Topsy-Turvy UK Markets Reveal Risks in Policy Responses to the Energy Crisis

The rate and currency shocks in the United Kingdom this week have caused some market participants to compare the UK to emerging market economies. I think it’s a poor comparison. In my view, an important root of the problem was a market mispricing of Bank of England (BoE) messaging and a reversal of government intentions stemming from the energy price shock.

Flip-flopping fiscal policy

Back in August, the BoE forecasted a recession. The recession headline grabbed the market’s attention. However, in my opinion, many missed two key conditions the BoE attached to its recession forecast:

  1. Lack of fiscal response (at the time, the two Conservative candidates for prime minister had shown little appetite for fiscal policy)
  2. Potential for surging utility prices to trigger a demand shock and disinflation

Gilt yields remained at levels that did not account for the conditional risks, the UK’s entrenched inflation dynamics and the potential path for bank rates in my view.

When UK Prime Minister Liz Truss announced measures to limit energy bill increases, the BoE could no longer rely on a demand shock from surging energy prices as a mechanism for disinflation. The market had to adjust to a more aggressive rate path. These developments happened against a backdrop of concerns about the efficacy of UK policy, given the broader growth package announced on 23 September, and broader moves in currency markets.

No magic bullets

The shocks to the UK markets this week revealed how policy responses to the energy crisis can have disruptive effects on market activity and financial infrastructure. Europe has been dealing with similar issues.