Mark Carney to lead Bank of England

Last Updated: Mon, Nov 26, 2012 19:42 hrs

The British government on Monday selected Mark Carney, head of the Canadian central bank, to succeed Mervyn King as the next governor of the Bank of England, ending a months-long process in which some of Britain’s most prominent officials vied hungrily for a post that will come with sharply enhanced powers.

The appointment is arguably one of the more significant in the storied institution’s 318-year history in that Carney will, under a new system the government put in place following the financial crisis, take responsibility for the health of the British financial system. In addition, the central bank will directly regulate and oversee banks and other financial institutions.

The pressures facing the new governor are immense. Not only must he make decisions as to whether to continue the central bank’s aggressive money-printing programme aimed at stimulating the economy, he must also ensure that the institutions’s independence and reputation are not sullied by an ongoing investigation into commercial banks’s manipulation of key interest rates.

“This is a new job,” Simon Hayes, an economist at Barclays, said. “Previously, the focus was mainly on monetary policy. Now, it is about financial stability, monetary policy and macro-prudential policy. The key is to get the right mix of policy and making sure there is proper coordination with the Treasury.”

The central bank’s new heft represents a stark shift from the era of light touch regulation that held sway before the crisis, in which the Bank of England’s ability to intervene and take action to issue warnings of financial excess were constrained.

Mervyn King, who will remain in the governor’s post until this summer, has emerged as Britain’s most vociferous critic of irresponsible bank behaviour. But he has also been criticised for acting too slowly in 2007 to take action to bail out Northern Rock, the mortgage lender whose collapse that year marked the onset of the financial crisis.

The central bank will exercise its broader powers through a newly formed Financial Policy Committee, operating inside the central bank and presided over by the governor. It is hoped that the new powers will allow the bank to sniff out early warning signals, like excessive risk taking and borrowing by banks, and move to take action to ward off a crisis — something it was not able to do in 2007.

Reflecting the importance of the position, George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, cast a wide net in searching for a new central bank chief, and took the unusual step of considering candidates who were foreigners, such as Carney, governor of the Bank of Canada. Even the names of prominent investment bankers surfaced, among them Jim O’Neil of Goldman Sachs, underlining the hunger for outside-the-box thinking at the Bank of England.

Other candidates were Paul Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank of England, and Adair Turner, the current chairman of the Financial Services Authority, Britain’s main regulator. The FSA has been criticised for failing to crack down in time on the careless conduct of Britain’s banks.

As the deputy governor of the Bank of England, Tucker, on paper, always seemed the most likely person to take on the top job. Since the early 1990s, he has held numerous senior positions within the bank that kept him in close touch with all areas of the markets. Indeed, his willingness to roll up his sleeves and become an expert in the plumbing of the financial markets made him a good partner to King, a well-known academic whose approach to these matters was always more rarefied.

In fact, it was this very closeness to bankers during the recent scandal over the fixing of interest rates by Barclays that made the competition so tight. Early in the scandal, email exchanges emerged between Tucker and Robert E Diamond, then chief executive of Barclays, that suggested that Tucker may have supported the idea of keeping rates artificially low.

© 2012 The New York Times News Service

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