It's not surprising that interest rates might finally be on their way up

Carney's warning not all that shocking.

New UK bank governor Mark Carney warned yesterday that interest rates could finally be on their way up after over four years at 0.5 per cent.

The move would not be surprising for a number of reasons:

  • Savers, particularly the elderly, are coming under increasing pressure due the low rates over the past four years.
  • UK house prices have begun to recover. According to figures from the Land Registry, house prices in England & Wales rose by 0.9 per cent in 2012 and by 0.1 per cent in the first four months of 2013. Although this growth is moderate, it does show that the market is stabilizing.
  • The British Pound has deprecated by 5 per cent against the US dollar so far this year. This has impacted on inflation which rose from 2.4 per cent in April 2013 to 2.7 per cent in May 2013.
  • The UK stock market (FTSE 100) is up by 7.6 per cent so far this year in GBP terms and by 3.7 per cent in US dollar terms (as at 19 July 2013).

Increasing rates will a number of effects. It will:

  • Encourage more investment in the UK bond market which will help support the Pound.
  • Reduce consumer spending which will put downward pressure on inflation.
  • Cause people to pull money out of the stock market and move it into cash.
  • Put pressure on the housing market, particularly at the lower end.

The last point is the one that will weigh on the mind of Mark Carney the most. This is mainly due to the fact that over 60 per cent of UK individual wealth is tied up in the property market (according to the ONS). This is one of the highest proportions in the world and explains why the UK’s fate is so heavily linked to property. In contrast, German’s have less than 20 per cent of their individual wealth in property which shows why they are less susceptible to changes in its value.

In GBP terms, UK residential prices have declined by 12 per cent since their peak at the end of 2007 (Source: Land Registry). In US dollar terms the decline has been even more alarming at 34 per cent. This means that the average UK individual has lost over 20 per cent of their US wealth over the past five years due to the decline in property prices.

Bank of England Governor, Mark Carney. Photograph: Getty Images

Andrew Amoils is a writer for WealthInsight

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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.