Carney pulls an about face on Bank of England monetary policy
The former Bank of Canada governor said evidence that inflation is likely to remain subdued because of weak global growth and lower commodity prices also reinforced the need to maintain the current loose policy
DAVOS, Switzerland—Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said super-low U.K. interest rates would remain in place after a bigger-than-expected drop in unemployment forced him to scrap the monetary policy framework he introduced just months ago.
In August, the central bank said it would not consider raising interest rates from their record lows until unemployment fell to 7 per cent. But doubts have grown over this “foreward guidance” in recent months as unemployment has fallen rapidly, hitting 7.1 per cent at last count.
In a speech to business leaders in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, Carney—a rock star in the economic world and former governor of the Bank of Canada—said the rate of unemployment consistent with stable inflation in the medium term “is somewhat lower” than the bank had assessed in August.
“The recovery has some way to run before it would be appropriate to consider moving away from the emergency setting of monetary policy,” Carney said.
He said evidence that inflation is likely to remain subdued because of weak global growth and lower commodity prices also reinforced the need to maintain the current loose policy. In December, consumer price inflation fell to two per cent, the first time in years it met the Bank of England’s official target.
Carney also sought to reassure businesses and homeowners that when the time eventually comes to move away from the current “emergency settings of policy,” any moves would be gradual. To get the U.K. economy out of its deepest recession since World War II, the bank has kept its main interest rate at the record low of 0.5 per cent for nearly five years.
“The degree of stimulus will remain exceptional for some time,” he said. “That should help reassure British business that the path of interest rates will be consistent with a sustained recovery—that is, with escape velocity.”
Carney said the bank’s assessment of how to update its forward guidance will begin with the February Inflation Report, its quarterly economic update. A range of options will be considered, he said.
In the financial markets, some analysts were surprised by Carney’s comments on the forward guidance.
“It seems premature to consign it to the scrap heap just yet, given the threshold was always a ‘staging post’ and not a trigger,” said Michael Hewson, senior market analyst at CMC Markets.