Each month the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England meets to set Bank Rate – the Bank’s repo rate, which has a direct impact on short-term interest rates and an indirect effect on other interest rates, such as mortgage rates and bond yields. Ever since March 2009, Bank Rate has been 0.5%. So each month the MPC has met and decided to do nothing! The latest meeting on 4 and 5 May was no exception.
And it is not just the Bank of England. The Fed in the USA has kept interest rates at between 0 and 0.25% ever since December 2008. The ECB had maintained its main interest rate at 1% for two years from May 2009. Then last month (April) it raised the rate to 1.25%, only to keep it unchanged at that level at its meeting on 5 May.
So is all this ‘doing nothing’ on interest rates (or very little in the case of the ECB) a sign that the economies of the UK, the USA and the eurozone are all ticking along nicely? Are they in the ‘goldilocks’ state of being neither too hot (i.e. too much demand and excessive inflation) or too cold (i.e. too little demand and low growth, or even recession)? Or does the apparent inaction on interest rates mask deep concerns and divisions within the decision-making bodies?
The three central banks’ prime concern may be inflation, but they are also concerned about the rate of economic growth. If inflation is forecast to be above target and growth to be unsustainably high, then central banks will clearly want to raise interest rates. If inflation is forecast to be below target and economic growth is forecast to be low or negative, then central banks will clearly want to reduce interest rates.
But what if inflation is above target and will probably remain so and, at the same time, growth is low and perhaps falling? What should the central bank do then? Should it raise interest rates or lower them? This is the dilemma facing central banks today. With soaring commodity prices (albeit with a temporary fall in early May) and the economic recovery stalling or proceeding painfully slowly, perhaps keeping interest rates where they are is the best option – an ‘active’ decision, but not an easy one!
Central Banks Leave Rates Unchanged News on News (8/5/11)
European Central Bank set for a bumpy ride City A.M., Guy Johnson (9/5/11)
Euro Tumbles Most Against Dollar Since January on Rate Signal; Yen Climbs Bloomberg, Allison Bennett and Catarina Saraiva (7/5/11)
Rates outlook Financial Times, Elaine Moore (6/5/11)
Interest rates on hold amid fears economy is stalling Independent, Sean Farrell (6/5/11)
The decision to hold back on increasing interest rates may turn out to be wrong Independent, Hamish McRae (6/5/11)
Bank of England: Inflation threat from fuel bills BBC News. Hugh Pym (11/5/11)
Andrew Sentance loses last battle over interest rates Guardian, Heather Stewart (5/5/11)
Interest rates: what the experts say Guardian (5/5/11)
King’s Defense of Record-Low Rates in U.K. Is Bolstered by Economic Data Bloomberg, Svenja O’Donnell (5/5/11)
BoE holds rates: reaction The Telegraph, Joost Beaumont, Abn Amro (5/5/11)
UK interest rates kept on hold at 0.5% BBC News (5/5/11)
Bank of England Signals Rate Increase This Year as Inflation Accelerates Bloomberg, Svenja O’Donnel (11/5/11)
ECB: Clearing the way for an Italian hawk? BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (5/5/11)
Ben and the Fed’s excellent adventure BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (27/4/11)
Inflation up. Growth down. Uncertainty everywhere BBC News blogs: Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (11/5/11)
Inflation report: analysts expecting a rate rise are wide of the mark Guardian, Larry Elliott (11/5/11)
May’s Inflation Report – three key graphs The Telegraph, Andrew Lilico (11/5/11)
The Errors Of The Inflation Hawks, Part I Business Insider, John Carney (9/5/11)
Errors of Inflation Hawks, Part II CNBC, John Carney (9/5/11)
Data and information
Inflation Report Bank of England
Inflation Report Press Conference Webcast Bank of England (11/5/11)
Monetary Policy ECB
ECB Interest Rates ECB
Monetary Policy Federal Reserve
US interest rates Federal Reserve
- Why is it exceptionally difficult at the current time for central banks to “get it right” in setting interest rates?
- What are the arguments for (a) raising interest rates; (b) keeping interest rates the same and also embarking on another round of quantitative easing?
- Should central banks respond to rapidly rising commodity prices by raising interest rates?
- Why is inflation in the UK currently around 2 percentage points above the target?
- What is likely to happen to inflation in the coming months and why?
- Explain the following comment by John Carney in the final article above: “To put it differently, the textbook money multiplier doesn’t exist anymore. This means that Fed attempts to juice the economy by raising the quantity of reserves—the basic effect of quantitative easing—are bound to fail.”.
- What has been the recent relationship in the UK between (a) growth in the monetary base and growth in broad money; (b) growth in the monetary base and inflation and economic growth?