What have been, and will be, the monetary and fiscal responses to the Brexit vote in the referendum of 23 June 2016? This question has been addressed in speeches by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, and by George Osborne, Chancellor the Exchequer. Both recognise that the vote will cause a negative shock to the economy, which will require some stimulus to aggregate demand to avoid a recession, or at least minimise its depth.
Mark Carney stated that:
The Bank of England stands ready to provide more than £250bn of additional funds through its normal facilities. The Bank of England is also able to provide substantial liquidity in foreign currency, if required.
In the coming weeks, the Bank will assess economic conditions and will consider any additional policy responses.
This could mean that at its the next meeting, scheduled for 13/14 July, the Monetary Policy Committee will consider reducing Bank Rate from its current level of 0.5% and introducing further quantitative easing.
In a speech on 30 June, he went further:
I can assure you that in the coming months the Bank can be expected to take whatever action is needed to support growth subject to inflation being projected to return to the target over an appropriate horizon, and inflation expectations remaining well anchored.
Then in a speech on 5 July, introducing the latest Financial Stability Report, he said that the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee is lowering the required capital ratio of banks, thereby freeing up capital for lending to customers. The part being lowered is the ‘countercyclical capital buffer’ – the element that can be varied according to the state of the economy. Mark Carney said:
The FPC is today reducing the countercyclical capital buffer on banks’ UK exposures from 0.5% to 0% with immediate effect. This is a major change. It means that three quarters of UK banks, accounting for 90% of the stock of UK lending, will immediately have greater flexibility to supply credit to UK households and firms.
Specifically, the FPC’s action immediately reduces regulatory capital buffers by £5.7 billion and therefore raises banks’ capacity to lend to UK businesses and households by up to £150 billion. For comparison, last year with a fully functioning banking system and one of the fastest growing economies in the G7, total net lending in the UK was £60 billion.
Thus although there may be changes to interest rates and narrow money in response to economic reactions to the Brexit vote, the monetary policy framework remains unchanged. This is to achieve a target rate of CPI inflation of 2% at the 24-month time horizon.
But what of fiscal policy?
In its Charter for Budget Responsibility, updated in the Summer 2015 Budget, the government states its Fiscal Mandate:
3.2 In normal times, once a headline surplus has been achieved, the Treasury’s mandate for fiscal policy is:
• a target for a surplus on public-sector net borrowing in each subsequent year.
3.3 For the period outside normal times from 2015-16, the Treasury’s mandate for fiscal policy is:
• a target for a surplus on public-sector net borrowing by the end of 2019-20.
3.4 For this period until 2019-20, the Treasury’s mandate for fiscal policy is supplemented by:
• a target for public-sector net debt as a percentage of GDP to be falling in each year.
The target of a PSNB surplus by 2019-20 has been the cornerstone of recent fiscal policy. In order to stick to it, the Chancellor warned before the referendum that a slowdown in the economy as a result of a Brexit vote would force him to introduce an emergency Budget, which would involve cuts in government expenditure and increases in taxes.
However, since the vote he is now saying that the slowdown would force him to extend the time for reaching a surplus beyond 2019-20 to avoid dampening the economy further. But does this mean he is abandoning his fiscal target and resorting to discretionary expansionary fiscal policy?
George Osborne’s answer to this question is no. He argues that extending the deadline for a surplus is consistent with paragraph 3.5 of the Charter, which reads:
3.5 These targets apply unless and until the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) assess, as part of their economic and fiscal forecast, that there is a significant negative shock to the UK. A significant negative shock is defined as real GDP growth of less than 1% on a rolling 4 quarter-on-4 quarter basis. If the OBR assess that a significant negative shock:
||occurred in the most recent 4 quarter period;
||is occurring at the time the assessment is being made; or
||will occur during the forecast period
||if the normal times surplus rule in 3.2 is in force, the target for a surplus each year is suspended (regardless of future data revisions). The Treasury must set out a plan to return to surplus. This plan must include appropriate fiscal targets, which will be assessed by the OBR. The plan, including fiscal targets, must be presented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Parliament at or before the first financial report after the shock. The new fiscal targets must be approved by a vote in the House of Commons.
||if the shock occurs outside normal times, the Treasury will review the appropriateness of its fiscal targets for the period until the public finances return to surplus. Any changes to the targets must be approved by a vote in the House of Commons.
||once the budget is in surplus, the target set out in 3.2 above applies.
