Thursday, 13 December 2012

What does S&P stand for?

Oh no, Standard and Poor’s (S&P) has revised its outlook on long-term UK government debt from “stable” to “negative”, meaning Britain is more likely to lose its “AAA” rating. Oh no!

Why (oh why) I wonder? Well, it’s because they think it more likely that “within the next two years … fiscal performance weakens beyond our current expectations. We believe this could occur in particular as a result of a delayed and uneven economic recovery, or a weakening of political commitment to consolidation.” Ahh, so “fiscal performance” means onsolidating government finances i.e. cutting the deficit. Ahhhh.

But, hang on a mo, isn’t there a tension between fiscal ”consolidation” i.e. cutting government spending/raising taxes and economic growth especially right now as per the following statement; “We continue to believe the government's efforts over the next few years to engineer the planned correction in the U.K.'s fiscal accounts will likely drag on economic growth”.

Ahhhh. So there is a tension, a proufound contradiction even especially when private sector demand is so weak, between fiscal consolidation and economic growth. I wonder who came out with that mad view? Err, that’d be S&P in the same note setting out why they’ve moved the UK to a negative outlook.

Except, further on S&P then say “We could lower the ratings if we conclude that the pace and extent of fiscal consolidation has slowed beyond what we currently expect. This could stem from a reappraisal of our view of the government's willingness and ability to implement its ambitious fiscal strategy.”. So at the same time as S&P is saying fiscal consolidation is a drag on economic growth they’re also saying they’d probably downgrade the UK if consolidation slowed down?

Oh. I guess you could go off on one here about double-think. Personally, it reads to me more like S&P are setting out their “analytical” prejudices (cut spending, cut spending) and reality, then failing to acknowledge let alone reconcile the two. This would be nice if it was a purely academic exercise, except its not. Or is it? 

Before some dicksplash shouts Greece, Greece like a Pink Lady gone wild, we’ve actually now got a meaningful example of what impact a UK downgrade would have; a month after France lost its “AAA”, French long-term borrowing costs “hit a record low at an auction”. So there you then, a one notch downgrade doesn’t matter diddly right now, which makes sense given there aren’t too many practical alternatives to British government debt i.e. there’s only so much “AAA” Finnish debt to go around.

This reality should be a marvellous and liberating thing for government policy. Now, not only can we get a real, counter-cyclical, debt funded government spending programme (social housing, social housing!) we could do so safe in the knowledge that S&P’s incoherent shite (plus whatever leaks out of Fitch’s and Moodys pants) can be safely ignored. 

We should, but as things currently stand we won’t cos S&P aren't the only people to have those same prejudices plus there's the major and therefore probably politically unpalatable u-turn doing so here would involve, Shame & a Pity really. Sad & Pathetic even. Shysters & Poobahs or is it Sock-Wranglers & Pie-chart-interferers? Nah, its Shite & its avoidable Pish.

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