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Bank of England makes biggest interest rate hike in 30 years

London, November 3, 2022

The U.K. central bank may opt to raise rates by as much as 1 percentage point to show it is serious about tackling inflation

The Bank of England has announced its biggest interest rate increase in three decades as it tries to beat back stubbornly high inflation fuelled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the disastrous economic policies of former Prime Minister Liz Truss.

The bank boosted its key rate by three-quarters of a percentage point on November 3, to 3%, after consumer price inflation returned to a 40-year high in September.

The aggressive move to prevent inflation from becoming embedded in the economy was in line with market expectations after a more cautious half-point increase six weeks ago.

The interest rate decision is the first since Ms. Truss’ government announced 45 billion pounds ($52 billion) of unfunded tax cuts that sparked turmoil on financial markets, pushed up mortgage costs and forced Ms. Truss from office after just six weeks.

Her successor, Rishi Sunak, has warned of spending cuts and tax increases as he seeks to undo the damage and show that Britain is committed to paying its bills.

The rate increase is the Bank of England’s eighth in a row and biggest since 1992. It comes after the U.S. Federal Reserve on November 2 announced a fourth consecutive three-quarter point jump as central banks worldwide tackle inflation that is eroding living standards and slowing economic growth.

Earlier in the day, Luke Bartholomew, senior economist at abrdn said, the U.K. central bank may opt to raise rates by as much as 1 percentage point to show it is serious about tackling inflation after facing criticism for being slow to react earlier this year.

“The Bank of England will try to look through the volatility caused by the government’s policy and gas price movements, and focus on underlying inflation pressure,’’ Mr. Bartholomew said in a note to investors. “However, given the impact on household spending of such large inflationary moves, and the risk to inflation expectations, it adds a further complication to an already very difficult policy decision for the bank.”

Central banks have struggled to contain inflation after initially believing that price increases were being fueled by international factors beyond their control. Their response intensified in recent months as it became clear that inflation was becoming embedded in the economy, feeding through into higher borrowing costs and demands for higher wages.

The war in Ukraine boosted food and energy prices worldwide as shipments of natural gas, grain and cooking oil were disrupted. That added to inflation that began to accelerate last year when the global economy began to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hard hit by a jump in natural gas prices

The U.K. also has struggled as wholesale gas prices increased fivefold in the 12 months through August. While prices have dropped more than 50% since the August peak, they are likely to rise again during the winter heating season, worsening inflation. 

The British Government sought to shield consumers with a cap on energy prices. But after the turmoil caused by Ms. Truss’ economic policies, Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt limited the price cap to six months instead of two years, ending on March 31.

Meanwhile, food prices have jumped 14.6% in the year through September, led by the soaring cost of staples such as meat, bread, milk and eggs, the Office for National Statistics said. That pushed consumer price inflation back to 10.1%, the highest since early 1982 and equal to the level last reached in July.

Increases in the cost of tea bags, milk and sugar mean that even the “humble” cup of tea, which people across the country turn to when they need a break from the pressures of daily life, is getting more expensive, the British Retail Consortium said on November 2.

“While some supply chain costs are beginning to fall, this is more than offset by the cost of energy, meaning a difficult time ahead for retailers and households alike,” said Helen Dickinson, the consortium’s chief executive.

Ms. Truss’ failed economic plan made things worse, driving the pound to a record low against the dollar, threatening the stability of some pension funds and triggering predictions that the Bank of England would boost interest rates higher than expected. That increased mortgage costs as lenders repriced their products.

[The Hindu]

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