Is Carney hurt by wrong rate steer?

  • 5 November 2015
  • From the section Business
Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney looks on during a quarterly inflation report press conference Image copyright Getty Images

Mark Carney gave what many would see as a bum steer in July that interest rates would be going up around the turn of the year.

This is what he said. And, to be clear, I gave his remarks prominence here because the Bank of England was wholly unambiguous about the weight we should attach to them.

Admittedly he couched it as the Monetary Policy Committee's meeting in just a few weeks would be the decision-making moment of truth. He never actually said there was a racing certainty of rates rising.

But the implication was unambiguous: we should prepare for the end of the era of near-zero interest rates, that has prevailed since early 2009.

Well today the Bank of England gave an equally unambiguous signal that the moment of truth for an interest rate rise has been delayed by ten or 12 months, to the latter months of 2016.

Which is why I today asked the Bank's governor whether he regretted conditioning us for a tiny rate rise in coming weeks that will now not materialise.

He said he didn't, for two reasons.

First he said he was speaking only for himself, and of course he is only one vote on the MPC, the body that sets rates.

And second, the serious weakening of half the world's economies - China and emerging markets - has dampened UK prices and global growth prospects more than most supposed experts, including those at the Bank, had expected.

Or, by implication, he would like us to excuse him, because we can't hold him accountable for events, thousands of miles away in Asia, well beyond the influence of a British central bank.

Those external events mean inflation, currently slightly negative, will - the Bank thinks - stay one percentage point or more below the official target of 2% well into the back end of next year.

And on the basis of market expectations of interest rates not rising also till the back end of 2016, inflation is not forecast to return to 2% until the end of 2017.

In other words, and to paraphrase master Yoda, bonkers it would be to raise interest rates in December, or January, or February - or not for some considerable time.

The reason I mention Yoda is that central bank governors, like Jedi masters, are supposed to be infallible.

Maybe that is a ludicrous conceit in this age of institutional transparency.

But for City traditionalists, Mark Carney's predilection for giving so-called "forward guidance", which seems to date to have habitually gone awry, may have damaged his authority a bit.

And another thing.

We are a nation of obsessives about the value of our homes and the mortgage rates we pay.

So a good number of people will have chased supposedly cheap and never-to-be-repeated remortgaging deals after Mr Carney's apparent warning that it would soon call time on free money.

Some of those taking out new fixed-rate mortgages may have incurred refinancing costs earlier than strictly necessary.

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