In the UK, we have an inflation target of 2% and it’s the Bank of England’s job to use monetary policy, in particular interest rates, to keep inflation within 1 percentage point of its target. However, with rising commodity prices and the onset of recession back in 2008, interest rates had another objective: to prevent or at least lessen the recession. Bank Rate fell to 0.5% and there it has remained in a bid to encourage investment, discourage saving and increase consumption, as a means of stimulating the economy.
However, at such a low rate, interest rates are not acting as a brake on inflation, which is now well above target. This rise in inflation, has been largely brought about by cost-push factors, such as the restoration of the 17.5% VAT (up from the temporary 15%), higher oil and commodity prices, and a fall in the exchange rate. But part of the reason might be found in the increase in money supply that resulted from quantitative easing.
There are concerns that the UK may lose its credibility on inflation if action isn’t taken. The OECD has advised the Bank of England to raise Bank Rate to 3.5% by the end of 2011. The following articles consider this issue.
Time to worry about inflation? BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (28/5/10)
UK must not fall for the false promise of higher inflation Telegraph, Charles Bean, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England (4/6/10)
Reports and documents
General Assessment of the Macroeconomic Situation OECD Economic Outlook, No. 87 Chapter 1 (see especially pages 53–4) (May 2010)
United Kingdom – Country Summary OECD Economic Outlook, No. 87 (May 2010)
Statistical Annex OECD Economic Outlook, No. 87 (available 10/6/10)
Inflation Report portal Bank of England (see May 2010)
- Explain the relationship between interest rates and inflation. Why have such low interest rates caused inflation to increase?
- In 2008, the UK moved into recession, but was also suffering from inflation. This was unusual, as AD/AS analysis suggests that when aggregate demand falls, growth will fall, but so will prices. What can explain the low growth and inflation we saw in 2008?
- What is the difference between real and nominal GDP?
- What are the causes of the current high inflation and what solutions are available and viable?
- Why are expectations of inflation so important and how might they influence the Bank of England’s plans for interest rates?
- Do you think the OECD should have advised the Bank of England? Will there be any adverse effects internationally if the UK doesn’t heed the OECD’s advice?
- Is the OECD’s assessment of the UK in the above Country Summary consistent with its view on UK interest rates contained in pages 53 and 54 in the first OECD link?
The Quarterly National Accounts from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that the output of the UK economy grew by 0.4% in the fourth quarter of 2009. This is another upward revision to the growth number for Q4; the first estimate put growth at 0.1% and the second estimate at 0.3%.
The ONS release also reported the value of the UK economy’s output in calendar year 2009. In the release, GDP in 2009 is estimated at £1.396 trillion. Now, this is what economists call the nominal estimate because it measures the economy’s output using the prevailing prices, e.g. in the case of output in 2009, the prices of 2009. Of course, the problem arises when we compare nominal GDP – or GDP at current prices – over time. If prices are changing how can we know whether the volume of output is actually rising or falling? Therefore, constant-price or real estimates are reported which aim to show what GDP would have been if prices had remained at their levels in some chosen year (the base year). The base year currently used in the UK is 2005.
If we look at nominal GDP estimates for the UK from 1948 up to 2008 we find that they rise each year. So, regardless of the fact that in some of these years output volumes fell, price rises (inflation) have been sufficient to cause nominal or current-price GDP to rise. But, this was not true in 2009!
But, why did nominal GDP fall in 2009? Well, firstly, the average price of the economy’s output, which is measured by the GDP deflator, rose by only 1.36% in 2009. This was the lowest rate of economy-wide inflation since 1999 (although real GDP or output rose by 3.9% in 1999). And, secondly, in 2009 output fell by 4.9%. The extent of the fall in output meant that price increases were not sufficient for nominal GDP to rise. In fact, the actual value of GDP in 2008 was £1.448 trillion as compared with £1.396 trillion in 2009. This means that nominal GDP fell by 3.6% in 2009. The next lowest recorded change, since comparable figures began in 1948, was actually in 2008 when nominal GDP rose by 3.5% (real GDP rose too in 2009, albeit by only 0.5%).
So, in short, the decline in both nominal and real GDP in 2009 indicates just how deep the economic downturn has been.
Britain’s economic growth revised up to 0.4% The Times, Gary Parkinson and Grainne Gilmore (30/3/10)
UK pulls out of recession faster than thought Reuters, Matt Falloon and Christina Fincher (30/3/10)
UK growth unexpectedly revised up to 0.4% BBC News (30/3/10) )
UK Q4 growth revised upward again to 0.4 pct Associated Press (AP), Jane Wardell (30/3/10)
Instant view – Q4 final GDP revised up to 0.4 per cent Reuters UK (30/3/10)
Latest on GDP growth Office for National Statistics (30/3/10)
Quarterly National Accounts, Statistical Bulletin, March 2010 Office for National Statistics (30/3/10)
United Kingdom Economic Accounts, Time Series Data Office for National Statistics
For macroeconomic data for EU countries and other OECD countries, such as the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and Korea, see:
AMECO online European Commission
- Explain what you understand by the terms ‘nominal GDP’ and ‘real GDP’. Can you think of other examples of where economists might distinguish between nominal and real variables?
- Explain under what circumstances nominal GDP could rise despite the output of the economy falling.
- The average annual change in nominal GDP since 1948 is 8.2% while that for real GDP is 2.4%. What do you think we can learn from each of these figures about long-term economic growth in the UK?
- What do you understand to be the difference between short-term and long-run economic growth? Where, in the commentary above, is there reference to short-term growth?