Last autumn, I debated Jeremy Corbyn in front of a couple of hundred people at the University of Warwick. “This House supports the aggressive redistribution of wealth” was the motion, with the Labour MP arguing in favour and me against.
Back then, Corbyn was a mere backbencher whose biggest claim to fame was his dogged record of voting against his party. Such are the vagaries of politics that, less than a year later, that same member for Islington North is odds-on to be Leader of HM Opposition after the vote of party supporters closes this Thursday.
Back in mid-July, there was much febrile speculation UK interest rates would finally start rising before the end of this year. Amidst signs of stronger US growth, and predictions the Federal Reserve would raise borrowing costs over the next few months, it was widely assumed the Bank of England would follow suit.
Last Thursday, though, as the UK base rate remained at 0.5pc for the seventy-eighth successive month, speculation of a pre-year-end rate rise dissolved, as some of us predicted. Most analysts now forecast, once again, the Bank of England won’t make a move before March 2016.
The pound rose sharply last Wednesday on speculation that the Bank of England will soon raise UK interest rates. The nine-strong Monetary Policy Committee was “unanimous in its decision” to keep rates at 0.5pc, the newly published minutes of its July meeting showed.
That was as expected. The UK’s “bank rate” has been on hold, after all, for no less than 76 consecutive months. “A number of members”, though, are now considering an increase, the latest minutes revealed. And that was what moved the needle, with the pound up over half a cent against the euro the day the minutes were published.
“The final word on quantitative easing will have to wait for historians,” wrote Ambrose Evans-Pritchard last week. Now the US Federal Reserve has apparently ended QE, I’d like to take a cue from my esteemed Telegraph colleague by suggesting what future historians might say.
Last Wednesday, the Fed terminated QE3 – the latest incarnation of its money-creation programme. The American version of this highly unorthodox policy began in late 2008, with the Fed creating virtual balances ex nihilo and purchasing assets such as government debt and mortgage-backed securities, often from bombed-out banks.
The US authorities originally billed QE as a $600bn exercise. By unlocking frozen interbank markets, it was supposed to spur growth, breaking the credit crunch. As meaningful recovery remained elusive, though, QE2 was launched in 2010, with its successor two years later.
In sum, the world’s most important central bank has fired $3,700bn from its monetary bazooka. America’s QE has been six times bigger than envisaged. The Fed’s balance sheet has grew more than three-fold in just over half a decade – an unprecedented monetary expansion. And it’s not just America, of course.
QE – IT’S NO JOKE
A Western central banker is ordering a pizza over the telephone.
“Should I cut your pizza cut into six slices or eight slices, sir?” asks the youthful restaurant staffer.
The central banker pauses and scratches his chin. “Hmmm, now let me see,” he says slowly, weighing every word.
“I’m feeling hungry tonight … so cut my pizza into eight slices, please”.
The central banker then pauses again, asks for a moment and then gives his final instruction.
“Actually, I really am quite famished. Could you slice it into ten?”
As far as most observers are concerned, Mark Carney’s speech at the Mansion House last Thursday boiled down to a single half sentence. The first rise in interest rates since July 2007 “could happen sooner than markets currently expect”, the Bank of England Governor uttered, to assembled City grandees and the wider world beyond. This sparked a frenzy of speculation that rates could start rising from their historic low of 0.5pc, where they’ve been since March 2009, sooner rather than later.
Before Thursday, the consensus expressed in bond and currency markets was that the first rate increase in almost seven years would happen early in the second quarter of 2015. Carney’s after-dinner bombshell changed that, with economists scrambling to update their forecasts.
The Bank of England is increasingly optimistic about the UK growth outlook. Britain remains on course to expand by a very punchy 3.4pc this year, Governor Mark Carney revealed last Wednesday, presenting the latest quarterly Inflation Report. Our economy, then, is now growing at its fastest pace since 2007, prior to the financial crisis. The Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee further upgraded its 2015 growth forecast, from 2.7pc to 2.9pc.
Over the next 2 and a bit years (9 quarters), UK GDP is set to rise at an annual average of no less than 3.1pc. This latest Inflation Report is among the most bullish the MPC has published since it was established 17 years ago. Britain is now moving “from a recovery supported by household spending to an expansion sustained by business investment”, according to Carney. “The economy has started to head back towards normal”.