Category: Essentials of Economics: Ch 15

Gold has always held an allure and with the price of gold on international markets trending upwards since October 2022 (see Figure 1: click here for a PowerPoint), people seem to be attracted to it once again. The price reached successively higher peaks throughout 2023 before surging to above $2300 per oz in 2024 and peaking at $2425.31 per oz on 20 May 2024.

While gold tends to become attractive during wartime, economic uncertainty and bouts of inflation, all of which have characterised the last few years, the sustained price rise has perplexed market analysts and economists. The rally had been expected to peter out over the past 20 months. But, as the price of gold rose to sustained higher levels, with no significant reversals, some analysts have speculated that it is not the typical short-term factors which are driving the increased demand for and price of gold but more fundamental changes in the global economic system.

This blog will first discuss the typical short-term factors which influence gold prices before discussing the potential longer-term forces that may be at work.

Short-term factors

So, what are the typical short-term economic forces which drive the demand for gold?

The most significant are the real rates of interest on financial assets. These rates represent the opportunity cost of holding an asset such as gold which offers no income stream. When the real return from financial assets like debt and equity instruments is low, the demand for and price of gold tends to be high. In contrast, when the real return from such assets is high, the price of gold tends to be lower. An explanation for this is that real rates of return are strongly related to inflation rates and investors perceive gold as a hedge against inflation since its price is positively correlated with a general rise in prices. Higher unexpected inflation reduces the real rate of return of securities like debt and equity whose value is derived from cash flows anticipated in the future. In such circumstances, gold become an attractive alternative investment. As inflationary expectations decline, real returns from financial assets should rise, and the demand for gold should fall.

The relationship between real returns, proxied by the yield on US 10-year TIPS (Treasury inflation-protected securities), and gold prices can be used to examine this explanation. Real returns rose steadily in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the price of gold, which rose during the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, has not fallen. Instead, it has remained at elevated levels for much of that time (see Figure 2: click here for a PowerPoint).

There have been short periods when changes in real returns seemed to have a high correlation with changes in gold prices. In late 2022, for example, falling real rates coincided with rising gold prices. The same pattern was repeated between October and December 2023. However, when real returns rose again in the New Year of 2024, in response to stubbornly higher expected inflation and the expectation of ‘higher-for-longer’ interest rates, particularly in the USA, gold prices continued to rise. Indeed, across the 5-year period the correlation coefficient between the two series is actually positive at 0.268, showing little evidence supporting this explanation for the pattern for the gold price.

Real returns in the USA, however, may not be the correct ones to consider when seeking explanations for the pattern of gold’s price. Much of the recent demand is from China. Analysts suggest that Chinese investors are looking for a safe asset to hold as their economy stagnates and real returns from alternatives, like domestic property and equity, have decreased. Further, there are some concerns that the Chinese currency, the renminbi, may be undervalued in response to the sluggish growth. Holding gold is a good hedge against inflation (currency depreciation produces inflationary pressure). Consequently, the Chinese market may be exerting pricing power in relation to real returns in a way not seen before (see the Dempsey and Leng FT article linked below).

However, some analysts suggest that the rise in price is disproportionate to these short-term factors and point to potential long-term structural changes in the global financial order which may produce significant changes in the market for gold.

Long-term factors

Since 2018, there have been bouts of gold purchasing by central banks around the world. In contrast to the 1990s and 2000s, central banks have been net purchasers since 2010. The purchasing fell back during the coronavirus pandemic but has surged again, with over 1000 metric tonnes purchased in both 2022 and 2023 (see Figure 3: click here for a PowerPoint).

Analysts have pointed to similarities between the recent pattern and central bank purchases of gold during the late 1960s and early 1970s (see The Conversation article linked below). Then, central banks sought to diversify themselves from dollar-denominated assets due to concerns about higher inflation in the USA and its impact on the value of the US dollar. Under the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system, central banks could redeem dollars for gold from the US Federal Reserve at a fixed rate. The pressure on the USA to redeem the gold led to the collapse of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate system.

While the current period of central bank purchases does not appear to be related to expected inflation, some commentators suggest it could signal a regime change in the global financial system as significant as the collapse of Bretton Woods. The rise of Chinese political power and the resurgence of US isolationist tendencies portend an increasingly multipolar geopolitical scene. Such concerns may cause central bankers to diversify away from dollar denominated assets to avoid being caught out by geopolitical tensions. Gold may be perceived as an asset through which investors can hedge that risk better.

