UK Still Living Beyond it's Means

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has released the latest UK public debt numbers. These figures have a massive influence on the ultimate direction of interest rates, and are important to Jersey as a sterling zone member

Public debt numbers

In 2012/13, public sector net borrowing excluding temporary effects of financial interventions and also excluding the effects of the transfer of the Royal Mail Pension Plan and the transfers from the Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund was £115.4 billion.

This was £3.1 billion lower than in 2011/12.

In 2012/13, public sector net borrowing excluding temporary effects of financial interventions (PSNB ex) was £81.0 billion.

This was £37.5 billion lower than in 2011/12, when it was £118.5 billion.

In September 2013, the £4.0 billion transferred from the Bank of England Asset Purchase Facility Fund to HM Treasury did not reduce the public sector net borrowing excluding temporary effects of financial interventions (PSNB ex).

In September 2013, the £3.2 billion received in cash from the sale of Lloyds banking group shares did not reduce PSNB ex. However, it did reduce the public sector net cash requirement by £3.2 billion and public sector net debt excluding temporary effects of financial interventions by £586 million.

In September 2013, public sector net borrowing excluding temporary effects of financial interventions (PSNB ex) was £11.1 billion. This was £1.0 billion lower than in September 2012, when it was £12.1 billion.

Public sector net debt excluding temporary effects of financial interventions (PSND ex) was £1,211.8 billion at the end of September 2013, equivalent to 75.9% of gross domestic product (GDP).

The central government net cash requirement for the 2013/14 year to date was £39.7 billion, £12.4 billion lower than the same period in 2012/13.

So what does it all mean?

The amount being borrowed each year to make up an income/expenditure shortfall is slowly being reined in. It has been reduced by almost a third under the Coalition but this still means the UK is living beyond its means and that government expenditure continues to be higher than tax receipts.

The national debt is still rising although at a slightly slower rate and has now reached £1.21trn, almost 76% of GDP, and one of the highest absolute debt piles in the developed world.

The absence of sound alternatives for international investors, printing money to buy in gilts, and then issuing new debt at record 300 year low interest rates, is what is making this strategy work for now. But growth is badly needed and is the only long term answer to dealing with the debt mountain which will overhang the British economy for at least the next two decades.

The current UK 'mini recovery' is housing and debt led. By making it easier to get on the housing ladder the UK government is giving a boost to construction and consumer spending. As house prices rise a general feel good factor returns. The problem with this approach is it relies on artificial stimulus and when the stimulus is withdrawn the bubble deflates, creating a requirement for semi permanent support.

This may play well in the run up to the next UK election but it is not addressing Britain's long term structural problems around investment, infrastructure, export performance and education.

The Coalition should be given credit for getting the debt pile under control but they are a long way from the safety zone, and may struggle to raise interest rates from here to more normal levels, until they produce budget surpluses and start bringing the debt mountain down.

 

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