Bank of England will not take foot off throttle despite drop in inflation - BLOOMBERG
The drop in inflation from 10.1% in July to 9.9% last month is not going to trouble the Bank of England’s policymakers when they meet next week to set interest rates. Its monetary policy committee (MPC) is on a mission to increase the cost of borrowing to bring down inflation to 2%. Prices growth that sticks at almost 10% is still too high. One month’s figures are not a trend.
The nine MPC members will also ponder several other developments at home and abroad that can be considered reasons to increase interest rates.
Top of the list will be the government’s £150bn energy subsidy scheme, which will benefit millions of people who, many have argued, don’t need to be cushioned from the gas price shock.
Better-off households are more likely to spend the money on imported items that are in short supply, thereby forcing retailers to increase their prices further. Higher interest rates will feed through to monthly mortgage bills and persuade them to rein in their spending. At least that’s the theory.
Wages are another subject of concern for the Bank’s rate-setters. In July, wages growth increased to 5.2% from 4.7% in June. These figures may be well short of the inflation rate and reveal the worst squeeze on living standards in two generations, but they still worry the MPC, which fears higher wages will trigger higher prices in years to come when other business costs have calmed down.
James Smith, an economist at ING, said the home energy price cap fixed at £2,500 would prevent inflation from going above 11%. “However, the Bank of England is watching wage growth more closely, as the hawks worry that worker shortages could lead to core inflation staying more persistently above target,” he added.
Last, there is the impact from inflationary trends across the rest of Europe and the US. The European Central Bank increased its base rate by a record margin last week to combat inflation, while the US central bank, the Federal Reserve, is poised to continue increasing lending rates despite a fall in inflation from 9.1% in June to 8.3% in August.
The dollar will rise and the pound will fall if global investors can get a better return in New York deposit accounts. If sterling falls, the price of foreign imports will rise further, putting even more pressure on UK inflation.
Arguments against tackling inflation with higher interest rates will probably fall on closed ears. The pressure on the Bank to follow its rivals – if only to prevent the currency from another tumble – will be too strong, say most analysts.
In the City, the debate focuses on whether Threadneedle Street will increase the base rate by 0.5% or follow the Fed and ECB with a whopping 0.75% rise.
George Lagarias, the chief economist at the accountant Mazars, is among those to argue that the looming recession and the panicked response of households will drive down inflation. He said that rather than increase spending, most households would be circumspect, something that is already being seen in higher rates of savings.
“If consumers remain sufficiently conservative with their discretionary expenses and the economy slows down as predicted, by the end of 2023 we could even be talking about deflation rather than inflation,” Lagarias said.
If that happens, the Bank of England will be accused of taking us on a rollercoaster ride when it might have driven calmly through the storm.