Closing summary: Bailey says central banks have firepower left

“Go big (and fast) or go home” is the the message from Andrew Bailey when assessing the use of quantitative easing to fight crises.

The Bank of England governor gave little in the way of indications about short-term policy responses or any details on his view of the UK economic situation, but he did insist that cenral banks have more firepower than previously thought during times of crisis.

So should we expect future crisis interventions to be bigger? It sounds that way.

We are not out of firepower by any means, and to be honest it looks from today’s vantage point that we were too cautious about our remaining firepower pre-Covid.

But, hindsight is a wonderful thing when you have it.

If that example of central bank communication was not quite your thing on a Friday afternoon, take a minute to watch the Bank of Jamaica’s efforts. Andrew Bailey, please take note for next year’s Jackson Hole economic conference:

**Drumroll**
Ladies and Gentlemen; Kings and Queens... Presenting...the WORLD PREMIERE...of BOJ's long-awaited inflation-targeting dubplate for 2020, featuring Denyque and the low, stable and predictable inflation dancers! 🔥 🎙️ 🥁 🎸 🎼#BOJSpeaks#InflationTargeting pic.twitter.com/7OMb4wEFsQ

— Bank of Jamaica (@CentralBankJA) August 27, 2020

Here are some of the other important developments from today:

You can keep following our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, politics and international affairs from around the world:

In the UK, lockdown is expected to be lifted in parts of north-west England

In the US, reaction to Donald Trump’s Republican convention acceptance speech

And in our global coverage, face masks become mandatory in Paris, India records over 77,000 new cases in a day

Thank you for joining me this week for our live coverage of business, economics and markets, and please do come back next Tuesday for more from Graeme Wearden. JJ

Andrew Bailey has now finished speaking - I think it’s fair to say that was one for the monetary policy purists.

Sterling is unmoved: it’s up 0.7% against the US dollar at $1.3291.

Some reactions from economists:

Governor Bailey at #JacksonHole suggesting pace of QE an important measure of its efficacy, based on research paper: https://t.co/XdMTNUrvnT feels like key takeway is suggestion that CB balance sheet should be used countercyclically to restore headroom for next economic downturn

— Simon French (@shjfrench) August 28, 2020

"Expanding the range of assets purchased is another way for central banks to create more headroom. The Covid crisis has seen a further broadening of the range of assets that central banks stand ready to purchase." - Andrew Bailey

— Exante Data (@ExanteData) August 28, 2020

As BoE Governor Bailey talks of QE being " temporary" let me remind you it started in 2009 and not one single £ has ever been unwound.....

— Shaun Richards (@notayesmansecon) August 28, 2020

The banking system has stood up well to the Covid crisis, Bailey says, when asked about financial stability.

There were some signs of stress in non-bank markets. It is not a surprise that the re-regulation of the banking system would move assets away from the banking sector, he says.

Now Bailey is asked about the upside scenario - what happens if there’s a successful vaccine and the economy surges back with inflation on the rise? How would you prioritise using your tools?

That would be a happy problem to have, Bailey says.

We have observed that the savings rate has risen so there is potential pent-up spending power, he says. The most likely tool to use would be rates, however - not unwinding the balance sheet built up during QE.

Bailey is asked what the Bank’s own review of its monetary policy approach will look at.

The Bank is doing a “more incremental” review than the Fed, Bailey says. On communicating, Bailey says the Bank pivoted from focusing on QE to talking about forward guidance on interest rates more.

He says the Bank will need a stronger than usual body evidence of a recovery before it starts to tighten monetary policy.

Bailey is answering questions now on his speech.

He says Jerome Powell’s comments from yesterday suggest that flexibility can be useful for monetary policy.

The Fed’s policy might be slightly different to the UK’s (although similar) but it may be that the different exchange rate environment could justify different approaches.

