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Posts Tagged ‘spare capacity’

Bank Rate ‐ first rise for more than 10 years

On 2 November, the Bank of England raised Bank rate from 0.25% to 0.5% – the first rise since July 2007. But was now the right time to raise interest rates? Seven of the nine-person Monetary Policy Committee voted to do so; two voted to keep Bank Rate at 0.25%.

Raising the rate, on first sight, may seem a surprising decision as growth remains sluggish. Indeed, the two MPC members who voted against the rise argued that wage growth was too weak to justify the rise. Also, inflation is likely to fall as the effects of the Brexit-vote-induced depreciation of sterling on prices feeds through the economy. In other words, prices are likely to settle at the new higher levels but will not carry on rising – at least not at the same rate.

So why did the other seven members vote to raise Bank Rate. There are three main arguments:

Inflation, at 3%, is above the target of 2% and is likely to stay above the target if interest rates are not raised.
There is little spare capacity in the economy, with low unemployment. There is no shortage of aggregate demand relative to output.
With productivity growth being negligible and persistently below that before the financial crisis, aggregate demand, although growing slower than in the past, is growing excessively relative to the growth in aggregate supply.

As the Governor stated at the press conference:

In many respects, the decision today is straightforward: with inflation high, slack disappearing, and the economy growing at rates above its speed limit, inflation is unlikely to return to the 2% target without some increase in interest rates.

But, of course, the MPC’s forecasts may turn out to be incorrect. Many things are hard to predict. These include: the outcomes of the Brexit negotiations; consumer and business confidence and their effects on consumption and investment; levels of growth in other countries and their effects on UK exports; and the effects of the higher interest rates on saving and borrowing and hence on aggregate demand.

The Bank of England is well aware of these uncertainties. Although it plans two more rises in the coming months and then Bank Rate remaining at 1% for some time, this is based on its current assessment of the outlook for the economy. If circumstances change, the Bank will adjust the timing and total amount of future interest rate changes.

There are, however, dangers in the rise in interest rates. Household debt is at very high levels and, although the cost of servicing these debts is relatively low, even a rise in interest rates of just 0.25 percentage points can represent a large percentage increase. For example, a rise in a typical variable mortgage interest rate from 4.25% to 4.5% represents a 5.9% increase. Any resulting decline in consumer spending could dent business confidence and reduce investment.

Nevertheless, the Bank estimates that the effect of higher mortgage rates is likely to be small, given that some 60% of mortgages are at fixed rates. However, people need to refinance such rates every two or three years and may also worry about the rises to come promised by the Bank.

Articles
Bank of England deputy says interest rate rise means pain for households and more hikes could be in store Independent, Ben Chapman (3/11/17)
UK interest rates: Bank of England shrugs off Brexit nerves to launch first hike in over a decade Independent, Ben Chu (2/11/17)
Bank of England takes slow lane after first rate hike since Reuters, David Milliken, William Schomberg and Julian Satterthwaite (2/11/17)
First UK rate rise in a decade will be a slow burn Financial Times, Gemma Tetlow (2/11/17)
The Bank of England’s Rate Rise Could Spook Britain’s Economy Bloomberg, Fergal O’Brien and Brian Swint (3/11/17)
Bank of England hikes rates for the first time in a decade CNBC, Sam Meredith (2/11/17)
Interest rates rise in Britain for the first time in a decade The Economist (2/11/17)

Bank of England publications
Bank of England Inflation Report Press Conference, Opening Remarks Financial Times on YouTube, Mark Carney (2/11/17)
Bank of England Inflation Report Press Conference, Opening Remarks Bank of England, Mark Carney (2/11/17)
Inflation Report Press Conference (full) Bank of England on YouTube (2/11/17)
Inflation Report Bank of England (November 2017)
Monetary Policy Summary and minutes of the Monetary Policy Committee meeting ending on 1 November 2017 Bank of England (2/11/17)

Questions

  1. Why did the majority of MPC members feel that now was the right time to raise interest rates whereas a month ago was the wrong time?
  2. Why did the exchange rate fall when the announcement was made?
  3. How does a monetary policy of targeting the rate of inflation affect the balance between aggregate demand and aggregate supply?
  4. Can monetary policy affect potential output, or only actual output?
  5. If recent forecasts have downgraded productivity growth and hence long-term economic growth, does this support the argument for raising interest rates or does it suggest that monetary policy should be more expansionary?
  6. Why does the MPC effectively target inflation in the future (typically in 24 months’ time) rather than inflation today? Note that Mark Carney at the press conference said, “… it isn’t so much where inflation is now, but where it’s going that concerns us.”
  7. To what extent can the Bank of England’s monetary policy be described as ‘discretionary’?
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Is the UK economy ready for recovery?

If aggregate demand were to expand, would there be sufficient spare capacity to allow aggregate supply to expand to meet the additional demand? This is the question addressed by the podcast and article below.

If there is plenty of spare capacity, policies to increase aggregate demand could help to take up the slack and thereby achieve economic growth – at least as long as spare capacity remains. In other words, in the short run the aggregate supply curve may be horizontal or only gently upward sloping at the current point of intersection with the aggregate demand curve. This is illustrated by point a in the diagram. A rightward shift in the aggregate demand curve would cause a movement along the aggregate supply curve to a new higher level of real national income (Y).

If, however, there is little or no spare capacity, an increase in nominal aggregate demand is likely to be purely inflationary, or virtually so. This would the case at point b in the diagram. Real national income cannot expand beyond the full-capacity level, YFC. Under such circumstances, any attempt by the government to stimulate economic growth should focus on the supply side and attempt to shift the aggregate supply curve to the right. Examples of supply-side policy include incentives to encourage research and development, incentives for the private sector to invest in new capacity and direct public investment in infrastructure.

Unemployment is not just caused by a lack of aggregate demand relative to aggregate supply. It may be the result of a mismatching of labour supply with the demand for labour. People may have the wrong qualifications or not be where the jobs are. Unemployment may co-exist with quite high levels of vacancies. There may be vacancies for highly qualified scientists, technicians or craftspeople and unemployment of people with low skills or skills no longer in high demand. The same may apply to capital equipment. There may be a shortage of high-tech equipment or equipment to produce goods in high demand and redundant older equipment or equipment in areas of declining demand.

Part of a comprehensive set of policies to tackle unemployment and achieve economic growth would be to focus on the whole balance of the economy and the matching of the demand and supply of inputs.

Podcast
Is there ‘spare capacity’ in the economy? BBC Today Programme, Evan Davis and Andrew Sentance (4/12/12)

Article
OBR’s supply pessimism could be the ruin of this government The Telegraph, Roger Bootle (25/11/12)

Data
Claimant count and vacancies dataset ONS (14/11/12)
Labour Market Statistics, November 2012 ONS (14/11/12)
Actual weekly hours worked ONS (14/11/12)
Usual weekly hours worked ONS (14/11/12)

Questions

  1. Distinguish between ‘unemployment’, ‘underemployment’ and ‘disguised unemployment’?
  2. To what extent does the level of unemployment provide a good measure of spare capacity?
  3. Is the UK economy suffering from a deflationary gap? If so, how would you measure the size of that gap?
  4. If there is substantial spare capacity, is expansionary fiscal policy the best means of achieving economic growth?
  5. What policies are likely to have both a positive supply-side effect and a positive demand-side effect?
  6. What constraints does the government face in attempting to boost aggregate demand?
  7. Why might policies designed to stimulate aggregate demand also increase supply capacity?
  8. What policies would you recommend for tackling the mismatching of the demand and supply of inputs?
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