In other words, if the OBR forecasts that the Brexit vote will result in GDP growing by less than 1%, the Chancellor can delay reaching the surplus and thus not have to introduce tougher austerity measures. This, in effect, is what he is now saying and maintaining that, because of paragraph 3.5, it does not break the Fiscal Mandate. The nature of the next Budget, probably in the autumn, will depend on OBR forecasts.
A few days later, George Osborne announced that he plans to cut corporation tax from the current 20% to less than 15% – below the rate of 17% previously scheduled for 2019-20. His aim is not just to stimulate the economy, but to attract inward investment, as the rate would below that of any major economy and close the rate of 12.5% in Ireland. His hope would also be to halt the outflow of investment as companies seek to relocate in the EU.
Videos and podcasts
Statement from the Governor of the Bank of England following the EU referendum result Bank of England (24/6/16)
Uncertainty, the economy and policy – speech by Mark Carney Bank of England (30/6/16)
Introduction to Financial Stability Report, July 2016 Bank of England (5/7/16)
Osborne: Life will not be ‘economically rosy’ outside EU BBC News (28/6/16)
Osborne takes ‘realistic’ view over surplus target BBC News (1/7/16)
Why has George Osborne abandoned a key economic target? BBC News (1/7/16)
Mark Carney says Bank of England ready to inject £250bn into economy to keep UK afloat after EU referendum Independent, Zlata Rodionova (24/6/16)
Carney Signals Rate Cuts as Brexit Chaos Engulfs Political Class Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton (30/6/16)
Bank of England hints at UK interest rate cuts over coming months to ease Brexit woes International Business Times, Gaurav Sharma (30/6/16)
Carney prepares for ‘economic post-traumatic stress’ Financial Times, Emily Cadman (30/6/16)
Bank of England warns Brexit risks beginning to crystallise BBC News (5/7/16)
Bank of England tells banks to cut buffer to boost lending Financial Times, Caroline Binham and Chris Giles (5/7/16)
George Osborne puts corporation tax cut at heart of Brexit recovery plan Financial Times (3/7/16)
George Osborne corporation tax cut is the wrong way to start EU negotiations, former WTO boss says Independent, Hazel Sheffield (5/7/16)
George Osborne abandons 2020 UK surplus target Financial Times, Emily Cadman and Gemma Tetlow (1/7/16)
George Osborne scraps 2020 budget surplus plan The Guardian, Jill Treanor and Katie Allen (1/7/16)
Osborne abandons 2020 budget surplus target BBC News (1/7/16)
Brexit and the easing of austerity BBC News, Kamal Ahmed (1/7/16)
Osborne Follows Carney in Signaling Stimulus After Brexit Bloomberg, Simon Kennedy (1/7/16)
- Explain the measures taken by the Bank of England directly after the Brexit vote.
- What will determine whether the Bank of England engages in further quantitative easing beyond the current £385bn of asset purchases?
- How does monetary policy easing (or the expectation of it) affect the exchange rate? Explain.
- How effective is monetary policy for expanding aggregate demand? Is it more or less effective than using monetary policy to reduce aggregate demand?
- Explain what is meant by (a) capital adequacy ratios (tier 1 and tier 2); (b) countercyclical buffers. (See, for example, Economics 9th edition, page 533–7 and Figure 16.2))
- To what extent does increasing the supply of credit result in that credit being taken up by businesses and consumers?