'Going big and fast' could be important QE tool in times of trouble - Bailey

One of the key arguments Andrew Bailey made was that the pace of asset purchases under quantitative easing is another tool that monetary policymakers have - particularly during a crisis.

That adds another way for the Bank and other central banks to influence the economy: by adjusting the timing of asset purchases. He said:

Standing back from the Covid crisis, and looking at the UK case, there indeed is some evidence that the impact of QE over the past decade has been largest at times of market dysfunction and illiquidity. Of course the available event studies are very few in number. But, if this result proves robust, it suggests that “going big and fast” with QE is particularly effective in these conditions.

Central banks were too cautious about the firepower they had available to them to fight crises, Bailey says.

He said:

We are not out of firepower by any means, and to be honest it looks from today’s vantage point that we were too cautious about our remaining firepower pre-Covid. But, hindsight is a wonderful thing when you have it.

The Bank will not look at tightening monetary policy until there is significant progress on an economic rebound.

The committee does not intend to tighten monetary policy until there is clear evidence that significant progress is being made in eliminating spare capacity and achieving the 2% inflation target sustainably. This important step is intended to ensure monetary conditions do not tighten prematurely when there are some initial signs of an economic recovery.

“Going big and fast” on quantitative easing is particularly effective, Bailey says.

Having more headroom for expanding quantitative easing could be preferable to fight future crises, Bailey says.

He says:

But one conclusion is that it could be preferable, and consistent with setting monetary conditions consistent with the inflation target, to seek to ensure there is sufficient headroom for more potent expansion in central bank balance sheets when needed in the future –to “go big” and “go fast” decisively

Andrew Bailey: QE will be 'more long-lived' than anticipated before

The Bank of England is not out of monetary policy firepower to fight recessions by any means, Bailey says.

The structural drivers of low interest rates suggest the use of central bank balance sheets will be more long-lived than had been anticipated.

Quantitative easing, the purchase of billions of pounds of assets to boost the economy, may have been particularly important “during a period of market dysfunction”.

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey makes monetary policy speech

Andrew Bailey was speaking via video link on monetary policy.
Andrew Bailey was speaking via video link on monetary policy. Photograph: Youtube/Kansas City Fed

Andrew Bailey is speaking now on “The central bank balance sheet as a policy tool: past, present and future”.

Andrew Bailey’s speech can be read here, and an accompanying policy paper can be found here.

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey will be speaking very shortly at the virtual Jackson Hole conference.

You can watch it here:

In the meantime, here are some brief thoughts from a former European Central Bank vice president on yesterday’s action.

FED´s new framework markets impact: US stocks should go up (they did); bond prices should go down, yields up (they did); the dollar should go down (it´s down); commodity prices should be mixed (yes, oil down, gold up); volatility (VIX & MOVE) should go up (they did).

— Vitor Constâncio (@VMRConstancio) August 28, 2020

Record 11.5% fall in Canada GDP in second quarter

And there has been an update from Canada, whose second-quarter GDP dropped at an annualised rate of 38.7%. In case you didn’t realise, that is a record by quite some margin.

In the more straightforward quarterly comparison, Canada’s GDP fell by 11.5%, according to Statistics Canada - so significantly less severe than the UK.

June real GDP rose by 6.5%, offsetting some of the March and April declines, but economic activity still remains below pre-pandemic levels.

Gross domestic product, income and expenditure, second quarter 2020: Real gross domestic product (GDP) fell 11.5% in the second quarter, following a 2.1% decline in the first quarter. https://t.co/KfLqPCz65p pic.twitter.com/scP3ckFowb

— Statistics Canada (@StatCan_eng) August 28, 2020

Also of note in the release (particularly given the Federal Reserve’s adjustment of its inflation targeting regime): the personal consumption expenditure price index nudged up by 1% in the year to July.

That is still far below the 2% target for inflation that the Fed aims for - and there is not much sign of a big rise in inflation coming any time soon, so don’t hold your breath for tighter monetary policy.