Indeed, the rise in demand among Chinese investors may indicate a reluctance to hold US assets due to their risk of seizure during heightened geopolitical tensions between China and the USA. Chinese holdings of US financial assets as a percentage of GDP are back to the level they were  when the country joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001 (see the Rana Foroohar FT article linked below). Allied to this is an increasing tendency to repatriate gold bullion from centres such as London and New York.

Added to these worries about geopolitical risk are concerns about traditional safe-haven assets – government debt securities. US government budget deficits and debt levels continue to rise. Similar patterns are observed across many developed market economies (DMEs). Analysts are concerned such debts are reaching unsustainable levels ( The view is that at some point, perhaps soon, a tipping point will be reached where investors recognise this. They will demand higher rates of return on these government debt securities, pushing yields up and prices down (bond yields and prices have a negative relationship).

In expectation of this, investors may be wary of holding such government debt securities and move to hold gold as an alternative safe-haven asset to avoid potential capital losses. However, there has been no sign of this behaviour in bond prices and yields yet.

Finally, there are economists who argue that the increased demand for gold is caused by a different regime-change in the global economy. This is not one driven by geopolitics, but by changing inflationary expectations – from a low-inflation, low-interest-rate environment to a higher-inflation, higher-interest-rate environment.

Some of the anticipation relating to inflation is derived from the persistent fiscal stimulus, evidenced by the higher government debt levels described above, coupled with the long period of monetary stimulus (quantitative easing) in developed market economies during the 2010s.

Further, some economists highlight the substantial capital investment needed for the green transition and reindustrialisation. While the financing for this capital investment may absorb some of the excess money flowing around financial markets, the scale involved will create a great demand for resources, fuelling inflation and raising the cost of capital as borrowers compete for resources.

Finally, the demographic forces from an aging population will also cause inflationary pressures. Rising dependency ratios across many developed market economics will create shortages, particularly of labour. This persistent scarcity of labour will continually drive up wages and prices, fuelling inflation and the demand for gold.


The recent surge in the price of gold has led to great interest by investors, financial market analysts and economists. At first, there was a perception that the price increase was similar to recent history and driven by short-term decreases in the real rate of return from financial assets, which reduced the opportunity cost of holding gold.

However, as the upward trend in the price of gold has persisted and does not seem to be explained by changes in real interest rates, economists have considered other reasons that might signal longer-term significant changes in the global financial system. These relate to changing geopolitical risk derived from an increasingly multipolar environment, concerns about the sustainability of government debt levels and expectations of persistently higher inflation in the world economy.

Only time will tell whether these explanations prove correct. If inflationary pressures subside, particularly in the USA, and if real returns from financial assets rebound, a decrease in the demand for and price of gold will suggest that the previous rise was driven by short-term forces.

If prices don’t fall back, it will only fuel the debate that it is a sign of significant changes in the global financial order.




  • Gold
  • Trading Economics


  1. Explain the relationship between real returns and inflation for financial securities like debt and equity.
  2. Why is gold perceived to be an effective hedge against inflation?
  3. Contrast the factors which influenced the demand for gold in the period which preceded the end of Bretton Woods with those influencing demand now?
  4. What has happened to the price of gold since this blog was published? Is there any evidence for the profound changes in the global economic order suggested or was it the short-term forces driving demand after all?

According to the IMF, Chinese GDP grew by 5.2% in 2023 and is predicted to grow by 4.6% this year. Such growth rates would be extremely welcome to most developed countries. UK growth in 2023 was a mere 0.5% and is forecast to be only 0.6% in 2024. Advanced economies as a whole only grew by 1.6% in 2023 and are forecast to grow by only 1.5% this year. Also, with the exception of India, the Philippines and Indonesia, which grew by 6.7%, 5.3% and 5.0% respectively in 2023 and are forecast to grow by 6.5%, 6.0% and 5.0% this year, Chinese growth also compares very favourably with other developing countries, which as a weighted average grew by 4.1% last year and are forecast to grow at the same rate this year.

But in the past, Chinese growth was much higher and was a major driver of global growth. Over the period 1980 to 2018, Chinese economic growth averaged 9.5% – more than twice the average rate of developing countries (4.5%) and nearly four times the average rate of advanced countries (2.4%) (see chart – click here for a PowerPoint of the chart).

Not only is Chinese growth now much lower, but it is set to decline further. The IMF forecasts that in 2025, Chinese growth will have fallen to 4.1% – below the forecast developing-country average of 4.2% and well below that of India (6.5%).

