A week ago, the Bank of England took a stab in the dark. It raised interest rates by a relatively modest half a percentage point to tackle inflation. It couldn’t know the scale of the storm that was about to break.
Less than 24 hours later, the government of new UK Prime Minister Liz Truss unveiled its plan for the biggest tax cuts in 50 years, going all out for economic growth but blowing a huge hole in the nation’s finances and its credibility with investors.
The pound crashed to a record low against the US dollar on Monday after UK finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng doubled-down on his bet by hinting at more tax cuts to come without explaining how to pay for them. Bond prices collapsed, sending borrowing costs soaring, sparking mayhem in the mortgage market and pushing pension funds to the brink of insolvency.
Financial markets were already in a febrile state because of the rising risk of a global recession and the gyrations caused by three outsized rate increases from a US central bank on the warpath against inflation. Into that “pressure cooker” stumbled the new UK government.
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“You need to have strong, credible policies, and any policy missteps are punished,” said Chris Turner, global head of markets at ING.
After verbal assurances by the UK Treasury and Bank of England failed to calm the panic — and the International Monetary Fund delivered a rare rebuke — the UK central bank pulled out its bazooka, saying Wednesday it would print £65 billion ($70 billion)to buy government bonds between now and October 14 — essentially protecting the economy from the fallout of the Truss’ growth plan.