ALEX BRUMMER: Enter the age of penury

Ten days ago Rishi Sunak made his bow towards past Tory values by reminding the nation it was his duty to balance the books.

That was before he unveiled a new series of bailouts, including a 65 per cent wage subsidy for workers on furlough in the highest tier Covid neighbourhoods.

Reality is that even if the Chancellor were to destroy Conservative prospects for ever with hefty tax increases, there is as much prospect of restoring order to the exchequer any time soon as sending an astronaut to Mars.

Paying out: Chancellor Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak has unveiled a new series of bailouts including a 65 per cent wage subsidy for workers on furlough in the highest tier Covid neighbourhoods

Paying out: Chancellor Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak has unveiled a new series of bailouts including a 65 per cent wage subsidy for workers on furlough in the highest tier Covid neighbourhoods

Paying out: Chancellor Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak has unveiled a new series of bailouts including a 65 per cent wage subsidy for workers on furlough in the highest tier Covid neighbourhoods

The pummelling of public finances across the earth is spelled out in full technicolour in the IMF’s fiscal monitor.

As a consequence of Covid, public debt has risen 30 per cent since the peak reached in the financial crisis. 

That represents 83 per cent of 2019 output, a proportion that is bound to rise once we know this year’s reduced GDP figure. 

Throw in private sector borrowings and the world is sitting on a debt iceberg of 225 per cent of GDP.

In the UK, all that tough stuff done by George Osborne in the Coalition years (destroying the Lib Dems in the process) has been wiped away as if it never happened. 

The IMF’s medium range forecast shows the UK’s debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratio surging to 108 per cent this year and rising in every year until it reaches 117 per cent of output in 2025.

If it is any comfort, this is a little better than most of the EU with France, Italy and Spain looking worse. Fiscal and monetary purity in Germany mean that debt will peak at 73 per cent of GDP this year before falling back to 59.9 per cent by 2025. 

Britain is a mere amateur when it comes to running up permanent debts compared with the US at 136.9 per cent of GDP in 2025 and Japan at a stonking 264 per cent of GDP.

How is this possible? The US has the exceptional advantage of being the world’s main reserve currency. Nations around the world, including China, have little choice but to hold dollar assets in their reserves. 

In Japan savers would rather hold government securities than any other asset class, so Tokyo doesn’t worry too much.

Britain’s claim to fame is that unlike almost every other nation (including Germany) it has never reneged on its debt, even if it sometimes takes a long time to pay it off. War loans dating back to the Second World War were not fully redeemed until 2006! 

The guiding principle for the Treasury is to demonstrate to global investors that there is a plan for bringing down annual borrowing and the debt pile over time. 

That will almost certainly mean higher taxes eventually. There is no requirement that the wealthy be targeted as the IMF recommends.

As former Bank of England governor Mark Carney pointed out when worrying about Brexit, the UK is dependent on the kindness of strangers buying UK assets.

That requires at least the semblance of a plan to put things right as growth returns. Borrowing and debt are less worrying at present because interest rates are low or in negative territory.

But those of us who grew up with the high inflation and jaw dropping interest rates of the 1970s and 1980s cannot but be nervous that the central bank money printing binge eventually could end in tears.

Digital winners

The pandemic has been manna from heaven for online traders Just Eat Takeaway and fast fashion group Asos. It has helped validate their business models and the cash is rolling in.

Profits at Asos were four times higher at £142million in the year ending August 31, and it has avoided the factory pitfalls of Boohoo, although the GMB union is cavilling about working conditions in the warehouses. 

Just Eat Takeaway took in 46 per cent more orders in the third quarter than a year earlier.

A potential hazard on the horizon as furlough in the UK and other major markets is withdrawn is higher unemployment and less spending power. 

Nevertheless, you can almost hear the spending power being sucked out of the High Street. Pity.

Cold blast

Problems for Garda World, the stalker seeking to seize control of G4S in a hostile deal. 

The battered UK security behemoth is actually managing to ramp up profits on lower revenues and the order book is chunking up.

A G4S share price, which has zipped up to 209p, way above the 190p offer, leaves Garda World out in artic without a Canada Goose jacket.

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