Causes of slowing Chinese growth

There are a number of factors that have come together to contribute to falling economic growth rates – growth rates that otherwise would have been expected to be considerably higher as the Chinese economy reopened after severe Covid lockdowns.

Property market
China has experienced a property boom over the past 20 years years as the government has encouraged construction in residential blocks and in factories and offices. The sector has accounted for some 20% of economic activity. But for many years, demand outstripped supply as consumers chose to invest in property, partly because of a lack of attractive alternatives for their considerable savings and partly because property prices were expected to go on rising. This lead to speculation on the part of both buyers and property developers. Consumers rushed to buy property before prices rose further and property developers borrowed considerably to buy land, which local authorities encouraged, as it provided a valuable source of revenue.

But now there is considerable overcapacity in the sector and new building has declined over the past three years. According to the IMF:

Housing starts have fallen by more than 60 per cent relative to pre-pandemic levels, a historically rapid pace only seen in the largest housing busts in cross-country experience in the last three decades. Sales have fallen amid homebuyer concerns that developers lack sufficient financing to complete projects and that prices will decline in the future.

As a result, many property developers have become unviable. At the end of January, the Chinese property giant, Evergrande, was ordered to liquidate by a Hong Kong court, after the judge ruled that the company did not have a workable plan to restructure around $300bn of debt. Over 50 Chinese property developers have defaulted or missed payments since 2020. The liquidation of Evergrande and worries about the viability of other Chinese property developers is likely to send shockwaves around the Chinese property market and more widely around Chinese investment markets.

Rapid investment over many years has led to a large rise in industrial capacity. This has outstripped demand. The problem could get worse as investment, including state investment, is diverted from the property sector to manufacturing, especially electric vehicles. But with domestic demand dampened, this could lead to increased dumping on international markets – something that could spark trade wars with the USA and other trading partners (see below). Worries about this in China are increasing as the possibility of a second Trump presidency looks more possible. The Chinese authorities are keen to expand aggregate demand to tackle this overcapacity.

Consumer and investor confidence are low. This is leading to severe deflationary pressures. If consumers face a decline in the value of their property, this wealth effect could further constrain their spending. This will, in turn, dampen industrial investment.

Uncertainty is beginning to affect foreign companies based in China. Many foreign companies are now making a loss in China or are at best breaking even. This could lead to disinvestment and add to deflationary pressures.

The Chinese stock market and policy responses
Lack of confidence in the Chinese economy is reflected in falling share prices. The Shanghai SSE Composite Index (an index of all stocks traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange) has fallen dramatically in recent months. From a high of 3703 in September 2021, it had fallen to 2702 on 5 Feb 2024 – a fall of 27%. It is now below the level at the beginning of 2010 (see chart: click here for a PowerPoint). On 5 February alone, some 1800 stocks fell by over 10% in Shanghai and Shenzhen. People were sensing a rout and investors expressed their frustration and anger on social media, including the social media account of the US Embassy. The next day, the authorities intervened and bought large quantities of key stocks. China’s sovereign wealth fund announced that it would increase its purchase of shares to support the country’s stock markets. The SSE Composite rose 4.1% on 6 February and the Shenzhen Component Index rose 6.2%.

However, the rally eased as investors waited to see what more fundamental measures the authorities would take to support the stock markets and the economy more generally. Policies are needed to boost the wider economy and encourage a growth in consumer and business confidence.

Interest rates have been cut four times since the beginning of 2022, when the prime loan rate was cut from 3.85% to 3.7%. The last cut was from 3.55% to 3.45% in August 2023. But this has been insufficient to provide the necessary boost to aggregate demand. Further cuts in interest rates are possible and the government has said that it will use proactive fiscal and effective monetary policy in response to the languishing economy. However, government debt is already high, which limits the room for expansionary fiscal policy, and consumers are highly risk averse and have a high propensity to save.

Graduate unemployment
China has seen investment in education as an important means of increasing human capital and growth. But with a slowing economy, there are are more young people graduating each year than there are graduate jobs available. Official data show that for the group aged 16–24, the unemployment rate was 14.9% in December. This compares with an overall urban unemployment rate of 5.1%. Many graduates are forced to take non-graduate jobs and graduate jobs are being offered at reduced salaries. This will have a further dampening effect on aggregate demand.

