In a dramatic break with history, at his first meeting as Governor, Mark Carney persuaded the Bank of England’s, (BOE), Monetary Policy Committee, (MPC), to issue what amounted to forward guidance on the path of future monetary policy.
The key sentence in the statement issued by the MPC was, "The, (recently observed), significant upward movement in market interest rates, would, however, weigh on that outlook; in the Committee’s view, the implied rise in the expected future path of Bank Rate was not warranted by the recent developments in the domestic economy".
There are arguments against, and arguments in favour of forward guidance. Against the guidance ties the committee’s hands and will make it look stupid if it subsequently has to adapt it too quickly, (almost by definition), and if it does have to change the message, that’s going to lead to ever-diminishing credibility for future guidance, i.e. the market will remember the committee’s ‘mistakes’ and not believe future guidance.
For: it represents "costless" intervention, in the narrow sense that the central bank doesn’t have to actually DO anything right now and, if the guidance does have to change direction later, then that will probably be because the initial guidance has done its work - having lead to the desired economic adjustment.
The substance of today’s messages from both the BOE and the European Central Bank, (ECB), which used a similar tactic, was that they had seen their yield curves steepen dramatically since the market became obsessed with "tapering" in the US-the process by which the Fed may wind down its programme of Quantitative Easing, and that they could neither understand this phenomenon nor stand idly by and watch it happen. To paraphrase their message- "never mind the US, or the Fed, look at our economies and ask yourself, why would you expect us to raise rates any sooner now than you did two months ago". Fair enough and, in the ECB’s case, a very good point.
However, I think Carney has started his encumbency with a very risky gamble. Whilst the Eurozone economy has been flatlining and boasts economies best described as ranging from zombie to plunging, the UK economic data has recently given us some distinctly pleasant surprises - the latest being the Services Purchasing Managers’ Index-representing a massive sector of the economy- and quite a robust housing market recovery. Let us also not forget that UK inflation remains stubbornly high and shows no real tendency to fall. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but probably by Christmas, I think the BOE will have to subtly change today’s attempt at guidance and investors who bought gilts on the back of today’s BOE statement may come to regret that before long.