With the effects of the depreciation of sterling feeding through into higher prices, so the rate of inflation has risen. The latest figures from the ONS show that in the year to April 2017, CPI inflation was 2.7% – up from 2.3% in the year to March. The largest contributors to higher prices were transport costs and housing and household services.
But wage increases are not keeping up with price increases. In 2017 Q1, the average annual growth rate in regular pay (i.e. excluding bonuses) was 2.1%. In other words, real pay is falling. And this is despite the fact that the unemployment rate, at 4.6%, is the lowest since 1975.
The fall in real wages is likely to act as a brake on consumption and the resulting dampening of aggregate demand could result in lower economic growth. On the other hand, the more buoyant world economy, plus the lower sterling exchange rate is helping to boost exports and investment and this could go some way to offsetting the effects on consumption. As Mark Carney stated in his introductory remarks to the May 2017 Bank of England Inflation Report:
The combination of the stronger global outlook and sterling’s past depreciation is likely to support UK net trade. And together with somewhat lower uncertainty, stronger global growth is also likely to encourage investment as exporters renew and increase capacity.
According to the Bank of England, the net effect will be modest economic growth, despite the fall in real wages.
In the MPC’s central forecast, quarterly growth is forecast to stabilise around its current rate, resulting in growth of 1.9% in 2017 and around 1¾% in each of the next two years.
But forecasting is dependent on a range of assumptions, not least of which are assumptions about consumer and business expectations. These, in turn, depend on a whole range of factors, such as the outcome of the UK election, the Brexit negotiations, commodity prices, world growth rates and international events, such as the actions of Donald Trump. Because of the uncertainty surrounding forecasts, the Bank of England uses fan charts. In the two fan charts illustrated below (from the May 2017 Inflation Report), the bands on constructed on the following assumptions:
If economic circumstances identical to today’s were to prevail on 100 occasions, the MPC’s best collective judgement is that CPI inflation or the mature estimate of GDP growth would lie within the darkest central band on only 30 of those occasions and within each pair of the lighter coloured areas on 30 occasions.
The charts and tables showing the May 2017 projections have been conditioned on the assumptions that the stock of purchased gilts remains at £435 billion and the stock of purchased corporate bonds remains at £10 billion throughout the forecast period, and on the Term Funding Scheme (TFS); all three of which are financed by the issuance of central bank reserves. They have also been conditioned on market interest rates, unless otherwise stated.
The wider the fan, the greater the degree of uncertainty. These fan charts are wide by historical standards, reflecting the particularly uncertain future for the UK economy.
But one thing is clear from the latest data: real incomes are falling. This is likely to dampen consumer spending, but just how much this will impact on aggregate demand over the coming months remains to be seen.
UK real wages drop for first time in three years Financial Times, Sarah O’Connor (17/5/17)
Bank of England warns Brexit vote will damage living standards The Guardian, Katie Allen (11/5/17)
UK wage growth lags inflation for first time since mid-2014 BBC News (17/5/17)
Britons’ Falling Real Wages Show Challenging Times Have Arrived Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton and Lucy Meakin (17/5/17)
Jobs market will suffer a Brexit slowdown, say experts The Guardian, Angela Monaghan and Phillip Inman (15/5/17)
Pay will continue to be squeezed, employers’ survey suggests BBC News, Kamal Ahmed (15/5/17)
Brexit latest: Real wages falling, Office for National Statistics reveals Independent, Ben Chu (17/5/17)
UK inflation climbs to four-year high, beating forecasts Financial Times, Gavin Jackson (16/5/17)
Why is UK inflation at a four-year high? Financial Times, Gavin Jackson (19/5/17)
A blip, or a test of hawks’ patience? Economists respond to high UK inflation data Financial Times, Nicholas Megaw (16/5/17)
UK inflation rate at highest level since September 2013 BBC News (16/5/17)
Inflation jumps to its highest level since 2013 as Brexit continues to bite Business Insider, Will Martin (16/5/17)
UK GDP growth weaker than expected as inflation hits spending The Guardian, Katie Allen (25/5/17)
UK economic growth estimate revised down BBC News (25/5/17)
Inflation Report, May 2017 Bank of England (11/5/17)
Labour Market Outlook, Sping 2017 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (May 2017)
Statistical Interactive Database – interest & exchange rates data Bank of England
Inflation and price indices ONS
Earnings and working hours ONS
Second estimate of GDP: Jan to Mar 2017 ONS Statistical Bulletin (25/5/17)
- Find out what has happened to the dollar/sterling and the euro/sterling exchange rate and the sterling exchange rate index over the past 24 months. Plot the data on a graph.