China’s one-child policy, which it pursued from 1980 to 2016, plus improved health and social care leading to greater longevity, has led to an ageing population and a shrinking workforce. This is despite recent increases in unemployment in the 16–24 age group. The greater the ratio of dependants to workers, the greater the brake on growth as taxes and savings are increasingly used to provide various forms of support.

Effects on the rest of the world

China has been a major driver of world economic growth. With a slowing Chinese economy, this will provide less stimulus to growth in other countries. Many multinational companies, including chip makers, cosmetics companies and chemical companies, earn considerable revenue from China. For example, the USA exports over $190 billion of goods and services to China and these support over 1 million jobs in the USA. A slowdown in China will have repercussions for many companies around the world.

There is also the concern that Chinese manufacturers may dump products on world markets at less than average (total) cost to shift stock and keep production up. This could undermine industry in many countries and could initiate a protectionist response. Already Donald Trump is talking about imposing a 10% tariff on most imported goods if he is elected again in November. Such tariffs could be considerably higher on imports from China. If Joe Biden is re-elected, he too may impose tariffs on Chinese goods if they are thought to be unfairly subsidised. US (and possibly EU) tariffs on Chinese goods could lead to a similar response from China, resulting in a trade war – a negative sum game.




  1. Why is China experiencing slowing growth and is growth likely to pick up over the next five years?
  2. How does the situation in China today compare with that in Japan 30 years ago?
  3. What policies could the Chinese government pursue to stimulate economic growth?
  4. What policies were enacted towards China during the Trump presidency from 2017 to 2020?
  5. Would you advise the Chinese central bank to cut interest rates further? Explain.
  6. Should China introduce generous child support for families, no matter the number of children?

A happy New Year for 2024. Let’s hope that the coming year brings some good news amidst all the the gloom of war, squeezed living standards, the effects of climate change and the rise of authoritarian regimes.

One piece of good news is the growth in environmental debt swaps in developing countries. These are known as debt-for-nature swaps (or debt-for-environment swaps or green debt swaps). As Case Study 26.16 in Economics (11th edition) and Case Study 15.19 in Essentials of Economics (9th edition) explain:

A debt-for-nature swap is where debts are cancelled in return for investment in environmental projects, including protecting biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effect of climate change. There are two types of scheme: bilateral and commercial.

In a bilateral swap, a creditor country agrees to cancel debt in return for the debtor country investing a proportion of the amount in environmental projects. In a commercial swap, the debt owed to banks is sold to an international environmental agency at a substantial discount (or sometimes even given away); the agency then agrees to cancel this debt in return for the country funding the agency to carry out various environmental projects.

The first debt-for-nature swap was made as far back as 1987, when environmental NGO, Conservation International, arranged for Bolivia to be forgiven $650 000 of its debt in exchange for the establishment of three conservation areas bordering the Beni Reserve (see either of the above case studies). In the 1990s and 2000s, debt-for nature swaps became popular with creditors and by 2010, the total debt cancelled through debt-for-nature swaps was just over $1 billion.

However, the popularity waned in the 2010s and with COVID, many developing countries were diverting resources from long-term sustainability and mitigating the effects of climate change to emergency healthcare and relief.

More recently, debt-for-for nature swaps have become popular again.

In May 2023, Ecuador benefited from the biggest debt swap to that point. The agreement saw $1.6bn of its commercial debt refinanced at a discount in exchange for large-scale conservation in and around the Galápagos Islands. At least $12m per year of the money saved will be channelled into conservation in the archipelago, with its unique flora and fauna.

Such projects are set to increase, with potentially significant beneficial effects for biodiversity, climate and the environment generally. At the COP28 summit in December 2023, a task force was set up by a group of multilateral development banks to promote an increase in the size and number of debt-for-nature swaps.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), developing economies will need an annual $2.4 trillion of investment in climate action in the coming years. So far, the market for debt-for-nature swaps is set to rise to around $800bn. If they are to make a significant contribution to tackling climate change and loss of biodiversity, they need to be scaled up massively, especially as the cost of servicing debt has risen with higher global interest rates.

Nevertheless, as part of a portfolio of measures to tackle debt, climate change, loss of biodiversity and damage to the environment more generally, they are making an important contribution – a contribution that is set to rise.

Video and Webinar



  1. Identify other types of debt swap and discuss their importance.
  2. Why are debt-for-nature debt swaps in the interests of debtor countries, creditors and the world generally?
  3. What is ‘green washing’? How may debt-for-nature swaps be assessed to prevent such green washing?
  4. Why are many developing countries’ debt burdens skyrocketing?
  5. Why may a developing country’s solution to its growing debt be detrimental to the environment?
  6. Assess the Belize debt-swap deal in tackling both its debt and conservation.

