Tag: Monetary Policy Committee

On the 15th June, the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee decided to keep Bank Rate on hold at its record low of 0.25%. This was not a surprise – it was what commentators had expected. What was surprising, however, was the split in the MPC. Three of its current eight members voted to raise the rate.

At first sight, raising the rate might seem the obvious thing to do. CPI inflation is currently 2.9% – up from 2.7% in April and well above the target of 2% – and is forecast to go higher later this year. According to the Bank of England’s own forecasts, even at the 24-month horizon inflation is still likely to be a little above the 2% target.

Those who voted for an increase of 0.25 percentage points to 0.5% saw it as modest, signalling only a very gradual return to more ‘normal’ interest rates. However, the five who voted to keep the rate at 0.25% felt that it could dampen demand too much.

The key argument is that inflation is not of the demand-pull variety. Aggregate demand is subdued. Real wages are falling and hence consumer demand is likely to fall too. Thus many firms are cautious about investing, especially given the considerable uncertainties surrounding the nature of Brexit. The prime cause of the rise in inflation is the fall in sterling since the Brexit vote and the effect of higher import costs feeding through into retail prices. In other words, the inflation is of the cost-push variety. In such cirsumstances dampening demand further by raising interest rates would be seen by most economists as the wrong response. As the minutes of the MPC meeting state:

Attempting to offset fully the effect of weaker sterling on inflation would be achievable only at the cost of higher unemployment and, in all likelihood, even weaker income growth. For this reason, the MPC’s remit specifies that, in such exceptional circumstances, the Committee must balance any trade-off between the speed at which it intends to return inflation sustainably to the target and the support that monetary policy provides to jobs and activity.

The MPC recognises that the outlook is uncertain. It states that it stands ready to respond to circumstances as they change. If demand proves to be more resilient that it currently expects, it will raise Bank Rate. If not, it is likely to keep it on hold to continue providing a modest stimulus to the economy. However, it is unlikely to engage in further quantitative easing unless the economic outlook deteriorates markedly.

Articles

The Bank of England is moving closer to killing the most boring chart in UK finance right now Business Insider, Will Martin (16/6/17)
UK inflation hits four-year high of 2.9% Financial Times, Gavin Jackson and Chloe Cornish (13/6/17)
Surprise for markets as trio of Bank of England gurus call for interest rates to rise The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan Tim Wallace (15/6/17)
Bank of England rate setters show worries over rising inflation Financial TImes, Chris Giles (15/6/17)
Three Bank of England policymakers in shock vote for interest rate rise Independent, Ben Chu (15/6/17)
Bank of England edges closer to increasing UK interest rates The Guardian, Katie Allen (15/6/17)
Bank of England doves right to thwart hawks seeking interest rate rise The Guardian, Larry Elliott (15/6/17)
Haldane expects to vote for rate rise this year BBC News (21/6/17)

Bank of England documents
Monetary policy summary Bank of England (15/6/17)
Monetary Policy Summary and minutes of the Monetary Policy Committee meeting ending on 14 June 2017 Bank of England (15/6/17)
Inflation Report, May 2017 Bank of England (11/5/16)

Questions

  1. What is the mechanism whereby a change in Bank Rate affects other interest artes?
  2. Use an aggregate demand and supply diagram to illustrate the difference between demand-pull and cost-push inflation.
  3. If the exchange rate remains at around 10–15% below the level before the Brexit vote, will inflation continue to remain above the Bank of England’s target, or will it reach a peak relatively soon and then fall back? Explain.
  4. For what reason might aggregate demand prove more buoyant that the MPC predicts?
  5. Would a rise in Bank Rate from 0.25% to 0.5% have a significant effect on aggregate demand? What role could expectations play in determining the nature and size of the effect?
  6. Why are real wage rates falling at a time when unemployment is historically very low?
  7. What determines the amount that higher prices paid by importers of products are passed on to consumers?

In 2009, interest rates in the UK were cut to a record low of 0.5%. Since that point, there has been almost unanimous agreement amongst the members of the Monetary Policy Committee to keep rates at this low. It is only in the last couple of months when some have even voted to raise rates. However, this month, interest rates were once again held at 0.5%.

