Tag: Credibility

With the publication of the February 2014 Inflation Report the Bank of England has adjusted its forward guidance to the markets.

As we saw in Part 1 of this blog, the economy should soon fall below the 7% unemployment threshold adopted in the original forward guidance issued last August. But the Bank feels that there is still too much slack in the economy to raise interest rates when unemployment does fall below 7%.

The Bank has thus issued a new vaguer form of forward guidance.

The MPC’s view is that the economy currently has spare capacity equivalent to about 1%–1½% of GDP, concentrated in the labour market. Around half of that slack reflects the difference between the current unemployment rate of 7.1% and an estimate of its
medium-term equilibrium rate of 6%–6½%. The remaining slack largely reflects a judgement that employees would like to work more hours than is currently the case. Companies appear to be operating at close to normal levels of capacity, although this is subject to some uncertainty.

The existence of spare capacity in the economy is both wasteful and increases the risk that inflation will undershoot the target in the medium term. Moreover, recent developments in inflation mean that the near-term trade-off between keeping inflation close to the target and supporting output and employment is more favourable than at the time the MPC announced its guidance last August: CPI inflation has fallen back to the 2% target more quickly than anticipated and, with domestic costs well contained, is expected to remain at, or a little below, the target for the next few years. The MPC therefore judges that there remains scope to absorb spare capacity further before raising Bank Rate.

Just what will determine the timing and pace of tightening? The Bank identifies three factors: the sustainability of the recovery; the extent to which supply responds to demand; and the evolution of cost and price pressures. But there is considerable uncertainty about all of these.

Thus although this updated forward guidance suggests that interest rates will not be raised for some time to come, even when unemployment falls below 7%, it is not at all clear when a rise in Bank Rate is likely to be, and then how quickly and by how much Bank Rate will be raised over subsequent months. Partly this is because of the inevitable uncertainty about future developments in the economy, but partly this is because it is not clear just how the MPC will interpret developments.

So is this new vaguer forward guidance helpful? The following articles address this question.


Bank of England Governor Carney’s statement on forward guidance Reuters (12/2/14)
Why has Mark Carney tweaked forward guidance? The Telegraph, Denise Roland (12/2/14)
Interest rates: Carney rips up ‘forward guidance’ policy Channel 4 News (12/2/14)
Forward guidance version 2: will the public believe it? The Guardian, Larry Elliott (12/2/14)
Mark Carney adjusts Bank interest rate policy BBC News (12/2/14)
Mark Carney’s almost promise on rates BBC News, Robert Peston (12/2/14)
Did the Bank of England’s Forward Guidance work? Independent, Ben Chu (2/2/14)
Forward Guidance 2.0: Is Carney just digging with a larger shovel? Market Watch, The Tell (12/2/14)
The U.K. Economy: Five Key Takeaways Wall Street Journal, Alen Mattich (12/2/14)

Bank of England pages
Inflation Report, February 2014 Bank of England (12/2/14)
Monetary Policy Bank of England
MPC Remit Letters Bank of England
Forward Guidance Bank of England


  1. Summarize the new forward guidance given by the Bank of England.
  2. Why is credibility an important requirement for policy?
  3. What data would you need to have in order to identify the degree of economic slack in the economy?
  4. Why is it difficult to obtain such data – at least in a reliable form?
  5. What is meant by the ‘output gap’? Would it be a good idea to target the output gap?
  6. Is it possible to target the rate of inflation and one or more other indicators at the same time? Explain.

Although the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of England is independent in setting interest rates, until recently it still had to follow a precise remit set by the government. This was to target inflation of 2% (±1%), with interest rates set to meet this target in 24 months’ time. But things have changed since the new Governor, Mark Carney, took up office in July 2013. And now things are not so clear cut.

The Bank announced that it would keep Bank Rate at the current historically low level of 0.5% at least until unemployment had fallen to 7%, subject to various conditions. More generally, the Bank stated that:

The MPC intends at a minimum to maintain the present highly stimulative stance of monetary policy until economic slack has been substantially reduced, provided this does not entail material risks to price stability or financial stability.

This ‘forward guidance’ was designed to provide more information about future policy and thereby more certainty for businesses and households to plan.

But unemployment has fallen rapidly in recent months. It fell from a 7.7% average for the three months May to July 2013 to 7.1% for the latest available three months (September to November 2013). And yet there is still considerable slack in the economy.

It now, therefore, looks highly unlikely that the MPC will raise Bank Rate as soon as unemployment falls below 7%. This then raises the question of how useful the 7% target has been and whether, if anything, it has created further uncertainty about future MPC decisions.

The following still appears on the Bank of England website:

The MPC intends at a minimum to maintain the present highly stimulative stance of monetary policy until economic slack has been substantially reduced, provided this does not entail material risks to price stability or financial stability.

But this raises two questions: (a) how do you measure ‘economic slack’ and (b) what constitutes a substantial reduction?

