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U.K. Public Finances Get Boost From Forex Fines
From the Wall Street Journal of Fri, 19 Dec 2014 09:03:35 EST

LONDON—Fines paid by banks to resolve allegations of manipulating the foreign-exchange market provided a boost to U.K. public finances in November, but closing the budget deficit in time to meet the government’s forecasts still looks like a difficult task for treasury chief George Osborne.

The U.K. borrowed £75.8 billion ($118.7 billion) in the eight months to November, the Office for National Statistics said Friday, which is slightly lower than the year-earlier period. Excluding the £1.1 billion boost from the fines in November, the budget deficit would have been larger than the previous year’s eight-month period.

The economy is going to be one of the main issues for voters in the coming general election in May, and U.K. Treasury chief George Osborne has made the rebalancing of public finances a priority. While he has significantly reduced the deficit, it hasn’t shrunk as quickly as he hoped. One key headwind is that sluggish wages have meant tax revenue has failed to grow at the same pace as the recovering British economy.

The U.K.’s independent fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, recently revised its forecast for Britain’s budget deficit, saying it now expects it to be £91.3 billion for the fiscal year ended March 2015—compared with a previous forecast of £86.4 billion. With four months remaining, the U.K. government has already borrowed 83% of that amount, even after taking account of the one-off windfall provided by the forex fines.

“We continue to doubt that in future years the recovery will be as tax-rich as the OBR expects and that the next government will be able to reduce spending in line with the current fiscal plans,” said Samuel Tombs, economist at Capital Economics, in a research note released Friday.

The fines were levied in November on five banks operating in the U.K. UBS , Citibank , J.P. Morgan , Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC —and are the highest ever imposed by the British banking regulator, the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority, or any of its predecessors. The banks didn’t dispute the charges.

The fines will be used to create a £1 billion fund to pay for new primary health care facilities across England, the U.K. Treasury has said.

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