United Kingdom: BoE leaves interest rates unchanged in May on soft economic data
At its meeting ending on 9 May, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of England (BoE) voted to leave the Bank Rate unchanged at 0.50%, although two of the nine members present opted for a rate hike. The Bank 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.
Until early April, many analysts had expected the BoE to raise rates on the back of a tightening labor market, signs of a recovery in wage growth and above-target inflation. However, a string of data releases over the last month point to fairly limp economic activity: Preliminary estimates put GDP growth at just 0.1% quarter-on-quarter in Q1, the services PMI was subdued in March and April, and recent retail sales figures have been tepid. In addition, inflation fell faster than expected in March, with the Central Bank now acknowledging that the impact of the past depreciation of the sterling is likely to ebb more quickly than previously thought. As a result, the BoE stayed put to support the economy, particularly as Brexit negotiations continue, generating substantial economic uncertainty and hampering business investment.
In its communiqué, the BoE again made clear that monetary policy will tighten going forward, albeit gradually and to a limited extent. Despite the fading impact of the weaker currency, domestic price pressures will likely build on faster wage growth and emerging capacity constraints, with the Bank still expecting demand in the economy to exceed supply by early 2020. The exact timing of the next rate hike will depend on whether current signs of economic fragility are just a temporary blip or a longer-lasting malaise. Our panelists are banking on a quick recovery, and expect quarter-on-quarter GDP growth to pick up again in Q2. In addition, there is a good chance preliminary Q1 GDP data will be revised higher, which would paint a less discouraging picture of the economy’s current performance.