Why UK markets and assets are falling

Fiscal policy is too lax — the government is spending wasting and borrowing too much. Markets fear that the government is going to borrow far more than in the budget. Each day brings more evidence of a loss of financial discipline in the public sector.

Monetary policy is still too tight – the banks are still short of cash. The collapse of the mortgage market will mean further falls in house prices, a low level of construction activity, more losses of jobs in the building industry, more declines in commercial property prices and falls in land values.

The squeeze will primarily affect individuals and families. High energy prices, council taxes, the income tax rise and the impact of higher food prices are beginning to hit real incomes. This is going to get worse over the rest of this year, as relatively low wage increases meet rising bills.

Companies have so far been able to pass on quite a lot of their cost increases, with the pain mainly concentrated in financial and property companies. If volumes fall then the squeeze will affect a wider range of commercial businesses.

What could the government do? It could ease the squeeze by cutting out some of its own wasteful excess, and using the money freed partly to cut borrowing and partly to take fuel taxes down to offset some of the price rises. It could with the Bank of England provide more liquidity and lower interest rates to the money markets. Above all it could return what is left of Northern Rock to the private sector, so that once important mortgage bank could stop shrinking its loan book and the taxpayer could get more cash back.

What should the Opposition say? It should keep well ahead in the polls thanks to the economic worries and the gathering dissatisfaction with the squeeze. It could start saying in general terms what action needs to be taken to start to adjust the huge imbalances in the economy created by the wasted Labour years. Gordon has presided over his own version of boom and bust – today it is boom in public spending, and bust in many family budgets.We need some economic stability, which requires a different approach to running the public sector, to get us better service for less cost. We need a government which doesn’t just talk about making long term decisions, but gets on and takes them to provide more water, energy and transport capacity, and deals forcefully with an agricultural system which still does not encourage sufficient production.

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12 Comments

  1. Mark Wadsworth
    Posted June 28, 2008 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    John, agreed. But what we have now is the fall out from the housing and credit bubbles bursting. If you had stayed in government since 1997, hopefully you would have wasted less and taxed less.

    But – and this is the big but – wouldn't lower taxes have had the effect of creating an even bigger housing/credit bubble? What would the Tories have done to prevent these bubbles happening? The previous bubble was under a Tory government, don't forget.

    Reply: The previous bubble was thanks to the European policy of shadowing and then linking to the DM. A Conservative government would have spent and borrowed less.

  2. haddock
    Posted June 28, 2008 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    "….the Bank of England provide more liquidity and lower interest rates to the money markets…."
    John, I'm sure we used to call this 'printing money'. In the good old days we used to make things and sell them at a profit, that made money and we didn't have to 'print it'. We used to have a balance of trade figure that were a topic of conversation. Saving then was said to be a good idea and banks used to use that 'saving' to finance lending. When did it all change and why ?
    I don't understand economics on a grand scale, I know that at household level it is easy, don't spend what you haven't got and if you have to borrow as a last resort, make sure you can repay the money quickly.

  3. William B.
    Posted June 28, 2008 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I wonder how much more damage the current government will do prior to the general election. When facing a back-bench revolt over the 10p tax rate they borrowed a further £2.7billion to buy votes from their own MPs. When facing defeat over 42-days they bought it off with promises of future favours. To try to secure their position in and around Manchester they found £1.5billion for public transport. One might have thought such optional spending would not be incurred when £2.7billion had just been borrowed, but no. Now the Labour Party's finances are in a pickle and signs are that the unions will help them out … at a substantial price to the taxpayer.

    A government that has ruled for 11 years by throwing money at shallow populist initiatives is not going to change tack now. Instead one can foresee yet more expensive but pointless schemes being put into place in a desperate attempt to save seats in marginal constituencies. The outlook is dire.

    No wonder George Osborne cannot put forward detailed figures in many areas, he can have no way of knowing what public debt will be next month let alone in two years' time.

