It is the Bank of England’s responsibility to ensure that inflation remains on target. They use interest rates and the money supply to keep inflation within a 1% band of the inflation target set by the government = 2%. However, for the past 12 months, we have had an inflation rate above the 3% maximum and this looks set to continue. Official figures show that the CPI inflation rate has risen to 3.3% in November, up from 3.2% in October 2010 – above the inflation target. There was also movement on the RPI from 4.5% to 4.7% during the same months. The ONS suggests that this increase is largely down to record increases in food, clothing and furniture prices: not the best news as Christmas approaches. It is not just consumers that are facing rising prices, as factories are also experiencing increasing costs of production, especially with the rising cost of crude oil (see A crude story). Interest rates have not changed, as policymakers believe prices will be ‘reined in’ before too long.
However, the government expects inflation to remain above target over the next year, especially with the approaching increase in VAT from 17.5% to 20%. As this tax is increased, retail prices will also rise and hence inflation is likely to remain high. There is also concern that retailers will use the increase in VAT to push through further price rises. A report by KPMG suggests that 60% of retailers intend not only to increase prices to cover the rise in VAT, but to increase prices over and above the VAT rise.
Despite the planned VAT rise spelling bad news for inflation, it could be the spending cuts that offset this. As next year brings a year of austerity through a decrease in public spending, this could deflate the economy and hence bring inflation back within target. However, there are suggestions that more quantitative easing may be on the cards in order to stimulate growth, if it appears to be slowing next year. The Bank of England’s Deputy Governor, Charles Bean said:
“It is certainly possible that we may well want to undertake a second round of quantitative easing if there is a clear sign that UK output growth and with it inflation prospects are slowing,” Bean told a business audience in London.”
The following articles consider the rising costs experienced by firms, the factors behind the inflation and some of the likely effects we may see over the coming months.
UK inflation rises to a surprise six-month high The Telegraph, Emma Rowley (14/12/10)
UK inflation rate rises to 3.3% in November BBC News (14/12/10)
Inflation unexpectedly hits 6-month high in November Reuters, David Milliken and Christina Fincher (14/12/10)
Food and clothing push up inflation Associated Press (14/12/10)
Retailers ‘to increase prices by more than VAT rise’ BBC News (14/12/10)
VAT increase ‘will hide price rises’ Guardian, Phillip Inman (14/12/10)
Slower growth may warrant more QE Reuters, Peter Griffiths and David Milliken (13/12/10)
Factories feel squeeze of inflation The Telegraph, Emma Rowley (13/12/10)
Figures show rise in input prices The Press Association (13/12/10)
November producer input prices up more than expected Reuters (13/12/10)
- What is the difference between the RPI and CPI? How are each calculated?
- Why are interest rates the main tool for keeping inflation on target at 2%? How do they work?
- Is the inflation we are experiencing due to demand-pull or cost-push factors? Illustrate this on diagram. How are expectations relevant here?
- Explain why the rise in VAT next year may make inflation worse – use a diagram to help your explanation.
- Explain the process by which rising prices of crude oil affect manufacturers, retailers and hence the retail prices we see in shops.
- How are the inflation rate, the interest rate and the exchange rate linked? What could explain the pound jumping by ‘as much as 0.2pc against the dollar after the report’ was released?
- Explain why the public spending cuts next year may reduce inflation. Why might more quantitative easing be needed and how could this affect inflation in the coming months?