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Osborne faces ?10bn hole in the UK public finances

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BEN SOUTHWOOD

CHANCELLOR?George Osborne is set to run a budget deficit ?10bn or more larger than the ?119.9bn predicted by the budget watchdog during the 2012-13 fiscal year, economists said yesterday.

January’s public borrowing figures, released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), looked positive on the surface, analysts said, with a larger-than-expected surplus of ?11.4bn, ?5bn better than last year.

But analysts said this figure was flattered by seasonal strength in tax revenues and one-off transfers from the bank fund, known as the Asset Purchase Facility (APF), that carries out quantitative easing (QE)?by buying gilts.

“Excluding all the one-off transfers that muddy the waters, borrowing was ?7.5bn higher in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year than in the previous fiscal year,”?said chief Berenberg Bank economist Robert Wood.

Since the 4G auction brought in ?1.2bn less than built into the budget numbers, the budget could be ?10bn worse than predicted by the OBR?in the Autumn Statement, Wood forecast, echoing other economists’ numbers.

“Osborne is very unlikely to be able to say the deficit is falling in his 20 March budget unless he can find some other ways of massaging the figures,” Wood warned.

But the Treasury tried to shift focus onto spending, which was down ?2bn compared to the same month a year earlier, and receipts, which were up, even excluding one-off moves, it said.

Economists also criticised the Treasury for the level of “unnecessary complexity” in the finances.

“All of the messing around with numbers makes it very difficult to see the direction we’re going in,” Item’s Andrew Goodwin said.

Goodwin said all the different ways official bodies state the deficit and borrowing numbers can confuse even economic experts.

And the ONS decision yesterday morning to allow only ?9.1bn of intra-government transfers into the official borrowing numbers over the tax year confused matters further. Since ?2.7bn of this was already taken up by previous transfers, even on the government’s figures, which include one-off QE transfers, it will only be able to include ?6.4bn out of an expected ?11.5bn in its borrowing numbers.

BUDGET DEFICIT: WHAT IS GOING ON?

Q and A

Q Is borrowing going down – as George Osborne said he thought it would in the Autumn Statement – or is it rising?

A So far, 10 months into the 2012-13 fiscal year, borrowing was ?65.8bn – ?26.5bn lower than during the same period in 2011-12. But this includes some one-off windfalls. Excluding the transfer of the Royal Mail pension plan, and the Treasury’s raid on quantitative easing (QE) income, borrowing was ?97.6bn, and therefore ?5.3bn up on 2011-12. Further excluding the ?2.3bn money gained from winding down the Special Liquidity Scheme, it was ?7.5bn higher.

Q So will Osborne officially miss the Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) target?

A The OBR forecast borrowing would be ?119.9bn over the year. Economists are now forecasting Osborne will overshoot the target by ?10bn-?15bn. That is due to higher borrowing and also because the OBR assumed ?11.5bn gained from raiding the Bank of England’s QE?income. Actually this can only bring in a maximum of ?6.4bn, as the target is for public sector net borrowing, which was yesterday defined to not include all the QE income. The OBR also assumed a ?3.5bn gain from this week’s 4G auction (it brought in ?2.3bn).

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Starlight Suite

ECB profits on its Greek bonds

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TIM WALLACE

THE EUROPEAN Central Bank (ECB) made ˆ555m (?480m) in interest income from its Greek bonds, accounts showed yesterday, indicating the whole Eurosystem may have made several billion on the emergency purchases.

That is expected to be divided up among the Eurozone’s national central banks, added to their own earnings and given to Athens.

The ECB made another ˆ553m in interest on other securities bought under the emergency programme, including those of Spain and Italy.

     
     
  Starlight Suite  
 

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CATEGORY: Conference Rooms and Centres

 

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German GDP slumps 0.6 per cent in Q4

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CITY A.M. REPORTER

The German economy shrank in the last three months of 2012, with a plunge in exports driving the contraction.

Seasonally adjusted data from the Federal Statistics Office confirmed an earlier flash estimate showing that German GDP fell by a more-than-expected 0.6 per cent in the last quarter of the year.

It marks the biggest fall since the economy contracted by 4.1 per cent at the start of 2009.

Foreign trade deducted 0.8 per cent from GDP while domestic demand added 0.2 per cent.

The data showed that exports dropped by two per cent in the fourth quarter while imports fell by 0.6 per cent, boding ill for struggling Eurozone states that had hoped to offload more of their goods on Germany, where rising wages, high employment and moderate inflation have boosted domestic demand.

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