Bank of England raises rates by most since 1995 even as long recession looms


FILE PHOTO: Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey. Dan Kitwood/Pool via REUTERS

LONDON: The Bank of England raised interest rates by the most in 27 years on Thursday, despite warning that a long recession is on its way, as it rushed to smother a rise in inflation which is now set to top 13%.

Reeling from a surge in energy prices caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the BoE's Monetary Policy Committee voted 8-1 for a half percentage point rise in Bank Rate to 1.75% - its highest level since late 2008 - from 1.25%.

The 50-basis-point increase had been expected by most economists in a Reuters poll as central banks around the world scramble to contain the surge in prices.

Governor Andrew Bailey said all options were on the table for the BoE's next meeting in September, and beyond.

"Returning inflation to the 2% target remains our absolute priority. There are no ifs and buts about that," he told a news conference.

The alarming economic outlook comes at a time of yet more political turmoil for Britain, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson forced to resign, triggering a lengthy race to replace him that has divided the ruling party.

The favourite to win, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, has pledged big tax cuts and a review of the Bank's mandate.

Bailey said had "huge sympathy" for stretched households who feel that rising interest rates will make life harder.

"I'm afraid the alternative is even worse, in terms of persistent inflation," he said.

MPC member Silvana Tenreyro voted for a smaller 25-basis-point increase.

The BoE warned that Britain was facing a recession with a peak-to-trough fall in output of 2.1%, similar to a slump in the 1990s but far less than the hit from COVID-19 and the downturn caused by the 2008-09 global financial crisis.

The economy would begin to shrink in the final quarter of 2022 and contract throughout all of 2023, making it the longest recession since the financial crisis.

Ushering in the slowdown, consumer price inflation was now likely to peak at 13.3% in October - the highest since 1980 - due mostly to the surge in energy prices following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

That would leave households facing two consecutive years of declines in their disposable incomes, the biggest squeeze since these records began in 1964.

"The shocks to UK 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."

Sterling fell against the U.S. dollar while futures priced in a further 25-basis-point rise in interest rates, to 2%, for the next BoE meeting in September.

British consumer price inflation hit a 40-year high of 9.4% in June, already more than four times the BoE's 2% target, triggering industrial action and putting pressure on whoever becomes prime minister to come up with further support.

Truss, the front-runner, said the BoE's forecasts underlined the need for an emergency budget and tax cuts. Her rival, former finance minister Rishi Sunak, said gripping inflation was imperative for any future government.

The BoE had previously expected inflation to peak at above 11% and almost no growth in Britain's economy before 2025 at the earliest.

In its new forecasts, the BoE saw inflation falling back to 2% in two years' time as the hit to the economy took its toll on demand.

Bailey said the risks to the BoE's outlook were "exceptionally large".

NO PRE-SET PATH

The British central bank has now raised rates six times since December but Thursday's move was the biggest since 1995.

The pressure on Bailey and his colleagues to move in larger steps intensified after recent big rate hikes by the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and other central banks.

Those moves weakened the value of the pound, which can add to inflation.

The BoE repeated that it was ready to move forcefully if needed to stem more persistent inflationary pressures.

But it stressed that there were "extremely large" uncertainties about the economy - which could make the slowdown more or less severe than its core forecasts - and it would judge what its next moves should be as events unfold.

"Policy is not on a pre-set path," the BoE said. "The scale, pace and timing of any further changes in Bank Rate will reflect the Committee's assessment of the economic outlook and inflationary pressures."

The BoE said it expected to start selling down its huge stockpile of government bonds - currently worth 844 billion pounds - shortly after its next meeting in mid-September, with active sales of around 10 billion pounds a quarter. - Reuters

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