Sir Edward George is in a very tricky position – the manufacturing industry, which to all intents and purposes is in recession, has been crying out for an interest rate cut to ease its borrowing burdens, while the housing boom continues to be fuelled by the lowest interest rates for decades. He would be damned if he cut, and damned if he didn’t.
As the Liberal Democrat shadow chancellor Matthew Taylor rightly says, the Bank has only one financial instrument to tackle this two-speed economy – while not wanting to fuel an already worrying housing boom, especially in the South East, failure to ease the manufacturers’ pain destroys jobs.
But there is another worrying trend that has been exacerbated by low interest rates – the ever-growing credit boom is feeding through to increasing numbers of personal bankruptcies.
David Buchler, R3 president, says these high numbers of ‘consumer’ bankruptcies may eventually damage the wider economy, especially considering its current reliance on consumer credit. Add to this the easing of bankruptcy procedures and the destigmatisation of becoming bankrupt, and the resulting increase of people simply walking away from their debts could cost the economy dear.
But we are not there yet, and No 11 Downing Street and the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street must be keeping their fingers crossed we never get there.
The housing market will correct itself – current price increases are unsustainable as the first-time buyer, that all important bottom rung of any housing ladder, is being driven out of the market, so sales will become harder to complete.
Consumer credit providers will have a rush of common sense to their heads and might become less generous with their credit.
Leaving room for a cut in interest rates. Fingers crossed.
- Philip Smith is deputy news editor at Accountancy Age.
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