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Bank of England to buy UK bonds to avert financial risk

LONDON — The Bank of England said Wednesday that it will launch a temporary government bond-buying program to stave off “material risk to UK financial stability” after unfunded government tax cuts spooked markets and sent the British pound tumbling.

The emergency intervention means the central bank will buy government bonds in an effort to stabilize the market and drive down yields. In a statement, the bank says it’s “monitoring developments in financial markets very closely’’ in light of the significant repricing of U.K. and global financial assets.

The move came after the International Monetary Fund has urged the U.K. government to “reevaluate” unfunded tax cuts that it says may fuel inflation and are likely to increase economic inequality.

The value of the pound sagged Wednesday morning after the rare IMF warning to a Group of Seven economy, trading at under $1.07.

The British government said it was underwriting the central bank’s emergency bond purchases, which are due to last for two weeks and are designed “to restore orderly market conditions.”

“To enable the Bank to conduct this financial stability intervention, this operation has been fully indemnified by HM Treasury,” it said.

Treasury chief Kwasi Kwarteng also was meeting Wednesday with executives from investment banks as the new Conservative government seeks to soothe markets.

The government of Prime Minister Liz Truss on Friday unveiled a 45 billion-pound ($48 billion) package of tax cuts in an effort to spur economic growth. But the plan wasn’t accompanied by spending cuts, or even an independent cost estimate, raising concerns that it would swell government debt and add to inflation that is already running at close to a 40-year high of 9.9%.

“Given elevated inflation pressures in many countries, including the U.K., we do not recommend large and untargeted fiscal packages at this juncture, as it is important that fiscal policy does not work at cross purposes to monetary policy,” the IMF said in a statement. “Furthermore, the nature of the U.K. measures will likely increase inequality.”

The British pound fell to a record low against the U.S. dollar Monday, to $1.0373, amid investor concern about the government’s policies, which also include borrowing billions to help shield homes and businesses from soaring energy prices.

The Bank of England sought to stabilize markets, saying Monday that it was prepared to raise interest rates “as much as needed” to rein in inflation. But the bank’s next scheduled meeting is not until November, and the lack of immediate action did little to bolster the pound.

The British currency is still down 4% since Friday, and the pound has fallen 20% against the dollar in the past year.

The turmoil is already having real-world effects, with British mortgage lenders pulling hundreds of offers from the market amid expectations the Bank of England will sharply boost interest rates to offset the inflationary impact of the pound’s recent slide.

The U.K. government says it will set out a more detailed fiscal plan and independent analysis from the Office for Budget Responsibility on Nov. 23.

“The Nov. 23 budget will present an early opportunity for the U.K. government to consider ways to provide support that is more targeted and reevaluate the tax measures, especially those that benefit high income earners,” the IMF said.

In response, the U.K. Treasury said the government was “focused on growing the economy to raise living standards for everyone.”

The November statement will set out further details of the government’s plan and ensure that debt falls as a share of gross domestic product “in the medium term,” a spokeswoman said.

Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the stinging criticism by the IMF also comes at at time that UK gilt yields — the interest paid on government debt — are “sky high,” with the yield on 10-year gilts hovering around 4.4%, up by more than 340% in a year.

“The IMF’s move has added to worries that the UK is fast taking on the characteristics of an emerging market economy, and risks ditching its developed country status,” Streeter wrote in an analyst note.

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