By Jonathan Cable
LONDON – The Bank of England will deliver another bumper 50 basis points (bps) increase to borrowing costs next month but then slow the pace to a more regular 25 basis point rise in November before pausing, a Reuters poll forecast.
Earlier this month the Bank, the first amongst its major peers to start unwinding ultra-loose COVID-19 policy, raised interest rates by 50 basis points – the most in 27 years – in its attempt to contain inflation likely to climb into double digits.
More than half of the economists polled by Reuters Aug. 9-12 – 30 of 51 – said the BoE would take Bank Rate to 2.25% on Sept. 15 by adding 50 basis points. The other 21 suggested a more modest 25 basis point lift to 2.00%.
The expected hefty increase comes despite official data showing the economy contracted 0.1% last quarter and the central bank saying the country was likely to enter a recession later this year and not emerge from it until early 2024.
“With growth slowing, it is tempting to assume the BoE will be thinking of hitting the brakes – and could even be cutting rates within the next year. But for now at least, the UK’s problems are supply and inflation driven: allowing inflation to rise even further risks only making the situation worse,” said Elizabeth Martins at HSBC.
A large majority of those polled said the Bank would slow the pace in November to 25 basis points. For the December meeting, 18 economists said the Bank would add another 25 basis points while 25 said it would pause.
The median forecast suggested borrowing costs would end the year at 2.50%, where they would stay until a cut in 2024.
That is despite the threat of recession, with the median forecast of one within a year at 60% and within two years at 75%. However, quarterly median forecasts only depicted very weak or no growth as economists picked different timings for when it would happen.
“We expect a recession in 2022/23 to be driven by high inflation, with a contraction in real consumer spending at its epicentre,” said Ruth Gregory at Capital Economics. “But with household and corporate balance sheets still relatively healthy, we suspect the recession will be mild by historical standards.”
Growth was pegged to average 3.5% this year and 0.2% next.
The Bank’s mandate is to have inflation at 2% and according to the poll it will reach 11.4% in the fourth quarter, higher than the 10.2% predicted last month, before slowing although it wasn’t expected to be at target across the forecast horizon.
The BoE has said it would peak at 13.3% in October, the highest since 1980.
Soaring inflation largely driven by rising energy costs, alongside issues surrounding Britain’s departure from the European Union and disrupted supply chains exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has led to a cost-of-living crisis.
Frontrunner to be the next prime minister, Liz Truss, has said she favours tax cuts over direct handouts to help households while her rival, Rishi Sunak, said on Friday every household would get savings of around 200 pounds ($242) on their energy bills with a tax reduction.
Yet analysts at a consultancy firm forecast the energy price cap could hit a whopping 5,038 pounds a year in April 2023 due to soaring energy prices across Europe, up 150% from already elevated current levels.
When asked what would best help households, 14 of 16 economists who answered an extra question said subsidised fuel bills, while only two said tax cuts.
“Well-targeted subsidies provide a better answer to help those who need them most. The problem with a wholesale approach to tax cuts is that they are often regressive and not paid by the most vulnerable such as pensioners,” said Michal Stelmach at KPMG.
(For other stories from the Reuters global economic poll:)
($1 = 0.8248 pounds)
(Reporting by Jonathan Cable; polling by Prerana Bhat and Sarupya Ganguly; Editing by Alex Richardson)