So what should the Bank do now? What, if any, forward guidance should it offer to the markets? Will that forward guidance be credible? After all, credibility among businesses and households is an important condition for any policy stance. According to Larry Elliott in the first article below, there are five options.


Bank of England’s method of setting interest rates needs reviewing The Guardian, Larry Elliott (9/2/14)
Mark Carney set to adjust Bank interest rate policy BBC News (12/2/14)
Forward guidance: dead and alive BBC News, Robert Peston (11/2/14)
What “forward guidance” is, and how it (theoretically) works The Economist (11/2/14)
BOE’s forward guidance 2.0: Cheap talk, or big change? Market Watch (11/2/14)

Bank of England pages
Monetary Policy Bank of England
MPC Remit Letters Bank of England
Forward Guidance Bank of England


  1. What data would you need to have in order to identify the degree of economic slack in the economy?
  2. Why is it difficult to obtain such data – at least in a reliable form?
  3. Why might the issuing of the forward guidance last July have itself contributed to the fall in unemployment?
  4. Why is it difficult to obtain such data – at least in a reliable form?
  5. Why is credibility an important requirement for policy?
  6. Why may LFS unemployment be a poor guide to the degree of slack in the economy?
  7. Discuss the relative merits of each of the five policy options identified by Larry Elliott.

The Bank of England was granted independence to set interest rates back in 1997. In setting rates its looks to meet the government’s annual inflation rate target of 2 per cent (with a range of tolerance of up to 1 percentage point).

The economic benefits of delegating interest rate decisions to a body like the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) are often taken for granted. But, in David Blanchflower’s article in the Independent Newspaper on 14 May, the former MPC member questions whether, at least in recent years, better decisions would have been made by the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In other words, could politicians have made more appropriate monetary policy choices?

Central bank independence has become increasingly popular. Many governments have taken steps to depoliticise monetary policy choices and to hand over important powers, such as setting interest rates, to central bankers. One of the main advantages, it is argued, is that politicians are no longer able to manipulate monetary policy choices in order to try and affect their popularity and their chances of being re-elected. The policy announcements of central bankers are said to be more credible because they do not have the incentive to deviate from their announced policy. For instance, the low inflation announcements of elected policy-makers lack credibility because politicians have an incentive to inflate the economy and so boost growth and employment prior to the election.

The incentive for a pre-election dash for growth means that the general public are reluctant to bargain for low wage increases in case policy is loosened or is looser than it should be given the prevailing economic climate. In this case, it might mean that interest rates are lower than they would otherwise be in the run up to the election. In order to protect their spending power households bargain for higher wage increases than they would if the policy announcements could be trusted. In contrast, the low inflation announcements of central bankers have credibility and so inflation will be lower. In terms of economic jargon, central bank independence will reduce inflation bias as well as promoting economic stability.

Blanchflower questions whether the path of interest rates in the UK between 1997 and 2007 would have been materially different should the Treasury have been setting interest rates rather than the MPC. But, he believes that:

Interest rates would probably have been higher in 2007 as the housing boom was ranging and house price to earnings ratios approached unsustainable levels. Alistair Darling has made it clear he would have cut rates earlier in 2008, if it had been left to him….

Blanchflower argues that part of the reason that the Treasury might have made better choices in the more recent past is the narrow remit of the Bank of England to target inflation. He argues:

Now is the time to consider switching to a dual mandate that would include growth, which would give much needed flexibility.

Blanchflower calls into question the idea that targeting inflation alone can bring stability. The recent past he argues simply dispels this notion. To help form your own views try having a read of the full article and then answer the questions below.

David Blanchflower Article
The recession deniers have gone strangely quiet this month Independent, David Blanchflower (14/05/12)


  1. If economic growth is a good thing, why might we want to reduce the chances of policymakers manipulating policy to attempt a pre-election dash for growth?
  2. What do you understand by credible economic policy announcements? How might a lack of credibility affect the economy’s rate of inflation?
  3. What does central bank independence mean for the conduct of monetary policy in the UK? In answering this you might wish to visit the Bank of England website and read about the UK’s monetary policy framework.
  4. Try summarising David Blanchflower’s argument against the inflation rate remit of the Bank of England.
  5. What do you consider to be the possible dangers of widening the Bank of England’s remit beyond just targeting the annual rate of CPI inflation?
  6. Central bank independence is one way in which governments can constrain their discretion over economic policy. In what other ways can they constrain their policy choices?
  7. Do you think governments should have full discretion over their policy choices or do you think there should be limits?

In the UK, we have an inflation target of 2% and it’s the Bank of England’s job to use monetary policy, in particular interest rates, to keep inflation within 1 percentage point of its target. However, with rising commodity prices and the onset of recession back in 2008, interest rates had another objective: to prevent or at least lessen the recession. Bank Rate fell to 0.5% and there it has remained in a bid to encourage investment, discourage saving and increase consumption, as a means of stimulating the economy.

