Mark Carney takes the Bank of England helm today facing a struggle to make his policies count more than those of his U.S. counterpart for U.K. government debt.
Gilts ended their worst quarterly performance since 2008 last week after a selloff fueled by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s outline for reducing U.S. asset purchases. The securities made a loss even as outgoing Bank of England Governor Mervyn King sought to persuade fellow Monetary Policy Committee members to add stimulus and amid speculation Carney will introduce new policy tools to boost growth.
“Gilts have pretty much tracked U.S. Treasury notes and we think that’s a little bit surprising, frankly, because as many MPC members have been keen to tell us in the last couple of weeks, the U.K. economy is not in the same place as the U.S.,” Michael Amey, a money manager at Pacific Investment Management Co. in London, said in a June 28 interview on Bloomberg Television’s ‘The Pulse’ with Francine Lacqua and Guy Johnson. “The U.K. has overshot and rate hikes here are a long way off.” Pimco, based in Newport Beach, California, manages the world’s biggest bond fund.
The benchmark 10-year gilt yield climbed to 2.59 percent on June 24, the highest since October 2011 and up from a record-low 1.41 percent set on July 23 last year. The rate fell two basis points to 2.42 percent at 4:35 p.m. London time, still below its five-year average of 3.03 percent.
U.K. government bonds lost 3.9 percent in the second quarter, their worst performance since the three months ended June 2008, Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes show. Securities in the Global Broad Market Sovereign Plus Index lost 1.7 percent in the same period, set for the worst performance since the end of 2010.
Fixed-income assets tumbled after Bernanke said on May 22 the Fed could cut the pace of its bond purchases, known as quantitative easing, if policy makers saw indications of sustained economic growth. The central bank may reduce monetary stimulus this year and end it in mid-2014, he said on June 19.
“The U.S. QE tapering talk has clearly hit all sovereign yields globally, including gilts, as investors start to worry that the massive flood of monetary stimulus is going to start ebbing,” said John Wraith, a fixed-income strategist at Bank of America Corp. in London. “We do think the selloff is overdone, and that yields will come a bit lower of their own accord. But we very much doubt we’ll see them go back towards their lows, because that would take full QE commitment from the BOE, and probably the Fed, and both look unlikely to us.”
Gilts’ 3.8 percent drop last quarter was the biggest among 26 sovereign-debt markets tracked by Bloomberg and the European Federation of Financial Analysts Societies indexes with New Zealand and Denmark the next-worst. German government securities fell 1.8 percent and U.S. Treasuries slumped 2.3 percent.
Gilt yields were also boosted as data showed the economy is gaining momentum after a return to growth in the first quarter. The Office for National Statistics revised higher 2012 data last week to show that the U.K. avoided a second recession, as previously reported. Data last month showed services, construction and manufacturing all grew in May, supporting the case for the Bank of England to refrain from more bond buying.
The U.K.’s bond-buying target has been unchanged at 375 billion pounds ($572 billion) since July last year, and the central bank completed its last round of purchases in November. Minutes of King’s final MPC meeting published on June 19 showed he suffered a fifth consecutive defeat in a push to expand quantitative easing. The benchmark interest rate has been at a record-low 0.5 percent since March 2009.
“We’ve stopped doing QE before the U.S. even suggested it might happen,” said George Buckley, chief U.K. economist at Deutsche Bank AG in London. “At 1.60 or 1.70 percent, gilt yields are too low unless you believe growth will stagnate for a long, long time.”
The rate on 10-year gilts will fall 17 basis points to 2.25 percent by the end of the year, according to the median of 22 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. U.S. 10-year yields will end 2013 at 2.35 percent, separate forecasts show.
Carney’s scope to hold down gilt yields as the Fed exits its bond-purchase plan is “limited,” especially on securities due in more than five years, according to Sebastian Mackay, an investment director for fixed income at Standard Life Investments, Edinburgh’s largest fund company. “The principal driver of the rise in gilt yields has been the realization that the point of maximum global monetary stimulus has probably passed,” he said.
Carney may opt to introduce some form of forward guidance or other growth-nurturing tools, which would “add credibility,” according to Mackay. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne revamped the central bank’s remit in March to give policy makers more flexibility to add to stimulus.
“He is more likely to pursue other policy innovations including guidance in particular” and “see QE as a sort of nuclear option to be relaunched if something goes badly wrong, rather than a policy for use in the current relatively steady state,” Wraith at Bank of America said. “We don’t think U.K. QE is coming back.”