The Bank of England’s policy decision is due out at 12GMT on Thursday. The question of whether the Bank will raise interest rates today for the first time since the pandemic is on every trader’s and financial analyst’s mind. The Bank is in a difficult position as it has created uncertainty about its intention to raise interest rates and whether now is the appropriate time.
Governor Andrew Bailey’s difficult position
For many analysts, the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, seems to have made a mistake by exaggerating the prospects of an interest rate rise. City traders are now expecting an interest rate rise and the governor will be criticised today whatever happens. If there is an interest rate hike, it will appear that the Governor was forced to deliver it so he wouldn’t disappoint markets. On the other hand, if rates do not rise, he will be blamed for signalling that interest rates were going to rise. If rates remain unchanged, and inflation pressures prove to be temporary, then this will be the least bad alternative.
Previous Monetary Policy Committee meeting
In the last MPC meeting in September, all 9 members voted to keep rates at their current level of 0.1% as heightened global cost pressures were said to be temporary. Although nothing has changed since September, a possible reason to raise rates would be to control inflation. However, economists have pointed out that this is unnecessary as inflation goes up temporarily following events such as the pandemic but eventually things return to normal.
Rate hike could push household costs higher
A rate hike will hurt households which are already struggling with rising energy costs and could push up the cost of borrowing on credit and increase mortgage costs for those who do not have a fixed rate. With supply chain problems also affecting growth, a rate rise could also weaken economic recovery.
Some of the reasons that inflation has been higher, such as rising gas prices and raw material shortages are temporary, so it will be damaging to raise interest rates early, as some economists have argued.
Thomas Pugh, economist for RSM UK, also believes the Bank will wait and not hike today: “But at 63% probability, this is still a close call. We expect the vote to be 5v4 in favour of leaving interest rates at 0.1%. This might imply a glass half-empty/half-full policy of keeping the BoE rate at near-zero for another MPC meeting, or two, with forward guidance preparing the markets for a rate hike in December or early 2022.”
How will the pound react?
A cautious Bank that announces a rate hike in November could push the pound lower, as markets are expecting higher rates over the course of 2022. Other analysts also support the view that the pound might weaken as possibly the Bank will find it difficult to satisfy market expectations.
With the market already expecting rates to rise towards 0.50% by year end, any hawkish surprises from the Bank will be limited so the potential for the pound to rise further will also be limited.
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