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Mortgage rate rises will push the UK into a recession

Hard hats on for this one... Credit: Getty

June 16, 2023 - 7:00am

Mortgage rates in Britain are spiralling. HSBC is reportedly raising them for the second time in a week. The rises are occurring after recent economic data shows stubbornly high wage growth, which is now driving inflation in Britain. The wage-price spiral is very real and becoming a major threat to economic stability.

Unusually for an arcane financial topic, mortgage rates are becoming a hot button political issue. The current situation, at a micro- and macro-level, demands it. At a micro-level, many mortgage-holders are fearful that they cannot pay their bills, with mortgage costs accruing on top of the already high energy bills.

At a macro-level, the stability of the financial system is under threat from a wave of defaults. We are already seeing the commercial property bubble in the United States start to burst. Britain’s commercial property market — and probably its residential property market — are likely next. Property prices have become stretched in recent years, mainly due to reckless central bank monetary policy experiments. The chickens are coming home to roost — all at once.

The Punch and Judy show that is being generated by the politicisation of the mortgage rate issue is notable. Labour will not condone the unpopular strikes, but they will wink and nod at their union friends as they drive the economy into the ditch which in turn bolsters the party’s poll numbers. Rishi Sunak portrayed himself as a master financier and safe pair of hands who would return the country to economic stability after Lizz Truss — but clearly he has failed in this regard.

Labour attacks the Tories by saying that their economic strategy is a mess, as is their wont. But their economists have been denying the existence of a wage-price spiral for months. While Labour has not outwardly backed the strikes that are contributing to the problem, Starmer has recently indicated that his party would rescind the Sunak government’s anti-strike laws. This crypto-class warfare may make for good partisan politics, but it is destructive to the country because it renders the economy highly unstable and lets inflation run riot.

Rising above the tide, however, are some new voices on the political scene. Miriam Cates, MP for Penistone and Stockbridge, a leading figure on the new Right, has been doing the rounds discussing the deep structural problems that are contributing to Britain’s increasingly scary economic instability. On a recent BBC Politics Live show, Cates asked:

Why are mortgage rate rises such a big deal? Because house prices are so overinflated that they are unaffordable. And one of the reasons for that is because interest rates were so low for so long that people started investing in property rather than saving their money. Because property is now an asset, an investment rather than a home, even if you do increase supply, you just increase the supply of an investment asset. 
- Miriam Cates

Cates went on to argue that Britain has had deep structural economic problems since the 1980s which have been papered over with financialisation of the economy and rising levels of debt.

It is extremely refreshing to hear mortgage rate rises discussed in this context, even as they are being used cynically as a political football by others. But even if the Sunak government listened to Cates tomorrow, it is likely too late for the British property sector. It will sink with rising interest rates and drag the economy into recession. 

Perhaps, if we listen to politicians such as Cates, we will pay attention this time and look for actual solutions rather than sweeping the problem back under the rug. Cates proposes trying to rebalance the economy away from the financial sector and toward domestic manufacturing. This would not be easy, but it is necessary, and at least some figures are taking this problem seriously. The same cannot be said for our current crop of leaders.


Philip Pilkington is a macroeconomist and investment professional, and the author of The Reformation in Economics

philippilk

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Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
1 year ago

This article and the MPs commentary are spot on. Furthermore, our deindustrialisation is driven by the incredibly foolish energy policies common to all the main political parties. Industry needs a reliable and secure supply of affordable energy to enable it to survive, let alone thrive. Our political leaders are delivering something which is intermittent, insecure and very expensive . No wonder our deindustrialisation continues apace.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
1 year ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

That MP’s comments seem to be dead right. But it does have to be said that there hasn’t exactly been much pushback on 0% interest rates. There should have been.
0% interest rates are exhibit A in the dangers of giving politicians new toys – they never go back in the box.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
1 year ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

That MP’s comments seem to be dead right. But it does have to be said that there hasn’t exactly been much pushback on 0% interest rates. There should have been.
0% interest rates are exhibit A in the dangers of giving politicians new toys – they never go back in the box.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
1 year ago

This article and the MPs commentary are spot on. Furthermore, our deindustrialisation is driven by the incredibly foolish energy policies common to all the main political parties. Industry needs a reliable and secure supply of affordable energy to enable it to survive, let alone thrive. Our political leaders are delivering something which is intermittent, insecure and very expensive . No wonder our deindustrialisation continues apace.

