UK inflation remains above target ahead of BoE decision

LONDON: Britain’s consumer prices accelerated well beyond the Bank of England’s (BoE) target for a second month, propelled by the global disruption in supply chains that pushed up transport costs.

Consumer prices rose 3.1% in September after a 3.2% gain the month before, the Office for National Statistics said yesterday. The BoE expects prices to climb above 4% by the end of the year, more than double the mandate.

The data was the last before the central bank’s decision on interest rates next month, when financial markets anticipate officials will lift borrowing costs for the first time since the pandemic struck. BoE governor Andrew Bailey has said policy makers must act to contain an upward spiral in prices.

“The strains from a re-opening economy have resulted in more acute supply chain pressures,” said Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG UK. “We expect further increases in inflation from October.”

“The respite is unlikely to last. The headline rate is set to take another leg higher next month before moving above 4% by the end of the year,” said Bloomberg economist Dan Hanson.Rising inflation also presents a problem for Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, who will have to pay more to service Britain’s inflation-linked debt. A separate retail price index, which helps determine interest payments on those gilts, leaped 4.9%, the highest rate since 2011 and more than the 4.7% rate expected. That index was pushed up partly by house prices.

“Global shocks have pushed up prices around the world, and we are working with businesses and international partners to address these pressures,” Sunak said.

In the headline consumer price index, the cost of transportation led gains in September. Petrol prices surged 19% to the highest since 2013, even before a fuel crisis reduced supplies. Used car prices rose 2.9% in September alone and have risen almost 22% since April.

Those factors were offset by a smaller contribution to inflation from hotels and restaurants, which eased price pressures when compared with a year ago. In September 2020, restaurants raised prices after the government’s “Eat Out to Help Out” programme finished.

While policy makers have long said the current bout of inflation will prove transitory, a flurry of developments in recent weeks have suggested it may be set to last longer than initially thought. Natural gas prices have surged, pockets of rapid wage growth are emerging, and firms are increasingly talking up the prospects of price rises.

That, coupled with increasingly hawkish rhetoric from some BoE policy makers, has prompted a rapid change in the market’s outlook for rates, which economists at HSBC Holdings Inc say may be one of the fastest increases in history.

In the past few weeks, Bailey has allowed speculation to build about higher rates. He didn’t push back against aggressive money-market bets on borrowing costs.

As well as the implications for the central bank, the uptick in inflation is threatening to deepen a cost-of-living crisis for British households, which may undermine the economy’s already faltering recovery.

The spike in inflation is set to reduce household incomes by £1,000 (RM5,737) next year, relative to the previous forecasts for the measure to subside through 2021, the Resolution Foundation said this week.

September’s inflation reading is used to set an annual increase in state pension payments. At 3.1%, it will be the second-highest increase in a decade for the UK’s 12.4 million pensioners. Sunak’s plan to raise taxes will tighten finances for most households. — Bloomberg

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