- Explain the changes in these exchange rates.
- Why is there negative real wage growth in the UK when the rate of unemployment is the lowest it’s been for more than 40 years?
- Find out what proportion of aggregate demand is accounted for by household consumption. Why is this significant in understanding the likely drivers of economic growth over the coming months?
- Why is uncertainty over future UK growth rates relatively high at present?
- Why is inflation likely to peak later this year and then fall?
- What determines the size and shape of the fan in a fan chart?
Every three months, the Bank of England produces its Inflation Report. This includes forecasts for inflation and economic growth for the next three years. The forecasts are presented as fan charts. These depict the probability of various outcomes for inflation or growth in the future. “In any particular quarter of the forecast period, GDP is expected to lie somewhere within the fan on 90 out of 100 occasions.” Each coloured band represents a 10% probability of occurrence. “Although not every member will agree with every assumption on which our projections are based, the fan charts represent the MPC’s best collective judgement about the most likely paths for inflation and output, and the uncertainties surrounding those central projections.” The broader the fan the less confident are the forecasts. The fans have tended to get broader in recent Reports, reflecting the greater uncertainties in the UK and global economies since the credit crunch.
Since the last Report, the forecast for economic growth in 2011 has been adjusted downwards from 3.4% to 2.5%. Inflation, while still being forecast to be below the target of 2% in two years’ time, is forecast to rise in the short term, thanks to higher commodity prices and the rise in VAT from 17.5% to 20% in January 2011.
So what impact, according to the Report, will various factors such as the Coalition’s emergency Budget in June, rising commodity prices, falling consumer confidence and improving export performance have on the economy? And how much credence should be put on the forecasts? The following articles address these questions
Bank chief warns of ‘choppy recovery’ Independent, Russell Lynch (11/8/10)
King warns of ‘choppy recovery’ for economy Channel 4 News, Faisal Islam (11/8/10)
Bank of England warns UK recovery will be weaker than hoped Telegraph (11/8/10)
Bank of England lowers UK growth forecast Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (11/8/10)
Bank of England cuts UK economic growth forecasts Guardian, Katie Allen (11/8/10)
Bank of England forecasts ‘choppy’ economic recovery BBC News, Katie Allen (11/8/10)
Bank of England Cuts Outlook for Economic Growth Bloomberg, Jennifer Ryan (11/8/10)
Why is the UK heading into choppy waters? BBC News Analysis, Hugh Pym (11/8/10)
Bank of England overhauls forecast model after errors Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (11/8/10)
The Bank’s impossible balancing act Independent, David Prosser (11/8/10)
How uncertain exactly is the uncertain BoE? Reuters Blogs, MacroScope (11/8/10)
‘Slowflation’ – the combination the Bank of England fears most Independent, Sean O’Grady (11/8/10)
The Bank is right to paint a mixed picture Independent, Hamish McRae (11/8/10)
Sterling falls, gilts rally after Bank of England cuts growth forecasts Guardian Blogs, Elena Moya (11/8/10)
Inflation Report Press Conference
- Do the Bank of England’s forecasts suggest that the UK economy is on track for meeting the inflation target in 24 months’ time?
- How much reliance should be put on Bank of England inflation and growth forecasts? You might want to check out the forecasts made one and two years ago for current (2010) rates of inflation and growth (see Inflation Reports (by date)).
