UK borrowing costs jump again as BoE sticks by bond plan deadline


People queue for food in the financial district of Canary Wharf, London, Britain. Reuters

British government borrowing costs jumped again on Wednesday after Bank of England (BoE) Governor Andrew Bailey told pension funds they had three days to fix liquidity problems before the bank ends emergency bond-buying that has provided support.

The 20-year gilt yield hit its highest in 14 years at 5.141 per cent, and 30-year yields passed 5 per cent for the first time since the BoE began buying bonds on Sept.28 to try to calm turmoil triggered by Prime Minister Liz Truss’s tax cut plans.

But the pound rose over 1 per cent, recovering from falls sustained late on Tuesday after Bailey delivered his blunt message on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington.

“We have announced that we will be out by the end of this week. We think the rebalancing must be done,” he said.

“My message to the funds involved and all the firms involved managing those funds: You’ve got three days left now. You’ve got to get this done.”

British financial markets have been under strain since new finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng announced the string of tax cuts with no details of how they would be paid for on Sept. 23.

Kwarteng and Truss say the cuts are needed to get Britain’s economy growing again. Data published on Wednesday suggested it was heading for recession.

The surge in borrowing costs has hammered some pension funds, prompting the BoE to launch the bond-buying programme, the maximum daily size of which it doubled on Monday and then expanded to include inflation-linked bonds on Tuesday.

Yields rose across maturities on Wednesday with the sharpest increase in 30-year gilts. Yields for index-linked bonds also rose.

Investors are nervous that Friday’s deadline for the end of the BoE’s bond-buying might come too soon for some funds.

“Bailey has to give the message that the BoE is ready to walk away but fundamentally there has to be a big question mark over that and whether the BoE carries on, or whether financial stability risks continue and the BoE comes back to the market,” Daiwa Capital Markets’ head of economic research Chris Scicluna said.

The Financial Times reported that the BoE had privately suggested to bankers that it could carry on buying bonds beyond Friday’s deadline if market conditions demanded it, citing three sources briefed on the discussions.

But a BoE spokesperson said it had been made “absolutely clear in contact with the banks at senior levels” that the Friday deadline will hold.

The central bank said on Tuesday that the situation posed a “material risk” to financial stability.

On Wednesday, it said it was “closely monitoring” liability-driven investment (LDI) funds, which are key to pension funds, ahead of Friday’s deadline.

Bailey and other BoE officials stress their bond-buying – at time when they were supposed to be selling government bonds to wind down their huge economic stimulus – is temporary.

They must also ensure they are not perceived to be bailing out the government by being forced into a more permanent support programme, Luke Bartholomew, senior economist at abrdn, said.

“While the Bank certainly needs to re-assert its independence and the primacy of its price stability mandate, it is far from clear how credible such statements are given the degree of vulnerability exposed in the gilt market,” he said.

Doubts over whether the BoE will be able to start selling bonds on its balance sheet were also rising.

“Now that selling is probably going to happen, but perhaps not immediately,” said Michel Vernier, head of fixed income strategy at Barclays Private Bank.

“For the BoE, it’s not about the level of yields but the speeds of the move.”

Others said demand for British debt was unlikely to improve until confidence in the government’s growth and fiscal plans was restored.

“To a global investor the UK looks a mess and therefore global investors don’t want to step in and buy yields at attractive levels until the UK gets its house in order,” said Craig Inches, head of rates and cash at Royal London Asset Management.

Meanwhile the Bank of England sought to ease concerns about this week’s expiry of its programme to calm turmoil in the government bond market, announcing on Monday new safety net measures including a doubling of the maximum size of its debt buy-backs.

After finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng last month triggered a bond market rout with plans for unfunded tax cuts, the BoE said on Sept. 28 that it would temporarily buy up to 5 billion pounds ($5.53 billion) a day of gilts of at least 20 years’ duration.

So far, the BoE has bought far less than the minimum daily limit, but on Monday it said it was taking further steps to ensure the scheme concludes smoothly.

“In the final week of operations, the Bank is announcing additional measures to support an orderly end of its purchase scheme,” the British central bank said in a statement.


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