Anthony Roe
Anthony Roe
1 year ago

Add 200,000 wealthy or desperate foreigners to the population of London every year and the stuation will worsen for the English who are rapidly abandoning the capital city leaving behind only the poor and the elderly.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
1 year ago
Reply to  Anthony Roe

Our overlords in London have long known that the arrival of 100,000 plus unplanned free movers magically led to their houses to gaining 100k a year too – you just needed to stop homes being built. Blair led the way coining a 30m property empire. All our top civil servants are like Starmer and the Idiot Milliband, sitting pretty in ÂŁ4-6m houses. I wonder why the crisis has lasted 2 decades??? This will be seen as one of the most callous class war heists in social history – a 2 decade orgy of wealth accumulation that is only coming to end as the Time Bomb of Zero Interest Rates (handy that!!) and the QE/,Lockdown catastrophes bring the madness to a suitably explosive climax. Shame on our governing classes and their rank greed, the rocket fuel of Remainiac hysteria. They fought ugly to preserve an even uglier status quo – their untaxed unmerited Midas Machine.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
1 year ago
Reply to  Anthony Roe

Our overlords in London have long known that the arrival of 100,000 plus unplanned free movers magically led to their houses to gaining 100k a year too – you just needed to stop homes being built. Blair led the way coining a 30m property empire. All our top civil servants are like Starmer and the Idiot Milliband, sitting pretty in ÂŁ4-6m houses. I wonder why the crisis has lasted 2 decades??? This will be seen as one of the most callous class war heists in social history – a 2 decade orgy of wealth accumulation that is only coming to end as the Time Bomb of Zero Interest Rates (handy that!!) and the QE/,Lockdown catastrophes bring the madness to a suitably explosive climax. Shame on our governing classes and their rank greed, the rocket fuel of Remainiac hysteria. They fought ugly to preserve an even uglier status quo – their untaxed unmerited Midas Machine.

Anthony Roe
Anthony Roe
1 year ago

Add 200,000 wealthy or desperate foreigners to the population of London every year and the stuation will worsen for the English who are rapidly abandoning the capital city leaving behind only the poor and the elderly.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago

Why no mention of housing demand drivers ?
High interest rates would not be anywhere near as painful if house prices were at more normal “salary multiples”.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Barton
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago

Why no mention of housing demand drivers ?
High interest rates would not be anywhere near as painful if house prices were at more normal “salary multiples”.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ian Barton
Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago

Good. It is not Rishi Sunak’s job to “save the property sector”. Nor should it be.
Thirty years of artificially inflating and propping up the property market have brought us to the point where a major recession is needed to correct the massive overshoot.
Separately, I’m not sure quite how this author feels confident enough to judge Rishi Sunak’s policies a failure after less than one year in charge. On the one hand, Pilkington is arguing for more stable, longer term policies. On the other, he seems to think that results can be reliably measured after less than a year.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago

Good. It is not Rishi Sunak’s job to “save the property sector”. Nor should it be.
Thirty years of artificially inflating and propping up the property market have brought us to the point where a major recession is needed to correct the massive overshoot.
Separately, I’m not sure quite how this author feels confident enough to judge Rishi Sunak’s policies a failure after less than one year in charge. On the one hand, Pilkington is arguing for more stable, longer term policies. On the other, he seems to think that results can be reliably measured after less than a year.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago

And what exactly did Cates recommend as immediate actions and medium term solution? The need for the UK economy to rebalance away from finance to more manufacturing been a basic economic text book conclusion idea for decades. Saying it doesn’t make it happen. What’s she actually proposing to help make it happen?
Outlining this problem is a classic bit of ‘no sh*t Sherlock’.
Tories do alot of this. A veneer of policy to gain some plaudits with a vacuum below.
The switch of course would involve fundamental changes in how assets (and financial trades) are taxed and investment encouraged into manufacturing ventures because the returns elsewhere have been deliberately reduced. That’d upset a heck of alot of wealthy folks who prefer the lower risk use of their capital, and of course alot of super rich financiers too. So let’s be hearing what she suggests to do about this which isn’t all style and no substance.

Last edited 1 year ago by j watson
Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

I don’t seen any necessary link between inflated house prices and a large financial sector, much of which serves an overseas rather than domestic market and is enormously important for what we used to call the “balance of payments”. Reducing the size of a high value, high wage industry at which we are internationally competitive and successful to “rebalance” to some other activities in which we enjot less competitive advantage doesn’t sound like a smart thing to do to me.
You know perfectly well what the solutions are here. We all do.
In no particular order …
#1 Stop the BofE lending money at suppressed interest rates – this just fuels house price inflation – make those lazy fools do their one job and target 2% inflation
#2 Stop government subsidies for house building (“help to buy” = help make housing less affordable)
#3 Relax planning restrictions on house building to increase supply and reduce housing cost
#4 If necessary use more compulsory purchase of land to allow more housing supply
#5 Force all government agencies (including the NHS and ex-monopolies like BR), departments and local governments to release unused land and property. The MoD are the absolute worst culprits here.
#6 Get more of government out of London
#7 Limit net inward migration to something we can manage
#8 Increase property taxes on overseas property purchases
#9 Penal taxes on unused housing
#10 Increased taxes on second homes
#11 Improve the quality and size of new houses/flats and gardens – there is not actually a shortage of space that necessitates living in shoe boxes
#12 Consider capital gains taxation on housing – it’s done in some countries – why should unearned income go untaxed ?
#13 Stop all the idiotic measures which have undermined traditional pension investments
#14 Actually collect all the income tax and capital gains tax from rental property. I’m certain that a large percentage of this currently goes untaxed and in not enforced. Confiscation of property from those who systematically defraud the state and cannot/will not pay overdue tax + interest + fines.
Probably missed a few others.
Now show me your list.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Apologies. Forgot this (spotted in another comment:
#15 Reduce – if not eliminate – all the green taxes making energy less affordable and destroying industry so the Chinese can create greater overall pollution
That won’t reduce house prices, but it will cushion the period of correction.
Politicians have spent the last 20 or 30 years deliberately making both housing and energy more expensive. These were deliberate policy choices. They can be changed.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Yes much I agree with in these lists PB. I disagree with no.15, but 14 agreements be a first for us wouldn’t it!
My comment was more at the Cates missive on re-balancing between finance and manufacturing/Industry.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