- What are the factors that have persuaded the Bank of England to reduce its forecast for the rate of economic growth in 2011? Are these factors all on the demand side?
- According to the fan chart for economic growth, what is the probability that the UK economy will move back into recession in 2011?
- Will the rise in VAT in January 2011 cause inflation to be higher in 2012 than in 2010 (other things being equal)? Explain.
- Why did the FTSE fall by 2.4% on the day the Report was released?
- If commodity price inflation increases (see Food prices: a question of supply and demand), what impact is this likely to have (a) on the rate of economic growth; (b) on the rate of interest chosen by the MPC?
- What policy should the Bank of England adopt to tackle ‘slowflation’?
The Bank of England’s latest quarterly Inflation Report was published on November 11. With all the gloomy news over the past few months the report is pleasantly up-beat – certainly for the longer term. As Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, states in his opening remarks to the publication of the report, “The considerable stimulus from the past easing of monetary and fiscal policy and the depreciation of sterling should lead to a recovery in economic activity.”
Nevertheless, recovery will be slow, especially at first. This means that it will be some time before output returns to pre-recession levels. “Despite a recovery in economic growth, output is unlikely, at least for a considerable period, to return to a level consistent with a continuation of its pre-crisis trend. That is in large part because the impact of the downturn on the supply capacity of the economy is expected to persist. But it is also because there is likely to be sustained weakness of demand relative to that capacity.”
There is surprisingly good news too on employment and unemployment. Although unemployment has risen sharply in recent months, the rate of increase is slowing and “There was a small increase of 6000 in the number of people in employment to 28.93 million, the first quarterly increase since May–July 2008 (see Labour market statistics, November 2009).
So should we be putting out the flags? Can the Bank of England ease off on quantitative easing (see Easing up on quantitative easing)? Or does it still need to keep on increasing money supply, especially as fiscal policy will have to get a lot tighter? The following articles consider the issues.
Mervyn King: economy remains ‘uncertain’ (video) Channel 4 News, Faisal Islam (11/11/09)
Bank of England governor dampens hopes of swift UK recovery Guardian, Graeme Wearden (11/11/09)
Recovery has only just started, warns sombre King Guardian, Heather Stewart (11/11/09)
Cautious good cheer BBC News, Stephanomics (11/11/09)
Bank of England’s Mervyn King says UK only just started on recovery road Telegraph (11/11/09)
The Bank of England’s Inflation Report is useless. Here’s why. Telegraph, Edmund Conway (11/11/09)
Bank of England raises growth and inflation forecasts: economists react (includes video) Telegraph (11/11/09)
Bank of England talks up hopes of strong recovery Times Online, Robert Lindsay (11/11/09)
Bank of England cautions on economic recovery BusinessWeek, Jane Wardell(11/11/09)
Just who benefits from quantitative easing? WalesOnline (11/11/09)
Inflation Report: Forget the fan charts, what we need is a clear economic policy Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (11/11/09)
We’ve no choice but to keep inflating Independent, Hamish McRae (11/11/09)
Is there a break in the economic gloom? (video) BBC Newsnight, Paul Mason (12/11/09)
The Bank of England Inflation Report can be found at the following site, which contains links to the full report, the Governor’s opening remarks, charts, a podcast and a webcast:
Inflation Report November 2009 Bank of England
- Explain what the three fan charts, Charts 1, 2 and 3 on pages 6, 7 and 8 of the Inflation Report, show.
- Why is the Bank of England more optimistic than in its previous report (August 2009)?
- Why did the sterling exchange rate fall on the publication of the report?
- Has the policy of expansionary monetary policy proved to be beneficial and should the Bank of England continue to pursue an expansionary monetary policy?
- What determines the balance of effects of an expansionary monetary policy on (a) asset prices; (b) real output; and (c) inflation?
- How have relatively flexible labour markets affected the impact of recession on (a) wage rates; (b) unemployment?