Heather Stewart

Upbeat mood in Britain contrasts with pessimistic eurozone surveys. Fears of recession in France grow. Eurozone composite PMI remains in expansion territory above the 50 mark at 51.5, but declines from October’s level of 51.9…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UK manufacturing expands at fastest rate since 1995″ was written by Heather Stewart, for theguardian.com on Thursday 21st November 2013 13.32 UTC

Britain’s manufacturing sector is expanding at its fastest pace for 18 years as new orders pour in, according to a new survey, rekindling hopes for a rebalancing of the economy.

The Confederation of British Industry’s monthly industrial trends survey shows manufacturing orders and output both at their highest level since 1995.

The CBI said that 36% of firms reported their order books were above normal, with 25% saying they were below normal. The resulting balance of +11% was the strongest since March 1995. Similarly, the positive balance for firms’ level of output, at +29%, was the strongest since January 1995.

Stephen Gifford, the CBI’s director of economics, said: “This new evidence shows encouraging signs of a broadening and deepening recovery in the manufacturing sector. Manufacturers finally seem to be feeling the benefit of growing confidence and spending within the UK and globally.”

The coalition will be encouraged to see signs of a revival in British industry, after fears that the economic recovery has so far been too reliant on consumer spending and an upturn in the housing market.

The chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, has said he would like to see a “march of the makers”, helping to double exports by the end of the decade, so that Britain can “pay its way in the world”.

Business surveys have been pointing to a revival in manufacturing for some time, but it has only recently begun to be reflected in official figures, which showed a 0.9% increase in output from the sector in the third quarter of 2013, driven primarily by the success of carmakers. However, output from manufacturing remains more than 8% below its peak before the financial crisis.

News of the upbeat mood among manufacturers in the UK contrasts with more pessimistic surveys from the eurozone where the so-called “flash PMIs” suggest that the economic recovery is petering out in several countries, including France.

While the composite PMI for the eurozone remains above the 50 mark at 51.5, this is a decline from October’s level of 51.9, suggesting that while the eurozone economy as a whole has not slipped back into recession, the pace of growth appears to have slowed.

Chris Williamson, of data provider Markit, which compiles the survey, said: “The fall in the PMI for a second successive month suggests that the European Central Bank was correct to cut interest rates to a record low at its last meeting, and the further loss of growth momentum will raise calls for policy makers to do more to prevent the eurozone from slipping back into another recession.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.


USA 

Bank of England governor’s move to persuade markets that interest rates will not immediately rise has provoked skepticism. His first 100 days as Bank of England governor have been a noisy medley of speeches, impeccably tailored photo-calls and pzazz…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Is Mark Carney’s forward guidance plan a step backwards?” was written by Heather Stewart, for theguardian.com on Monday 7th October 2013 14.00 UTC

If Mark Carney was going to live up to his billing as a “rock star central banker” – and his £874,000 a year pay package – he had to arrive in Threadneedle Street on a crashing crescendo. His first 100 days as Bank of England governor have been a noisy medley of speeches, impeccably tailored photo-calls and pzazz.

From the need for more women on banknotes to his love of Everton football club, Carney has had plenty to say on a range of subjects since his appointment on 1 July this year. However, it’s the Bank’s new policy tool of forward guidance that has provoked the most interest, and a good measure of scepticism, among seasoned Bank-watchers.

Honed by Carney in Canada and adopted by the US Federal Reserve and the ECB in different forms, forward guidance is a way of signalling to the public and financial markets how the Bank will respond to shifts in the economy. In this case, the monetary policy committee has pledged to keep interest rates at their record low of 0.5% at least until the unemployment rate falls to 7%.

“Forward guidance is an attempt to persuade the markets that interest rates are not immediately going to go up,” says John Van Reenen, director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. “It’s one more tool in the toolbox.”

