Bank boss warns borrowers over debt


A TOP economist has warned Kent borrowers not to take on more debt than they can cope with if interest rates rise.

Charlie Bean, the Bank of England chief economist and a member of the influential Monetary Policy Committee, denied that the next rate change would not necessarily be up, as many experts have predicted.

But it would go up at some stage in the future and they should "factor" that into their calculations.

Falling house prices and negative equity were not "our most likely scenario”. The Bank expected house prices to stay flat through next year but there was a lot of uncertainty. The housing market could take off again or there could be a slowdown.

"That's all the more reason why those who are borrowing to finance house purchase shouldn't bank on house prices continuing to grow in the future," Mr Bean warned.

"The really important thing is that those who do borrow should factor in the possibility that their circumstances may be different in the future."

Mr Bean, who grew up in Essex and often used the Tilbury-Gravesend ferry, spent a day in Kent speaking to business leaders and testing the economic temperature.

At the end of his visit, he told Kent Business that it was not inevitable that the next rate change would be up.

Commentators had latched onto comments in the minutes of the last MPC meeting suggesting that some members thought the rate might have to rise "sooner rather than later”.

But Mr Bean said: "We take each decision each month at a time depending on the evidence available. The committee was unanimous that rates should be unchanged and that for the majority of the committee, the decision was quite clear cut.

"For some members, the decision was a little more finely balanced and there might be a case that interest rates might have to rise sooner rather than later."

He added: "It is probably reasonable to suggest that at some stage in the future, interest rates will probably rise from where they are now. I wouldn't say we've reached the floor because it's quite possible that things might take a turn for the worse."

The balance of risk had shifted. "But it's a far cry from that to saying interest rates are going to go up next month."

As for the Kent economy, Mr Bean said that from his talks with business people, firms trading overseas were "still under the cosh”.

But Kent was in a good position between London and mainland Europe. As the London-Paris nexus developed into a "hot banana" or "hot sausage," Kent was right in the middle.

There was "scope for Kent to be thriving as a by-product of not only being close to London but as a by-product of being close to France, Paris and the Continent”.

On the question of Europe, Mr Bean said the imminent accession of 10 countries to the EU might cause a shift of manufacturing jobs to eastern Europe.

"Whether that will be noticeable in the Kent economy is another matter because manufacturing is a relatively small proportion of economic activity -- under 20 per cent."

But by the same token, it would also be easier for Kent firms to sell their goods and services into 10 new markets.

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