Sterling is falling. The needed rebalancing of the UK economy calls for a further depreciation of the real exchange rate. If the call by Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, for 25bn pounds in asset purchases at the February meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee delivers a significant decline in sterling, he has delivered a lucky policy strike, despite being outvoted. The big challenge, however, is to connect monetary and fiscal policy more closely, in an effort to promote demand, while enhancing underlying supply. This cannot be done without a rethink of policy towards public investment at a time of historically low real interest rates. The onus is on the government. It must act soon, says Martin Wolf at The Financial Times.
The Bank of England has a case for restarting its asset purchase programme, and may need to increase it by up to £175bn if the economy is running substantially below capacity, a senior policymaker has said. David Miles, in a speech on Thursday, gave a detailed model of how policy should respond to the amount of slack in the economy – something the central bank has generally avoided before, and which moves in the direction of policy guidance favoured by incoming central bank governor Mark Carney. Miles is an external member of the bank’s Monetary Policy Committee, and until this month he was alone in voting for an extra £25bn of asset purchases. But his views appear to be gaining momentum, The Telegraph says.
Motorists face unprecedented financial pain as petrol prices are driven to their highest-ever levels by market speculation and the sliding pound. The cost of filling a family car has already gone up £3.12 this year and petrol is expected to rise by at least another 3p per litre before Easter when higher wholesale prices work through to the pump. The increase has raised the pressure on George Osborne as campaigners urge him to use the Budget on March 20th to cancel a duty increase planned for September 1st and to begin cutting the Treasury’s tax take. They claim that Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, is inadvertently adding to motorists’s woes because policies designed to kick-start the economy are weakening the pound and making commodities denominated in dollars more expensive, writes The Times.
The ‘Big Four’ audit firms will on Friday be accused of a serious breach in alignment with shareholder interests as the Competition Commission reveals the findings of its landmark investigation into their dominance. The watchdog, which will publish its report on Friday, will chastise PwC, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and KPMG, for a deep “misalignment” with shareholder interests. The Commission will make clear that auditors are accountable to shareholzers first and foremost, but will claim that in many instances, auditors and company executives have acted as a cabal to their mutual benefit, and to the exclusion of the interests of investors. The investigation will claim that the relationship between auditors and management has been too cosy and needs to be overhauled, The Telegraph reports.
France is to freeze spending on defence, higher education and research in a frantic bid to meet European Union deficit targets this year, tightening fiscal policy yet further as the country slides into deep slump. The move came as Brussels slashed its 2013 growth forecast for France to just 0.1%, implying a triple-dip recession. Paris had been counting on 0.8% growth. The severity of the downturn has caught officials by surprise. Markit’s survey data for French manufacturing and services fell to 42.3 in February, plunging at the fastest rate since the financial crisis in early 2009. Anything less than 50 signals contraction. Markit warned that the country may be tipping into a “downward spiral” as sliding confidence causes businesses to delay spending. A key gauge of France’s money supply – six-month real M1 – has contracted faster than in Italy or Spain over recent months, pointing to a grim outlook ahead, according to The Telegraph.