US consumers spent more than economists had expected in July, although the figures just released still show a slowdown in the growth of spending from May and June.

Personal consumption expenditures rose by 1.9% in July, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis. That was more than the 1.5% predicted by economists on average.

That is a historically huge jump in spending over the course of one mont - but of course this is another of many economic graphs that have had their axes adjusted by the pandemic. Here is the last 25 years of personal spending figures:

Growth in personal spending in the US has fluctuated wildly during the crisis.
Growth in personal spending in the US has fluctuated wildly during the crisis. Photograph: Trading Economics

Still, a continued strong rebound in spending will be encouraging for those predicting a “V-shaped” recovery in the US economy.

Dollar weakness helps sterling to eight-month high

The pound has gained 0.8% today after the Federal Reserve gave a clear signal that it will have loose monetary policy for longer.

One pound will buy $1.3308 today, the most since mid-December - a significant increase compared to almost $1.14 in the depths of the crisis in March.

Sterling hit a fresh eight-month high on Friday after the Federal Reserve signalled looser monetary policy for longer.
Sterling hit a fresh eight-month high on Friday after the Federal Reserve signalled looser monetary policy for longer. Photograph: Refinitiv

The dollar weakness comes after the Fed said it would move to a regime of average inflation targeting, allowing inflation to run above 2% before it started to withdraw monetary stimulus. That compared to a previous view at the Fed that was more wary of inflation, a mindset forged amid the price rises of the ‘70s and ‘80s - but apparently not a threat in these disinflationary times.

Looser monetary policy generally makes a country’s currency less attractive because it encourages inflation, which reduces money’s value.

The pound’s relative strength is likely holding back the FTSE 100, whose multinationals earn nominally more when their foreign currency earnings are stronger. The FTSE 100 is bobbing around the waterline today: it’s up by only six points, or 0.1% to 6,006 points.

Currency traders will be keeping a close eye on the speech at 2:05pm BST by Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England.

Don’t forget that Andrew Bailey will be speaking @KansasCityFed #JacksonHole2020 Economic Policy Symposium at 14:05 (BST) this afternoon. Watch live at: https://t.co/Y9qEBwdQ6b.
You will also be able to read his speech at https://t.co/m3b5RasoCM

— Bank of England Press Office (@BoE_PressOffice) August 28, 2020

However, Bailey is not expected to deliver anything like the drama offered by Jerome Powell yesterday. He could give a some reflections on what the pandemic offers for central banks, as well as the consequences of operating monetary policy at a time of low interest rates and massive quantitative easing.

The Japanese yen has strengthened by 0.9% today in the wake of Shinzo Abe’s resignation.

You can see the moment he announced he would step down to avoid making policy mistakes due to illness here:

The FTSE 100 has fallen back into the red for the day, down by 0.1% to 5,992 points.

A pedestrian wearing face mask walks in the nearly empty city centre of Birmingham.
A pedestrian wearing face mask walks in the nearly empty city centre of Birmingham. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

Concerns for the prospects of the UK’s city centres are what has prompted the transport secretary’s firm message that Britons should be getting back to work.

Speaking on Sky News (from his home), Grant Shapps said:

What we’re saying to people is it is now safe to go back to work and your employer should have made arrangements which are appropriate to make sure that it is coronavirus-safe to work

The Cabinet Office will take out ads in regional newspapers after schoolchildren in England return to the classroom next week, advising employers about how to make their offices Covid-secure, and encouraging the public to feel safe to go back.

You can read the full report from the Guardian’s political editor, Heather Stewart, here:

There’s more drama over at subprime lender Amigo, which this morning reported a 83% drop in profits to £3m in the three months to June, compared to £18m a year earlier.

The guarantor lender said it was hit by a pause on new lending - except to key workers - during the pandemic, and the granting of payment holidays to around 47,000 of its 199,000 customers.

