x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Big test for man who won’t be King at the Bank of England

The appointment of the Canadian Mark Carney as the next governor of the Bank of England raised many eyebrows in the financial world. But analysts say the head of Canada's central bank is unlikely to approach the challenges of the job in the same way as the meeker incumbent.

Mark Carney will take the reins as Governor of the Bank of England next year. REUTERS / Chris Wattie
Mark Carney will take the reins as Governor of the Bank of England next year. REUTERS / Chris Wattie

In February 2010, the world's finance chiefs wrapped up warm and headed to the northern Canadian outpost of Iqaluit, just 315km south of the Arctic Circle.

Wearing duck-down parkas to insulate themselves from temperatures far below 0°C, the guardians of the global economy went dog-sledding on the town's frozen bay.

While Sir Mervyn King, the Bank of England (BoE) governor, grimly clung on at the back of a sledge, his Canadian counterpart sped away, driving a pack of huskies pulling his own sled across the ice.

On Monday, the day after watching one of his four school-age daughters play ice hockey in downtown Ottawa, that dog-sled driver, Mark Carney, was named by the UK finance minister George Osborne as the first ever foreigner to run the 318-year-old Bank of England - and, at 47, its youngest boss in more than half a century.

"We needed the best, and in Mark Mr Carney we've got it," Mr Osborne said at the end of a 10-week official search after the Canadian's virtually unique blend of experience in banking, policymaking and regulation beat other contenders.

Having appeared as recently as August to rule out any interest in the job, Mr Carney was wooed by Mr Osborne to take a position he never applied for and was offered the post last week.

He negotiated an annual salary of £624,000 (Dh3.6 million), including a pension contribution. His five-year term will be shorter than the eight years that were offered because of his desire not to remain in central banking for longer than a decade and because his term as the chairman of the international Financial Stability Board (FSB) also ends in 2018.

Mr Carney will make the transatlantic switch having spent five years overseeing a Canadian economy that bounced back from the 2009 global slump faster than the United Kingdom, largely because its banks did not require bailouts.

By contrast, the UK still is flirting with recession, facing the biggest fiscal squeeze since the Second World War and trying to plot a future for its rescued financial sector.

Unlike other British contenders, such as Sir Mervyn's deputy Paul Tucker, Mr Carney will oversee an overhaul of the central bank free of the taint of banking scandal and of having been inside the country's policymaking when it failed to spot the looming financial stress and then proved sluggish to respond.

Three reports commissioned by the Bank of England's governing body and published this month criticised its hierarchical culture and said staff must be allowed to be more assertive. Mr Tucker, the bookmakers' favourite, has worked at the central bank for three decades and was recently embroiled in the Libor rigging scandal.

Mr Carney "is head and shoulders above the other candidates", says David Blanchflower, who helped set UK interest rates until May 2009 and now teaches at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

"He's going to come in with a big broom and sweep clean at the Bank of England, which is what is needed."

Mr Carney, the son of teachers born in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, a town of 2,500 located about 6,300km from London, is no stranger to the UK.

Married to a Briton, he followed a degree from Harvard University with a doctorate in economics from Oxford University and spent time in the UK capital during 13 years at Goldman Sachs. He will seek British citizenship.

"It was two decades ago that I started my first proper job here as a credit analyst," Mr Carney told the Canada-UK chamber of commerce in a November 2008 speech.

"I came to London at the time because it really did appear poised to reassume its role as a centre of global finance."

Half a decade since the outbreak of the global turmoil, that status is still under threat after a series of trading scandals, most recently over Libor.

As the government seeks to avoid a repeat of such strife, Mr Carney will run a Bank of England with increased responsibility for UK financial control as home to regulators overseeing all deposit-taking institutions, insurers, investment banks and clearing houses. He also will lead the financial policy committee, charged with addressing risks to the broader financial system.

"The new system puts the BoE at the centre and has the BoE calling the shots, so next time there's a financial crisis, the finger will be pointed at the BoE," says Richard Barwell, a former Bank of England official who is now an economist at Royal Bank of Scotland.

Mr Carney already has experience rewriting the rules of finance at a global level as chairman of the FSB for a year, a position he will retain after he leaves Canada.

He has pushed for tougher regulations for global lenders and clashed with banking executives, such as Jamie Dimon, the JPMorgan chief executive, over requirements to hold more capital, saying the case for tougher rules is "as clear today" as it was when the crisis began.

"Measures to strengthen financial stability support economic growth and create jobs rather than hold them back, even in the short term," Mr Carney said this month in Montreal.

Mr Carney, one of Time magazine's most influential people of 2010 and this year's Euromoney central banker of the year, will also take the helm of the MPC. It has left the benchmark interest rate at 0.5 percent for three years and is mulling whether to bolster a £375 billion asset-buying programme.

While the UK economy just emerged from its first double-dip recession since the 1970s and the government is enforcing austerity, inflation has run above the bank's 2 per cent target since 2009.

Mr Carney, who raised Canadian borrowing costs three times in 2010 and has held the policy rate at 1 per cent since then, is alone among Group of Seven central bankers in still suggesting an inclination to raise borrowing costs.

He has refrained from asset purchases as Canadian banks continued to expand lending. Instead of quantitative easing, Mr Carney introduced a "conditional commitment" in 2009, when he said the benchmark rate would remain at its lowest possible level for 15 months.

As of August 31, the Bank of Canada's balance sheet was C$72.7bn (Dh268.63bn). The Bank of England's was £414bn on November 21.

That suggests the Bank of England may adopt a "slightly less dovish culture" in the future, says Philip Rush, an economist at Nomura International in London, adding that Mr Carney's appointment makes him less confident the Bank of England will extend quantitative easing beyond the £50bn he expects in February.

Still, weak demand for Canada's exports has handcuffed Mr Carney's ability to raise borrowing costs, and the Bank of Canada's interest rate pause, the longest since the 1950s, has helped fuel record levels of household debt he now calls the country's the biggest domestic economic risk.

In his current job, Mr Carney has been "somewhat hawkish in words, but dovish in action", Avery Shenfeld, the chief economist at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, said in a note to investors on Monday.

Robert Wood, a former Bank of England official until he recently moved to Berenberg Bank, says Mr Carney also may be "more creative than Sir Mervyn", given the Bank of Canada's past willingness to give time frames for low rates and more specific economic forecasts.

Mr Carney oversaw a complete change in the membership of the central bank's interest-rate-setting panel since he was named governor at the end of 2007, under the Canadian system that gives him total legal authority for monetary policy. .

He may have more difficulty wresting control of policymakers in England. He recently criticised Andrew Haldane, the Bank of England's executive director for financial stability, for saying new bank regulations are too complex, according to a Euromoney interview.

"Mr Carney has headed an institution where the governor effectively makes policy decisions on his own, and it remains to be seen whether he can effectively govern the more diffuse power structure" at the Bank of England, say Bricklin Dwyer and David Tinsley, BNP Paribas economists, in a report. Mr Carney also "will have a steep learning curve mastering the intricacies of the UK economy", they add.

"I'm going to where the challenges are greatest," says Mr Carney.

"This is a major challenge, a major opportunity."