Money blog: Interest rate held again - as 'obstinate' Bank of England criticised (2024)

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Analysis: Why the door remains open to interest rate cut in August - though politics could get in the way

The Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee was never going to cut interest rates today. Not two weeks before a general election.

Cutting the cost of borrowing would have been perceived as highly political, potentially offering support to the government, even though some Conservative politicians, such as the former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, sought to argue ahead of today's decision that not cutting Bank rate could equally be perceived as "a political decision against the government".

So it was no surprise to see the MPC maintain Bank rate at 5.25% or, indeed, for the composition of the vote, at 7-2, to remain unchanged from last time around, with uber-dove Swati Dhingra and Sir Dave Ramsden, again, outnumbered in voting for Bank rate to be cut to 5%.

The MPC also went out of its way to show how it is finely attuned to criticisms of bias one way or the other.

The minutes note: "The committee noted that the timing of the general election on 4 July was not relevant to its decision at this meeting, which would as usual be made on the basis of what was judged necessary to achieve the 2% inflation target sustainably in the medium term."

Why did the MPC vote to hold?

Leaving aside the politics, there were very good reasons why most of the MPC voted for no change today.

Chief among these was the fact that, although the headline rate of Consumer Prices Inflation in May returned to the Bank's target rate of 2% for the first time since July 2021, services inflation remains uncomfortably high at 5.7%.

That will have raised alarm bells on the MPC about the risk of so-called "second round effects", whereby firms and workers respond to higher prices by themselves seeking to raise their prices or their wages and not least because services make up four-fifths of the UK economy.

The MPC minutes noted today that services inflation was "somewhat higher than projected" when the Bank published its most recent inflation report only last month.

The minutes added: "This strength in part reflected prices that are index-linked or regulated, which are typically changed only annually, and volatile components."

Inflation likely to rise again

The MPC is also very wary of the possibility that inflation is likely to begin creeping higher again later in the year.

That is due to so-called "base effects" - the year-on-year comparison - and the fact that, in the second half of last year, the price of some goods in the inflation basket were falling or, at least, not rising as rapidly as they are expected to in the second half of last year.

A good example of that, which stood out in the inflation figures published on Wednesday, is unleaded petrol - a litre of which cost 144.4p in May last year but which cost 148.8p in May this year.

More broadly, the economy is growing more strongly than the Bank has been expecting, as are several indicators of economic activity, among them spending by households on repair and maintenance of their homes and consumer confidence.

Wage inflation

The other major concern for the MPC is that wage inflation, at 5.9% during the three months to the end of April, remains too high for its liking.

The latest report from the Bank's network of regional agents - whose briefings are closely studied by the MPC's members - suggest that recruitment difficulties are "near to their pre-COVID levels" which represents "a historically high level".

Other survey data has also persuaded the MPC to conclude the labour market remains "a little tighter than official data" suggests.

The minutes highlight concerns that near-term pay growth may moderate by less than the Bank was expecting in its May report.

Consumer-facing businesses, which are most exposed to the National Living Wage, in particular are having to pay more to employees.

That said, a reduction in Bank rate is coming, with the MPC noting: "The restrictive stance of monetary policy is weighing on activity in the real economy, is leading to a looser labour market and is bearing down on inflationary pressures.

"Key indicators of inflation persistence have continued to moderate, although they remain elevated."

When will interest rates be cut?

The timing of that reduction is now going to be more fiercely debated than ever. Yesterday's inflation data, with that unexpectedly strong reading for services inflation, pushed market expectations for the timing of that first cut out from August to September.

Today's minutes, though, have persuaded some market participants to conclude that an August reduction in Bank rate may be back on.

The key line in the minutes that have raised that prospect was that, among some MPC members who voted for no change this month, "the policy decision at this meeting was finely balanced".

So the big takeaway from today's meeting is that the door remains open to an August reduction in Bank rate.

The market was putting the probability of an August rate cut at 30% before the meeting. It is now placing a 60% probability on that.

But an August rate cut is not nailed on - and politics may yet rear its head - and the MPC will be watching closely to how markets react to the election result.

As Julian Howard, chief multi-asset investment strategist at GAM Investments, put it: "A potential Labour landslide could unsettle markets, in particular the currency.

"Sir Keir Starmer has come under pressure in recent days on the issue of tax and spending. Sterling will appreciate neither unfunded spending, nor a heavier tax burden."


'Pieces of the puzzle almost in place' for August rate cut

Some more reaction to bring you now, with experts at Capital Economics suggesting the "pieces of the puzzle are almost in place" for a rate cut.

It said "several developments implied a rate cut is getting closer", citing the two members who voted to cut rates by 25 percentage points to 5.00% and, interestingly, a lack of "hawkish" rhetoric in the minutes released alongside the decision.