Amigo is the UK’s largest provider of controversial guarantor loans, which allows friends and family to guarantee repayments on loans to people who might otherwise struggle to borrow. The company repeated warnings over its ability to continue as a going concern - basically a big question mark over its future operations - due to the impact of Covid, a potential increase in complaints, and the possible outcome of a regulatory investigation into the way Amigo has assessed the creditworthiness of its customers.

Despite the gloomy report, Amigo’s shares rose as much as 30% on Friday morning after its estranged billionaire founder James Benamor took to Twitter to launch his takeover call as part of a lengthy and bitter battle with Amigo’s current leadership.

We have today called a vote on the subject of the proposals we made last week.

We will win this vote.https://t.co/R0txhfsvyR

— James Benamor (@JamesBenamor) August 27, 2020

Benamor - a self-confessed former petty criminal who has flip-flopped in and out of leadership roles at Amigo - said he was calling for a shareholder vote that would replace Amigo’s chief financial officer Nayan Kisnadwala within 30 days, remove non-executive director Roger Lovering, install board members approved by Benamor, and appoint the founder as chief executive of Amigo Loans Group.

He has also committed to buying up 29% of Amigo’s shares - if he is successfully appointed chief executive, that is - at a price of 20p per share. That could be an attractive proposition for investors who have seen shares tumble 66% since March to just 13.5p. The saga continues.

It appears that the German dip in consumer confidence is going against the grain of the rest of the eurozone: the European commission’s economic sentiment gauge rose for the fourth consecutive month.

The indicator includes the consumer confidence figures, but it also incorporates business confidence from around the bloc.

From Reuters:

While remaining well below pre-crisis levels and the long-term average, the monthly indicator which gauges confidence in the economy soared to 87.7 points from 82.4 in July, above the 85.0 point average forecast of economists polled by Reuters.

The new pick-up, confirming the gradual rebound from May, was driven mostly by higher optimism in the service sector, the largest in the 19-country currency bloc. It remains in negative territory, but rose to -17.2 in August from -26.2 in July.

As you can tell, sentiment remains far off pre-pandemic levels, but at least it is improving.

European sentiment among businesses and consumers has increased after the worst of the pandemic.
European sentiment among businesses and consumers has increased after the worst of the pandemic. Photograph: European commission

Looking across European equities there is... not much action today.

The FTSE 100 is up by 0.1%, with no individual moves greater than 2.7% either way. The Stoxx 600 is down by 0.3%, and the Dax in Germany has lost 0.4%.

It’s something of a damp squib, considering the fact that the Federal Reserve’s chair, Jerome Powell, signalled that the central bank would be happy to hold stimulus in place for even longer, allowing inflation to rise above 2%.

But the return of serious inflation to the world’s largest economy is just not on the agenda of most investors right now, and we already knew that massive stimulus is here to stay.

Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said:

Markets haven’t got over-excited by the US Federal Reserve’s new stance on letting inflation run higher, despite it implying that interest rates will stay lower for longer – normally something that would benefit equities.

One could argue that the Fed following this path was already expected by the market, hence why stocks haven’t surged ahead.

Shinzo Abe confirms resignation, claims Abenomics was successful

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, says he’s resigning because a chronic illness has resurfaced.
Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, says he’s resigning because a chronic illness has resurfaced. Photograph: Franck Robichon/AP

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has confirmed that he will step down for health reasons.

His health started to decline around the middle of last month, and he does not want to make mistakes in important policy decisions, he said, according to Reuters.

He apologised for stepping down in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, and said he would continue until someone else was appointed, but declined to comment on a successor.

On economic policy, Abe said the government has succeeded in boosting jobs, ending 20 years of deflation with the three arrows of Abenomics.

