United Kingdom: BoE keeps rates unchanged in February, but adopts a more hawkish tone
At its meeting ending on 7 February, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of England (BoE) voted unanimously to leave the Bank Rate unchanged at 0.50%. The Bank thus stayed put for the second consecutive meeting, after hiking rates for the first time in over a decade last November. It also voted unanimously to continue its purchases of investment-grade corporate bonds of up to GBP 10 billion and to maintain the total stock of UK government bond purchases at GBP 435 billion, financed by the issuance of Central Bank reserves. All three decisions were in line with market expectations.
The Central Bank’s decision to maintain the Bank Rate unchanged was likely partly motivated by a desire to allow the impact of the recent rate increase to fully feed through to the economy. In addition, although inflation remained above-target at 3.0% in December, the figure was slightly below November’s peak and in line with market expectations. Also, price pressures continue to be driven largely by the weaker sterling, and domestic economic activity remains mild—even though growth picked up slightly in Q4 from Q3. Any further premature tightening, Bank officials argued, could weaken the economy.
Despite remaining on hold, the BoE adopted a significantly more hawkish tone in its communiqué and made clear that it was likely to tighten monetary conditions earlier and more quickly than previously anticipated. This is partly due to the limited slack remaining in the labor market, with the unemployment rate hovering close to the Bank’s updated estimate for the equilibrium unemployment rate of 4.25%. Capacity constraints could intensify cost pressures; indeed, in Q4 nascent signs of a recovery in wages started to emerge. In addition, the Bank expects demand to increase more quickly than previously forecast going forward, which coupled with the lack of spare capacity could generate inflationary pressures.
The next monetary policy meeting will be held on 22 March.