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.

Photo: Getty Images
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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.