Updated

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe had “three arrows” in his effort to stimulate the economy.
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe had “three arrows” in his effort to stimulate the economy. Photograph: Richard Sharrocks/Alamy Stock Photo

The famous “three arrows” of Abenomics were monetary easing, fiscal spending and structural reforms to try to add some dynamism to the Japanese economy - which become something of a byword for stagnation (although visitors to Japan might argue that stagnation doesn’t appear to be such a bad thing).

Two of those arrows could directly weaken the yen - and indeed that was a boost to Japanese exporters.

ING strategists wrote in a note to clients that “Abenomics” was one of the key factors in yen weakness in previous years. But, they said, what matters most for the yen is the Bank of Japan’s stance and that it is too early to say whether Abe’s resignation would materially impact the central bank.

A fair question in the comments from murphharrison: why has the yen gained ground after reports of Abe’s resignation?

Some analysts said political uncertainty could prompt some Japanese to bring money back home to avoid being caught out by volatility in currency markets.

Bank of Singapore currency analyst Moh Siong Sim told Reuters:

There’s some nervousness and concerns because he’s the longest serving Prime Minister, and with him gone there could be some uncertainty. Perhaps Abenomics is coming to a close. And perhaps we could see some repatriation and this is why the yen has strengthened somewhat.

Derek Halpenny, head of research, global markets EMEA at Japan’s MUFG Bank, said that Abe’s exit could allow deflationary pressures back in if it heralds a softening of so-called Abenomics, the “three arrows” strategy to push the Japanese economy out of stagnation and deflation.

Deflation makes the yen more valuable at a time when interest rates globally are not giving investors much return. The US central bank is signalling loose monetary policy for some time as well, weakening the US dollar.

Halpenny said:

There can be no denying that the timing of PM Abe’s departure is not particularly good. Covid has hit Japan hard like elsewhere, and we continue to see emerging signs of the return of deflation to Japan. [...]

Deflation helps to lift real yields when nominal yields are at the lower bound and this has been a long-term supportive factor for the yen, and will be especially so now with the Fed trying to drive real yields lower through it monetary policy framework shift.

Shinzo Abe’s reported plan to resign has given currency markets a jolt on a usually quiet late-August Friday.

The US dollar index is down by 0.5%, after the Japanese yen (one of the biggest weights in the basket) jumped. The yen is up by 0.5% today, and has just strengthened to the 106 yen per US dollar mark.

The Japanese yen jumped after Shinzo Abe’s possible resignation was first reported.
The Japanese yen jumped after Shinzo Abe’s possible resignation was first reported. Photograph: Refinitiv

Note that this chart’s y-axis is quoted in yen per US dollar, so what appears as a drop is actually an increase in the yen’s value. And it’s also worth noting that the increase today only takes the yen back to levels seen yesterday.

A passenger wearing a face mask arrives at the check-in counters at an almost empty Gatwick Airport, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.
A passenger wearing a face mask arrives at the check-in counters at an almost empty Gatwick Airport, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Reuters

Gatwick airport has reported a £343m loss after passenger numbers plummeted by two-thirds in the first half of the year as the coronavirus takes a heavy toll on the aviation industry.

Britain’s second-busiest air hub, which earlier this week announced plans to cut 600 jobs, said revenues plunged by 61% in the first half from £372m to £144m.

Gatwick is operating flights from only one of its two terminals and said passenger numbers fell by two-thirds year on year in the first six months from 22m to only 7.5m. The airport is forecasting it will take four to five years for air traffic levels to return to pre-pandemic levels.

You can read the full report here:

There are some quite punchy comments coming through from the UK’s transport minister, Grant Shapps, who has been talking up a campaign for people to return to work.

The government is planning on telling people they should return to workplaces where it is safe to do so in order to help the economy to recover. Whether businesses will actually choose to do so is another matter.

Speaking on LBC radio, Shapps said, via Reuters:

Our central message is pretty straightforward: we are saying to people it is now safe to return to work.

The FTSE 100 has given investors something to think about this morning: it opened up by 0.5% at 8am BST, but has dropped to a 0.3% decline in the 20 minutes since.

