$1tn G20 package hailed as 'historic'. But will it work?

As the world's leaders head home today, the huge rescue package they announced has lifted markets globally.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The degree of consensus that emerged yesterday was certainly something of a surprise, with even Germany’s Angela Merkel conceding that it was a ‘triumph’. Although she couldn’t help adding the slightly less euphoric-sounding coda ‘historic compromise', either.

And in terms of PR, the G20 has so far been even more of a resounding success for Gordon Brown than he could have hoped. He knew it was a make-or-break moment, and he has managed to pull it off. Never have we seen more group photos of more heads of government, smiling and waving, thumbs up and generally looking on the bright side. Especially Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, who manages to get in on just about every available photo opp.

It’s exactly what Gordo must have been dreaming of, but whether the afterglow will linger long enough to make a difference to his election chances is another matter entirely.

The G20 bounce certainly helped the markets, with stock indices rising all over the world yesterday. Things are admittedly a lot quieter this morning, but most of the gains seem to be holding so far. The news from the UK property market was rather more ambiguous – after yesterday’s Nationwide survey showing a 0.9% rise, today’s Halifax survey claims a 1.9% fall in prices last month. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.

But although the evidence of so much co-operation among so many big cheeses has gone down very well, it’s too soon to say whether any of the measures announced will actually make much difference. Or even indeed on exactly what form the action will take. The much-anticipated clamp down on offshore tax havens was there in principle, but without any firm commitment to ‘name and shame’ offenders. There will be no new fiscal stimulus (good news for the UK’s public finances at least), and the financial sector can expect a lot more regulation. No, really?

Then of course there’s the question of exactly how much of the $1tn pledged is really ‘new’ money, and how much of it is simply being re-announced. It’s probably no accident that it’s hard to tell. There’s $250bn going to the IMF and a further $250bn pledged to help global trade, but upfront contributions to that will only be around $3bn-$4bn.

So it’s impossible to say yet whether the conference will come to be seen as another Bretton Woods agreement, as some are trying, rather prematurely, to claim today. But so far, it’s doing what it says on the tin, which is not a bad effort in the circumstances.

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