UK interest rates are set by vote, by the nine members of the Bank’s monetary policy committee. Some are keener than others to raise rates sharply.
At the last meeting in June, three MPC members wanted a 50 basis-point rise, but were outvoted by the other six who favoured a smaller, quarter-point increase to 1.25%.
Those three hawks were Jonathan Haskel, Catherine Mann and Michael Saunders (whose MPC term ends this month).
Bloomberg reckons that deputy governor Dave Ramsden, chief economist Huw Pill, and governor Andrew Bailey are most likely to join the hawks, while deputy governor Jon Cunliffe and external member Silvana Tenreyro were the most dovish.
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The Bank of England could make a little piece of history today, by raising UK borrowing costs by the highest amount since Gordon Brown gave it control of interest rates 25 years ago.
The Bank sets interest rates at noon, and many (but not all) City economists predict that its policymakers will plump for a 50 basis point rise. That would lift Bank Rate to 1.75%, up from 1.25%.
If so, it would be the first 50bp rise since 1995, 27 years ago, taking interest rates to their highest since December 2008.
Hiking borrowing costs sharply could push the UK closer to recession. However, the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee could take the plunge in an attempt to squell inflation – now at a 40-year high of 9.4%, far far above its 2% target.
Governor Andrew Bailey set the scene last month, telling a City audience that the Bank could abandon its policy of increasing rates in quarter-point steps.
At a speech at Mansion House in London, Bailey declared:
“Let me be quite clear: there are no ifs or buts in our commitment to the 2% inflation target. That’s our job, and that’s what we will do,”
The MPC has already raised UK interest rates by 0.25 percentage points five times this year, and a Reuters poll this week found that more than 70% of 65 economists expected a half-point increase today.
Katharine Neiss, chief European economist at PGIM Fixed Income, says the BoE may use today’s meeting to put through one more final, substantive rate hike before the economy starts to soften materially.
There are already signs the UK economy is starting to cool, says Neiss, adding:
There is still a lot of uncertainty around how the recent energy price and inflation shocks will impact economic activity, as well as the cumulative impact of rate rises by the BoE since last December, as these will take some time to feed through.
There is broad agreement that the economy is set to cool further, but what remains an open question is by how much, and this is going to determine the path of policy going forward.
It’s already been a summer of hefty rate hikes, with the European Central Bank raising its benchmark rate by 50 basis points last month, and the US Federal Reserve hiking by 75 basis points in both June and July.
A winter of misery is approaching, with inflation heading into double-digits soon.
Yesterday, the Resolution Foundation thinktank predicted the UK’s annual inflation rate could hit 15% at the start of 2023, due to further sharp increases in energy prices.
That would intensify the squeeze on households, particularly poorer ones, who need more help from the government to get through the coming months.
Resolution’s Jack Leslie warned that the jump in gas prices since the Ukraine war began meane UK energy bills could hit £3,600 early in 2023.
Consumer price inflation will now peak higher and later than the Bank of England previously thought, with CPI inflation plausibly moving above 15 per cent next year (without Government measures to reduce prices).
Higher and more persistent inflation both mean that the Bank of England faces a protracted period of challenging policy making.
More importantly, low-to-middle income families are likely to face disproportionately higher living cost levels for the foreseeable future.
The Bank will release its own economic forecasts at noon, and are expected to show inflation heading higher than it expected three months ago.
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