Last year was far from the picture of economic stability that all governments would hope for. Instead, the overarching theme of 2022 was uncertainty, which overshadowed many economic predictions throughout the year. The Collins English Dictionary announced that their word of the year for 2022 is ‘permacrisis’, which is defined as ‘an extended period of instability and insecurity’.

For the UK, 2022 was an eventful year, seeing two changes in prime minister, economic stagnation, financial turmoil, rampant inflation and a cost of living crisis. However, the UK was not alone in its economic struggles. Many believe that it is a minor miracle that the world did not experience a systemic financial crisis in 2022.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to the biggest land war in Europe since 1945, the most serious risk of nuclear escalation since the Cuban missile crisis and the most far-reaching sanctions regime since the 1930s. Soaring food and energy costs have fuelled the highest rates of inflation since the 1980s and the biggest macroeconomic challenge in the modern era of central banking (with the possible exception of the financial crisis of 2007–8 and its aftermath). For decades we have lived with the assumptions that nuclear war was never going to happen, inflation will be kept low and rich countries will not experience an energy crisis. In 2022 all of these assumptions and more have been shaken.

With the combination of rising interest rates and a massive increase in geopolitical risk, the world economy did well to survive as robustly as it did. However, with public and private debt having risen to record levels during the now-bygone era of ultra-low interest rates and with recession risks high, the global financial system faces a huge stress test.

Government pledges

Rishi Sunak, the UK Prime Minister, started 2023 by setting out five pledges: to halve inflation, boost economic growth, cut national debt as a percentage of GDP, and to address NHS waiting lists and the issue of immigrants arriving in small boats. Whilst most would agree that meeting these pledges is desirable, a reduction in inflation is forecast to happen anyway, given the monetary policy being pursued by the Bank of England and an easing of commodity prices; and public-sector debt as a percentage of GDP is forecast to fall from 2024/25.

Success in meeting the first four pledges will partly depend on the effects of the current industrial action by workers across the UK. How soon will the various disputes be settled and on what terms? What will be the implications for service levels and for inflation?

A weak global economy

Success will also depend on the state of the global economy, which is currently very fragile. In fact, it is predicted that a third of the global economy will be hit by recession this year. The head of the IMF has warned that the world faces a ‘tougher’ year in 2023 than in the previous 12 months. Such comments suggest the IMF is likely soon to cut its economic forecasts for 2023 again. The IMF already cut its 2023 outlook for global economic growth in October, citing the continuing drag from the war in Ukraine, as well as inflationary pressures and interest rate rises by major central banks.

The World Bank has also described the global economy as being ‘on a razor’s edge’ and warns that it risks falling into recession this year. The organisation expects the world economy to grow by just 1.7% this year, which is a sharp fall from an estimated 2.9% in 2022 according to the Global Economic Prospects report (see link below). It has warned that if financial conditions tighten, then the world’s economy could easily fall into a recession. If this becomes a reality, then the current decade would become the first since the 1930s to include two global recessions. Growth forecasts have been lowered for 95% of advanced economies and for more than 70% of emerging market and developing economies compared with six months ago. Given the global outlook, it is no surprise that the UK economy is expected to face a prolonged recession with declining growth and increased unemployment.

The current state of the UK economy

Despite all the concerns, official figures show that, even though households have been squeezed by rising prices, UK real GDP unexpectedly grew in November, by 0.1%. This has been explained by a boost to bars and restaurants from the World Cup as people went out to watch the football and also by demand for services in the tech sector.

At first sight, the UK’s cost of living crisis might look fairly mild compared to other countries. Its inflation rate was 10.7% in November 2022, compared to 12.6% in Italy, 16% in Poland and over 20% in Hungary and Estonia. But UK inflation is still way above the Bank of England’s 2% target. The Bank went on to tighten monetary policy further, by increasing interest rates to 3.5% in December. Further rate rises are expected in 2023. In fact, the markets and the Bank both expect the main rate to reach 5.2% by the end of this year. With the consequent squeeze on real incomes, the Bank of England expects a recession in the UK this year – possibly lasting until mid-2024.

