Bank of England is on the tightrope in trying to calm the bond market
The UK central bank arrived at its fifth attempt in less than a month to decompress a distressed bond market, when saying on Tuesday it would buy more gilts.
BoE’s attempt to avert a fire sale by pension funds delays its long-planned sales of corporate debt from the bank’s old pandemic-era interventions.
A messy bond market and a wayward government put Governor Andrew Bailey on a tightrope.
UK Government’s plan to cut taxes without backup has strongly hit government bonds, forcing indebted pension funds to drop assets.
In a tricky balancing act, the bank offered to buy only the most battered long-dated securities and at cheap prices, just enough to help the funds honor cash calls without affecting yields.
By doing so, BoE could argue with its pledge to fight inflation. Also, the bank cannot be accused of financing a headstrong government.
Since September, Bailey had to expand support, and Tuesday’s move to buy index-linked bonds would make it its fifth attempt to quell market turmoil in just over two weeks.
Except that the bond market will most probably remain distressed. The signs are there. Firstly, company borrowing costs are surging.
Even low-risk investment grade UK corporate bond yields exceeded 7% on Monday, according to an ICE Bank of America index consulted by Reuters.
This was more than 1.5 percentage points higher than before Truss’s so-called mini-budget.
Also, the gap between the price at which banks will buy and sell gilts is above 5 basis points, up fivefold from a year ago, according to ING analysts.
On Oct.31, Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng is expected to make public its plan to reduce government debt over the medium term.
He needs to cut spending by 62 billion pounds by 2026 to stop debt from rising relative to GDP, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
This is more than the tax cuts announced last month, which makes it politically implausible.
Investors are expecting a strong and convincing fiscal strategy. Otherwise, they may continue to steer clear of UK gilts.
This would mean more pressure for BoE, which could be put between a rock and a hard place: either extending its purchases beyond next week or not trimming its balance sheet as planned.