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Budget 2001 Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 17:25 GMT
Why markets ignore the Budget
Falling share prices
Moving markets: Markets pay as much attention to the budget as to global markets
When Chancellor Gordon Brown unveiled the Budget, traders in the City of London nervously watched financial wires for news.

He stood up to deliver his speech just one hour before the UK stock market closes at 1630 and is usually, though not this year, still speaking when it does.

Trade is often nervous or subdued before the Budget announcement - but in practice many traders know that there will be little in the budget to move markets.

At the market close, the FTSE 100 index was fractionally lower, down 10.2 points lower at 6,001.8 points.

The good news for oil stocks - which rose after cuts in fuel excise duties - was outweighed by a sell-off in telecom shares.

In part, the main Budget measures are ignored because so much has either been leaked to newspapers in advance or pre-announced, but also because when it comes to making decisions on whether to buy or sell, many traders have one eye on global events.

Interest rate shocker

Markets are news-driven creatures and a trader's daily agenda can be quickly knocked off balance by a company profit warning, financial data, a CEO's resignation, or most dramatically, a surprise interest rate cut in the US.

City trader looks at his screen
Markets are news-driven creatures
Williams de Broe chief economist David Smith says that UK budgets have lost their shock value.

When New Labour came to power in 1997, one of the chancellor's first decisions was to hand control of interest rates to the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

So, the chancellor no longer has the option of unveiling a "surprise" budget day rate cut, to inject adrenalin into the stock market.

"There are no dramatic short term things that a market can pick up immediately," Williams de Broe's Smith said of the budget.

His ability to make a shock announcement in terms of fiscal policy is also "more constrained by how he thinks the MPC will react," Investec's UK economist David Page said.

That is in sharp contrast to previous Labour governments, where fears of devaluation and huge public deficits often rattled financial markets on Budget day.

Clear rules

In this era of pre-announcements, pre-budgets, prior consultations and good old fashioned budget leaks, there is also the danger that the contents of the red box are old news.

The chancellor has played some part in neutering the budget's shock value.

He has set out a clear set of fiscal rules, which he has, largely speaking, adhered to, David Page, UK economist at Investec said.

"Having set out that transparency, the markets are less and less concerned about what he does, they have become backround micro adjustments, as opposed to large swings in macro policy," he said.

"The markets have come to expect less of a surprise in any budget."

The traditional concern about how the budget deficit should be funded has also evaporated in a time of budget surpluses.

The strong economic position is also in contrast to the situation of previous Labour governments, who were buffeted by the economic storms in the 1970s.

Global story

Most traders are as likely to start their day checking the wires to see what happened in Japan or US markets overnight.

"The markets pay as much attention as to what happens in the [United] States as any of the domestic issues," Investec's economist David Page said.

So, whether markets open up, down or flat on Thursday, is as likely to depend on what news emerged in the US or Japan overnight, as on Wednesday's Budget.

"Britain is a small part of a global economy and globalisation has hit financial markets particularly hard," Williams de Broe's David Smith said.

On Wednesday alone, there are a handful of US stories that could knock the Budget off the market's mind by Thursday morning.

The US central bank will publish its beige book survey of current economic conditions, which could provide clues as to the slowdown in the US economy, while Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan will make a speech.

Key stories

Spending and saving




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