"Despite the recent run of stronger inflation and activity data, the language in today's minutes was not much more hawkish than in May," Capital said.

"The minutes continued to suggest 'indicators of inflation persistence had continued to moderate' and that a range of indicators suggest pay growth had continued to ease.

"As a result, we still think there is a good chance of a rate cut in August and that rates will fall to 3.00% in 2025, rather than to 4.00% as investors expect."


'We need to be sure inflation will stay low,' governor says

We've been reading over the minutes from today's Monetary Policy Committee meeting - and here's what the governor had to say on the decision...

"It's good news that inflation has returned to our 2% target," Andrew Bailey said, referring to the data released yesterday.

"We need to be sure that inflation will stay low and that's why we've decided to hold rates at 5.25% for now."


'Obstinate' Bank 'unwilling to take action'

Some reaction to bring you now to the Bank of England's decision to hold the interest rate at 5.25%.

Jonathan Bone, lead mortgage adviser, criticises the decision:"Borrowers have waited three long years for inflation to return to the 2% target.

"Now that it's finally happened, the excitement has dampened as underlying price pressures in the economy have not slowed as quickly as expected, and the ongoing election likely hasn't helped either.

He says the Bank of England is "obstinate" and "unwilling to take action despite widespread criticism", adding: "Those with mortgages are desperate for relief."

Meanwhile, Tobias Gruber, chief executiveofMy Community Finance, says the decision means savers have more time to review their options.

He offers some advice to those looking around for savings options: "There are still excellent opportunities available for fixed-rate savings, with some providers offering interest rates of over 5%.

"If you don't need immediate access to your money, locking in a competitive fixed rate now can protect you from future base rate cuts."


Bank decision-makers voted 7-2 to hold rates

The Bank of England's nine-person Monetary Policy Committee again voted 7-2 in favour of holding interest rates at 5.25%.

That's the same split as when the committee last met.

Reacting to the news, our economics and data editor Ed Conway says: "Everyone now is in a kind of holding pattern until August, when the next meeting takes place.

"That is the moment where people think there could be a cut.

"We're going to potentially be waiting until August and maybe even [as far away as] November - it really depends on what happens with the data."


Blow for borrowers as interest rate held again - but it's good news for savers

As expected, the Bank of England has held interest rates at 5.25% for the seventh time in a row.

The Monetary Policy Committee's vote in favour of maintaining the 16-year high in rates had been widely expected by economists and financial markets.

What does the decision mean?

This will come as a blow to borrowers, who will continue to pay a high rate on any loans they take out - like mortgages.

It's not bad news for all, however, as higher interest ratesincrease the return on savings.

Mark Hicks, head of Active Savings at investment platform Hargreaves Lansdown, said: "Right now, you can still earn more than 5% on everything from easy access accounts to those fixed for up to two years.

"Unfortunately, most people won't be making anything like this, because high street easy access branch rates are far less generous, and in most cases, they pay less than inflation (currently 2%).

"At times like this it's key to check out the rates from online banks and savings platforms, which tend to pay more than the high street giants."

Check out our 6.36am post for our latest Savings Guide - as Savings Champion founder Anna Bowes gives her top three tips for savers right now.


First-time buyers need £60,000 to get on property ladder

The average first-time buyer needs a household income of more than £60,000 to get on to the property ladder, according to Zoopla.

It estimated that the typical first-time buyer needs £14,900 more than five years ago and £2,400 more than a year ago - a total of £60,600.

The analysis was based on average asking prices of first-time buyer homes for sale on Zoopla of around £250,000.

Those earning figures are based on having a 20% deposit to hand - it would likely need to be much higher if a first-time buyer did not have so much cash to put down up front.

Startlingly, in London, Zoopla found first-time buyers would need a household income of at least £103,000.

In Wales, they would need £38,800 and in Scotland £31,500, according to the calculations.

Izabella Lubowiecka, senior property researcher at Zoopla, said: "The challenges facing first-time buyers are not the same across the UK.

"Access to homeownership requires lower incomes in much of Wales, northern England and Scotland.

"The greatest challenges are in southern England, especially London where first-time buyers are already buying cheaper homes than the average in an effort to try and improve affordability."


FTSE flat ahead of interest rate decision

By Daniel Binns, business reporter

There's not much major movement on the London stock market this morning ahead of the Bank of England's announcement on interest rates at midday.

The Bank is widely expected to hold rates at 5.25% for the seventh time in a row.

The FTSE 100 is slightly up by nearly 0.2%, while the FTSE 250 has risen almost 0.3%.

Rolls-Royce is among the top climbers, with its stock rising by 2% in early trading.

Sainsbury's has also gained almost 1% after the supermarket giant announced it plans to sell most of its banking business to NatWest.

On the flip side, top fallers include water firm United Utilities, which has slipped 2% on Thursday morning.