However, as implemented by Carney and his colleagues in the UK, guidance is hedged about with three separate “knockouts” – rates would rise if inflation, financial stability or the public’s inflation expectations got out of control. Moreover, the governor has stressed that the 7% unemployment rate is not a trigger for a rate rise, but a “staging post”, which will not necessarily prompt tighter policy.

During a somewhat fraught hearing with MPs on the cross-party Treasury select committee last month, in which Carney sought to clarify the policy, chairman Andrew Tyrie expostulated that it would be a hard one to explain “down the Dog and Duck”.

Financial markets have also been less than convinced. The yield, or effective interest rate, on British government bonds – partly a measure of investors’ expectations of future interest rates – has risen rather than fallen since the Bank’s announcement. That is partly because the latest data suggests the economic outlook is improving, but rapidly rising bond yields can be worrying because they tend to push up borrowing costs right across the economy. Carney, though, has insisted he is not concerned.

Meanwhile the pound has risen almost 4% against the dollar since Carney took the helm – again signalling markets expect rates to rise sooner than the Bank is indicating. Last week sterling hit a nine-month high, although it came off that peak as investors began to question if the UK’s recovery could continue at its current pace.

“I don’t think in practice forward guidance is very successful,” says Jamie Dannhauser of Lombard Street Research. He believes Carney has failed to convince the City he means business, because he has failed to back up forward guidance with action, such as the promise of a fresh round of quantitative easing – the Bank scheme that has pumped £375bn of freshly minted money into the economy.

“[Forward guidance] doesn’t work if you’re not willing to take on the markets if you don’t get your way,” says Dannhauser.

David Blanchflower, a former member of the MPC, is more blunt: “He looks already, within a hundred days, to have lost control. Bond yields are rising, the pound is rising like mad, and they’ve got no response.”

He argues that the hedged nature of the new policy is likely to reflect “horse-trading” between Carney and his fellow MPC members. Unlike in Canada, where what the central bank governor says goes, decision-making on the MPC is by vote. With a recovery now under way, its various members are known to have differing views on what are the most pressing risks to the economy.

Another former MPC member said: “Had I been on the MPC I would have let him do it [forward guidance], because I don’t think it does any particular harm; but I don’t think it does much good either.”

It’s not just the Bank’s approach to monetary policy that has changed on Carney’s watch. When outgoing deputy governor Paul Tucker, who missed out on the top job, leaves for the US later this month, it will mark the latest in a number of personnel changes that are starting to make Carney’s Bank look quite different from Lord (Mervyn) King’s.

Blue-blooded banker Charlotte Hogg joined as the Bank’s new chief operating officer, a post that didn’t exist under the old regime, on the same day as Carney. Meanwhile Tucker will be replaced by former Treasury and Foreign Office apparatchik Sir Jon Cunliffe. With long-serving deputy governor Charlie Bean due to leave early in 2014, Carney will be given another opportunity to bring in a new broom.

Insiders say the atmosphere in the Bank’s Threadneedle Street headquarters has already changed. Carney is often seen eating lunch in the canteen or showing visitors around. His approach is less hierarchical than that of King, who was derided as the “Sun King”, by former chancellor Alistair Darling – though Carney is said to be no keener on intellectual dissent than his predecessor.

He will need all the allies he can get both inside and outside the Bank, if he is to deal successfully with what many analysts see as the greatest threat facing the economy: the risk that an unsustainable bubble is starting to inflate in Britain’s boom-bust housing market.

Carney and his colleagues on the Bank’s Financial Policy Committee (FPC), the group tasked with preventing future crashes which partly overlaps with the MPC, have new powers to rein in mortgage lending if they believe a bubble is emerging, and the governor has said he won’t hesitate to use them.

But the FPC is untested and largely unknown to the public, and bubbles are notoriously hard to spot. Using the FPC’s influence to choke off the supply of high loan-to-value mortgages, for example, would be hugely controversial at a time when large numbers of would-be buyers have been frozen out of the market. Meanwhile, the government’s extension of the Help to Buy scheme, with details to be laid out on Tuesday, is likely to increase the demand for property, potentially pushing up prices.

