Jeremy Hunt comments on Liz Truss' mini budget and mistakes made
The crazy growth-at-all-costs mini-Budget she inflicted on the nation last September, along with her equally deluded Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, created havoc.
The plan was to borrow a heap more money and throw it at the richest in society, in the hope it would unleash an entrepreneurial splurge that would bring back growth and make us all richer.
Instead, it nearly wiped us out.
Calamity Liz triggered a meltdown in the UK government bond, or gilt, market and put the country on the brink of a pension and house price meltdown.
The nation breathed a sigh of relief when the grown-ups entered the room, in the shape of new PM Rishi Sunak and his Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.
They quickly reversed every Truss and Kwarteng policy except the stamp duty cut, while the nation learned a painful lesson about who really runs the country.
Sunak and Hunt restored order and all seemed to be going well.
Today it’s beginning to look like the supposed grown-ups are about to preside over a gilt market meltdown all of their own.
One that is likely to destroys Sunak’s reputation for economic competence, and finally wipe the smile off Hunt’s face.
It’s also another blow for the Bank of England’s reputation, but that’s already so low it can hardly get worse.
So what’s happening and how bad are things going to get?
Inflation is falling but nowhere near fast enough to stop the BoE from hiking interest rates another three or four times.
Rate hikes are a blunt instrument when it comes to cutting inflation, but it’s the only weapon BoE governor Andrew Bailey has at his disposal.
To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, and with UK inflation higher than elsewhere Bailey will keep hammering away.
Base rates could soon hit 5.50 percent, markets reckon, up from 4.50 percent today, and send mortgage rates soaring.
Ultimately, it was rocketing mortgage rates that did for Calamity Liz, as furious homeowners saw their payments soar by hundreds of pounds a month, threatening a house price crash.
UK borrowing costs are now the highest in the G7 and mortgage lenders are hiking rates with Nationwide increasing its deals by almost half a percent yesterday.
Halifax, Lloyds and Virgin Money followed suit, and they won’t be the last.
Asset manager Legal & General added to the sense of disarray by saying gilts are now too risky to invest in. That is truly terrifying – government bonds are supposed to be the safest investment of all.
Borrowing costs are now heading back to Liz Truss levels, with 10-year bond yields jumping to 4.37 percent this morning as nervous buyers demand more interest.
That is only a fraction below the 4.39 percent on Italian bonds, which are the riskiest in Europe. Even when Liz Truss was in her short-lived pomp, UK gilt yields were below Italian levels.
Back then, gilt yields peaked at 4.50 percent. We are only a whisker away from that today.
Which will make Sunak and Hunt sweat, as their biggest selling point is that they were not Liz Truss, and Liz Truss-type things wouldn’t happen on their watch.
But now they are.
Jeremy Hunt displayed immense self-satisfaction as he swept up after the Truss regime but he won’t be feeling quite so pleased now.
His reputation for sound economic management is about to take a beating and Sunak won’t escape the fallout.
Andrew Bailey’s reputation won’t get any worse, because it can’t.
The average homeowner with a variable rate mortgage, or whose fixed-rate deal is coming to an end, has already seen their mortgage costs rise by hundreds of pounds a year.
If base rates do climb to 5.5 percent as expected, they could pay another £200 a month on top of that.
Since voters can’t blame Liz Truss, they’ll blame Hunt and Sunak. Which is a worry because they are expected to fight a general election next year.
In November, Sunak said “mistakes were made” under Liz Truss. So what about today?
Truss aficionados – and there are still some out there – are trying to claim that today’s meltdown vindicates her.
Today’s events don’t exonerate Truss but they do implicate Hunt and Sunak.
If the gilt meltdown intensifies they may soon be sunk, along with the UK economy.
My concern is this. If sound, sensible people can’t prevent a gilt and housing market meltdown, then who on earth can? Keir Starmer?
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