consolidation

Chris Giles

All eyes were on the Bank of England minutes of the June Monetary Policy Committee to see whether the replacement of Andrew Sentance with Ben Broadbent would change the balance on the Committee. It did.

Mr Broadbent voted with the majority not to tighten monetary policy, removing one hawkish voice. The Committee is now broadly split 7-2 against tighter monetary policy. Mr Broadbent’s vote was the first dovish tilt apparent in the minutes. Compared with the harsh Mr Sentance, who voted vehemently for rate rises every month most recently seeking a 0.5 percentage point rise, Mr Broadbent is very cuddly indeed.

The second dovish tilt came in paragraph 25

Chris Giles

In doing the usual due diligence on the Bank of England’s pictorial forecasts – blowing up the images on screen, getting out a ruler, measuring the YoY growth rates, estimating the skew that represents a risk-adjusted forecast and shoving all the results into a pre-prepared spreasdsheet – you can produced this horrible chart of successive Bank of England growth forecasts.

All it really shows, in the grand scheme of things, is that the Bank’s growth forecasts were pretty good before the crisis and spectacularly awful more recently.

If you strip out a lot of irrelevant information, you get the following, which I think is pretty amazing. 

James Politi

Politics in Washington are notoriously unpredictable – but for anyone gaming whether or not the US will face a government shutdown on March 18 – here are a few good reasons why it won’t happen.

The most likely scenario at this point appears to be another short-term extension of the budget – somewhere between two and four weeks – that would give all sides a bit more time to negotiate.

Republicans in the House of Representatives are currently putting together a bill along those lines – and the Obama administration may well be open to accepting it. The White House has already suggested $6.5bn in cuts that could be applied towards that short-term extension without causing too much political furore.   

James Politi

A war of words and numbers has broken out in Washington over the geekiest of subjects: which budget baseline should be used to calculate the level of spending cuts being negotiated by the White House and congressional leaders.

On Thursday afternoon, Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, announced that the Obama administration was putting on the table an additional $6.5bn in spending cuts to woo Republicans into a deal before March 18, the new deadline for a government shutdown. At least everyone agrees on those basic facts.

Here’s where things get tricky. Mr Sperling said that with those cuts, the White House was meeting Republicans “halfway” compared to their own spending targets – a clear sign of the administration’s willingness to negotiate. 

James Politi

In Ben Bernanke’s testimony before the Senate banking committee today, there was plenty of talk about US fiscal and budgetary policy.

It’s the hot topic on Capitol Hill, with Congress moving this week towards a deal to cut spending by $4bn and avert a government shutdown – at least for two weeks.

Needless to say, in the question-and-answer session, lawmakers from both parties were desperately trying to get the Federal Reserve chairman’s approval for their positions.

Republicans are advocating for aggressive cuts in discretionary spending, while Democrats, in the words of Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, want to apply a ”scalpel” rather than a “meat axe” to the US budget. 

James Politi

The US is little more than $200bn away – or about 2 months – away from reaching its congressionally mandated national debt limit of $14,300bn.

The need to increase it to avoid a potentially disastrous US default is the next fiscal battleground in Washington, after the lawmakers stop squabbling over a government shutdown.

Republicans want to use the opportunity to push for more spending cuts, while Democrats say this is not the place to negotiate.

On Thursday, Moody’s Investors Service offered its analysis of the likelihood that a major crisis will ensue, threatening America’s triple-A credit rating much earlier than even the most ardent fiscal hawks would imagine. 

James Politi

Goldman Sachs has waded into the raging political war over US fiscal policy, with a note explaining the economic ramifications of the battles on government spending, a possible shutdown of federal operations, and even the furore over collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and some other midwestern states.

On the budget itself, Goldman economist Alec Phillips says the Republican plan approved by the House of Representatives last Saturday – with $61bn in spending cuts between now and September, would lead to a drag on US GDP growth of 1.5 to 2 percentage points in Q2 and Q3, before it tails off.

Mr Phillips also points out that the more likely scenario – a compromise with $25bn in spending cuts – would lead to a 1 percentage point hit to GDP growth in Q2, fading thereafter, with “negligible” impact on growth by the end of the year.  

James Politi

The biggest open question for US fiscal policy in the long run is whether the political system can forge a consensus to rein in the long-term debt through some combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

But in the short-term, at least for the next ten days, it is whether the US government is facing its first shutdown since the mid 1990s.

On March 4, the “continuing resolution” funding the government for the current fiscal year, which runs through September, will expire.

Unless a deal is approved by the Republican House, the Democratic Senate, and the White House, all non-essential federal operations will have to close, which could, if the standoff is lengthy, have significant consequences for the US economy. 

Chris Giles

The Institute for Fiscal Studies, along with Barclays, are currently presenting their annual fiscal forecasts and Budget judgement. Most of the central headlines are comforting to the government. The economists think that on the basis of the official economic forecasts, the public finances are broadly on track – the hole in the public finances will be closed by 2015 or so.

The concern is that all the risks seem to be on the downside relative to official forecasts.

There are good reasons to worry that the economy might be hit harder from austerity than the Office for Budget Responsibility thinks, such as the difficulty the Bank of England will have in offsetting tight fiscal policy with loose monetary policy. Consumers are being hit hard from high import prices squeezing incomes. UK investment rarely bounces back sharply from recessions. And export performance has been disappointing and we don’t really know why. 

James Politi

President Barack Obama certainly made America’s fiscal health a pillar of his “state of the union” address, calling it a key element of his plans to secure US global competitiveness. “A critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt,” Mr Obama said. “We have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in.”

Mr Obama did indeed dedicate plenty of space to deficit reduction in his speech – but there were no major surprises in terms of specific proposals for budget cuts, and there was no push for a comprehensive deficit reduction plan along the lines of last year’s Bowles-Simpson debt commission, which proposed cutting politically explosive areas such as social security, Medicare, and individual tax breaks.

Instead, this is what Mr Obama proposed, which fiscal hawks may find underwhelming, but others may argue is perfectly consistent with a strategy designed to continue stimulating the economy now and begin to move in the direction of fiscal retrenchment at a later date.