The last time the Bank of England raised rates was July 2007, when rates increased to 5.75%. Credit markets began to dislocate a month later (when LIBOR diverged from Fed Funds), equity markets peaked three months after the increase and things eventually got much worse.
So, the track record is not auspicious, but the alleged global macro narrative this time is one of synchronised global growth, notwithstanding Catalonia, North Korea and embryonic concerns about Chinese deleveraging. On the domestic front, UK inflation is a bit too warm, growth a bit too tepid and Brexit a bit too uncertain.
Nonetheless, the BoE is expected to vote 6-3 in favour of a rate hike from 0.25% to 0.50% on Thursday, as Bloomberg reports, not everyone at the Bank of England will be on board with raising interest rates.
While Nov. 2 may see the U.K.’s first rate increase in more than a decade, economists surveyed by Bloomberg say three out of nine officials on the Monetary Policy Committee will vote against the move. That’s based on the median estimate from 24 responses. Any divide within the BOE panel reflects the conflicting signals from the economy, which is seeing both a currency-driven inflation surge and weaker expansion. While for some officials, the economy may still be too fragile to endure a rate increase, Governor Mark Carney and others see Brexit reducing potential output, making the U.K. more vulnerable to overheating.
Two of the three likely dissenters are two of the three deputy governors no less, as Bloomberg notes…
Policy makers Dave Ramsden and Jon Cunliffe may be among those to dissent. Ramsden said this month he doesn’t yet see domestic inflationary pressures building, and Cunliffe said it’s an “open question” when the BOE should lift its benchmark rate from a record-low 0.25 percent.
Silvana Tenreyro, described as “neutral” on policy by Bloomberg Economics, has also hinted that she’ll proceed with caution. The overriding thinking on the committee, however, seems to be that above-target inflation and a shock to supply from leaving the European Union means a rate hike is warranted.
In the build-up to the decision on Thursday, some recent data may have emboldened the more hawkish policy makers. The economy expanded by 0.4 percent in the third quarter, more than economists expected, and inflation hit 3 percent last month, a full percentage point above the BOE’s target. The central bank will update its economic forecasts alongside the policy decision. Compared with August, economists see a chance of an increase in the bank’s inflation estimate for this year.
If a rate hike is forthcoming – and markets are pricing in an 88% probability of one – the more important question is the signal about future hikes. While many commentators believe that it will be a question of “one and done” (a “dovish” hike), Bloomberg believes that the “BOE may also say markets underestimating further hikes”, noting, even with a division on the MPC, economists forecast that the BOE will keep alive the prospect that further rate increases are on the cards. While another move may not come soon, more than half of those surveyed expect Carney to indicate that markets are still under-pricing the odds of future tightening.
Never mind further rate hikes, a substantial percentage of economists are against a rate increase this week. A Reuters poll published in the past week showed more than 70 percent of economists believe now is not the time to raise rates – though slightly more than that said it would happen anyway.
When Carney was appointed BoE Governor in 2012, then UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, described him as “the outstanding central banker of his generation.” While he might be outstandingly handsome (we’re told), the coming months will determine whether he lives up to that billing, or is seen as making a catastrophic policy error – like Jean Claude Trichet in 2008.
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