The Bank of England raised interest rates in the biggest hike in 27 years on Thursday in an attempt to smother surging inflation on track to top 13 per cent, even as it warned a long recession is coming.
Reeling from a surge in energy prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Bank of England’s rate-setters voted 8-1 for a half percentage-point rise in bank rate to 1.75 per cent.
The big hike had been expected by most economists in a Reuters poll as central banks around the world scramble to contain soaring prices.
The British pound sterling fell as the Bank of England said Britain would enter a recession at the end of 2022 and not emerge until early 2024.
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Governor Andrew Bailey said economic uncertainty was exceptionally large and that all options are open.
“Returning inflation to the two per cent target remains our absolute priority,” he said. “There are no ifs or buts about that.”
As well as surging energy costs, Britain is also adjusting to Brexit and a political leadership change.
The Bank said Britain was facing its biggest slump in living standards since records began in the 1960s.
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On Wednesday, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a think tank, said more than a million households would soon have to choose between heating and buying enough food.
Bailey said he had “huge sympathy” for households facing rising borrowing costs but “I’m afraid the alternative is even worse, in terms of persistent inflation.”
Feedback from business leaders and the Bank’s own surveys showed inflation pressure building in the labour market because of a severe shortage of jobs candidates, he said.
The favourite to become the next prime minister, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, has pledged big tax cuts.
Many economists say that would fuel inflation and push up rates further.
Truss also wants to review the Bank of Englands inflation-fighting mandate.
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Bailey declined to comment on the race for Downing Street, or the criticisms of the Bank from Truss and her supporters. But he noted that British inflation had averaged around two per cent over the 25 years since the Bank gained operational independence, “not the case for all central banks, certainly.”
Truss responded to the Bank’s gloomy forecasts by saying she would immediately announce an emergency tax-and-spending plan if she becomes prime minister.
Economic shocks coming ‘thick and fast’
The Bank of England said Britain is facing a recession with a peak-to-trough fall in output of 2.1 per cent, similar to a slump in the 1990s but far less than the hits from COVID-19 and the 2008-09 global financial crisis.
The new forecast was worse than recent projections by the International Monetary Fund, which has said Britain will have the slowest growth and the highest inflation in 2023 among the world’s big developed economies.
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The Bank said consumer price inflation was now likely to peak at 13.3 per cent in October – the highest since 1980 – due mostly to the surge in energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The shocks to U.K. headline inflation just keep coming thick and fast,” said Brian Coulton, chief economist of Fitch Ratings.
“This will probably not be the last 50bps move.”
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Analysts at Citi, meanwhile, predicted two more 25 basis-point rate hikes and then a cut in a year’s time.
Investors priced in a 25-basis-point rise in interest rates at the next Bank meeting in September.
The Bank also forecast inflation falling sharply in two to three years as the recession saps demand.
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The British central bank has now raised rates six times since December.
Thursday’s move was the biggest since 1995.
The pressure on Bailey and his colleagues to move in larger steps intensified after big rate hikes by the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and other central banks.
The Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee repeated it was ready to move forcefully if needed but would assess its next moves as events unfold.
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