The low interest rates have played a key part in creating an economic stimulus for the UK economy. With low interest rates, some of the key components of aggregate demand are stimulated and this in turn is crucial in creating a growth environment. However, with the recovery of the UK economy, there are now expectations that interest rates may soon begin to rise. Perhaps adding to this expectation is the fact that the bank’s stimulus programme has remained unchanged at £375bn. As more data is released that continues to show the positive progress of the UK economy, it becomes increasingly likely that interest rates will soon rise.

Despite the fact that interest rates will inevitably increase, Mark Carney has said that any increase will be slow and gradual to minimise the effect on consumers, especially home-owners. Mortgage payments are typically the biggest expenditure for a household and so any increase in interest rates will certainly put added pressure on home-owners and with wage growth still remaining slow, there are concerns of the impact this may have. Perhaps this may continue to deter some of the Committee for voting in favour of interest rate rises. There does appear to be some conflict between economists as to what the next step is likely to be. Yael Selfin is the economics director at KPMG and said:

With inflationary pressures still subdued, it is no surprise that rates have been held … Despite recent revisions to GDP and productivity, there is still room for further improvements in productivity, to mop up some of the rise in demand over the coming months. Steady falls in unemployment and strong economic growth are likely to see rates rising in February next year.

However, Andrew Goodwin, who is the senior economic adviser to the EY ITEM Club commented that:

On one hand, the stronger performance might convince some members that the economy is sufficiently robust to withstand the steady tightening of policy, although it should be noted that the Bank routinely builds into its forecasts the expectation of some upward revisions to the recent historical data … On the flip side, the revisions also provide some ammunition for those of a dovish persuasion, with evidence that a stronger productivity performance has had little feed through into inflationary pressures.

The key question therefore appears to be not whether interest rates will increase, but when. The MPC certainly considers inflation when making its decisions, but over the past few years, it is economic growth which has probably been the biggest influence. The data for the UK economy over the coming months, as well as the fast-approaching General Election, will prove crucial in determining exactly when interest rates increase. The following articles consider this monetary policy change.

UK interest rates held at record low of 0.5% BBC News (4/9/14)
Bank of England holds interest rates at 0.5pc for 66th month The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (4/9/14)
Timing of UK interest rate hike mired in UK services sector conundrum International Business Times, Lianna Brinded (3/9/14)
Interest rates expected to hold Mail Online, Press Association (31/8/14)
Bank of England holds rates despite robust recovery Reuters, Andy Bruce (4/9/14)
Bank of England keeps record-low rate on weak inflation Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton (4/9/14)

Questions

  1. By outlining the key components of aggregate demand, explain the mechanisms by which interest rates will affect each component.
  2. How can inflation rates be affected by interest rates?
  3. Why is there a debate between economists and the MPC as to when interest rates should be increased?
  4. If interest rates do increase, how is this likely to affect home-owners?
  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a slow and gradual rise as opposed to one big rise?

Although the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of England is independent in setting interest rates, until recently it still had to follow a precise remit set by the government. This was to target inflation of 2% (±1%), with interest rates set to meet this target in 24 months’ time. But things have changed since the new Governor, Mark Carney, took up office in July 2013. And now things are not so clear cut.

The Bank announced that it would keep Bank Rate at the current historically low level of 0.5% at least until unemployment had fallen to 7%, subject to various conditions. More generally, the Bank stated that:

The MPC intends at a minimum to maintain the present highly stimulative stance of monetary policy until economic slack has been substantially reduced, provided this does not entail material risks to price stability or financial stability.

This ‘forward guidance’ was designed to provide more information about future policy and thereby more certainty for businesses and households to plan.

But unemployment has fallen rapidly in recent months. It fell from a 7.7% average for the three months May to July 2013 to 7.1% for the latest available three months (September to November 2013). And yet there is still considerable slack in the economy.

It now, therefore, looks highly unlikely that the MPC will raise Bank Rate as soon as unemployment falls below 7%. This then raises the question of how useful the 7% target has been and whether, if anything, it has created further uncertainty about future MPC decisions.

