By Jason Douglas
Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney is under fire from those who championed Britain's exit from the European Union as he decides how long to stay on the job at a critical juncture for the country.
The Canadian-born central banker has been hailed by supporters who argue his swift and authoritative response to the June referendum averted a market panic that risked destabilizing the global economy. But he also faces an unusual level of hostility from some political quarters, echoing a wave of criticism against central banks around the world. His pre-referendum warnings about the potential cost of leaving the EU infuriated a number of pro-Brexit lawmakers, many ofwhom want to see him go.
Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament and longtime campaigner Brexit campaigner, tweeted Sunday that Mr. Carney should step down. "He politicized his office inexcusably," he said. Calls for Mr. Carney's resignation have also come from Jacob Rees-Mogg, a prominent member of the ruling Conservative Party, and Nigel Lawson, who served as Treasury chief under Margaret Thatcher.
Mr. Carney has promised the government he will decide before the end of the year whether to leave as initially planned in mid-2018, after five years in the job, or stay an extra three to complete a full eight-year term as governor. He opened the door in late 2015 to serving eight years, and expectations have grown that he would stay on -- at least until the Brexit vote brought him into conflict with some lawmakers.
If Prime Minister Theresa May triggers a two-year window for EU divorce talks before the end of March as pledged, that means Mr. Carney could leave before the U.K. formally withdraws from the 28-member club. Some investors say a departure at such a critical turning point for the U.K. could undermine confidence in the economy, rattling already unsettled financial markets.
As a result, pressure is growing on Mr. Carney to quell speculation over his future with a decision sooner rather than later. An opportunity will come this week when he is due to present the bank's latest forecasts for growth and inflation Thursday.
"These are testing times for the U.K., and we need the stability of a strong central bank, and a strong government as well," said Grant Peterkin, a fund manager at Lombard Odier Investment Partners, which has around $50 billion in assets under management.
Speculation about his future has reached fever-pitch in Britain, especially since Mr. Carney told lawmakers last week that he was still reflecting on his decision. Hedeclined to comment for this article.
The decision comes at a time of heightened political scrutiny of central banks in Europe and Asia. In the U.S., Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen has come under fire from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has accused her of holding down interest rates for political reasons.
In the run-up to the U.K.'s EU referendum, Mr. Carney became a lightning rod for criticism from the pro-Brexit camp, which was incensed by the central bank governor's perceived bias in favor of continued EU membership.
He has shrugged off such criticism but has more recently drawn flak from a more unexpected source: Mrs. May, who at the Conservatives' fall party conference took a public swipe at the BOE's easy-money policies. Low interest rates have aided the rich and done little for the poor, she said, because they penalize savers.
Mr. Carney later responded that the BOE -- which operates independently from the government -- was "not going to take instruction on our policies from the political side."
Seeking to ease the tension, Treasury chief Philip Hammond has said he would be "delighted" if Mr. Carney carried on. He has also sought to reassure investors and Parliament that the government has no plans to revisit the BOE's inflation-fighting remit or undermine its cherished independence, which economic orthodoxy holds is essential for effective monetary policy.
Greg Clark, Britain's business secretary, added his name to the list of Mr. Carney's supporters on Sunday, saying in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. that the central bank chief had done "a tremendous job."
Mr. Carney has yet to formally discuss his future plans in depth with Mr. Hammond, according to a person familiar with the matter. The central bank chief has said his decision on whether to remain at the BOE's helm beyond mid-2018 willbe an "entirely personal decision" and stressed the potential disruption to his young family's schooling from a longer stint in the U.K.
"Like everyone, I have personal circumstances that I have to manage," he told a parliamentary committee Tuesday. "This is a role that requires total attention, devotion, and I intend to give it for as long as I can."
Mr. Carney and his colleagues on the BOE's Monetary Policy Committee will decide Thursday whether they need to ease policy further this month to support the economy, after launching a multipronged stimulus in August to cushion the U.K. economy from any potential Brexit shock. Most economists expect officials to hold off for now, after data showed that growth held up better than expected in the three months since the vote.
The BOE in August cut its benchmark interest rate to a new low of 0.25% and revived a crisis-era bond-buying program. The central bank said it expected the economy to slow as uncertainty triggered by the decision weighs on business investment and accelerating inflation pinches consumer spending.
In August, it forecast little growth in the second half of 2016, and officials telegraphed that they expected to trim their benchmark rate closer to zero before the end of the year if growth panned out as they predicted. But the economy has performed better than the BOE anticipated, and much more strongly than some of the gloomier forecasts issued by economists before the Brexit vote.
Official data Thursday showed the U.K. economy expanded 0.5% in the three months after the referendum, an annualized pace of 2%. The BOE in August had penciled in growth of just 0.1% after a spate of dire business surveys. Its staff later revised the forecast higher, to 0.3%.
Economists now think the BOE will hold its fire, preserving what little room it has to cut short-term interest rates until the direction ofthe economy becomes clearer.
"It makes perfect sense to wait and see," said Peter Dixon, an economist at Commerzbank in London.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 30, 2016 18:09 ET (22:09 GMT)
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