- Distinguish between rules-based and discretionary fiscal policy. How would you describe paragraph 3.5 in the Charter for Budget Responsibility?
- Would you describe George Osborne’s proposed fiscal measures as expansionary or merely as less contractionary?
- Why is the WTO unhappy with George Osborne’s proposals about corporation tax?
- What is the Nash equilibrium of countries seeking to undercut each other’s corporation tax rates?
In an apparent U-turn, the Chancellor, George Osborne, has decided to cap the interest rates and other charges on payday loans and other short-term credit. As we have seen in previous news items, the sky-high interest rates which some of the poorest people in the UK are being forced to pay on these loans have caused outrage in many quarters: see A payday enquiry and Kostas Economides and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Indeed, the payday loan industry has been referred by the OFT to the Competition Commission (CC). The CC is required to report by 26 June 2015, although it will aim to complete the investigation in a shorter period.
It was becoming increasingly clear, however, that the government would not wait until the CC reports. It has been under intense pressure to take action. But the announcement on 25 November 2013 that the government would cap the costs of payday loans took many people by surprise. In fact, the new body, the Financial Conduct Authority, which is due to start regulating the industry in April 2014, only a month ago said that capping was very intrusive, arguing that it could make it harder for many people to borrow and push them into the hands of loan sharks. According to paragraph 6.71 of its consultation paper, Detailed proposals for the FCA regime for consumer credit:
The benefits of a total cost of credit cap has been looked at by the Personal Finance Research Centre at the University of Bristol. This report highlighted that 17 EU member states have some form of price restriction. Their research was ambiguous, on the one hand suggesting possible improved lending criteria and risk assessments. On the other, prices may drift towards a cap, which could lead to prices increasing or lead to a significant reduction in lenders exercising forbearance. Neither of these latter outcomes would be beneficial for consumers. Clearly this is a very intrusive proposition and to ensure we fully understand the implications we have committed to undertake further research once we begin regulating credit firms and therefore have access to regulatory data.
The government announcement has raised questions of how imperfections in markets should be dealt with. Many on the centre right argue that price controls should not be used as they can further distort the market. Indeed, the Chancellor has criticised the Labour Party’s proposal to freeze gas and electricity prices for 20 months if it wins the next election, arguing that the energy companies will simply get around the freeze by substantially raising their prices before and after the 20 months.
Instead, those on the centre right argue that intervention should aim to make markets more competitive. In other words, you should attempt not to replace markets, but to make them work better.
So what is the reasoning of the government in capping payday loan charges? Does it feel that, in this case, there is no other way? Or is the reasoning political? Does it feel that this is the most electorally advantageous way of answering the critics of the payday loan industry?
Webcasts and podcasts
Payday Loans To Be Capped By Government Sky News (25/11/13)
New law to cap cost of payday loans BBC News, Robert Hall (25/11/13)
Osborne: ‘Overall cost’ of payday loans to be capped BBC Today Programme (25/11/13)
George Osborne announces cap on payday loan charges amid concerns ITV News (25/11/13)
UK to cap payday lenders’ interest charges Reuters, Steve Slater, Paul Sandle, Kate Holton and William James (25/11/13)
Capping payday loans: from light touch to strong arm Channel 4 News, Faisal Islam (25/11/13)
Payday loans: New law to cap costs BBC News (25/11/13)
Payday loan ‘risk to mortgage applications’ BBC News (26/11/13)
Q&A: Payday loans BBC News (25/11/13)
George Osborne is playing social democratic catch-up on payday loans The Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/11/13_
Payday loans cap: George Osborne caves in following intervention led by Archbishop of Canterbury Independent, Oliver Wright (25/11/13)
The principle, the practice and the politics of fixing payday loan prices: why? And why now? Conservative Home, Mark Wallace (25/11/13)
George Osborne and the risky politics of chutzpah New Statesman, Rafael Behr (26/11/13)
Chancellor too quick off the mark on payday lending cap The Telegraph, James Quinn (25/11/13)
Crap and courage of convictions: the political problem with Osborne’s payday loan plan Spectator, Isabel Hardman (26/11/13)
Payday loan calculator
Payday loan calculator: how monthly interest can spiral BBC Consumer (7/11/13)
- What types of market failing exist in the payday loan industry?
