The pound has weakened after the Bank of England’s cautious guidance that markets are expecting more interest rate hikes than the Bank thinks are necessary. The UK currency fell against all its major peers in response to the divergence between what the market is expecting and what the Bank will deliver. The Bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) on Thursday voted 8-1 to hike rates by 25 basis points.
While the Bank admitted that further hikes could be necessary, it noted that the market's expectation for the Bank Rate to be at 2.0% by the end of the year was too extreme. The news has disappointed markets as the Bank’s tone was not as hawkish and optimistic as expected. The market was pricing in a further 134 basis points of hikes for 2022 but after Thursday’s policy update, this has been reduced to 123 points.
The Bank is now clearly concerned that the war in Ukraine will push inflation higher and will affect consumers and businesses, slowing down economic growth. With higher energy, food and commodity prices having increased due to the war in Ukraine, inflations will skyrocket to around 8% in April according to the Bank's forecasts.
The Bank worries that inflation will hurt demand as it expects it to fall faster than initially forecast over the medium-term. Hiking interest rates over-aggressively will help very little when inflation falls back. This is why the Bank has reduced some of its rate hike expectations. The Bank’s more dovish and cautious tone has weakened the pound, as markets are slowly digesting the news.
The foreign exchange market has diminished its expectations for 50bps hikes to be delivered at upcoming policy meetings and expects four more 25bps hikes at successive meetings up until September with another rate hike in 2023. The need for a more modest approach in the coming months is something that the Bank now considers to be more appropriate.
According to analysts, the Bank is in a difficult position as it is raising rates to tame inflation due to supply chain issues while at the same time the cost-of-living squeeze is affecting households.
The war in Ukraine will continue to hurt the pound and a possible de-escalation will offer support to the British currency.
ECB and the euro
The pound is expected to remain supported as analysts say, since the BoE will continue its interest rate hikes, but in the long term, the euro could benefit from expectations that the European Central Bank (ECB) will start changing its monetary policy and raise interest rates soon. According to Reuters, the President of European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, said on Thursday during a news conference that the ECB has no intention of raising interest rates until some time after it has ended its bond buying programme at the end of the third quarter. Lagarde said: "Any adjustment to the key ECB interest rates will take place some time after the end of our net purchases under the APP (Asset Purchase Programme) and will be gradual.” Markets are now pricing in around 43bps worth of interest rate hikes this year. Investors have scaled back their expectations on rate hikes since the war in Ukraine broke out. The ECB president had discussed raising interest rates at a news conference on the 2nd of February despite insisting in the past that such a move was "very unlikely" in 2022.