BofE opts for smaller rate hike after better inflation news

Written on 08/03/2023
Team UCapital 24

Better news on inflation has, as expected, enabled the Bank of England to pivot back to a 25 basis-point rate hike this month. That follows a more aggressive 50bp hike back in June.

Policymakers clearly don’t want to come across as complacent though, and there are plenty of references to the upside risks associated with inflation, as well as the recent surprises in wage growth. We shouldn’t be too surprised then that the Bank isn’t offering up much on what it intends to do next.

The BoE retained its forward guidance that says it could hike again if “evidence of more persistent pressures” shows up in the inflation figures. This is the same phrase it has used all year and is sufficiently vague to keep various options on the table for September and beyond.

That said, there are a few hints that we might be nearing the top for policy rates. Interestingly, the Bank now formally says that policy is restrictive, which seems to be a new addition to the statement – as is the line about policy needing to stay “sufficiently restrictive for sufficiently long”. At a pinch, you could argue this is the Bank laying very early groundwork for a pause later in the year, though we’re at risk of overanalysing.

Meanwhile the new forecasts, even accounting for the Bank’s upside skew that it applies to what its models are churning out, show inflation at (or even a tad below) target in a couple of years’ time. Curiously, that’s also the case under the assumption that Bank Rate stays unchanged at its new level over the coming months. That said, the Bank’s forecasts have been pointing to sub-target inflation for some time now, and policymakers don’t appear to be putting a lot of faith in what their models are currently predicting.  

So what next? Another hike in September seems likely, but by November we think the news on services inflation and wage growth should be looking a little better. The former has risen in no small part because of higher energy bills, and, according to ONS surveys, the pressure on service sector companies to aggressively raise prices is abating.

Whether or not we get another 25bp hike in November will therefore largely depend on whether services inflation has failed to slow, but our base case for now is that 5.50% in September will mark the peak for Bank Rate. Market pricing of a peak at 5.65% around the turn of the year therefore seems fair – and certainly much more reasonable than it did just a few weeks ago when investors briefly saw peak Bank Rate near 6.5%.