The UK is also affected by global interest rates, which affect global growth. Global interest rates average 5%. A 1 percentage point increase would reduce global growth this year from 1.7% to 0.6%, with per capita output contracting by 0.3%, once changes in population are taken into account. This would then meet the technical definition of a global recession. This means that the Bank’s November economic forecast, which was based on a Bank Rate of 3%, may worsen due to an even larger contraction than previously expected. The resulting drop in spending and investment by people and businesses could then cause inflation to come down faster than the Bank had predicted when rates were at 3%.

There could be some positive news however, that may help bring down inflation in addition to rate rises. There has been some appreciation in the pound since the huge drop caused by the September mini-budget that had brought its value to a nearly 40-year low. This will help to reduce inflation by reducing the price of imports.

As far as workers are concerned, pay increases have been broadly contained, with 2022 being one of the worst years in decades for UK real wage growth. Limiting pay rises can have a deflationary effect because people have less to spend, but it also weighs on economic growth and productivity. Despite the impact on inflation, there is a lot of unrest across the UK, with strike action continuing to be at the forefront of the news. Strikes over pay and conditions continue in various sectors in 2023, including transport, health, education and the postal service. Strikes and industrial action have a negative effect on the wider economy. If wages are stagnating and the economy is not performing well, productivity will suffer as workers are less motivated and less investment in new equipment takes place.

Financial stresses

The UK economy is also under threat of a prolonged recession due to the proportion of households that lack insulation against financial setbacks. This proportion is unusually large for a wealthy economy. A survey conducted prior to the pandemic, found that 3 million people in the UK would fall into poverty if they missed one pay cheque, with the country’s high housing costs being a key source of vulnerability. Another survey recently suggested that one-third of UK adults would struggle if their costs rose by just £20 a month.

The pandemic itself meant that over 4 million households have taken on additional debt, with many now falling behind on repaying it. This, combined with recent jumps in energy and food bills, could push many over the edge, especially if heating costs remain high when the present government cap on energy prices ends in April.

However, there could be some better news for households with the easing of COVID restrictions in China. This could have a positive impact on the UK economy if it helps ease supply-chain disruptions occurring since the height of the global pandemic. It could reduce inflationary pressure in the UK and other countries that trade with China by making it easier – and therefore less costly – for people to get hold of goods.




  1. Define the term ‘deflation’.
  2. Explain how an appreciation of the pound is good for inflation.
  3. Discuss the wider economic impacts of industrial strike action.
  4. Why is it important for the government to keep wages contained?

On 23 September, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced his mini-Budget. It revealed big tax-cutting plans with the aim of stimulating economic growth. See the blog From Reaganomics to Trussonomics for details. However, the announcement triggered a crisis of confidence in the markets. The government says the measures will kickstart economic growth, but with the tax cuts funded through extra government borrowing, markets have raised alarm over the plans, sending the pound plunging.

On Monday 26 September, traders in the UK awoke to see that the pound had fallen to the new lowest level on record against the dollar of $1.03. Although it came at a time when the markets expected the pound to weaken, the announcement pushed a fall in the pound beyond previous expectations. Concerns about where the extra money would come from to pay for the tax cuts were reflected in market movements. A weaker currency suggests investors’ faith in a country’s economic prospects is wavering.

What does a falling pound mean?

The pound’s value affects everyone – from shoppers to business owners and investors. The main impacts of the falling pound include:

  • Higher prices. A fall in the value of the pound will increase the price of goods and services imported into the UK from overseas. When the pound is weak against the dollar, it costs more for companies in the UK to buy things such as food, raw materials or parts from abroad. Firms are likely then to pass on some or all those higher costs to their customers.
  • Higher mortgage repayments. By increasing inflation, a falling pound is likely to push the Bank of England to raise interest rates to counter this. With two million people in the UK on a tracker or variable rate mortgage, monthly costs could increase substantially. Lenders are also likely to increase the rates charged on credit cards, bank loans or car loans.
  • Further pressure on energy costs. The price of all of the gas that the UK uses is based on the dollar – even if the gas is produced in the UK. As oil prices are based on the dollar, petrol and diesel could also be more expensive for UK drivers as it costs more to be imported by fuel companies. Although the dollar price of oil has been falling in recent weeks, consumers are not likely to see the benefit at the pump due to the slide in the value of the pound.
  • Stronger sales for UK firms who sell goods abroad. Some businesses in the UK could get a boost from a fall in the value of the pound. A cheaper pound makes it less expensive for people from around the globe to buy goods and services from British firms, making them more competitive.
  • More expensive trips abroad. The plunge in the pound means that people’s holiday money won’t stretch as far, particularly for anyone planning a trip to the USA. The depreciation of the pound could also see airlines face sharply increased costs, with fuel and aircraft leases often denominated in dollars.

