Bank of England set to unveil 'forward guidance'

Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney Mark Carney is expected to link interest rate movements to economic performance

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The new governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, is set to unveil a new strategy of "forward guidance".

Under the strategy, the Bank will periodically promise to keep interest rates at a particular level, until certain economic conditions are met.

With short-term interest rates already at historic lows, the idea is to reduce longer-term interest rates.

That would give banks and mortgage lenders the ability to "lock-in" customers at lower rates for longer.

At its heart, forward guidance is a tool for boosting confidence.

With the Bank's short-term interest rates at 0.5%, lowering them further is not really an option for stimulating the economy.

Unconventional tool

So, the Chancellor George Osborne recently requested that the Bank of England consider "unconventional" methods of boosting the economy and unveil them in its Quarterly Inflation Report due out on Wednesday.

Under forward guidance, the Bank is expected to promise to keep interest rates at a set level until other specific economic indicators show improvement.

For example, the Bank could announce that interest rates will stay at 0.5% for a period of time, possibly up to a year, or until the rate of unemployment falls to a certain level.

Another unconventional tool that central banks, including the Bank of England, have been using in recent years is quantitative easing (QE), a process whereby a central bank buys assets, usually government bonds, in order to pump money into the economy.

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It is making a promise about the future, particularly about future interest rates”

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However, some analysts feel that QE is losing its effectiveness and that forward guidance will give the Bank of England an extra weapon in its armoury.

Laura Lambie, senior investment director at Investec Wealth and Investment, told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme that markets were anticipating interest rates would stay low for the next two years.

"If Mark Carney comes out and says something contrary to that then that's going to have an impact on bonds and currencies - there could be room for disappointment," she said.

Confidence boost

Mr Carney and the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) gave a taste of forward guidance last month, when it was announced that fears of a rate rise in the near future were "not warranted". London shares gained significantly on the comments.

Adrian Lowcock, from stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown, said that markets could jump higher if the Bank's announcement "hits the right notes".

"We could see UK shares rally and the FTSE may very well reach an all-time high," he said.

The US central bank, the Federal Reserve, adopted forward guidance late last year in an attempt to convince companies and households that interest rates would not rise until at least the middle of 2015, at the earliest.

Ray Boulger, at independent mortgage adviser John Charcol, said the introduction of forward guidance by the Bank of England would be timely because of recent survey evidence showing borrowers feel interest rates could go up at some point in the next year.

However, the financial markets are working on the premise that UK rates will stay at 0.5% until at least 2015.

'Messy'

There are those that have their doubts over the usefulness of forward guidance.

Former Bank of England MPC member, Andrew Sentance, said: "This is a very difficult environment for central banks wishing to design forward guidance and we should not build up our hopes about its accuracy or effectiveness."

For Allan Monks, economist at JP Morgan Chase Bank, forward guidance can actually create a somewhat "messy" situation.

"The decision would only add to the confusion over when rates are likely to rise, and focus attention too narrowly on a subset of the economic data," he said.

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