Van Reenen warns that if property prices do take off, Carney could find himself in an unenviable position. “We have this terrible problem in this country that house prices have got completely out of kilter with incomes. I would be very reluctant to see interest rates start pushing up. Using other methods, such as being tougher on Help to Buy, and trying to do things through prudential regulation is better – but the fundamental thing is lack of houses, and Carney can’t do anything about that.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

After years of the Fed pumping $85bn a month into financial markets, the strength of the American recovery will be tested. The Federal Reserve chairman is expected to make the symbolic gesture this week of announcing the beginning of the end of QE…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Bernanke set to begin Fed’s tapering of QE – but is the US economy ready?” was written by Heather Stewart and Katie Allen, for The Guardian on Sunday 15th September 2013 20.25 UTC

As Barack Obama gears up to announce Ben Bernanke’s successor, the Federal Reserve chairman is expected to make the deeply symbolic gesture this week of announcing the beginning of the end of quantitative easing – the drastic depression-busting policy that has led the Fed to pump an extraordinary $85bn (£54bn) a month into financial markets.

It will signal the Fed’s belief that the US economy is on the mend, but it could also frighten the markets and hit interest rates. So what exactly is Bernanke doing, why now – and how might it affect the UK and other countries?

What will the Federal Reserve do?

After on Tuesday and Wednesday’s regular policy meeting, the Fed is widely expected to announce that it will start to “taper” its $85bn-a-month quantitative easing (QE) programme, perhaps cutting its monthly purchases of assets such as government bonds by $10bn or $15bn.

Is that good news?

It should be: it means the governors of the Fed, led by the chairman, Bernanke, believe the US economy is strong enough to stand on its own, without support from a constant flow of cheap, electronically created money – though they still have no plans to raise base interest rates from the record low of 0.25%, and they expect to stop adding to QE over a period of up to a year. “We really want to see a situation where central banks should not be pumping money into markets. It’s not a healthy thing to be doing,” says Chris Williamson, chief economist at data provider Markit.

Why are they doing it now?

Economic data is pointing to a modest but steady recovery. House prices have turned, rising by 12% in the year to June. Unemployment has fallen to 7.3%, its lowest level since the end of 2008, albeit partly because many women and retirees have left the workforce.

Since QE on such a huge scale carries its own risks – it can distort financial markets, for example – the Fed is keen to withdraw it once it thinks an upturn is well underway. However, some recent data, including worse-than-expected retail sales figures on Friday, have raised doubts about the health of the upturn.

There’s another reason too: Bernanke’s term as governor ends in January next year, and he may feel that at least making a start on the process of tapering – marking the beginning of the end of the policy emergency that started more than five years ago – would be a fitting end to his tenure.

How will the markets react?

With a shrug, the Fed hopes, since it has carefully communicated its intentions. Scotiabank’s Alan Clarke said: “I think it’s pretty much priced in … Speculation began months ago, the market has already moved and we are still seeing some very robust data. The foot is on the accelerator pedal just a bit more lightly.”

However, a larger-than-expected move could still cause ripples – and a decision not to taper at all would be a shock, though some analysts believe it remains a possibility. Paul Ashworth, US economist at Capital Economics, said: “I don’t think they’ve actually decided on this ahead of time.”

What will investors be looking for?

First, the scale of the reduction in asset purchases. No taper at all might suggest Bernanke and his colleagues have lingering concerns about the health of the economy; a reduction of $20bn a month or more would come as a shock. The tone of the statement, and the chairman’s subsequent press conference, will also be scrutinised, with markets hoping for reassurance that even once tapering is underway, there is no immediate plan to raise interest rates: Bernanke has previously said he doesn’t expect this to take place until unemployment has fallen to 6.5% or below. Williamson said: “I think they will accompany the announcement with a very dovish statement designed not to scare people that the economy is too weak but to reassure stimulus won’t be taken away too quickly.”