The following still appears on the Bank of England website:

The MPC intends at a minimum to maintain the present highly stimulative stance of monetary policy until economic slack has been substantially reduced, provided this does not entail material risks to price stability or financial stability.

But this raises two questions: (a) how do you measure ‘economic slack’ and (b) what constitutes a substantial reduction?

So what should the Bank do now? What, if any, forward guidance should it offer to the markets? Will that forward guidance be credible? After all, credibility among businesses and households is an important condition for any policy stance. According to Larry Elliott in the first article below, there are five options.

Articles

Bank of England’s method of setting interest rates needs reviewing The Guardian, Larry Elliott (9/2/14)
Mark Carney set to adjust Bank interest rate policy BBC News (12/2/14)
Forward guidance: dead and alive BBC News, Robert Peston (11/2/14)
What “forward guidance” is, and how it (theoretically) works The Economist (11/2/14)
BOE’s forward guidance 2.0: Cheap talk, or big change? Market Watch (11/2/14)

Bank of England pages
Monetary Policy Bank of England
MPC Remit Letters Bank of England
Forward Guidance Bank of England

Questions

  1. What data would you need to have in order to identify the degree of economic slack in the economy?
  2. Why is it difficult to obtain such data – at least in a reliable form?
  3. Why might the issuing of the forward guidance last July have itself contributed to the fall in unemployment?
  4. Why is it difficult to obtain such data – at least in a reliable form?
  5. Why is credibility an important requirement for policy?
  6. Why may LFS unemployment be a poor guide to the degree of slack in the economy?
  7. Discuss the relative merits of each of the five policy options identified by Larry Elliott.

The Bank of England was granted independence to set interest rates back in 1997. In setting rates its looks to meet the government’s annual inflation rate target of 2 per cent (with a range of tolerance of up to 1 percentage point).

The economic benefits of delegating interest rate decisions to a body like the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) are often taken for granted. But, in David Blanchflower’s article in the Independent Newspaper on 14 May, the former MPC member questions whether, at least in recent years, better decisions would have been made by the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In other words, could politicians have made more appropriate monetary policy choices?

Central bank independence has become increasingly popular. Many governments have taken steps to depoliticise monetary policy choices and to hand over important powers, such as setting interest rates, to central bankers. One of the main advantages, it is argued, is that politicians are no longer able to manipulate monetary policy choices in order to try and affect their popularity and their chances of being re-elected. The policy announcements of central bankers are said to be more credible because they do not have the incentive to deviate from their announced policy. For instance, the low inflation announcements of elected policy-makers lack credibility because politicians have an incentive to inflate the economy and so boost growth and employment prior to the election.

The incentive for a pre-election dash for growth means that the general public are reluctant to bargain for low wage increases in case policy is loosened or is looser than it should be given the prevailing economic climate. In this case, it might mean that interest rates are lower than they would otherwise be in the run up to the election. In order to protect their spending power households bargain for higher wage increases than they would if the policy announcements could be trusted. In contrast, the low inflation announcements of central bankers have credibility and so inflation will be lower. In terms of economic jargon, central bank independence will reduce inflation bias as well as promoting economic stability.

Blanchflower questions whether the path of interest rates in the UK between 1997 and 2007 would have been materially different should the Treasury have been setting interest rates rather than the MPC. But, he believes that:

Interest rates would probably have been higher in 2007 as the housing boom was ranging and house price to earnings ratios approached unsustainable levels. Alistair Darling has made it clear he would have cut rates earlier in 2008, if it had been left to him….

Blanchflower argues that part of the reason that the Treasury might have made better choices in the more recent past is the narrow remit of the Bank of England to target inflation. He argues:

Now is the time to consider switching to a dual mandate that would include growth, which would give much needed flexibility.

Blanchflower calls into question the idea that targeting inflation alone can bring stability. The recent past he argues simply dispels this notion. To help form your own views try having a read of the full article and then answer the questions below.

