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Investors need to scrutinise UK election promises

10th Jan 24 11:21 am

After the UK Prime Minister’s hints at a general election for the second half of 2024, domestic and global investors are now looking at the political parties’ promises for potential plans for increased levels of spending.

For investors, particularly those engaged in the bond market, the scrutiny of election promises is not merely an exercise in political awareness, but a strategic necessity.

The emergence of vigilantes, a term coined for investors who sell bonds to protest against perceived inflationary policies, has added a new dimension to this dynamic.

The pivotal events of 2022 in the UK, marked by the upheaval caused by a promise of unfunded tax cuts, underscore the critical importance of investors keeping a watchful eye on election promises, as any plans for much greater spending could potentially spark a revolt, in the form of a major selloff, in the bond market – which could upend financial strategies.

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Vigilantes in the bond market play a unique and influential role. They are investors who act as guardians of fiscal responsibility, expressing their dissent against policies that they perceive as inflationary, or economically unsound by selling bonds.

The impact of their actions extends beyond the immediate financial markets, often influencing political decisions and shaping the broader economic landscape.

The turning point for bond market vigilantes in the UK came in 2022 when a promise of unfunded tax cuts sent shockwaves through the financial markets.

Then-Prime Minister Liz Truss, an advocate for these tax cuts, faced a swift and forceful backlash from investors who were concerned about the potential inflationary consequences.

The bond market, being highly sensitive to government policies, became a battleground where vigilantes sought to protect their interests and send a powerful message.

Vigilante actions

Vigilantes don’t operate in isolation; their actions are a response to perceived fiscal irresponsibility. When political parties propose plans for much greater spending, especially if they lack a clear funding mechanism, vigilantes view this as a potential trigger for inflation.

In response, they sell bonds, causing yields to rise and sending a clear signal to the government that their policies are being met with scepticism. This act of protest is a proactive measure aimed at preventing economic instability and maintaining the integrity of financial markets.

The bond market turmoil triggered by the promise of unfunded tax cuts had profound political ramifications. Prime Minister Liz Truss, unable to navigate the storm, resigned from her position.

This incident highlighted the interconnectedness of financial markets and political stability, showcasing how the actions of vigilantes can influence not only economic policies, but also leadership changes. Investors, through their strategic actions in the bond market, became active participants in the political discourse.

Recognising the potential repercussions of the bond market revolt, the Bank of England intervened to restore stability. Central banks, as guardians of monetary policy, have a crucial role in maintaining financial equilibrium.

In response to the turmoil, the Bank of England adjusted interest rates and implemented measures to counteract the market volatility. This intervention reinforced the symbiotic relationship between fiscal policies, the bond market, and the role of central banks in maintaining stability.

These events of 2022 in the UK serve as a stark reminder of the critical role investors play in shaping economic policies through their actions in the bond market.

As political parties unveil their election promises, investors must remain vigilant, particularly when faced with plans for much greater spending.

The rise of vigilantes underscores the importance of holding governments accountable for their fiscal decisions and preventing potential economic instability. The bond market, as a barometer of investor sentiment, serves as a powerful tool for expressing dissent and shaping the economic and political landscape.

As the UK moves forward in this election year, investors need to continue to watch political parties’ promises closely, recognising their ability to influence not only market dynamics, which impact investment returns, but also the direction of the nation’s economic future.

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