  4. "Sackerson&quot
    Posted June 28, 2008 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Re your penultimate point, my O&C 'O' level English paper (Dec '66) included a question requiring us to compose a letter addressing the need to integrate bus and rail transport. After over 40 years, can we finally do something about it?

    As to your last point, it looks as though world markets will ensure that agriculture has a sunny future, thank goodness, though it comes too late for many UK farmers. Is it time to abolish all EU agricultural subsidies and general interference?

    Reply: Of course it is time to get rid of expensive interventions of the CAP that hinder production where world prices are n ow fien for farmers.

  5. Stephen
    Posted June 28, 2008 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Seriously over-inflated property values (and the credit so recklessly secured against them) are one of the main causes of the financial mess this country is in right now . Lower property values are desperately needed; they would certainly be good news for business, since they would mean lower rents. If people use property as a speculative investment (and many have) then there will never be any stability in the property market any more than there is with stocks and shares.

    Northern Rock went under because it was operating an absurd financial model, that required it to lend ever-increasing amounts to keep paying interest on its own loans. Rather like someone who keeps getting new credit cards to meet their payments on their existing ones. The government would have done better to have attempted to salvage as much as they could for the savers who had money in Northern Rock, rather than bailing out a rotten business.

  6. mikestallard
    Posted June 28, 2008 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Figures:
    We get lost in millions and billions and trillions. They all sound the same – like squillions. Most of us, I suspect, are more comfortable in either tens or thousands of pounds.
    Let's talk in billions (=£1,000,000,000)

    According, last year, to the Adam Smith Institute, the entire Budget for the government, annually, was about £700 billion.
    According to the BBC, personal debt stands at about £1,300 billion.
    According to you a couple of days ago when you made your (excellent) speech, the government debt is £1,500 billion at least.
    According to an article at the bottom of the letters page in the Daily Telegraph a couple of days ago, government bureaucrats cost £161,000 billion a year.
    Apparently the labour Party, with nothing coming in, is now £.025 billion in debt.

    I do not think, somehow, that Gordon Brown is going to leave a bottle of champagne to David Cameron if and when. Nor do I think that his legacy will be anything like as good as Ken Clarke's.

  7. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted June 28, 2008 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    We should tell the water companies that they cannot raise their prices untill the infrastructure has been modernised & expanded . Cash affects behaviour after all ! Mortgage regulation should be streamlined a la in America so that things are not quite so tight regarding the cash that the banks have to lend business & those seeking to buy houses . To rebuild the UK food industry why not take the UK out of CAP & CFP thus ending that disgusting distortion of the economy which costs a bomb and hurts the Third World . Transport spending should be in exchange for greater private investment in more road & rail capability so that private providers are encouraged to build whatever capacity we need . The roads could be built with private funds and those firms could levy tolls to fund repairs and make a profit . The winter heating payment could be raised to £800 p/a to end fuel poverty among the elderly while the basic personal allowance can go up to £12,000 p/a for all taxpayers with the £100 billion p/a QUANGO budget being slashed to fund those measures while poverty creating tax credits can be axed while JSA & IB can be merged to slash economic inactivity . Small & medium sized businesses should be allowed to opt out of as many government & EU rules as possible while Swedish style vouchers can be used to make schools in the UK as good as they are in Sweden and the New Deal can be ended as an expensive failure . As many nuclear power stations need building to ensure low CO2 emmissions , ample supply and a decent price with no public subsidy . Northern Rock should be given twice as long to repay HM Treasury as an incentive to get that bank back into the private sector . The Bank of England should be given the powers needed to stop a Northern Rock style fiasco happening again while having its two year pepetual inflation target restored to the RPI-x measure and be cut to 2% . Over ten years corporate taxes need to be slowly cut to a 10% flat rate avoiding the PSBR getting worse due to a big tax cut happening all at once while giving business the confidence to invest in the UK as in the long term they know taxes on profits are falling year on year . Public spending cannot grow by more than GDP so that in a slump the state gets bigger to boost demand while in a boom government as a share of GDP shrinks . This a logical compliment to the Golden Rule as it ensures the control of public spending needed to deliver a balanced budget over the economic cycle . A citizenship pension can be brought in to undo the pensions crisis by ensuring an end to pensioner poverty while boosting the incentive to save owing to the demise of meanstesting . Does that batch of ideas go someway to tackling the economic problems hitting Britain in 2008 ? Employers have the right to expect productive well educated people to employ after all….

