Despite decades of trade deficits (spending more on foreign products than foreigners spend on UK products), the UK’s net liability with the rest of the world remains negligible. How does it pull off that trick? By earning a higher return on its foreign assets than it pays on its foreign liabilities.
Paul Schmelzing is a visiting scholar at the Bank from Harvard University, where he concentrates on 20th century financial history. In this guest post, he looks at how global real interest rates have evolved over the past 700 years.
With core inflation rates remaining low in many advanced economies, proponents of the “secular stagnation” narrative –that markets are trapped in a period of permanently lower equilibrium real rates- have recently doubled down on their pessimistic outlook. Building on an earlier post on nominal rates this post takes a much longer-term view on real rates using a dataset going back over the past 7 centuries, and finds evidence that the trend decline in real rates since the 1980s fits into a pattern of a much deeper trend stretching back 5 centuries. Looking at cyclical dynamics, however, the evidence from eight previous “real rate depressions” is that turnarounds from such environments, when they occur, have typically been both quick and sizeable.
Ambrogio Cesa-Bianchi , Chris Redl, Andrej Sokol and Gregory Thwaites
Volatile economic data or political events can lead to heightened uncertainty. This can then weigh on households’ and firms’ spending and investment decisions. We revisit the question of how uncertainty affects the UK economy, by constructing new measures of uncertainty and quantifying their effects on economic activity. We find that UK uncertainty depresses domestic activity only insofar as it is driven by developments overseas, and that other changes in uncertainty about the UK real economy have very little effect.
The Law of One Price (LOOP) is an old idea in economics. LOOP states that the same product should cost the same in different places, expressed in the same currency. The intuition is that arbitrage (buying a product where it is cheap and selling it where it is expensive) should bring prices back into line. Can LOOP help us understand UK inflation? Yes. I find EU prices have much higher explanatory power for UK prices than domestic cost pressures, and the effects of exchange rate changes last longer, but build more slowly than commonly assumed.
Mark Joy, Noëmie Lisack, Simon Lloyd, Rana Sajedi and Simon Whitaker
Trade liberalisation since the 1990s has boosted living standards by raising productivity growth. However, it has been predominantly skewed towards reducing barriers to goods trade, rather than services. Since then, goods-focussed exporters have seen increased current account surpluses, and those focussed on services, have seen increased deficits. Could these developments be causally related? In this post we argue that simple tweaks to a canonical two-country model can generate this result, and building on the Governor’s Mansion House Speech, we present empirical evidence that trade liberalisation has affected current account positions asymmetrically. That suggests future liberalisation of services trade, as well as generating increased gains from trade, could also help to reduce global imbalances.
Tim Pike, Juliette Healey and Carleton Webb
Price inflation for food and drink rose sharply between July 2016 and July 2017, going from minus 2.6% to +2.6%. But could those increases have been even steeper? In this post we examine the evolution of the UK supermarkets sector. Monitoring their pricing behaviour can be important for understanding short-run inflationary developments given the supermarkets’ high share of imported goods, the general volatility of food prices, and the fact that the largest four supermarkets account for over a quarter of UK retail sales. We find that intense competition in the sector has slowed pass-through of higher import prices following sterling’s recent depreciation. We think that competitive pressures will bear down on food price inflation for the foreseeable future, despite pressure on supermarkets’ margins.
Sandra Batten and Dena Jacobs
Many governments around the world pursued policies to free up capital flows from the late 1970s to early 1990s with the aim of boosting productivity. There’s now a debate raging about the costs and benefits of globalisation. While detractors highlight concerns about inequality, supporters of capital liberalisation point to the productivity growth it has fostered. Drawing on a unique UK firm-level dataset that merges data from the ONS business and innovation surveys, we show that foreign-owned companies are more productive than domestically owned firms and that their presence boosts domestic labour productivity. We suggest three reasons why: foreign-owned companies invest more in R&D; they are better managed; and they collaborate with other organisations and promote the diffusion of ideas.
Tim Pike, Phil Eckersley and Alex Golledge
Since our first post, car finance has risen up the agenda of regulators, journalists and policymakers. Here we provide an update on recent developments. Sterling’s depreciation has had little impact on car finance costs: first because pass-through to new car prices has been muted, and second because finance providers have responded by lengthening loan terms and increasing balloon payments rather than upping monthly repayments. Providers are increasingly retailing contracts where consumers have no option to purchase the car at the end. This avoids some risks associated with voluntary terminations, but it creates new risks around resale value. In sum, the industry continues to accumulate credit risk, predicated on the belief that used car values will remain robust.
Thomas Viegas and Emil Iordanov
Since Donald Trump was elected to the Oval Office last November, consumer confidence in the US has picked up notably. But is this post-election rise unusual?
Philip Bunn and Jeremy Rowe
Rising inflation is eroding the spending power of UK households’ incomes. How will they react to that? The answer will make a big difference to the economic outlook. Will they dip into savings and carry on buying the same amount of goods and services, or will they just spend the same and be able to buy less with it? New survey evidence suggests that households intend to do a bit of both with nominal spending increasing by around half of the rise in prices but real consumption also falling. But not all households say they will respond in the same way: households with debts and limited savings to fall back on are less likely to be able to increase spending.