What does it mean for the UK?

Long-term interest rates in UK markets have risen sharply since the early summer, at least in part because of the Fed’s announcement on tapering, and that shift, which has a knock-on effect on some mortgage and other loan rates, is likely to continue as the stimulus is progressively withdrawn.

If tapering occurs without setting off a market crash or choking off recovery, it may help to reassure policymakers in the UK that they can tighten policy once the recovery gets firmly under way, without sparking a renewed crisis. David Kern, economic adviser to the British Chamber of Commerce, said: “it will strengthen for me the argument against doing more QE in the UK.”

How will the eurozone be affected?

It could cut both ways: a strengthening US economy is a welcome market for Europe’s exporters, and if the value of the dollar increases against the euro on the prospect of higher interest rates, that will make eurozone goods cheaper.

However, the prospect of an end to QE in the US has also caused bond yields in all major markets to rise, pushing up borrowing costs – including for many governments. That could make life harder for countries such as Spain and Italy that are already in a fiscal tight spot.

What about emerging markets?

Back in May, Bernanke merely had to moot the idea of ending QE to send emerging markets reeling. A side-effect of the unprecedented flood of cheap money under QE has been that banks and other investors have used the cash to make riskier investments in emerging markets. The prospect of that tap being turned off has already seen capital pouring out of emerging markets and currencies, potentially exposing underlying weaknesses in economies that have been flourishing on a ready supply of cheap credit.

“It has triggered all sorts of significant movements around the world out of emerging markets. It’s had big ramifications for India and other parts of Asia,” said Clarke.

Central banks in Brazil and India have been forced to take action to shore up their currencies; Turkey and Indonesia also look vulnerable. Many of these markets have looked calmer in recent weeks, but the concrete fact of tapering could set off a fresh panic.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

New governor tells MPs his pledge to keep interest rates at record lows for up to three years has reinforced recovery. Carney points out that he is the only serving central bank governor among the G7 countries to have increased rates while heading the Bank of Canada…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Bank of England governor Mark Carney rattled as he defends forward guidance” was written by Heather Stewart, for theguardian.com on Thursday 12th September 2013 11.17 UTC

The Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, has launched a staunch defence of his pledge to keep interest rates at record lows for up to three years, claiming that it has “reinforced recovery”.

Carney faced tough questioning from the cross-party Treasury select committee of MPs about the likely consequences of the monetary policy committee’s new “forward guidance” strategy.

But he insisted: “Overall, my view is that the announcement has reinforced recovery. It’s made policy more effective, and more effective policy is stimulative at the margin.”

The new governor also stressed that despite the MPC’s expectation that rates will remain on hold for up to three years, he would be ready to push up borrowing costs if necessary.

“I’m not afraid to raise interest rates,” he said, pointing out that he is the only serving central bank governor among the G7 countries to have increased rates – in his previous post, in Canada.

City investors have pushed up long-term borrowing costs in financial markets sharply since the MPC announced its new pledge to leave borrowing costs unchanged at 0.5%, at least until unemployment falls to 7%.

But Carney, who was handpicked by George Osborne to kickstart recovery and took over in Threadneedle Street at the start of July, at times appeared rattled. He said the recent increase in long-term rates, which sent 10-year government bond yields through 3% last week for the first time in more than two years, was “benign”.

He also repeatedly refused to be drawn on whether the new approach represented a loosening of policy – equivalent to a reduction in interest rates – in itself.

Carney denied that the new framework, involving “knockouts” if inflation appears to be getting out of control, is too complex. But Andrew Tyrie, the committee’s Tory chairman, complained that Carney’s account of the Bank’s new approach would be difficult to explain “down the Dog and Duck”.

