Comment: Bond-buying pays off for Ben Bernanke

Scott Reid. Picture: Greg Macvean
Scott Reid. Picture: Greg Macvean
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FEW Federal Reserve decisions have been as eagerly awaited as last week’s. Which could have made the no-change decision something of an anti-climax.

In the event, markets soared as Fed chairman Ben Bernanke confounded economists and commentators by refusing to taper the central bank’s massive monthly bond-buying programme.

There’s a feeling in some camps that the decision may have been linked to Bernanke’s imminent retirement – a case of passing the buck to the new incumbent.

Yet, the vexed question of whether or not to rein in the Fed’s programme of quantitative easing at this month’s meeting appears to have been a close call.

The head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis, James Bullard, has described the decision not to taper as “borderline”.

In an interview, aired on Bloomberg TV, Bullard also expresses dismay at those in the market who have been betting on a “straight line to zero”, stressing that this has never been the case.

Like other central bankers, Bernanke has had to weigh a barrage of, at times, conflicting economic information. The outlook was further muddied earlier this month with the release of poor US jobs numbers.

Faced with such a conundrum, the boss of the world’s most powerful central bank did the right thing by keeping his foot on the QE pedal. For the time being. A rush of upbeat data may yet trigger some modest tapering as early as the next committee meeting in late October.

Foxtons makes an ideal debut

ESTATE agency Foxtons’ stock market debut on Friday stunned even the most optimistic market watchers. Conditional trading led to gains of more than 20 per cent. It follows successful market runs for rival agency Countrywide and housebuilder Crest Nicholson since their initial public offerings earlier this year. Both stocks have put on more than 50 per cent.

It’s further evidence of an improving economy, but it’s also stoking fears of a fresh house price bubble – something the Bank of England has indicated that it will keep a close eye out for.

Foxtons is uniquely placed, focusing almost solely on the perennially active London market. Concerns that its core business might be overheating are likely overdone.

The UK’s biggest city faces the same issues as much of the rest of the nation – an under-supply of homes and a lumbering planning system.

Both issues certainly need addressing, but the prime piercer of any property bubble could well be an early rise in interest rates.

All aboard… if you can afford it

IT’S encouraging to see Edinburgh’s trams project trundling towards completion. With council chiefs confident that the service will be up and running by May, businesses and residents can at last breath a sigh of relief.

Scaled back, wildly over budget and years late in arriving, the eight-and-a-half-mile line has been a millstone around the neck of Scotland’s capital city. I was a doubter from the outset, but will likely take my place in the queue for the first tickets – if only to see what all the fuss was about.

Riding the tram is going to come at a premium, though. An airport supplement will push the price of a ticket to and from the terminal to £7.50 – £1.50 more than the existing Airlink bus service. Adding insult to injury, the tram ride will take longer.

The council will be keen to start generating revenues, but it should be wary of setting the bar too high. Private bus operators may sniff an opportunity to provide a rival service.

Black times for BlackBerry

WHAT a fall from grace. 
Once the handset of choice for business folk, anti-capitalists and presidents alike, the BlackBerry has fallen on hard times.

A victim of changing fashions and fierce competition from the likes of Apple and Samsung, the Canadian tech brand is to take the axe to some 4,500 jobs – more than a third of its global workforce. It is poised to report quarterly losses of $1 billion (£620 million).

There are obvious echoes of Nokia with the sad story that is BlackBerry and a late fire sale cannot be ruled out. One wonders, though, where any buyer would come from.

Twitter: @scottjamesreid