Thursday, July 14, 2016

Bank of England Holds Rates Steady; Signals August Stimulus

Despite market estimates of an 80% chance for a rate cut today, the Bank of England held rates steady at 0.5%.  With new Prime Minister Theresa May signaling a slow and cautious path towards Brexit and also signaling an invocation of Article 50 no earlier than 2017, the central bank's delay in lowering interest rates makes sense. 

Only 2 1/2 weeks have passed since the Brexit vote, and that is an insufficient amount of time to gather enough data to make an informed projection on the economic climate for the next six to twelve months.  The MPC (Monetary Policy Committee) next meets on August 4th, giving them additional time to gauge the reaction and potential impact.

Additionally, despite the immediate reaction worldwide on June 24 and 27, markets in the UK and around the world have since stabilized and, in fact, rebounded significantly.  In the Forex market, the British Pound did indeed take a significant hit against both the Euro and the US Dollar, however the currencies have since stabilized albeit at the lower levels experienced immediately following the vote.

Given the slight trade imbalance the UK currently experiences, that overall drop in the Pound is actually very good for their exports.  It provides an immediate boost to UK-based corporations and, in that context, is a nice stimulus without the Central Bank taking any actions at all.  Coupled with that, initial fears that companies would seek to relocate out of the UK have since abated.  To that point, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon specified in today's earnings call that he had no intention of leaving the UK despite rumors to that effect on June 24th.  Following the initial shock of the vote, we now see other companies taking a step away from the ledge, realizing that the new dynamic offers tremendous opportunity, not peril.

What the Bank of England has done by standing pat is afforded themselves some options later in the year should the British economy weaken to the point where a stimulus in the form of a rate cut becomes necessary.  Lowering that key rate today would have left the Central Bank with no room left to move as the UK approaches what will certainly be a period of uncertainty after they invoke Article 50.  Remember, the BoE already provided a significant stimulus on July 5th when they eased capital requirements for commercial banks, effectively providing a £150 Billion short-term stimulus.

The change in capital requirements on 5 July was seen as a direct attempt to prevent a repeat of the 2008 crisis in which banks ceased lending.  Whether or not that move is sufficient only time will tell, however as of today the signal is that the MPC is thus far satisfied with the short-term results.

Today's decision underscores a strengthening in the overall financial stability of the UK and stands in stark contrast to some dire warnings issued by Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney just a week ago: “The number of vulnerable households could increase due to a tougher economic outlook and a potential tightening of credit conditions. In particular there is growing evidence that uncertainty about the referendum has delayed major economic decisions, such as business investment, construction and housing market activity.  The UK has entered a period of uncertainty and significant economic adjustment."  The wording is particularly harsh coming from such a prominent member.

There's no word as to what measures the Committee are considering in August, however according to officials there was significant discussion of it in today's meeting: “Most members of the committee expect monetary policy to be loosened in August.  The committee discussed various easing options and combinations thereof. The exact extent of any additional stimulus measures will be based on the committee’s updated forecast, and their composition will take account of any interactions with the financial system.”

The August 4th meeting comes only a week after the US Federal Opens Markets Committee (FOMC) meets.  Fed Chair Janet Yellen typically addresses the economic environment in Europe and the UK in her post-meeting announcement, so it will be worth listening to that release for clues as to any action the Bank of England may feel necessary.  Given the interrelationships between the various central banks and the global impact each of their decisions have, it would be a mistake to focus only on the MPC for guidance as to what the future economic environment may entail.

Also of interest is the next European Central Bank (ECB) meeting, scheduled for 21 July.  Again, listening to Mario Draghi's perspective will add further insight.  It's likely that, between the ECB and FOMC, we should have a fair idea of the direction the Bank of England may take on August 4th.

Happy Trading.

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