Asked about the plight of savers, whose savings are being eroded by inflation with interest rates at rock bottom, the governor said he had “great sympathy”, but the best thing the Bank could do to help was to generate a sustainable economic recovery.

“Our job is to make sure that that’s not another false dawn, and ensure that this economy reaches, as soon as possible, a speed of escape velocity, so that it can sustain higher interest rates.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development gives vote of confidence in the United Kingdom’s economy, revising growth forecast from 0.8% to 1.5% after a “string of positive indicators from the UK”…

 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UK economy upgraded by OECD” was written by Heather Stewart, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 3rd September 2013 09.52 UTC

Paris-based thinktank the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has lifted its forecast for UK growth in 2013, in the latest vote of confidence for the fledgling recovery.

In May, when it last released projections for the world’s major economies, the OECD was expecting 0.8% growth in the UK for 2013. On Tuesday, it said recent survey evidence suggested GDP would expand by 1.5%, grouping the UK with the US and Japan as economies where, “activity is expanding at encouraging rates”.

The upgrade from the OECD comes after a string of positive indicators for the UK, including stronger-than-expected growth of 0.7% in the second quarter, falling unemployment, and survey evidence suggesting the strongest growth in manufacturing output for almost two decades.

Alongside revising up its forecast for the UK, the OECD used its interim economic assessment to warn that while a moderate recovery is underway in many major economies, global growth remains sluggish, and there are still risks to the upturn.

The OECD’s economists single out the impact of the Federal Reserve’s plans to phase out its massive programme of quantitative easing as creating particular problems for some economies.

“In many emerging economies, loss of domestic activity momentum together with the shift in expectations about the course of monetary policy in the United States and the ensuing rise in global bond yields have led to significant market instability, rising financing costs, capital outflows and currency depreciations,” it said.

Countries including India, Indonesia, Brazil and Turkey have been battling to control a potentially destabilising decline in their currencies since the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, announced his plans to “taper” QE in May.

The OECD’s experts warn that the slowdown in emerging economies – which have been major drivers of world growth in recent years – would offset the improvement in advanced economies, so that the global recovery would continue to be, “sluggish”.

In the US, the OECD expects growth to be 1.7% in 2013, slightly down on its May estimate of 1.9%. It also warns that the crisis in the eurozone is far from over, saying: “The euro area remains vulnerable to renewed financial, banking and sovereign debt tensions. Many euro area banks are insufficiently capitalised and weighed down by bad loans.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Salutary lessons can be learned from past financial crises. Boom-bust events tend to follow a classic arc: a tale with a grain of truth in it is seized on and peddled to credulous investors by an unholy alliance of greedy optimists and swindlers…



Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Bubbles, tulips, booms and busts: same story, different dates” was written by Heather Stewart, for The Observer on Sunday 23rd December 2012 00.08 UTC

Perhaps one of the most cheering moments of 2012 was when Sir Mervyn King summoned Barclays chairman Marcus Agius and told him that after the appalling revelations about Libor-fixing, the bank’s chief executive Bob Diamond would have to go – or, as the Sun headline had it: “Sign on, You Crazy Diamond.”

Both King’s high moral tone and the headline-writers’ cheek seemed refreshingly modern – but for anyone wandering the damp streets of London with half an hour or so to kill during this festive season, a corner of the British Museum offers a healthy dose of historical perspective on these and many other events over the past torrid five years.

Tucked away in Room 69a, just around the corner from a display of Roman pottery, is a small temporary exhibition dedicated to “Bubbles and Bankruptcy: Financial Crises in Britain Since 1700″.

One exhibit is a cartoon from Punch, published after the Bank of England bailed out Barings (yes, that Barings) in 1890. A stiff-looking woman with an apron made of banknotes – the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street – crossly hands out cash to a queue of cowed financiers, saying: “You’ve Got Yourself into a Nice Mess With Your ‘Speculation’!” It must be reassuring for King to regard himself as today’s incarnation of that starchy matron.

