Hamish McRae: We're buying new cars, but still wary of other big-ticket spending
Sunday 21 April 2013
There will be a lot of attention in the coming weeks to what the new Governor of the Bank of England will or won't do, and there is a danger that expectations will be too high – not so much of him but of the role of central banks in an advanced economy.
As Mark Carney himself pointed out at the IMF gathering: "Can central banks deliver sustainable growth? No. What they can do is provide conditions for growth – price stability, helping with the balance-sheet repair, very importantly helping with the transition... But they cannot deliver long-term growth, which needs to come through true fiscal adjustment and structural reforms."
Much of our problem is that our biggest business bank is the Royal Bank of Scotland group. That of course includes NatWest, which is still struggling to repair its own balance sheet. Devices such as the Bank of England's Funding for Lending Scheme can only help at the margin. New data last week showed that while lending on mortgages is now climbing a little, lending to companies is still shrinking.
In other words, the company sector is still a net re-payer of debt. It is very hard to know to what extent this is companies not wanting to borrow or banks not wanting to lend, but it must to some extent be the latter. Clearly, there will be some extension to the FLS in the months ahead, and there will need to be: Bank of England agents reported that credit demand from businesses large and small was expected to increase in the next three months.
I suppose we will only really know how serious the shortfall in the supply of credit is when loan demand does pick up. Meanwhile, the fact that mortgages are becoming a little easier to obtain will underpin the housing sector, and the question then will be whether, if prices harden even a little, turnover will respond.
Any increase in the number of people moving home boosts demand because they have to kit out the new place. If we are prepared to buy new cars, which we clearly are, will we starting buying more consumer durables too?
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