The snow the UK has seen over the past two winters created massive disruption, but that is only one reason for hoping for a milder winter to come. With the cold weather, the UK economy faced threats of gas shortages, as households turned on their heating. However, despite the freezing temperatures, many households were forced to turn off their heating regularly, due to the excessive bills they would face. This trend is expected to be even more prevalent if the 2011/12 winter is as cold, as fuel tariffs are predicted to rise. The Bank of England has said that gas and electricity prices could rise this year by 15% and 10% respectively. British Gas’s Parent company, Centrica said:
“In the UK the forward wholesale prices of gas and power for delivery in winter 2011/12 are currently around 25% higher than prices last winter, with end-user prices yet to reflect this higher wholesale market price environment.”
These predictions might see the average UK household paying an extra £148 over the next year. Although these are only estimates, we are still very likely to see many households being forced to turn off their heating. One thing which therefore is certain: a warmer winter would be much appreciated!
Switch energy tariff to help beat bill rises Guardian, Miles Brignall (14/5/11)
Quarter of households predicted to turn off heating BBC News, Brian Milligan (14/5/11)
Power bills set to soar by 50% in four years Scotsman (14/5/11)
Domestic fuel bills poised to rise by up to £200 Financial Times, Elaine Moore (13/5/11)
Energy price statistics Department of Energy & Climate Change
Energy statistics publications Department of Energy & Climate Change
- Which factors have contributed to rising energy prices? Illustrate these changes on a demand and supply diagram.
- To what extent do these higher prices contribute to rising inflation?
- What impact might these price rises have on (a) poverty and (b) real income distribution in the UK?
- Why are energy prices currently being investigated by Ofgem? What powers does the regulator have and what actions could be taken?
Just as the Bank of England has an inflation target of 2%, so does the ECB. UK inflation has been significantly above its target rate for many months and so has the eurozone’s inflation rate, which is up to 2.8% in April from its previous level of 2.7% the previous month. The increase in the general price level has been fuelled by rising costs of raw materials and high energy prices. Whilst interest rates in the UK have remained at 0.5% in a bid to stimulate economic growth, the ECB has increased interest rates by a quarter point to 1.25% and the latest inflation data may be further pressure for further rises. However, any increase in rates will put more pressure on countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal who are facing tough austerity measures and may put their recoveries in jeopardy.
The ECB has been optimistic about growth and it may need to be with this and possibly subsequent interest rate hikes, as they are likely to depress aggregate demand. Furthermore, European Commission’s ‘economic sentiment’ indicator has fallen to 106.2, which is the weakest since November. Eurozone unemployment remains at just under 10%, oil prices remain high and this has depressed optimism across the eurozone countries. The euro, meanwhile, continues to strengthen (up 12% against the dollar over the past year) and this has enhanced the fragile state of affairs in those countries suffering from tough austerity measures. An economist at ING has said:
“The combination of high oil prices, a strong euro, and fiscal and monetary tightening has started to dent the economic mood in the euro zone.”
Eurozone inflation rises again Telegraph, Emma Rowley (29/4/11)
Eurozone inflation rate rises to 2.8% BBC News (29/4/11)
Eurozone inflation jumps to 2.8% Financial Times, Ralph Atkins (29/4/11)
Euro zone inflation rises, points to higher ECB rates Reuters, Jan Strupczewski (29/4/11)
Eurozone inflation further above target at 2.8pct The Associated Press (29/4/11)
- What is the relationship between interest rates and inflation. Why have the ECB and the Bank of England reacted differently to rising inflation?
- Is the inflation currently being experienced in the Eurozone cost-push or demand-pull? Illustrate your answer with the help of a diagram.
- What is the relationship between interest rates and the exchange rate?
- Why is there some concern about the ‘economic sentiment’ indicator in the Eurozone?
- What is the relationship between interest rates and economic growth? Explain the process by which a change in interest rates could affect AD and then economic growth and employment.
- Why is this interest rate rise (and possible further rises) likely to hurt countries, such as Ireland and Greece more than other countries within the Eurozone?