The Great Austerity Budget should at least ensure interest rates stay low for quite some time.
By the time you read this, the emergency budget will have been sliced, diced and dissected by the good and great of British journalism.
In a nutshell, prepare now for fewer benefits and higher taxes. The years leading up to the next scheduled general election will indeed be lean. But if everything goes according to the coalition's plans (yeah, right…) the structural deficit will be in balance by 2015, and government borrowing will be only 1.1% of GDP by 2015/16.
Budget From Hell
The budget from hell had been well flagged, so there were no massive surprises. In fact, the only surprise seems to be how well it appears to have been received by the public.
Most people understand the country can't continue borrowing and spending its way out of this economic mess, and that means taking some pain now in the hope of long-term gain.
So will the Great British Austerity Drive of 2010 to 2015 do the trick?
It really is anyone's guess. Keynesian economists will have their doubts, saying public spending is the best way to eventually stimulate a private sector recovery.
The Real Pain Begins Now
You could argue we've already tried that, the government stimulus initiatives of 2008-9 stopping us sliding into a Great Depression II. Maybe. But although the past couple of years have been a struggle, the real pain begins now.
Martin Wolf of the Financial Times is one of the most respected journalists and economists in the country. His opinions are said to be valued by governments on both sides of the Atlantic.
Wolf is a very vocal Keynesian. He calls the budget "brave", and a "gamble", saying the sense the country "could not get away with a measured approach is right." Wolf also says "As a citizen of the UK, I hope (the government) pulls it off." Meanwhile, The Sun reckoned "it's now time for the country to roll up its sleeves, and lift the economy off its knees."
The FTSE greeted the budget with its sharpest fall in a fortnight. So much for the budget supposedly being business friendly!
But to be fair, doing the damage were sharp declines in oil stocks, inevitably lead by BP (LSE: BP), and not the more UK-facing companies. For example, shares in leading retailers Marks & Spencer (LSE: MKS) and Next (LSE: NXT) rose despite VAT increasing to 20%, and likewise Lloyds Banking Group (LSE: LLOY) and Royal Bank of Scotland (LSE: RBS) shares rose despite the introduction of a new bank levy. In was yet another case of sell the rumour, buy the fact.
A Long Hard Slog For Investors, Too
Don't expect the stock market to suddenly lurch up or down based on this budget, or in fact expect the immediate health of the UK economy to improve. By now everyone should know we're in for a long hard slog, both economically and from an investment perspective.
Expect a largely flat market for some time to come. Volatility continues to be relatively high, although I can see a time in the not too distant future when things will calm down and the market will bob up and down in a relatively narrow range.
As ever, US markets can and will throw a periodic spanner in the works, like they did last night when the Dow fell almost 150 points. Doing the damage was a surprise drop in existing US home sales for May.
Negative surprise + jittery market = Dow down, with the FTSE following closely behind.
A Silver Lining For Investors
Still, there is a silver lining for stock-market investors, if not for savers. Martin Wolf says we're set for continued low interest rates in the years ahead.
All of which gives the green light for investors to continue the hunt for dirt-cheap, high yielding blue chips. Just don't expect instant capital appreciation.
Let us know your thoughts on the budget in the comment area below.
More on the economy and the markets:
> If you're in the market for buying shares, consider opening an online broker account with The Motley Fool's Share Dealing Service. You can buy and sell shares in real time for a flat rate of just £10. Click here to find out how you can open an account for free today. There is no obligation to trade.
> Bruce Jackson has an ever-shrinking position in BP.