Friday 30 September 2016

Newsmaker: Mark Carney

Mark Carney

Published 21/09/2015 | 02:30

Bank Of England Governor Mark Carney
Bank Of England Governor Mark Carney

Last week was all about the US Fed, would they or wouldn't they raise interest rates. They didn't, but much closer to home, Bank of England's Mark Carney may face an even bigger challenge than his US counterpart.

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Carney took over at Threadneedle Street following what was seen as his success in helping Canada ride out the global financial crisis, as the then head of his own country's central bank.

With unemployment down and house prices up in Britain, most observers reckon it's a question of 'if' rather than 'when' the UK lifts rates. That will begin a process taking credit costs back to something approaching normality.

But even a modest rise will represent a radical departure after nine years of virtually cost-free credit, at least for the banks that can tap the BoE.

And the options facing Carney, a slick, former Goldman Sachs executive with Irish roots (he became a citizen during a stint working as an investment banker in Europe in the late 1980s), are not straight forward.

The BoE's own chief economist, Andy Haldane, says the bank's next move may be to cut rather than raise interest rates.

That runs contrary not just to most analysts but also Governor Carney's view. He said last week that interest rates may be raised in early 2016 if the economy continues to grow and inflation pressures pick up.

But Haldan's scepticism can only have been heightened by the Fed's decision to leave rates unchanged last Thursday.

No doubt adding to Carney's burden is the radical result of the shake-up in Britain's Labour Party.

Among other things, it has put the question of why Carney, and other unelected central bankers, gets to decide on rate levels in the first place.

The surprise rise of new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn means Carney now finds himself having to defend the concept of central bank independence, in particular from the new opposition leader's finance spokesman John McDonnell.

McDonnell, a veteran leftwinger, wants to see the BoE lose its exclusive right to determine interest rates.

It's a question many - no doubt including Carney when he took the job - thought was settled when the current system was established by Tony Blair's Labour Party government in 1997. Reverting to the old system would make decisions explicitly political.

If all of that wasn't enough, Carney is also being forced to respond to claims from frustrated bank investors who are unhappy at the prospect of being hit with losses under the terms of a new 'bail-in' regime.

It seems everyone wants something when you're the man in control of the money.

Irish Independent

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