Rates ‘as likely to fall as rise’


Published: Thursday 19th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Interest rates are as likely to be cut as they are to rise as the Bank of England battles against ultra-low inflation, the Bank’s chief economist said.

The pound plunged two cents against the dollar following the remarks by Andy Haldane in a speech in Rutland.

Mr Haldane stressed that his remarks were being made in a personal capacity rather than representing the views of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

They went further than governor Mark Carney’s recent remarks that policymakers must guard against the risk of persistent low inflation – currently at an all-time low of 0.3% and expected to fall further and remain close to zero for the rest of the year.

The MPC made clear last month that rates could be cut should low inflation persist longer than expected but stressed that its main view remained that the next move would be a rise. They have been held at 0.5% since 2009.

Mr Haldane, who is on the nine-member committee, said: “I do not currently see an immediate case for a policy change in either direction. If one were required … I think the chances of a rate rise or cut are broadly evenly balanced.”

He added that “a case can be made for policy easing today” and that “were downside risks to inflation to materialise, this case is strengthened”.

Expectations of an interest rate hike, already pushed back into next year, have faded further this week after official figures showed wage rises stalling. Mr Haldane noted in his speech that the pay data was “notably weaker”.

They have also been delayed by cautious language in the minutes from the MPC’s latest rate-setting meeting on Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation – which under its remit it must aim to return to 2%.

The minutes said the recent strength of the pound against the euro had “the potential to prolong the period for which CPI inflation would remain below the target”.

It comes after a recent speech in which Mr Carney warned of the risks of persistent low inflation which he said could pose a “clear and present danger” to the UK’s debt-laden households and businesses.

An extended period of negative inflation risks repayments such as mortgages becoming effectively more expensive to service, particularly if wages are falling.

Another fear is that it would delay consumer spending and business investment.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said: “Despite Andy Haldane’s remarks, an interest rate cut by the Bank of England still looks highly unlikely as he looks to be pretty isolated in his views – at least for now.”

Published: Thursday 19th March 2015 by The News Editor

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