central banks

‘Get this done!’ BoE’s Bailey gives UK funds 3-day deadline to fix problems

Reuters
‘Get this done!’ BoE’s Bailey gives UK funds 3-day deadline to fix problems

BANK OF ENGLAND. A London bus travels past the Bank of England in London, Britain, October 10, 2022.

Hannah McKay/Reuters

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey makes it clear he has no intention of extending purchases of bonds beyond Friday, October 14

Bank of England (BoE) Governor Andrew Bailey said on Tuesday, October 11, that British pension funds and other investors hit hard by a slump in bond prices had just three days left to fix their problems before the central bank would withdraw support.

Only hours earlier, the BoE expanded its program of daily bond purchases to include inflation-linked debt, citing a “material risk” to British financial stability and “the prospect of self-reinforcing ‘fire sale’ dynamics.”

But speaking in Washington late in the day, Bailey was clear that he had no intention of extending purchases of bonds beyond Friday, October 14, when they are due to stop.

“We have announced that we will be out by the end of this week. We think the rebalancing must be done,” Bailey said at an event organized by the Institute of International Finance.

“My message to the funds involved and all the firms involved managing those funds: You’ve got three days left now. You’ve got to get this done.”

Sterling fell more than a cent against the US dollar to its lowest since September 29 after Bailey’s remarks.

Pension funds have scrambled to raise cash since finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng sparked a bond rout on September 23 when he announced the government’s plans for 45 billion pounds of unfunded tax cuts.

The funds were forced to stump up emergency collateral in liability-driven investments (LDI), which use derivatives to hedge against shortfalls in pension pots, after gilts dropped sharply in value.

Many did so by selling gilts, sparking a vicious cycle of falling prices that forced the BoE to pledge to buy as much as 65 billion pounds of long-dated government bonds between September 28 and October 14 to allow a more orderly disposal of assets.

“It’s a big hole,” a pension industry consultant said of the latest moves in markets.

A pensions industry group urged the BoE to extend its bond-buying support beyond its Friday deadline, and possibly beyond the end of this month.

Asked his view on this request, Bailey told Reuters, “I think they need to concentrate on doing everything they need to do to be done by the end of this week.”

Bailey was keen to distinguish between the temporary, financial stability nature of the latest intervention and previous quantitative easing stimulus.

Heavy losses

Inflation-linked gilts, typically held by pension funds and known in the market as linkers, suffered a massive sell-off on Monday, October 10, as the end to the BoE’s program on Friday approached.

At its first buyback of inflation-linked bonds on Tuesday, the BoE bought 1.95 billion pounds’ worth of linkers, the largest single operation of the program so far, but as in previous days less than the maximum it had set. It bought 1.36 billion pounds of standard long-dated bonds in a second operation of the day.

The broader government bond market was more stable than on Monday, although 30-year bonds extended their price slide.

At an auction on Tuesday, Britain’s Debt Management Office received strong demand but had to offer investors the highest return since 2008 to sell 900 million pounds of index-linked gilts due in 2051.

Kwarteng told parliament he was committed to “getting to the bottom” of what had happened in the long-dated gilt market. Some gilts have lost more than 75% of their value this year, reflecting a global rise in inflation and interest rates as well as market suspicion of the government’s budget plans.

Life after death

Investors are worried about what will happen to the market after most of the BoE’s emergency support measures end.

“Eventually, the gilt sell-off could force the BoE back into the market,” Antoine Bouvet, a strategist at ING, said.

The British central bank has postponed until October 31 the start of its sales of gilts – a big step in the unwinding of its quantitative easing (QE) stimulus push over the past decade – in order to launch the emergency purchase program.

Investors are waiting to hear from Kwarteng on how his economic growth plans will be funded, with a major statement and new official economic forecasts also due on October 31.

The International Monetary Fund‘s chief economist said on Tuesday that Kwarteng’s push for growth and the BoE’s attempts to control inflation were akin to people trying to steer a car in different directions.

“That’s not going to work very well,” Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas told a news conference.

The BoE temporarily paused sales of its corporate debt holdings, reflecting broader trouble in British financial markets.

The IHS Markit iBoxx Sterling Corporate Bond Index fell on Monday to its lowest level since 2016.

Simeon Willis, chief investment officer of pension consultants XPS, said he had seen pension funds selling “across the board” to find liquidity.

“We have seen some property funds respond to that, we have seen credit spreads widen, we have seen equities fall – we have seen them coming out of all asset classes,” he said. – Rappler.com

$1 = 0.9066 pounds

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