“All bets are off” as the Bank of England holds a “secret” press conference

Today is the turn of the Bank of England to take centre stage. On a personal level it raises a wry smile as when I was a market maker in UK short sterling options (known as a local) on the LIFFE floor it was the most important day of the month and often make or break. At other times it has been a more implicit big deal. Actually there is no likely change to short-term interest-rates on the cards. Perusing my old stomping ground shows that in fact not much action is expected at all with a pretty flat curve out to March 2024 when maybe a rise to the giddy heights of 0.25% is expected. Personally I think there is a solid chance we will see negative interest-rates first but that is not how the market is set this morning. Also I note that volumes are not great suggesting they are not expecting much today either.

If course some may be “more equal than others” to use that famous phrase as the Monetary Policy Committee voted last night following one of the previous Governor’s ( Mark Carney) “improvements”. He was of the opinion that getting his Minutes and PR prepared was more important than the risk of the vote leaking. Whereas the reality is that central banks are in fact rather leaky vessels.

Nationwide

There will have been consternation at the Bank of England when this news arrived at its hallowed doors. From the BBC.

The UK’s biggest building society has tripled the minimum deposit it will ask for from first-time buyers. The Nationwide will lower its ceiling for mortgage lending to new customers in response to the coronavirus crisis.It said the change, from Thursday, was due to “these unprecedented times and an uncertain mortgage market”.

I do not know if the new Governor Andrew Bailey has the same sharp temper as his predecessor Mark Carney but if he does it would have been in display. After all policy is essentially to get the housing market going once we peer beneath the veneer. Nearly £118 billion of cheap funding ( at the Bank Rate of 0.1%) has been deployed via the Term Funding Scheme(s) to keep the housing market wheels oiled. Also the news looks timed to just precede the MPC meeting.

In terms of detail there it is aimed at first-time buyers which is only likely to anger the Governor more.

First-time buyers are likely to be the most significantly affected because they often have smaller amounts saved to get on the property ladder.

Nationwide has reduced the proportion of a home’s value that is willing to lend from 95% to 85%.

So for example, if a property costs £100,000, a new buyer would now need a £15,000 deposit rather than a £5,000 deposit.

If we look back in time this is a familiar feature of house price falls. As mortgage borrowing becomes more restrained that by its very nature tends to pull house prices lower. For larger falls then it usually requites surveyors to join the party by down valuing some properties which as they are pack animals can spread like wildfire. The quote below shows that the situation is complex.

Some lenders, such as HSBC, still have mortgages with a 90% loan-to-value ratio. However, there is more demand for that type of mortgage than many banks have the capacity to deal with at the moment, he said.

Policy

We have already seen an extraordinary set of moves here. We have a record low interest-rate of 0.1% which is quite something from a body which had previously assured us that the “lower-bound” was 0.5%. There is a link to today’s news from this because it was building societies like the Nationwide and their creaking IT systems which got the blame for this, although ironically I think they did us a favour.

Next comes a whole barrage of Quantitative Easing and Credit Easing policies. The headliner here is the purchases of UK bonds ( Gilts) which by my maths passed the £600 billion mark just before 2 pm yesterday as it progresses at a weekly rate of £13.5 billion. This means that they are implicitly financing the UK public-sector right now, something I pointed out when the Ways and Means issue arose. We see that as I note that the UK Debt Management Office has issued some £14.4 billion of new UK bonds or Gilts this week. Whilst the Bank of England did not buy any of these it did oil the wheels with its purchases which means that the net issuance figure is £900 million which is rather different to £14.4 billion. On that road we see how both the two-year yield ( -0.07%) and the five-year yield ( -0,02%) are negative as I type this. Even the fifty-year yield is a mere 0.38%.

There has also been some £15 billion of Corporate Bond buying so far. This policy has not gone well as so desperate are they to find bonds to buy that they have bought some of Apple’s bonds. Yes the company with the enormous cash pile. Also I sure the Danes are grateful we are supporting their shipping company Maersk as it appears to need it, but they are probably somewhat bemused.

As to credit easing I have already noted the Term Funding Scheme and there is also the Covid Financing Facility where it buys Commercial Paper. Some £16.3 billion has been bought so far. Those who like a hot sausage roll may be pleased Greggs have been supported to the tune of £30 million, although North London is likely to be split on tribal lines by the £175 million for Spurs.

Comment

These days central banks and governments are hand in glove. Operationally that is required because the QE and credit easing measures require the backing of the taxpayer via HM Treasury. More prosaically the Chancellor Rishi Sunak can borrow at ultra low levels due to Bank of England policies and will do doubt raise a glass of champagne to them. Amazingly some put on such powerful sunglasses that they call this independence. Perhaps they were the ones who disallowed Sheffield United’s goal last night.

However the ability to help the economy is more problematical and was once described as like “pushing on a string”. This is not helped by the issues with our official statistics as we not inflation has been under recorded as I explained yesterday as has unemployment ( it was 5% + not the 3.9% reported) and the monthly drop of 20.4% in GDP has a large error range too. Because of that I have some sympathy for the MPC but I have no sympathy for the “secret” press conference it is holding at 1 pm. Then its “friends” will be able to release the details at 2:30 pm with no official confirmation until tomorrow.

So there are two issues. That is a form of corruption and debases what is left of free markets even more. Next it is supposed to be a publicly accountable institution with transparent policy. Along the way it means that the chances of a more aggressive policy announcement have just risen or as the bookie says in the film Snatch.

All bets are off