However, at such a low rate, interest rates are not acting as a brake on inflation, which is now well above target. This rise in inflation, has been largely brought about by cost-push factors, such as the restoration of the 17.5% VAT (up from the temporary 15%), higher oil and commodity prices, and a fall in the exchange rate. But part of the reason might be found in the increase in money supply that resulted from quantitative easing.

There are concerns that the UK may lose its credibility on inflation if action isn’t taken. The OECD has advised the Bank of England to raise Bank Rate to 3.5% by the end of 2011. The following articles consider this issue.


Time to worry about inflation? BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (28/5/10)
UK must not fall for the false promise of higher inflation Telegraph, Charles Bean, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England (4/6/10)

Reports and documents
General Assessment of the Macroeconomic Situation OECD Economic Outlook, No. 87 Chapter 1 (see especially pages 53–4) (May 2010)
United Kingdom – Country Summary OECD Economic Outlook, No. 87 (May 2010)
Statistical Annex OECD Economic Outlook, No. 87 (available 10/6/10)
Inflation Report portal Bank of England (see May 2010)


  1. Explain the relationship between interest rates and inflation. Why have such low interest rates caused inflation to increase?
  2. In 2008, the UK moved into recession, but was also suffering from inflation. This was unusual, as AD/AS analysis suggests that when aggregate demand falls, growth will fall, but so will prices. What can explain the low growth and inflation we saw in 2008?
  3. What is the difference between real and nominal GDP?
  4. What are the causes of the current high inflation and what solutions are available and viable?
  5. Why are expectations of inflation so important and how might they influence the Bank of England’s plans for interest rates?
  6. Do you think the OECD should have advised the Bank of England? Will there be any adverse effects internationally if the UK doesn’t heed the OECD’s advice?
  7. Is the OECD’s assessment of the UK in the above Country Summary consistent with its view on UK interest rates contained in pages 53 and 54 in the first OECD link?

On the 14th May the IMF published its latest Fiscal Monitor. The key message coming out of this was the need for countries to reduce their public debt ratios, i.e. public debt relative to GDP. Specifically, the IMF is arguing that public debt ratios should be reduced to their ‘post-crisis levels’. In effect, this means countries need to undertake fiscal consolidation. The IMF recognises that the pace of fiscal consolidation should reflect underlying fiscal and macroeconomic conditions, but warns of the dangers of not doing so especially in those countries where the credibility of the current and medium-term fiscal position is weakest.

Underpinning the IMF’s argument for fiscal consolidation is their concern that higher public debt ratios necessitate higher interest rates in order to entice investors to purchase government debt. In those countries with weak fiscal credibility, a sizeable interest rate premium may be needed to entice investors to hold government debt over other types of investments. For instance, we have seen how the markets reacted to the perceived lack of fiscal credibility in Greece and how a series of measures, as discussed in Fixing the Euro: a long term solution or mere sticking plaster were needed to both restore normality to debt markets and to prevent contagion in markets for other country’s public debt.

The IMF argues that the impact of higher interest rates from high public debt-to-GDP ratios would be to reduce an economy’s potential growth. The mechanism by which this would happen would primarily be a reduction of labour productivity growth resulting from lower levels of investment and, hence, from slower growth in the country’s capital stock.

In short, the IMF is arguing that without credible fiscal consolidation plans, countries – particularly advanced economies – run a real risk of restricting their rate of economic growth over the longer-term. Of course, the challenge is to implement fiscal consolidation plans that protect short-term growth by cementing the current economic recovery but do not hinder longer-term growth. Now that is a real challenge!


Fiscal Monitor, May 14 2010 IMF


IMF Says Rising Public Debt Risk ‘Cannot Be Ignored’ Bloomberg Businessweek, Sandrine Rastello (14/5/10)
US faces one of the biggest crunches in the world – IMF Telegraph, Edmund Conway (14/5/10)
IMF says that developed countries must curb their deficits BBC News (14/5/10)
Outlook for rich economies worsening – IMF Eurasia Review (14/5/10)
Britain’s public debt falls under IMF focus Financial Times, Alan Beattie (15/5/10)
Advanced Economies Face Tougher, Not Impossible, Fiscal Adjustment MarketNews.com, Heather Scott (14/5/10)
A good squeeze The Economist (31/3/10)


IMF Data and Statistic Portal IMF
For macroeconomic data for EU countries and other OECD countries, such as the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and Korea, see:
AMECO online European Commission


  1. Evaluate the argument put forward by the IMF that fiscal consolidation is necessary to prevent harming long-term economic growth.
  2. What are the economic dangers of consolidating a country’s fiscal position too quickly?
  3. What do you understand by short-run and long-term economic growth?
  4. What do you understand by potential growth?
  5. What could a government do to increase the perceived credibility of its fiscal position?