LONDON (Reuters) - The Bank of England tightened its controls on bank credit to more normal levels on Tuesday, deciding the risk had passed of a big hit to the economy and to lending after last year’s Brexit vote.
The BoE’s Financial Policy Committee (FPC) said British banks must now hold 5.7 billion pounds between them as an additional buffer against bad times, and that it will probably double that in November.
After voters decided to leave the European Union a year ago, the FPC cut to zero a requirement that banks create an extra capital buffer as part of a broad range of stimulus measures to help the country cope with the shock.
But the economy has performed more strongly than expected since the referendum, despite some recent signs of a slowdown. Some of the central banks’ interest rate setters now think it is time to raise its main interest rate.
BoE Governor Mark Carney said the FPC’s action did not in itself imply that monetary policy was also about to tighten.
“Monetary policy is the last line of defence to address financial stability issues,” Carney told a news conference.
“In that regard, we don’t need monetary policy to do our job. In fact, by doing our job we allow monetary policy to focus on its job which is returning inflation sustainably to target in an exceptional period.”
British inflation is above the BoE’s target at 2.9 percent and is set to rise higher as sterling’s fall since last year’s Brexit vote feeds through into prices. Carney expect this will be temporary but other policymakers say it could have a lasting impact and want to lift interest rates off their record low.
The FPC declared that risks to Britain’s economy from its financial system were back at a “standard” level and that banks should set more money aside in case of a future downturn.
To do that, the FPC raised its counter-cyclical capital buffer (CCyB) - which rises and falls along with the ups and downs of the economy - to 0.5 percent from zero, with a one-year implementation phase.
It expects to raise the buffer to 1 percent in November, the level that reflects an economy that is running normally.
The BoE also said regulators would publish tighter rules on consumer lending next month and it would bring forward to September from November its checks on whether banks could cope with consumer loans losses.
J.P. Morgan economist Allan Monks said the BoE’s move on Tuesday was modest and probably reflected signs that consumer lending has already started to slow after growing at its fastest pace in 11 years in late 2016.
“The BoE’s response to the strength in consumer lending was towards the milder end of the range of potential outcomes,” he said.
Bank shares fell after Tuesday’s BoE announcement but quickly recovered to their levels earlier on Tuesday.
The BoE also said it was concerned that lenders were placing too much weight on recent low losses, which could only be achieved in the current benign conditions.
“As is often the case in a standard environment, there are pockets of risks that warrant vigilance,” the BoE said.
Existing restrictions on high loan-to-income mortgage lending were likely to stay for the long term, the BoE said, and it also tweaked the rate against which lenders must test borrowers’ ability to repay their mortgages.
On Brexit, the BoE said it was continuing to oversee banks’ preparations for Britain leaving the EU in 2019, including the possibility of an abrupt exit without any trade deal, potentially cutting off banks from their European customers.
The BoE warned of risks from China where private-sector borrowing is more than two and a half times annual economic output. “High debt makes China vulnerable to shocks. This could affect the global economy and UK banks,” it said.
It also warned that British corporate bonds and commercial real estate may be overvalued. Both had their valuations boosted by low interest rates, but these did not appear to take into account how low interest rates reflected a weak economic outlook.
Additonal reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by William Schomberg/Jeremy Gaunt