Threat to confidence

The Bank of England said a weaker outlook for the UK economy as well as a stronger dollar were putting pressure on sterling. However, market responses were clear that Kwarteng’s mini-Budget was threatening to undermine confidence in the UK. The pound plunged to its lowest since Britain went decimal in 1971, as belief in the UK’s economic management and assets evaporated.

By Tuesday 27 September, there were expectations that the Bank of England would have to raise interest rates to counter the extra spending in the mini-Budget. Economists from the City suggested the slump in the pound would not just force the Bank of England into raising rates at the next MPC announcement in November, but to intervene now by announcing an emergency interest rate rise to support the currency. This sent mortgage activity into a frenzy as brokers worked around the clock to help clients secure deals before lenders pulled their products or replaced them with more expensive ones. By the end of the week there were 40% fewer products available than before the mini-Budget.

The Bank of England

In August, the Bank predicted that the UK would go into recession, lasting some 15 months. It did so as it raised interest rates by the highest margin in 27 years (0.5 percentage points) in a bid to keep soaring prices under control. Higher interest rates can make borrowing more expensive, meaning people have less money to spend and prices will stop rising as quickly. The Bank of England is expected to raise interest rates by an even larger amount to combat the inflationary impact of the mini-Budget, as a weakening pound drives up costs of imports. The money markets are pricing a doubling of UK interest rates to more than 5% by next summer.

On Thursday 29 September the cost of government borrowing was rising to levels many economists thought were concerning. After the mini-Budget, the UK Debt Management Office, which borrows on behalf of the government by issuing new government bonds (‘gilts’), plans to raise an additional £72bn before next April, raising the financing remit in 2022/23 to £234bn. The investors in bonds are mainly large institutions, such as pension funds.

New bonds are issued at a fixed payment per annum based on the face value. If interest rates rise, then new bonds must pay a higher amount per annum to attract purchasers. Old bonds with a relatively low payment per year will fall in value. For example, if a £100 bond issued a while back paid £2 per annum (a nominal 2%) and interest rates on equivalent assets rose to 4%, the market price of the bond would fall to £50, as £2 per annum is 4% of £50. This percentage of the market price (as opposed to the face value) is known as the ‘yield’. With worries about the rise in government borrowing, bond prices fell and yields correspondingly rose. Investors were demanding much higher interest rates to lend to the UK government.

The Investment Director at JM Finn compared investing in government bonds to sloths, they’re low risk and typically don’t move. This is because lending to the UK is usually considered as an ultra-safe bet. However, some bonds fell in price by 20% in two days (26–28 September).

There was concern that the mini-Budget threatened the financial health of Britain’s biggest pensions and insurance companies, which together manage trillions of pounds of people’s cash. These companies hold large amounts of UK government bonds and the fall in their price was significantly reducing the value of their assets.

The Bank of England thus announced that it would step in to calm markets, warning that continued volatility would be a ‘material risk to UK financial stability’. The Bank would start buying government bonds at an ‘urgent pace’ to help push their price back up and restore orderly market conditions. It would set aside £65bn to buy bonds over 13 working days. It is hoped that the Bank’s action will now ease the pressure on pension funds and insurance companies.

But the purchase of bonds increases money supply. This was the process by which money supply was increased during periods of quantitative easing (QE). Increasing money supply, while helping to dampen the rise in interest rates and stabilise the financial markets, is likely to lead to higher inflation. The Bank of England had previously planned to do the opposite: to engage in quantitative tightening (QT), which involves selling some of the stock of (old) bonds which the Bank had accumulated during the various rounds of QE.

Despite the Bank of England’s action which helped to curb the fall in the sterling exchange rate, some analysts warned it could fall further and could even reach parity with the dollar. There are concerns that the Bank is simply firefighting, rather than being able to solve the wider problems. There is now growing pressure on the government to make clear the financial cost of its tax cuts and spending plans.

Criticism from the IMF

There has been widespread criticism of the government’s plan, with the International Monetary Fund warning on Tuesday 27 September that the measures were likely to fuel the cost-of-living crisis and increase inequality. The stinging rebuke from the IMF arrived at the worst moment for the UK government. The IMF works to stabilise the global economy and one of its key roles is to act as an early economic warning system. It said it understood the package aimed to boost growth, but it warned that the cuts could speed up the pace of price rises, which the UK’s central bank is trying to bring down. In an unusually outspoken statement, the IMF said the proposal was likely to increase inequality and add to pressures pushing up prices.

Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England also criticised the government, accusing them of ‘undercutting’ the UK’s key economic institutions. Mr Carney said that while the government was right to want to boost economic growth, ‘There is a lag between today and when that growth might come.’ He also criticised the government for undercutting various institutions that underpin the overall approach, including not having an OBR forecast.

What is next for the economy?

Before the announcement, the Bank had expected the economy to shrink in the last three months of 2022 and keep shrinking until the end of 2023. However, some economists believe the UK could already be in recession. The impacts of the mini-Budget have so far not alleviated fears of the UK diving into recession. However, the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, also warned that little could be done to stop the UK falling into a recession this year as the war in Ukraine continued. He added that it would ‘overwhelmingly be caused by the actions of Russia and the impact on energy prices’.

Despite the external pressures on the economy, it is clear that recent market activity has damaged confidence. The Bank has already said it will ‘not hesitate’ to hike interest rates to try to protect the pound and stem surging prices. Some economists have predicted the Bank of England will raise the interest rate from the current 2.25% to 5.75% by next spring.

The Bank’s action of emergency bond purchases helped provide Kwarteng with some respite from the financial markets after three days of turmoil, which included strong criticism of the mini-Budget from the International Monetary Fund, about 1000 mortgage products pulled and interest rates on UK government bonds hitting their highest level since 2008.

On 3 October, at the start of the Conservative Party annual conference, Kwarteng announced that the planned cut in the top rate of income tax from 45% to 40% would not go ahead. This showed that the government would change course if pressure was strong enough. That day, the sterling exchange rate against the dollar appreciated by around 0.5% to around $1.12.

But this was not enough. The pressure was still on the government. There were urgent calls from the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee to bring forward the government’s financial statement, which was not due until 23 November, by at least a month. The government was urged to publish growth forecasts as soon as possible to help calm the markets. In response, on 4 October the government agreed to bring the financial statement forward to late October along with the forecasts of its impacts from the OBR.

However, Truss and Kwarteng have so far resisted this pressure to bring analysis of their tax plans forward. They have refused independent analysis of their plans until more than six weeks after receiving them, despite more calls from Tory MPs for Downing Street to reassure the markets. The Prime Minister and Chancellor said they would only publish the independent forecasts on 23 November alongside a fiscal statement, despite them being ready on 7 October.

Longer term impacts

Amongst all the activity in the week following the mini-Budget, there are real concerns of the longer-term impacts the budget will have on the economy. Some experts predict that the lasting effects of the ‘mini’ Budget will be felt far beyond the trading floors. Large tax cuts the government claimed would boost growth have instead convinced markets the UK’s entire macroeconomic framework is under threat. Although this turmoil has been the short-term result, it’s important to step back and think about how the effects of this abrupt shift in economic policy will be felt far beyond the trading floors.

Sterling’s partial recovery a few days after the mini-Budget reflects an increased confidence that there will be a large interest rate rise coming on November 3. However, the bleak economic outlook has removed any fiscal headroom the government may have had. The largest tax cuts in five decades need funding, while spooking the markets means another £12.5bn a year added to the debt interest bill. However, Kwarteng remains committed to debt falling eventually.

It is estimated that there needs to be a fiscal tightening of around £37–£47bn by 2026/27. Even more could be required to ensure that tax revenues cover day-to-day spending or for even a small margin for error. Many have therefore called for a U-turn on the measures announced in the mini-Budget beyond abolishing the cut to the top rate of income tax. Performing a U-turn on some of the tax cuts would make the fiscal tightening much more achievable. However, it could be politically detrimental. Much lower taxes will mean less public spending. Some suggest that this trade-off was ignored when those tax cuts were announced, but market pressure has now put it centre stage.

The Prime Minister has since admitted that mistakes were made in the controversial ‘mini’ Budget that sparked market turmoil in the last week of September. However, a day before reversing the cut in the top rate of income tax, she said she would not retreat on her plan to deliver £45bn of unfunded tax cuts, insisting it would help deliver growth, but admitted: ‘We should have laid the ground better and I have learned from that.’



  1. Explain how the announced tax cut will stimulate economic growth.
  2. What is the impact of the weakened pound on UK households and businesses?
  3. Draw a diagram illustrating the way in which the $/£ exchange rate is determined.
  4. How is UK inflation likely to be affected by a depreciation of sterling?
  5. Are there any advantages of having a lower pound?