Baptism of fire for Carney as global economy moves up through the gears

The minutes of his first meeting.

The minutes of his first Bank of England MPC meeting reveal that the urbane Governor Carney in fact had quite a baptism of fire, having to preside over a meeting riven by dissent, which was very significant, tending to suggest that the MPC's commitment to keep rates "low, for longer", is weaker than first thought.

First of all, there was a bombshell line in the minutes, revealing some sympathy with market rate hike expectations. Governor Carney had previously tried to persuade the market to flatten the yield curve, labelling the market’s expectations for the quantum and timing for rate rises as "unwarranted", but we now discover that this view was by no means unanimous on the committee:

"Other (MPC) members did not think market interest rates were obviously out of line with their view of the outlook."

Yet more dissent came from MPC member Weale, who objected to the 18 to 24 months horizon embodied in one of the "knockouts" that would cause the Bank to raise rates before unemployment reaches the 7 per cent threshold. He felt that the 18 to 24 months horizon was too long, i.e. the Bank will be prepared to ignore a blip in inflation if it thinks it’ll be back below 2.5 per cent within two years, (oh yes, the Bank’s inflation target has effectively now surreptitiously risen to 2.5 per cent, rather than 2 per cent). "One member, while accepting the principles of forward guidance, saw a particularly compelling need to do more to manage the risk that forward guidance could lead to an increase in medium-term inflation expectations, by setting an even shorter time horizon; that would make clear that the forward guidance was fully compatible with the Committee’s commitment to meeting the 2 per cent inflation target in the medium term."

Evidence seems to be mounting that global economic activity seems finally to be accelerating-maybe even creating a more classically rapid recovery, as opposed to the rather anaemic variety we have so far enjoyed.

UK economic data is already on a roll, with significant recent positive surprises from employment and weekly earnings, Purchasing Managers’ Indices, (Manufacturing, Construction and Services), Industrial Production, the Trade Balance, and  of course, Housing Indicators. As for the US, the July unemployment report may have been a tad disappointing, but forward-looking indicators such as the ISM surveys, (both Manufacturing and Non-manufacturing), have recently exceeded expectations, retail sales look healthy, and the latest jobless claims figures were very good news.

Even the poor old Eurozone has managed to crawl out of recession, and China has become more supportive of growth. For example, China Daily yesterday noted that Beijing authorities are aiming to boost the consumption of information products and services. China’s consumption of information products and services is expected to grow at an annual pace of at least 20 per cent to reach CNY3.2 trn ($518 bn) by the end of 2015, according to a guideline released by the State Council yesterday. In another positive sign, China’s industrial power usage rose to a one-year high in July.

All of this means that bond markets are set to remain on the ropes, testing and pushing through recent highs in yields, returning to the sort of standard risk premia that normally determine the levels of long-term rates, as opposed to the search for safe-havens which has driven markets since the crisis broke.

Mark Carney. 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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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.