"Lame Duck" MPC stands pat and waits for the new Governor

The calm before Carney's storm?

Last week saw the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, (MPC), leave base rates unchanged at 0.5 per cent and its Quantitative Easing, (QE), programme left unchanged at £375bn.

This was hardly surprising, given the recent stabilization in UK economic data; better industrial and manufacturing production figures, improved business confidence surveys, higher house prices and new car sales, and no "triple-dip" recession. Add to this the imminent arrival of new Governor Mark Carney - his first meeting will be on 4th July - and there was little prospect of any other outcome.

However, this may well be the calm before the storm as Carney has a reputation for innovation and is truly "new blood" - unusual in that he didn’t rise through the ranks of the Bank.  As head of the Bank of Canada, Mr. Carney became the first major central bank chief to adopt "timeline guidance" when, in 2009, he promised to keep Canada’s benchmark interest rate at 0.25 per cent for a year unless inflation became a problem. The US Federal Reserve subsequently copied this tactic and there is every chance that he will introduce such guidance into the Old Lady’s pronouncements.

I’d expect this change to be announced in August, or September at the latest, and I’d say the chances for further easing measures sit in the balance; depending on economic data developments over the next few weeks.

The Chancellor recently changed the Bank’s mandate so that it can now give more weight to promotion of growth and employment, rather than inflation control, and one would expect Mr Carney to pursue the goal enthusiastically, as presumably he discussed the move with Mr Osborne before accepting his appointment.

If I had to make a call, however, I’d say we will see extension of and improvements to the Funding for Lending Scheme, (FLS), but no further rate cuts or increased QE, as I feel we have finally turned the corner-but it’s certainly a long sweeping bend, rather than a hairpin. Cheap money is finally doing its bit, the Eurozone crisis is contained, and the US recovery is looking increasingly robust. Last Friday’s employment report was very encouraging and US jobless claims for the week ending May 4th continued the good news, coming out at 323,000, the lowest reading since 18th Jan. 2008.

In a further testament to the growing strength of the American recovery, the daily Rasmussen Consumer Index, which measures consumer confidence on a daily basis, rose to 106.2 on May 5th, the highest level since 2007.  The US economic locomotive is finally gathering speed.    

Bank of England. Photograph: Getty Images

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.