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The Bank of England’s interest rate decision is short-termist

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey has come under fire for previous interest rate hikes. Credit: Getty

September 21, 2023 - 1:00pm

The Bank of England has today surprised markets by announcing that it would hold interest rates at 5.25%. While a 25bps increase in interest rates was expected, the Bank appears to have held back due to data earlier this week which showed inflation coming down. This is the first time the Bank has held back on rate hikes since November 2021, and reports indicate that its Monetary Policy Committee was split on the decision. 

The ONS data from August showed that inflation slowed to 6.7% from 6.8% the previous month. While not an enormous decline, this at least signalled to the Bank that inflation might be heading in the right direction, and that they might then ease interest rate hikes.

Core inflation — that is, inflation excluding cyclical elements like food and energy — performed even better, falling from 6.4% in July to 5.9% in August. The Bank has been watching core inflation very closely, and economists know that a large component of the present inflation is the energy price shock resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year. Core inflation tells us how far the effects of this shock remain.

The main components driving the rate of inflation lower were food, accommodation and services. Looking closer, one can see something that apparently escaped the Bank’s radar, given it did not hike rates: motor fuel inflation, which has been declining since March of this year, is now going down at a much slower pace. This reflects recent increases in the global oil price driven by the powerful new alliance in the market between Russia and Saudi Arabia, who have bypassed the rest of Opec+ and seized control over energy prices.

The motor fuel component of CPI tracks the Brent oil price. In August the Brent oil price was still declining, but as of today it has increased to just under $96 a barrel, meaning it is rising year-on-year. What’s more, the Saudis and the Russians are targeting a $100-a-barrel price, which implies an annual increase of over 11% if they hit their target by next month.

While the motor oil component of CPI is the most obvious channel through which changes in the Brent oil price impact inflation, it is far from the only one. Increasing energy prices raises costs for businesses across the board. This means that, if the Russians and the Saudis hit their price target in the coming weeks, the price increase in energy will flow through the economy, likely leading to the recent decline in inflation slowing or even stopping altogether.

The Bank appears not to have raised interest rates because of the positive inflation data from August. Given the news about energy prices, though, this seems like a surprisingly short-termist move by an institution which has otherwise been very aggressive about controlling inflation. If the energy price increases lead to lingering inflation in the coming months, the dissident hawks who called for a rate hike today will consider themselves vindicated — and they will no doubt let their colleagues know it.


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

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Andrew Buckley
Andrew Buckley
9 months ago

So I may be a simple soul but I thought the whole idea of the Bank of England (and Fed and ECB) was their independence of political “interference”. Certainly that was what they were “sold” as many years ago now. Apparently having technocrats in charge would be better!
But they do seem to have their own political views which come out in what parts of society they protect with their interest rate changes. Over the last 20 years this has appeared to be big business (multinationals in particular), asset holders and (of course) other bankers.
Whether Carney or Bailey sticking noses into basically political conversations seems to be a thing. And yet fast asleep (Carney this was) between 2010 and 2016 when increasing interest rates would have been a good idea, Carney of course had to open his mouth after the Brexit vote (talk about cross!!) and being a part of increasing global market anger after the Leave vote.
On a personal level after the 2008 crash my mortgage dropped by ÂŁ1000 per month. My income had a blip and then soared from 2011. I paid down the mortgage and had ten years of wonderful (and expensive) holidays with money saved from my mortgages and then got a lovely chunk extra on a house downsize after years of wonderful asset price inflation. Absolute (big picture) madness.
There appears to be little rhyme or reason to the interest rates set. Except to keep people spending and borrowing. I have set my finances at a level that I hope is realistic after Covid when it became totally obvious that things would tighten and get a bit sticky for a good number of years.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
9 months ago

Stop obsessing about external factors.

Follow the money printing.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
9 months ago

This is nonsense. Interest rate rises can have no effect on external inflationary forces but they do cause damage at home.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
9 months ago

Interest rate increases cannot stop energy prices rising. But if the cost of money increases, people will have less of it. Therefore they will either spend less on energy (reducing its weighting in the consumer price index), or spend less on other things, creating deflationary pressure. Either way inflation should come down. If the BoE felt it had no control over external forces impacting inflation, it should not have engaged in QE from 2009 in response to deflationary pressures arising from technological change and the offshoring of manufacturing to China.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
9 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

The cost of energy is excluded from the core inflation figures.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
9 months ago

Who is paying these people? Oh, yes. I am.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
9 months ago

The first line is totally incorrect. The markets “priced in” the U.K. to hold rates as soon as the Fed held their rate the previous day. The authors error made it hard for me to bother reading the rest of the article.

Last edited 9 months ago by Ian Barton