In an uncertain world, Bank of England 'agents' keep Carney informed

Wed Feb 10, 2016 9:18am EST
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By Andy Bruce

REIGATE, England (Reuters) - Unsure how a misfiring global economy is affecting matters at home, Bank of England chief Mark Carney has turned to an age-old gauge of Britain's economy: the word on the street from a trusted band of regional agents.

Dating back almost two centuries, the agents - drawn from lifelong BoE staffers and economists with local expertise - add boots-on-the-ground flavor to the reams of statistics ingested every month by Carney and the eight other professional economists on the Bank's interest-rate setting committee.

The team of around 30 agents, predominantly male, help the top brass to venture far from the elegant parlors of the Bank's 18th Century Threadneedle Street headquarters for fact-finding trips on everything from wages to credit and real estate.

"You get all that sort of background that certainly doesn't come from reading statistics," Martin Weale, an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee, told Reuters on a recent visit with deputy agent Andrew Holder to a construction firm in Reigate, a town in south-east England.

Over cups of coffee in a boardroom, Weale and Holder, an agent since 2008 who used to write parts of the Bank's quarterly economic outlook, quizzed the firm's company secretary about his business plans and the outlook for construction, with the gentle air of counselors talking to a patient.

Carney, governor since July 2013, has taken trips with agents to a giant Jaguar Land Rover factory, a potato processing plant and a construction digger hire company in recent months.

Modest trips, however, can yield the biggest nuggets.

Weale, a former University of Cambridge lecturer, recalled a visit with an agent to the Western Isles of northern Scotland in the midst of the euro zone debt crisis.   Continued...

A taxi and buses queue outside the Bank of England in London, Britain December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor