Bank of England makes the first move in its goal to ease investors
Governor Andrew Bailey decided, on Wednesday, to buy UK government debt and postpone selling down the Bank of England’s 857 billion pound bond portfolio.
This move, although risky, would allow him to raise the key interest rate more easily. Bailey needs to calm down investors and convince the markets he can tighten monetary policy.
The BoE described the purchases of the UK government debt, known as gilts, as “temporary and targeted” but said they would take place at an “urgent pace” until October 14.
Since Prime Minister Liz Truss decided to slash taxes, the yield on 10-year UK government bonds went up by over a percentage point.
That happened last Friday, when UK Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s plan for debt-funded tax cuts — unveiled without the usual scrutiny from the Office for Budget Responsibility — drove investors to dump UK assets, creating turmoil in the markets.
Now, BoE needs to convince investors its willing to increase interest rates, with all the costs this carries: stalling economic growth and higher borrowing costs for everybody.
The timing couldn’t be worse since plans to reverse the policy of quantitative easing were prepared. That involves shrinking the portfolio of bonds the central bank acquired during recent financial and economic crises.
Next year, holdings amounting to 80 billion pounds have to be cut for this quantitative tightening. Also, asset managers and investors have to buy more bonds even as the government cranks up borrowing.
The reaction of the markets to this: by Wednesday morning UK 30-year benchmark bonds had fallen over 20% in value since Friday.
Analysts from UBS estimate issuance of gilts will reach 355 billion pounds in the year ending March 2024. That’s more than the last three years combined.
The signs that government bond markets were starting to function poorly were there. The widening gap between the rate at which brokers will buy and sell bonds, the so-called bid-ask spread, is one of them.
After the announcement of Andrew Bailey, bond yields dropped sharply, a sign that BoE’s move was efficient.
Nevertheless, there is a risk to seeing this as a subsidizing of the same actor that created turmoil in the markets with its policies, hence the government.
A price that BoE is willing to pay for a more orderly bond market, and for helping its tightening of monetary policy.