Thanks JW. Almost 100% agreement. I’m going to call it a day there before I ruin it !

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

Thanks JW. Almost 100% agreement. I’m going to call it a day there before I ruin it !

j watson
j watson
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Yes much I agree with in these lists PB. I disagree with no.15, but 14 agreements be a first for us wouldn’t it!
My comment was more at the Cates missive on re-balancing between finance and manufacturing/Industry.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter B

Apologies. Forgot this (spotted in another comment:
#15 Reduce – if not eliminate – all the green taxes making energy less affordable and destroying industry so the Chinese can create greater overall pollution
That won’t reduce house prices, but it will cushion the period of correction.
Politicians have spent the last 20 or 30 years deliberately making both housing and energy more expensive. These were deliberate policy choices. They can be changed.

Peter B
Peter B
1 year ago
Reply to  j watson

I don’t seen any necessary link between inflated house prices and a large financial sector, much of which serves an overseas rather than domestic market and is enormously important for what we used to call the “balance of payments”. Reducing the size of a high value, high wage industry at which we are internationally competitive and successful to “rebalance” to some other activities in which we enjot less competitive advantage doesn’t sound like a smart thing to do to me.
You know perfectly well what the solutions are here. We all do.
In no particular order …
#1 Stop the BofE lending money at suppressed interest rates – this just fuels house price inflation – make those lazy fools do their one job and target 2% inflation
#2 Stop government subsidies for house building (“help to buy” = help make housing less affordable)
#3 Relax planning restrictions on house building to increase supply and reduce housing cost
#4 If necessary use more compulsory purchase of land to allow more housing supply
#5 Force all government agencies (including the NHS and ex-monopolies like BR), departments and local governments to release unused land and property. The MoD are the absolute worst culprits here.
#6 Get more of government out of London
#7 Limit net inward migration to something we can manage
#8 Increase property taxes on overseas property purchases
#9 Penal taxes on unused housing
#10 Increased taxes on second homes
#11 Improve the quality and size of new houses/flats and gardens – there is not actually a shortage of space that necessitates living in shoe boxes
#12 Consider capital gains taxation on housing – it’s done in some countries – why should unearned income go untaxed ?
#13 Stop all the idiotic measures which have undermined traditional pension investments
#14 Actually collect all the income tax and capital gains tax from rental property. I’m certain that a large percentage of this currently goes untaxed and in not enforced. Confiscation of property from those who systematically defraud the state and cannot/will not pay overdue tax + interest + fines.
Probably missed a few others.
Now show me your list.

j watson
j watson
1 year ago

And what exactly did Cates recommend as immediate actions and medium term solution? The need for the UK economy to rebalance away from finance to more manufacturing been a basic economic text book conclusion idea for decades. Saying it doesn’t make it happen. What’s she actually proposing to help make it happen?
Outlining this problem is a classic bit of ‘no sh*t Sherlock’.
Tories do alot of this. A veneer of policy to gain some plaudits with a vacuum below.
The switch of course would involve fundamental changes in how assets (and financial trades) are taxed and investment encouraged into manufacturing ventures because the returns elsewhere have been deliberately reduced. That’d upset a heck of alot of wealthy folks who prefer the lower risk use of their capital, and of course alot of super rich financiers too. So let’s be hearing what she suggests to do about this which isn’t all style and no substance.

Last edited 1 year ago by j watson
Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

The entire premise is WRONG. PM’s don’t set interest rates, the market does. And inflation is not caused by rising wages. It’s the other way round.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 year ago

The entire premise is WRONG. PM’s don’t set interest rates, the market does. And inflation is not caused by rising wages. It’s the other way round.

Will K
Will K
1 year ago

One could also say that those now complaining about mortgage rate increases, agreed to a contract with this exact possibility.

Will K
Will K
1 year ago

One could also say that those now complaining about mortgage rate increases, agreed to a contract with this exact possibility.