Later on today the Bank of England will be considering and voting on something it has not done for more than a decade. Let me take you back to July 2007 when it told us this.
The Governor invited the Committee to vote on the proposition that Bank Rate should be increased by 25 basis points to 5.75%. Six members of the Committee (the Governor, John Gieve, Kate Barker, Tim Besley, Andrew Sentance and Paul Tucker) voted in favour of the proposition. Rachel Lomax, Charles Bean and David Blanchflower voted against, preferring to maintain Bank Rate at 5.5%.
The idea of interest-rates being at 5.5% let alone 5.75% seems from a universe “far,far away” doesn’t it? Also if the public pronouncements of the current Monetary Policy Committee or MPC are any guide there is likely to be a split vote this time around. It is not that MPC members have not individually voted for rises as for example Ian McCafferty has had two phases of it before the current one it is the lack of company they have received. Perhaps most telling in the recent era is that the current Governor Mark Carney has yet to cast a single vote for a Bank Rate rise in spite of 2 clear periods before now ( in 2014 and 2015/16) when he has clearly hinted at delivering one.
Some are completely convinced as this from Reuters suggests.
Britain’s National Institute of Economic and Social Research said it expects the Bank of England to start a sustained rate-tightening cycle on Thursday, which will lead to interest rates peaking at 2 percent in 2021.
There is something of a myth that the Bank of England simply targets 2% per annum inflation when this days it is not that simple. There has been some meddling in its remit particularly by the previous Chancellor George Osborne such that it now considers it to be this.
The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) sets monetary policy to meet the 2% inflation target,
and in a way that helps to sustain growth and employment.
The “and” is misleading as the two objectives can be contradictory. That was seen as recently as August 2016 when the Bank of England cut Bank Rate to 0.25% and undertook its Sledgehammer of QE. This was supposed to boost the economy but anticipation of it ( as it was well leaked) meant that the UK Pound fell further than otherwise raising imported inflation. So the current inflation issue where the official measure is at 3% is awkward to say the least because it is a consequence of past Bank of England action. A nudge higher to 3.1% would be even more awkward as Governor Carney would have to write a letter to the Chancellor explaining how he was going to reduce something he had helped push up!
Also current inflation is not really something the MPC can do much about now as it takes time for any policy move to have an impact and this usually takes between 18 months and two years to fully work. If we look ahead then the MPC itself thinks that domestically generated inflation is not a big problem or at least it did in August.
This deserves a heading of its own as it comes part of domestic inflation ( via labour costs) but is also a target variable itself. Back in August the Bank of England picked out wage inflation as something it expected to rise. However like all its other Forward Guidance on this issue it has been wrong so far as wages have progressed on a pretty similar trajectory and not as it suggested.
We have a relatively tight job market and we do think that wages are going to begin to firm. We’re seeing, and one doesn’t want to over-interpret, but certainly on a survey
basis and some very recent data, some elements of that firming.
If we look for the level of the Pound £ last August we see that it has not changed much against the US Dollar although care is needed as it fell after the Bank of England meeting as some felt it had hinted at an interest-rate rise then. One different factor is the price of crude oil as depending on its exact level when you read this it is a bit over nine US Dollars higher than then. So a little push higher in the inflationary chain although the effect of the 2016 fall in the Pound will begin to wash out in a few months.
So the two main issues are whether you think the price of oil can go much higher? Party time for the producers and the shale oil wildcatters if it can. Also what you think about the UK Pound’s prospects after its 2016 drop?
This is another of the target areas these days but whilst it has been a happy record for UK workers it has been a woeful one for the Bank of England in the era of Forward Guidance. We can argue now about how much importance it put on an unemployment rate of 7% back in 2013. But what is not in dispute is the fact that it was rescinded at express pace and the “threshold” has gone 6.5%,6%,5.5% and now 4.5%. With the unemployment rate now 4.3% with record employment and no sign of wage pressure the last number may soon be due a demotion as well giving the MPC a rather full recycling bin.
There are two ways of looking at this. The first is to say that the current expansion is getting rather mature. Or as the Office for National Statistics puts it.
Following growth of 0.4% in Quarter 3 2017, GDP has grown for 19 consecutive quarters.
So you could say that it is past time to ease the monetary stimulus although of course that would have people looking over your shoulder to August 2016! The other way of looking at it is more awkward as having cut Bank Rate when GDP growth was of the order of 0.6/7% a rise now would be doing so when it is 0.3/4%. Ooops!
If we look at this as the Bank of England is likely too then there are various issues for it. We see that it can do very little about the current inflationary episode and that its claims of seeing higher wage growth after so many mistakes may bring laughter even at what is often a supine media at the press conference ( after all they want to be able to get in an early question….). It will be doing so at a level of economic growth that has often made it cut not raise interest-rates. If we look at the unsecured credit growth issue that I analysed on Monday the problem is that it has been at the same growth rate for a while and the Bank of England lit the blue touch-paper for it in August 2016,
Thus if it does raise Bank Rate it is likely to involve a downbeat assessment of productivity and the supply side of the UK economy. This will then allow it to continue its post EU leave vote pessimism and attempt to dodge the obvious timing problem. The catch is that its theoretical efforts in this area have had about as much success as Chelsea’s defence last night.
As for my views the first bit is easy yes Bank Rate should be 0.5% as part of an effort to take it higher, the catch is in the timing as this inflationary episode is past us in monetary policy terms. But as we can see from the current level of the UK Pound ( US $1.33 and Euro 1.14) it can help going forwards. The market is settled it will happen but I expect some to vote against as intriguingly two inside members ( Cunliffe and Ramsden) have hinted they will and of course Silvana Tenreyro was reported as saying this by Reuters only last month.
New Bank of England rate-setter Silvana Tenreyro said she was not ready to vote to raise the Bank’s record low interest rates in November although she might do so in the coming months if inflation pressure builds in Britain’s labour market.
Could the “unreliable boyfriend” emerge again or will it be a case of one and done like in Canada under Governor Carney? ( correction as Andrew Baldwin points out in the comments rates were raised to 1%).
Oh and as a reminder take care from late this afternoon as that is when the MPC actually vote. The delay between this and the announcement which was introduced by Governor Carney is something that can only go wrong ( i.e leak) in my opinion.