- What types of controls of the industry are being proposed by George Osborne?
- What is the experience of Australia in introducing such controls?
- What alternative forms of intervention could be used to tackle the market imperfections in the industry?
- What were the proposals of the FCA? (See paragraph 6.6 in its document, Detailed proposals for the FCA regime for consumer credit.)
- According to a representative example on Wonga’s website, a loan of £150 for 18 days would result in charges of £33.49 (interest of £27.99 and a fee of £5.50). This would equate to an annual APR of 5853%. Explain how this APR is calculated.
- The proposal is to allow a relatively large upfront fee and to cap interest rates at a relatively low level, such as 4% per month, as is the case in Australia. Explain the following comment about this in the Faisal Islam article above: “The upfront fee, in theory, should change the behavioural finance of consumers around taking the loan in the first place (there are ways around this though). So this is an intervention based not on lack of competition, but asymmetries of information in consumer finance.”
- Comment on the following statement by Mark Wallace in the Conservative Home article above: “If overpriced payday loans should be capped, why not overpriced DVDs, sandwiches or, er, energy bills?”
- Compare the relative advantages and disadvantages of George Osborne’s proposal with that of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury (see the news item, Kostas Economides and the Archbishop of Canterbury).
In the run-up to the Comprehensive Spending Review a battle is raging. On one side are those who argue that cuts are necessary to secure long-term growth and to maintain confidence on the UK economy. These people include leaders of 35 major companies in the UK who wrote a letter to the Telegraph (see below) suppporting George Osborne’s policy of cuts.
On the other side are those who maintain that the cuts will drive the economy back into recession or, at least, will hamper economic recovery. The Federation of Small Businesses warns that “Some small firms rely on public-sector contracts for 50 or 60 per cent of their turnover. If the cuts are swingeing and overnight, these companies will be lost to the UK economy forever.”
Read the following articles to get a clear understanding of the arguments on both sides. Hopefully this will then put you in a better position to assess the cuts and their impact.
Osborne’s cuts will strengthen Britain’s economy by allowing the private sector to generate more jobs Telegraph, letter from 35 business leaders (18/10/10)
Spending Review 2010: cut now or pay later, say business leaders Telegraph, Andrew Porter, and Robert Winnett (17/10/10)
35 business leaders back Osborne’s cuts BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (17/10/10)
Prominent Tory donors among business leaders who backed Osborne’s cuts Independent, Andrew Grice (19/10/10)
On the tight side The Economist (30/9/10)
History will see these cuts as one of the great acts of political folly Observer, Will Hutton (17/10/10)
Osborne has taken the coward’s route Guardian, David Blanchflower (18/10/10)
Osborne reading Christian Andersen, claims economist The Herald, Ian McConnell (19/10/10)
Time to broaden the debate on spending cuts Guardian, Ha-Joon Chang (19/10/10)
Slugging it out over spending cuts Independent, Sean O’Grady (19/10/10)
Spending Review 2010: We should all fear the darkness, David Cameron included Telegraph, Mary Riddell (18/10/10)
Spending cuts: Molehill and mountain BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (19/10/10)
Does fiscal austerity boost short-term growth? A new IMF paper thinks not The Economist (30/9/10)
Spending Review: Forecasts rely on ‘heroic assumptions’ BBC News (20/10/10)
Spending cuts: City divided on whether cuts are good for recovery Yorkshire Evening Post (20/10/10)
Spending Review 2010: Spending cuts will hit small businesses hardest Telegraph, James Hurley (20/10/10)
Rebalancing the Economy Speech by Mervyn King, Bank of England Governor (30/9/10)
Mervyn King warns of 1930s-style collapse (Extract from above speech) BBC News, Mervyn King (19/10/10)
- What are the main arguments for making large-scale cuts to government spending at the present time?
