be attributable to forward guidance? Read more