  8. Bazman
    Posted June 28, 2008 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    You have http://www.mcdonalds.com/ and you have http://www.thyssenkrupp.com/ Alllllarrm!
    They have a buffer of manufacturing industry with strong unions.

  9. Derek W. Buxton
    Posted June 28, 2008 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    Sir,

    You say, quite rightly, that the Conservative party would win the next election but what would that mean. Your leader is enamoured of all things green for starters and, with respect, he shows no signs of being capable of standing up to the EU, or even wanting to. So, where do we go from there, Brussels will still make our laws and we will still be paying vast sums of our money for inefficient windmills. Since the treasury will be broke, there will inevitabley be tax increases which most people would expect, after all it happens after every Labour administration, but dropping the "greeny" stupidity would at least give some leeway. Again, however, with Zac in charge I see no hope for that. Now that our Judges have given the green light for the Lisbon Treaty/Constitution Cameron has just the excuse he needs and that is the end of England as we knew it.

  10. Adrian Peirson
    Posted June 28, 2008 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Punish the Bankers, write off all Mortgage debt.

    Get rid of the 100 Billion wasted on Quangos and non jobs.
    Saving 75Billion, It's much cheaper to pay those managers and depts unemployment benefit than high salaries.

    Get out of the EU which costs us at least £20 Billion Net, though God knows where this money goes as the EU cannot account for large parts of its budget and has not had its acounts signed off for 13 yrs.
    Saving 20 Billion

    Get out of the Two Illegal wars, Train Iraqis and Afghans over here whilst drawing down our commitment over there.
    Saving a few Billion

    With regards to Borrowing unbacked paper money, get the Crown to Print its own money free of the interest in borrowing.
    Saving another £20 Billion.

  11. DBC Reed
    Posted June 29, 2008 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Mark Wadsworth and Stephen are surely right, and very measured in tone, in describing the ill effects of property bubbles.Everybody is ignoring the mother of all bubbles when Tony Barber's (CON) fatuous give-away budget in the early Seventies led to 70% house price inflation in two years, a secondary bank collapse and set the pattern for the rest of the century. Enoch Powell declared in November 1970 that the British unions' push for higher wages was merely a reaction to (Conservative) government-induced inflation: distinguished economist Michael Parkin even traces OPEC's decision to up oil prices to western governments' following the Americans in dashes for growth,disregarding balances of payments after Nixon "closed the gold window".
    The Conservatives have lived for a long time off the reputation of being the true friend of the owner-occupier (Labour& Lib Dems appearing more suspect despite huge efforts), but all bets are off, if the banks create an era of level house prices.Conservatives will be back to the Fifties when they will have to tough it out, creating jobs and building houses as Macmillan had toi.

  12. Sandy
    Posted July 2, 2008 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Fine words, and if a Conservative government could deliver they'd have my vote.
    However 80% + of our legislation is set from Brussels and £11bn +pa is lost to Brussels.
    Without a commitment to regain National Sovereignty, our current political parties show themselves to be embedded on the Gravy Train.
    It is a great shame David Davis didn't go the whole hog and stand as an independent Tory. The sheer upwelling of support from old tories disenfranchised by the NuLabour-lite that currently own the Conservatives, might just have got a few minds thinking.

    It is time to think the unthinkable, to consider what wou.ld happen if a referendum rejected Lisbon, then another referendum rejected the EU.
    Let's see some 'what if..' essays and attempts at policy as to how we unwind the mess.
    Do all EU regs stay in place but are made open to challenge in British courts?
    Do we reclaim all our fishing grounds and set quotas ourselves for our European friends, similar to begin with to current EU quotas, but leaning towards the UK as we rebuild our fishing industry?

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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