Osborne Says Markets Back Him as He Shrugs Off U.K. Cut
“We have not seen excessive volatility in markets,” Osborne told lawmakers in London today after Moody’s Investors Service cut the U.K. to Aa1 from Aaa. “This government’s economic policy is tested day in and day out in the markets and it’s not been found wanting today.”
The chancellor, who has repeatedly referred to retaining the top rating as a test for his economic policy, was speaking after the opposition Labour Party tabled an emergency question on the downgrade in Parliament. Investors often ignore ratings changes, as evidenced by the fact that U.S. and French sovereign yields are lower than they were when rating companies downgraded the nations over the past two years.
U.K. 10-year bonds were little changed today, with the yield on the debt at 2.11 percent as of 4:00 p.m. London time. That compares with a record low of 1.407 percent on July 23 and an average of 3.945 percent in the past decade. Still, the pound weakened against 14 of 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg. It fell 0.4 percent against the euro, taking its decline this year to 7.1 percent.
Osborne said the reasons for the downgrade were not to do with his policies and he cited Moody’s analysis of the weak global economic backdrop and a “necessary” deleveraging.
In its report, Moody’s blamed the rating cut on the “continuing weakness” of the economy and the challenge this poses to Osborne’s fiscal plans. It said part of the poor U.K. outlook is due to the “anticipated slow growth of the global economy.”
Yields on sovereign securities moved in the opposite direction from what ratings suggested in 53 percent of 32 upgrades, downgrades and changes in credit outlook last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg published in December. That’s worse than the longer-term average of 47 percent, based on more than 300 changes since 1974. Investors ignored 56 percent of Moody’s rating and outlook changes and 50 percent of those by S&P.
With the opposition calling for a rethink of Osborne’s fiscal squeeze, Osborne said the downgrade by Moody’s was a “warning to anyone who thinks we can run away from dealing with our problems.”
Labour’s Treasury spokesman Ed Balls said Osborne is in “complete denial, offering more of the same failing medicine.”
“The chancellor needs to get out of his denial and get a new plan on growth, jobs and the deficit that will actually work, or the prime minister will have to get a new chancellor,” Balls said in Parliament.
Britain’s debt as a percentage of gross domestic product will climb to 98 percent next year from 90 percent last year and 95.4 percent in 2013, the European Commission said in its winter forecast on Feb. 22.
Osborne said in his autumn statement Dec. 5 that he’s no longer likely to meet his target to begin cutting the burden of government debt in 2015-16. Standard & Poor’s put the U.K.’s rating on a negative outlook a week later.
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