It’s also salutary – and somehow comforting – to see artifacts from the events of the recent crash boxed up in glass cases as historical exhibits: an empty champagne bottle from the flotation of the ill-fated Northern Rock; a Steve Bell cartoon of ravenous fat cats having their toenails gingerly clipped by George Osborne; and a handful of credit cards from the bailed-out banks.

These now-poignant objects sit alongside exhibits illustrating a bevy of other investment frenzies and financial crises: the South Sea bubble, tulip mania and the railway investment boom – and bust – of the mid-19th century.

Apart from the facile (but nonetheless true) insight that there’s nothing new under the sun, the exhibition holds one or two other lessons for today’s policymakers.

The first is that these boom-bust events tend to follow a classic arc: a tale with a grain of truth in it is seized on and peddled to credulous investors by an unholy alliance of greedy optimists and downright swindlers.

An engraving in one case shows a certain Gregor MacGregor, a dashing-looking Scottish general who went off to Latin America and came back claiming to have discovered a lush territory called Poyais. He raised an extraordinary £200,000 – detailed in minute letters on a loan document on display – from investors convinced by the tale of vast, untapped riches in a faraway colony.

Unfortunately for MacGregor and the hundreds of would-be settlers who believed his tale and boldly set out across the Atlantic from Leith, Poyais turned out to be largely uninhabitable, and his backers lost their money.

Anyone reading the wild predictions about the potential riches to be made from exploiting shale gas deposits in the US should recognise the ring of a story so compelling that, given enough time, it could easily become a vast investment bubble. Fortunes will be made, but also lost.

A share certificate from the Sheffield and Retford Bank is a reminder that when Britain’s railways arrived, they certainly transformed the economy and created millionaires; but many of the early firms set up to drive brand-new lines across great tracts of the country went bust. The Sheffield and Retford made many loans to these companies. When they defaulted, the bank failed.

Some of the items on display also highlight the way that Britain’s political and social elites have always been prone to being seduced by smooth-talking investors. An 18th-century ballad, the Bubblers Medley, printed at the time of the South Sea crash, talks of the “Stars and Garters” tempted into the scheme alongside “harlots” from Drury Lane.

However, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling should note that while the then chancellor of the exchequer, John Aislabie, did buy shares in the South Sea company, he shrewdly sold them before the crash – as visitors can see from the bill with his signature – making them over to some more gullible citizen.

When veteran bank-watcher Sir Donald Cruickshank appeared before the parliamentary commission on banking standards recently, he also called for some historical perspective, urging its members to immerse themselves in a copy of Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now.

Reading the rip-roaring adventures of shady financier Augustus Melmotte, who takes London by storm with his eye-watering wealth, drawing politicians and aristocrats into his net, it’s hard not to think of the charming chancers in charge of Britain’s banks, who convinced us (and themselves) they were financial geniuses before the crisis – and were revealed to be self-deluded at best.

True, Melmotte certainly wouldn’t resort to the vulgar “done … for you big boy” tone of the emails that surfaced in the Barclays Libor settlement, but the sentiment is similar. Or, as Cruickshank put it: “I don’t think bankers are any worse than they have been before: they always calibrate off society … We have been here before.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Cost of living drops to 2.4% in June with UK retailers discounting clothes and shoes to shift summer stock, International Monetary Fund downgrades its forecast for UK growth this year by more than any other developed nation…



Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Inflation slides to lowest level since November 2009″ was written by Heather Stewart, for guardian.co.uk on Tuesday 17th July 2012 09.51 UTC

Heavy discounting by retailers struggling to shift summer stock has helped drive inflation to its lowest level since November 2009.

The Office for National Statistics said inflation measured on the consumer price index slipped to 2.4% in June, down from 2.8% in May, with clothing and footwear prices accounting for the largest downward contribution.

