News Column

Interest rates Does Bank governor know something we don't, asks Larry Elliott

June 18, 2014

Larry Elliott, economics editor

Mark Carney surprised the financial markets last week when he said interest rates could be raised from their emergency level of 0.5% sooner than the City expects. Throughout his first year at Threadneedle Street the governor of the Bank of England has talked down the prospect of higher borrowing costs, using forward guidance to reassure businesses and households that the Bank was not keen on an early tightening of policy.

So what changed between the governor's doveish comments when he presented the Bank's May inflation report and his Mansion House speech a month later? Not inflation as measured by the consumer price index, clearly. That fell to 1.5% in May is and still on a downward trend.

Not the producer prices index, which measures inflationary pressure in the pipeline. This shows that despite annual growth of 3%, manufacturers' factory gate prices are increasing by less than 1% a year. Not inflation expectations, a measure of where the public think the cost of living is heading. And certainly not trends in wages, where whole-economy earnings growth is running at below 1% a year.

All this makes Carney's new hawkishness a bit hard to explain, particularly as he has been banging on for months about how the Bank's new macro-prudential tools will enable it to cool down the property market. Forward guidance, his big policy initiative on taking over as governor from Mervyn King, appears to have been junked in favour of doing what his predecessor did - assessing the state of the economy on a month-by-month basis.

If you want to be generous to the governor, you could argue that he is waving the interest-rate stick in the hope that he doesn't have to use it. There are two other explanations. The first is that the governor knows something we don't. The second is that he is not quite as smart as he thinks he is and is making it up as he goes along.

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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