David Blanchflower Article
The recession deniers have gone strangely quiet this month Independent, David Blanchflower (14/05/12)

Questions

  1. If economic growth is a good thing, why might we want to reduce the chances of policymakers manipulating policy to attempt a pre-election dash for growth?
  2. What do you understand by credible economic policy announcements? How might a lack of credibility affect the economy’s rate of inflation?
  3. What does central bank independence mean for the conduct of monetary policy in the UK? In answering this you might wish to visit the Bank of England website and read about the UK’s monetary policy framework.
  4. Try summarising David Blanchflower’s argument against the inflation rate remit of the Bank of England.
  5. What do you consider to be the possible dangers of widening the Bank of England’s remit beyond just targeting the annual rate of CPI inflation?
  6. Central bank independence is one way in which governments can constrain their discretion over economic policy. In what other ways can they constrain their policy choices?
  7. Do you think governments should have full discretion over their policy choices or do you think there should be limits?

Between December 2007 and March 2009, the Bank of England reduced Bank Rate on several occasions in order to stimulate the economy and combat recession. By March 2009, the rate stood at a record low of 0.5%. Each month the Monetary Policy Committee meets to decide on interest rates and since March 2009, the members’ decision has consistently been that Bank Rate needs to remain at 0.5%.

Although the UK economy has been making tentative steps towards recovery, it is still in a very vulnerable state. Last month, the Bank of England extended its programme of quantitative easing to a total £325bn stimulus. This, together with the decision to keep interest rates down and with the shock fall in manufacturing output contributing towards first quarter growth of just 0.1%, is a key indication that the UK economy is still struggling, even though the central bank thinks it unlikely that the UK will re-enter recession this year.

Monetary policy in the UK has been very much geared towards stimulating economic growth, despite interest rates typically being the main tool to keep inflation on target at 2%. The problem facing the central bank is that economic growth and inflation are in something of a conflict. Low interest rates to stimulate economic growth also create a higher inflation environment and that is the trade-off the economy has faced. Inflation has been well above its target for some months (a high of 5.2% in September 2011), and the low interest rate environment has done little to deflate the figure. After all, low interest rates are a monetary instrument that can be used to boost aggregate demand, which can then create demand-pull inflation. However, inflation is now slowly beginning to fall, but this downward trend could be reversed with the sky high oil prices we are recently experiencing. If inflation does begin to creep back up, the Monetary Policy Committee will once again face a decision: keep Bank Rate low and continue with quantitative easing to stimulate the economy or increase Bank Rate to counter the higher rate of inflation.

The data over recent months has been truly inconsistent. Some indicators suggest improvements in the economy and the financial environment, whereas others indicate an economic situation that is moving very quickly in the wrong direction. A key factor is that the direction the UK economy takes is very much dependent on the world economy and, in particular, on how events in the eurozone unfold. The following articles consider some of the latest economic developments.

UK economy grew 0.1% to avoid recession, says NIESR Guardian, Katie Allen (5/4/12)
UK interest rates held at 0.5% BBC News (5/4/12)
UK just about avoided recession in Q1, NIESR says Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (5/4/12)
Bank of England keeps interest rates on hold at 0.5pc Telegraph (5/4/12)
UK economy ‘weak but showing signs of improvement’ BBC News (3/4/12)
Bank of England holds on quantitative easing and interest rates Guardian, Katie Allen (5/4/12)
Faith on Tories on economy hits new low Financial Times, Helen Warrell (6/4/12)

Questions

  1. Which factors will the Monetary Policy Committee consider when setting interest rates?
  2. Using a diagram to help your answer, illustrate and explain the trade-off that the MPC faces when choosing to keep interest rates low or raise them.
  3. What is quantitative easing? How is it expected to boost economic growth in the UK?
  4. Which factors are likely to have contributed towards the low growth rate the UK economy experienced in the first quarter of 2012?
  5. Explain the trends that we have seen in UK inflation over the past year. What factors have caused the figure to increase to a high in September and then fall back down?
  6. What do you expect to happen to inflation over the next few months? To what extent is your answer dependent on the MPC’s interest rate decisions?
  7. Although the official figures suggest that the UK avoided a double-dip recession, do you agree with this assessment? Explain your answer.