Friday, 14 February 2014

A sticky mess for economists

I have spent a fair amount of my leisure time racing on sailing boats, where one becomes paranoid about wasting the wind, the tide or ones position on the water.  This is in stark contrast to the rest of my life where waste is everywhere; I waste time in mindless meetings and commuting, I waste money on an over indulged family and some would argue that I am wasting my life away writing this blog!  But all that is going to change; waste is out and utilisation is in – or so says the Governor of The Bank of England (BoE).

Having spent the last five years providing as much slack as possible to keep the banking system on its feet and the economy off its deathbed, there is now a new mood and doctrine.  When Mark Carney arrived in the UK in July last year he promised us Forward Guidance on interest rates – he would hold rates at 0.5% until we achieved full employment.  So like a seasoned skipper he turned the yacht downwind and let all her sails out.  The economy (helped by a friendly gust of overseas investment) has picked up speed, employment rates have shot up and people are wondering when we will need to tighten things up.  If we don’t tighten things up and the economic tail-winds pick-up we could get into a real mess.

He should have tightened up a bit earlier

Friday, 7 February 2014

European Hunger Games

For anyone who was growing up in the 1970s there is a short list of things that one has to be concerned about:  The music of The Bay City Rollers, the instant pudding - “angel delight”, playing rugby against the Welsh and inflation.
The Great Barry John laying waste to England

Although the oil price shocks affected all industrialised economies inflation had a particularly severe impact on the UK, we quickly became known as the sick man of Europe.  Our smoke stack industries were failing against new competitors and trades unions made it impossible for us to improve productivity; this labour intransigence forced unemployment to horrific levels.  But worst of all, Inflation was in double digits eating up savings, wealth and security and against all the laws of Keynesian economics we had high inflation, high unemployment and high interest rates – stagflation!  Like a creeping terminal disease it infected all parts of our economy and did untold social damage; many of today’s most potent social problems steam directly from this time – rising divorce rates, poor parenting, plunging standards in education, rising crime rates and so it goes on.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Emerging market emergency?

The mere thought of the US Federal Reserve tapering their asset purchase programme (QE) in May last year put the world into a spin.  As sellers sold out their positions, currencies were devalued and Central Banks had to step in with higher interest rates.  Nine months on and the Fed has begun to taper by $10 billion a month and the impact on emerging markets is ratcheting-up.  This time last year the Fed started buying $85bn of asset purchases a month they and least we forget they are still pouring $65 billion a month into the world economy?  On the face of it this is a small reduction, $20bn a month after $2tn or more of asset purchases in four years, but it is having a material effect in emerging markets and may well come home to haunt us in the West .
The QE 1 - just a good excuse to remember this grand ship

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