On the currency markets, £1 buys $1.27 US or €1.18.

The cost of a barrel of Brent Crude has topped $85 (£67) this morning, as the price of oil continues to creep slowly up.


Aldi tactic 'forces Tesco to pull products from sales campaign'

Aldi has undercut Tesco on some of its rival's claimed price matches, according to The Grocer.

As a result of Aldi dropping its prices, Tesco has pulled certain products from its campaign, according to the digital magazine, and in some cases it is rendering the supermarket's price match claims incorrect.

According to The Grocer, two variants of Aldi's Lunex Ultra sanitary towels (Night and Long) were "price matched" at 45p by Tesco this week, while Aldi had reduced them to 42p in its weekly permanent price drops.

In a similar vein, the magazine said Aldi's Bon Appetit Pains Au Chocolat eight-pack was price matched by Tesco at £1.35 on 6 June - before being cut to £1.29 at Aldi.

Tesco's equivalent had disappeared from Tesco's campaign by 13 June.

"Our customers know that only one supermarket offers Aldi prices on every product and that's Aldi," an Aldi spokesman told The Grocer.

"Other supermarkets just can't match us on that."

Tesco said prices were checked twice-weekly and the most recent check on the Lunex sanitary towels found them to be 45p in more than half of Aldi stores surveyed.

A spokesman told The Grocer products included may vary by week, with some removed and others added.


Interest rate announcement at midday - how does the Bank of England decide?

Basically, the Bank of England is the UK's central bank.

It is different from a bank you would come across along the high street and does not hold accounts or make loans to the public.

Instead, the Bank issues banknotes that you spend and it also sets the official interest rates of the UK (otherwise known as the Bank/base rate), which directly influences savings and mortgages.

The Bank is set to make one such decision today, with markets expecting rates to be held once again at 5.25% - despite yesterday's positive inflation announcement...

When did the Bank become independent?

The Bank was founded in 1694 and was owned by various shareholders until it was nationalised in 1946.

It remains owned by the UK government today - but its decision-making was made independent in 1997 by Gordon Brown, the chancellor at the time, to increase confidence in the UK economy and stop politicians from influencing monetary policy for political or electoral reasons.

What is the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee and who sits on it?

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) decides the Bank rate.

This generally happens every six weeks, so eight times a year, and the next meeting is today - hence which we're resurfacing thisBasically.

The committee is made up of nine independent members who all have expertise in economics and monetary policy.

There are also external members that ensure the MPC benefits from thinking and expertise from outside the Bank of England.

A representative from HM Treasury also sits with the MPC at its meetings. The Treasury member makes sure the MPC is briefed on government policies, but they are not allowed to vote.

Does the Bank have any other responsibilities?

  • The Bank produces £5, £10, £20 and £50 banknotes;
  • It guards the value of money by keeping prices stable;
  • It keeps the financial system stable by maintaining a close watch on any risks and taking action;
  • The Bank also regulates and supervises all the major banks, building societies, credit unions, insurers and investment firms.

Why is it called the Bank of England when it covers the whole UK?

Quite simply, it has never changed its name since it was founded.

It was created in 1694 after a Scotsman named William Paterson realised the nation's finances had no real system of money or credit.

Under his direction, a successful scheme was launched in which £1.2m was loaned to the government from funds raised by subscribers who were then incorporated into the governor and company of the Bank of England.

The money was used to support the English government in its war against France.

It wasn't until the 19th century that the Bank took on the role of central bank.

What is in its vaults?

About 400,000 bars of gold.

These are worth more than £200bn, making the Bank of England the second-largest keeper of gold in the world - behind the New York Federal Reserve.

The gold is kept in nine carefully guarded underground vaults.

Each bar costs hundreds of thousands of pounds, although the value can go up and down.

The Bank of England's customers - who include the UK government, banks and other governments around the world - can trade their gold bars with other customers.

When a customer trades gold it doesn't usually move - instead the name of the owner will change on the Bank's system.

Not many people are allowed to visit the vaults, but the King and the late Queen have seen them.

Has anyone ever stolen any gold from the Bank?

The Bank says no gold has been stolen from its vaults, but there was a lucky escape in 1836 after a sewer worker doing repair work accidentally discovered an old drain that ran directly below the gold vault.

He sent anonymous letters to the directors of the Bank, saying he had access to their gold and offering to meet them in the vault at an hour of their choosing.

When the directors gathered one night in the vault, a noise was heard from beneath the floor and the man popped up through some of the floorboards.

A stocktake was taken afterwards, and it became clear he had not taken any gold.

The Bank then decided to reward the sewer worker for his honesty by giving him £800 - the equivalent of about £76,000 today.

Money blog: Interest rate held again - as 'obstinate' Bank of England criticised (2024)


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