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Carney Takes London

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The last time a good-looking Canadian of Irish descent took a bank job in Britain he made a great success of it. Matthew Barrett ran the Bank of Montreal then Barclay's Bank, This time, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada, has landed Britain's most prestigious banking job as Governor of the Bank of England.

He will undoubtedly make a huge success of it over there. His global profile will swell, he will more than double his salary in Canada (including a housing allowance) and will likely acquire a "K", which is the British nickname for a Knighthood.

Sir-to-be Carney has already made the history books as the first "foreigner" to serve as Governor in the Bank's 318-year history. Of course, he is, arguably, very British. He obtained his Masters and PhD at Oxford University, he worked as an investment banker in London, his wife is British and he intends to become a British citizen. To add to his pedigree, his brother-in-law is
Lord Rotherwick, a wealthy and influential peer and husband of Diana Carney's sister.

It is amusing, and appropriate, that Britain has reached for help from a "colonial" with British sensibilities. The country faces daunting challenges and Carney's varied private-public experience, and status as the darling of the global banking community, will help meet some of them.

Britain slipped this year into a recession as a result of internal shortcomings and the European Union, Eurozone crises. Its budget deficits are inordinately high, along with unemployment, its oil is running out, its industries have been hollowed out by foreign takeovers and, perhaps most challenging, the country faces a referendum in 2014 on independence for Scotland.
All events, notably the latter, bear down on the value of the British Pound and may, as happened with Canada's two Quebec referenda, mark down the currency, the reputation and the living standards of the nation.

The Scottish referendum lead-up will roil foreign exchange markets for the Pound Sterling. This is because the specter of a split looms larger than any fiscal cliff because it would involve breaking up the Kingdom, dividing the oil that's left and plunging the country into a political crisis.

Lest we forget, the Canadian dollar began a decades-long fall from parity with the US dollar the night the separatists were first elected in Quebec in 1976. The C$ only recovered as a result of the commodity super-cycle that began in 2003, as did the A$.

So Carney will have his work cut out for him unless the politicians resolve matters amicably and sensibly.
But in one small respect, his timing could not be better. As "proprietor" of the bank, known as The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, he will be in the crosshairs of Fleet Street. Fortunately, the Street of Shame is about to be bridled at long last.
Lord Justice Leveson's 16-month inquiry has resulted in serious recommendations this week that should end the excesses of Rupert Murdoch's unbridled editors and others. He has recommended that Fleet Street not be allowed to self-regulate and be subjected to independent oversight.
Even so, the Carneys will be in for a rougher ride than in Ottawa where he captured more admiration and name recognition than many cabinet ministers. His media popularity was so fawning that he was recruited by some Liberals to become their party's leader, a job that was, quite frankly, beneath him.
Instead, Mark Carney ascends to become, as one British newspaper described, the most powerful unelected official in Britain. Except for Her Majesty, that is.
This is because in 2013, the Bank of England will become more powerful and will assume the additional responsibility of providing oversight for the regulation of Britain's financial institutions in addition to its central bank monetary policy matters.
Carney, with private-sector experience, is uniquely suited for this job and his stamina is well-suited to handle the added workload. He's currently Governor of the Bank of Canada but also serves on the world's two most powerful global banking organizations, as chair of the Financial Stability Board and director of the Bank for International Settlements. Presumably, he will retain those two positions.
But prestige aside, Britain has serious problems unlike Canada where the Governorship is more custodial given our sound banking system and partnership with the U.S. economy.
The United Kingdom, by contrast, is tethered to a struggling and squabbling European Union. And while out of the Eurozone, everyone has been dragged down by its recession and debt burdens. For Britain, the only bright light on the horizon is that France's Socialist President has decided to face the future by following the past and driving out entrepreneurs through over-taxation and by threatening nationalizations.
Britain will gain from their losses but still faces economic obstacles, reflected in the lackluster performance of the Pound. Staying out of the Euro may have been a smart idea, in hindsight, but poses new threats.
"We are in the middle of a deep crisis, with enormous challenges to put our own banking system right and challenges for the rest of the world that they are struggling with," current Bank of England Governor Mervyn King recently told a parliamentary committee. "I am pessimistic [about the eurozone outlook]."
Enter Mark Carney. Clearly, he is a betting man but not a gambler. He's getting more money than Governors have in the past and agreed to only five instead of eight years. His wife, who loves Canada, tweeted last week that they will "be back in 5".
That's a great compliment to Canada, but, frankly, I wouldn't bet on that.

Financial Post