Sterling rose to an eight-month high due to dollar weakness and after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said on Thursday that the Fed will tolerate inflation above 2.0%. This gave investors hope that the Fed will not try and control economic growth, something that could hurt the US dollar in the near future. On the other hand, on Friday, after Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey’s speech, the pound remained unmoved. Both Bailey and Powell gave their speeches at the Jackson Hole central bank symposium which was held online this year rather than at the usual ski resort in Wyoming.

Fed’s decision marks a significant shift in monetary policy

The Federal Reserve has approved a significant change in the way it sets its interest rates by abandoning the usual practice of raising them to control higher inflation, something that will leave US borrowing costs extremely low. By signalling that it wants inflation to rise moderately above its 2% target, the Fed confirmed that inflation targeting in a world of lower interest rates is a thing of the past.

Andrew Bailey’s speech

On Friday, the Governor of the BoE delivered his keynote address to fellow central bankers online and not from the actual ski resort in the Grand Tetons where the conference was traditionally organised since 1982.

In his speech, Bailey said that central banks have a lot of strength to use quantitative easing to manage crises, such as Covid-19. As he noted characteristically, “Go big (and fast) or go home.”

The Bank of England governor did not provide details over short-term policy or on the UK economic situation, but he did reassure the financial community that the Bank will be able to deal with future crises: “We are not out of firepower by any means, and to be honest it looks from today’s vantage point that we were too cautious about our remaining firepower pre-Covid. But, hindsight is a wonderful thing when you have it.”

He also said that the Bank won’t seek to restrict monetary policy until there is significant economic progress: “The committee does not intend to tighten monetary policy until there is clear evidence that significant progress is being made in eliminating spare capacity and achieving the 2% inflation target sustainably. This important step is intended to ensure monetary conditions do not tighten prematurely when there are some initial signs of an economic recovery.”

According to Bailey, QE will be “more long-lived” and that the Bank has the power to fight recessions. In regard to Jerome Powell’s comments from yesterday, Bailey said that these suggest that flexibility can be useful for monetary policy and that a different exchange rate environment could justify different approaches.

The Bank of England increased quantitative easing by £745 billion in June, and in March it cut its main interest rate to a record low 0.1%. A paper with the Bank’s conclusions will be published alongside Bailey’s speech.

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