Food prices and the cost of transport added to the fall in inflation, the ONS reported, with retailers reporting weaker than usual demand for meat as the torrential rain put paid to barbecue plans.

The price of “miscellaneous goods and services” also fell, said the ONS, driven by personal care products, “notably deodorant and sunscreen”.

Prices across the economy have now fallen for two consecutive months for the first time since early 2009, when the government cut VAT to stimulate the economy during the financial crisis.

The 4.2% fall in clothing prices was twice as large as between any May and June since the ONS began measuring the CPI in 1996. “Downward effects came from across the clothing and footwear sector, with reports of summer sales starting earlier than last year,” it said . Though it added that the price of football shirts had risen during the Euro 2012 championship.

“Today’s release is certainly surprisingly weak. But a large part of that shock looks to be weather related,” said David Tinsley at BNP Paribas.

Cheaper petrol, as the fall in crude oil prices on world markets fed through to forecourts, accounted for part of the decline in inflation, the ONS said. Petrol prices dropped by 4.3p a litre to £1.33.

On the wider retail prices index, inflation also declined, to 2.8%, from 3.1% in May — its lowest level since December 2009.

Falling inflation strengthens the case for the new round of quantitative easing, which the Bank of England announced earlier this month. But it underlines the weakness of consumer demand on the high street.

On Monday the International Monetary Fund sharply lowered its economic forecast for the UK this year to growth of just 0.2%, compared with a previous forecast of 0.8%.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

European Central Bank president Mario Draghi calls on Europe’s leaders to resolve situation as governing council rejects reducing rates or boosting liquidity…



Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “ECB dashes market hopes of fresh eurozone emergency measures” was written by Heather Stewart, for guardian.co.uk on Wednesday 6th June 2012 13.28 UTC

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, has dashed investors’ hopes of fresh emergency measures to contain the crisis in the euro area, leaving borrowing costs across the 17 member countries unchanged.

Explaining at his regular press conference in Frankfurt why the ECB’s governing council had decided against reducing rates from their current level of 1%, or unleashing a new wave of cut-price loans for struggling banks, Draghi suggested it was now up to Europe’s leaders to resolve the situation.

“Some of these problems in the euro area have nothing to do with monetary policy,” he said. “I don’t think it would be appropriate for monetary policy to fill other institutions’ lack of action.”

Stock markets on both sides of the Atlantic had bounced in anticipation of ECB action; but share prices began falling as Draghi spoke.

Draghi initially insisted the decision to leave rates on hold had been taken through “consensus”; but admitted in response to a later question that, “a few members would have preferred to have a rate cut today,” sparking hopes that the ECB could decide to reduce borrowing costs at its next meeting, in July.

He said the ECB’s Long Term Refinancing Operation (LTRO), which offered €1tn (£805bn) worth of three-year loans to banks in December and February, in exchange for collateral, had helped to resolve some of the tensions in financial markets, but the key problem now is no longer liquidity.

Summarising the ECB’s expectations for the next 12 months, Draghi said, “we continue to expect the euro area economy to recover gradually” – though he also admitted that “economic growth in the euro area remains weak, with heightened uncertainty weighing on confidence and sentiment”.

The ECB is forecasting growth across the euro area for this year to be between -0.5% and 0.3%; and for next year, between zero and 2%.

However, Draghi said this outlook was “subject to increased downside risks, relating in particular to a further increase in tensions in several euro area financial markets and the potential for spillover to the real euro area economy”.

Spain is currently the focus of financial markets’ anxiety, after Madrid admitted it does not have the resources to rescue its stricken banking sector without external help.

Asked whether the eurozone’s bailout fund, the EFSF, should be allowed to help Spanish banks directly – an idea the Germans have been reluctant to sanction – Draghi said: “Any decision about the EFSF should be based on realistic assessment of the need for recapitalisation of the banks and the money available to the government without the need to ask for external support.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.