Bank of England’s home truths for savers
I did not expect the rather uncompromising tone that I received from the Bank of England’s Charlie Bean on the fate of Britain’s savers. I had thought that they would focus on contrition for the financial position of the prudent pensioners who had saved to supplement their retirement.
And while the deputy governor did say he “fully sympathised”, the tone of the rest of the interview indicated a bank trying to communicate some home truths to savers.
So he pointed out that savers rode “swings and roundabouts”, that many of the older savers suffering now would have rode the house price boom to large capital increases. He said that right now it might make sense for savers to “eat into” their capital.
“Savers shouldn’t see themselves as being uniquely hit by this. A lot of people are suffering during this downturn,” he said.
Even more candidly, he twice corrected my assertion that the impact on savers was an unfortunate side effect. Squeezing savers in order to make the spend more, is the point of policy, not a side effect.
The “savings squeeze” is one of those fundamental changes to the way the UK economy works, which is rarely discussed or debated. It is the organic, natural, unavoidable consequence of attempting to save the economy from the ravages of a once-in-a-century financial crisis.
But the slashing of interest rates and printing of money does have a clear distributional impact.
Put simply, at least temporarily, savers have been crushed at the expense of borrowers. The prudent have been sacrificed at the altar of the feckless. Pensioners who have saved meticulously for a modest retirement have lost thousands from their annual income, whereas buy-to-letters with ten properties and a tracker mortgage have gained thousands per month.
The headline official figures suggest that, yes, the slashing of interest rates to 0.5 per cent has pumped a net £8bn into UK households per year. But that consists of a £26bn boost to borrowers, and £18bn taken away from the income of savers. There are winners and losers in society from interest rate rises.
All credit to the Bank for taking this issue head on. It is the issue about which Mervyn King receives the most letters. I have a feeling that the answers given by Charlie Bean won’t satisfy aggrieved savers.
Even more importantly, we are constantly told by politicians and the Bank that increasing Britain’s savings rate is our long term way out of avoiding absurd credit and property bubbles. The issue is that the Bank does not want anybody to do this right now. It is the so-called “paradox of policy”, and more on that tomorrow.