That means London’s blue-chip index is back below 6,000 points.

Elsewhere the biggest European markets all went through the same bumpy ride. The Euro Stoxx 600 is down by 0.1%, having opened up by 0.3%. Germany’s Dax index is flat, having opened up by 0.4%, and France’s Cac 40 is also flat, having gained 0.3% in the opening trades.

Updated

German consumer confidence falls back, surprising economists

German consumer confidence fell back in August, denting economists’ hopes that the rebound from the depths of the coronavirus lockdowns would continue.

The latest indicator (labelled, confusingly, as September) by GfK fell to -1.8, down from -0.2 in the previous reading and lower than the 1.2 expected by economists.

GfK in its report said:

Expectations for a rapid recovery in the consumer climate in Germany were dealt a significant blow in August. After gaining for three consecutive periods, the indicator suffered a considerable decline.

GfK’s consumer climate indicator suggested confidence in Germany has fallen back, after a quick rebound.
GfK’s consumer climate indicator suggested confidence in Germany has fallen back, after a quick rebound. Photograph: GfK

Rolf Bürkl, an analyst at GfK, said:

An increase in the number of infections and the fear that coronavirus-related restrictions will be further tightened are creating uncertainty and consequently dampening the mood. The reduction in value added tax (VAT) which came into effect in Germany on July 1st may be boosting propensity to consume but has not yet been able to provide a stronger stimulus.

Whether or not this is just a temporary slowdown will depend primarily on what infection rates look like in future and the necessary measures to be put in place by policy makers.

Introduction: Nikkei slumps and yen rises after Abe resignation report

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes off his face mask upon his arrival at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan, 24 August 2020.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe takes off his face mask upon his arrival at the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo, Japan, 24 August 2020. Photograph: Jiji Press/EPA

Good morning, and welcomed to our live coverage of business, economics and financial markets.

There had been rumblings for a few days about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s health problems after repeated hospital visits, but this morning rumours appear to have bubbled over into news: multiple media reports say he will indeed resign.

The news prompted an immediate slump on Japan’s stock market, with the blue-chip Nikkei 225 index losing as much as 2%, while the safe-haven Japanese yen, which had been falling, jumped by about 0.5% to a session-high of 106.10 per dollar on the news before easing to about 106.22.

#Japan stocks sink on report Shinzo Abe plans to resign. The Nikkei 225 fell as much as 2.7% while the Topix index dropped as much as 1.6%. (BBG) pic.twitter.com/VpJ57euFCX

— Holger Zschaepitz (@Schuldensuehner) August 28, 2020

Reuters reported:

A person familiar with the matter said Abe, the nation’s longest serving premier, had decided to step down.

Public broadcaster NHK earlier said Abe, who has battled the disease ulcerative colitis for years, wanted to avoid causing problems for the government due to the worsening of his condition

Also coming up today, we have eurozone economic sentiment and consumer confidence figures at 10am BST, which could come in lower than expected after GfK’s measure of German consumer confidence came in with a negative 1.8 reading, compared to a positive 1.2 consensus expectation. More on this to follow.

And at 2:05pm BST Bank of England watchers’ attention will be fixed on a speech by Andrew Bailey, the governor.

He has a tough act to follow after Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell signalled a permanent change in the US central bank’s inflation targeting regime, although the Bank of England has its own issues to face. Bailey could talk about work the Bank has done on the diminishing returns from quantitative easing.

The agenda

  • 9am BST: Japan Shinzo Abe press conference (subject to change)
  • 10am BST: Eurozone economic sentiment, August (previous: 82.3; consensus: 88.9)
  • 1:30pm BST: Canada GDP, second quarter (previous: -8.2% annualised; consensus: -39.6% annualised)
  • 2:05pm BST: Bank of England Andrew Bailey Jackson Hole speech

Contributors

Jasper Jolly

The GuardianTramp

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