- What are the main arguments against making large-scale cuts to government spending at the present time?
- To what extent should the government’s poplicy on the size and timing of the cuts be influenced by international economic relations?
- What role might the ‘inventory cycle’ play in the economic recovery?
- Why may the government “pay heavily unless it learns to temper its bloody cuts with humanity”?
- How will large-scale spending cuts impact on (a) consumer confidence; (b) business confidence; (c) the confidence of international financiers?
- Will monetary policy allow fiscal policy to be tightened without causing a recession? Explain the effectiveness of monetary policy in these circumstances.
Economists are famous for disagreeing – as, of course, are politicians. And there is a lot of disagreement around at the moment. George Osborne is determined to cut Britain’s large public-sector deficit, and cut it quickly. This, argues the Coalition government and many economists, is necessary to maintain the UK’s AAA sovereign credit rating. This, in turn, will allow interest rates to be kept down and the international confidence will encourage investment. In short, the cut in aggregate demand by government would be more than compensated by a rise in aggregate demand elsewhere in the economy, and especially from investment and exports. By contrast, not cutting the deficit rapidly would undermine confidence. This would make it more expensive to borrow and would discourage inward investment.
Not so, say the opposition and many other economists. A contractionary fiscal policy will achieve just that – an economic contraction. In other words, there is a real danger of a double-dip recession. Far from encouraging investment, it will do just the opposite. Consumers, fearing falling incomes and rising unemployment, will cut back on spending. Businesses, fearing a fall in sales, will cut back on investment. Economic pessimism, and hence caution, will feed on themselves.
So who are right? The first two blogs by Stephanie Flanders, the BBC’s Economics Editor, look at the arguments on both sides. The third attempts to sum up. The other articles continue the debate. For example, the link to The Economist contains several contributions from commentators on either side of the debate. See also the earlier posting on this site, The ‘paradox of cuts’.
The case for Mr Osborne’s austerity BBC News Blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (7/9/10)
The case against Mr Osborne’s austerity BBC News Blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (8/9/10)
Austerity plans: Where do you stand? BBC News Blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (10/9/10)
Are current deficit reduction plans likely to boost growth? The Economist debates, various invited guests
Debt and growth revisited Vox, Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff (11/8/10)
Leading article: Mr Osborne should prepare a Plan B Independent (13/9/10)
Shock fall in UK retail sales adds to fears of double-dip recession Guardian, Larry Elliott (16/9/10)
Chancellor accused of £100bn economic growth gamble by Compass Guardian, Larry Elliott (18/9/10)
Double-dip recession: bulls and bears diverge over future economic prospects Guardian, Phillip Inman (16/9/10)
Speech by Mervyn King to TUC Congress TUC (15/9/10)
Barber, Blanchflower and the fake debate on double dip The Spectator, Ed Howker (14/9/10)
Consumer confidence Nationwide
ICAEW / Grant Thornton UK Business Confidence Monitor (BCM) ICAEW
Business and Consumer Surveys Economic and Financial Affairs, European Commission
- Summarise the arguments for the Coalition government’s programme of rapidly reducing the public-sector deficit.
- Summarise the arguments against the Coalition government’s programme of rapidly reducing the public-sector deficit.
- What factors are likely to determine whether there will be a double-dip recession as a result of the austerity programme?
- Why is it very hard to predict the effects of the austerity programme?
- How effective is an expansionary monetary policy likely to be in the context of a tightening fiscal policy?
- How important are other countries’ macroeconomic policies in determining the success of George Osborne’s policies?
- How similar to or different from other recessions has the recent one been? What are the policy implications of these similarities/differences?