BOE Leaves Rates Unchanged, Seeing Inflation to Reach Target in Near Term

The Bank of England leaves rate unchanged at 5.25%, as expected, while anticipating inflation to reach target range in the near-term.

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) sets monetary policy to meet the 2% inflation target, and in a way that helps to sustain growth and employment. At its meeting ending on 8 May 2024, the MPC voted by a majority of 7–2 to maintain Bank Rate at 5.25%. Two members preferred to reduce Bank Rate by 0.25 percentage points, to 5%.

The Committee’s updated projections for activity and inflation are set out in the accompanying May Monetary Policy Report and are conditioned on a market-implied path for Bank Rate that declines from 5¼% to 3¾% by the end of the forecast period, compared with an endpoint of 3¼% in February.

Internationally, recent growth outturns have tended to be stronger in the United States than in the euro area. Underlying inflationary pressures in both regions have continued to moderate somewhat since the start of the year, though by less than expected in the United States. Forward interest rates have risen in the United States and, as a result, elsewhere.

Following modest weakness last year, UK GDP is expected to have risen by 0.4% in 2024 Q1 and to grow by 0.2% in Q2. Despite picking up during the forecast period, demand growth is expected to remain weaker than potential supply growth throughout most of that period. A margin of economic slack is projected to emerge during 2024 and 2025 and to remain thereafter, in part reflecting the continued restrictive stance of monetary policy.

With respect to indicators of inflation persistence, services consumer price inflation has declined but remains elevated, at 6.0% in March. There remains considerable uncertainty around statistics derived from the ONS Labour Force Survey. It is therefore more difficult to gauge the evolution of the labour market. Based on a broad set of indicators, the MPC judges that the labour market continues to loosen but that it remains relatively tight by historical standards. Annual private sector regular average weekly earnings growth declined to 6.0% in the three months to February, although that series tends to be volatile. Alternative indicators also suggest easing pay growth.

Twelve-month CPI inflation fell to 3.2% in March from 3.4% in February. CPI inflation is expected to return to close to the 2% target in the near term, but to increase slightly in the second half of this year, to around 2½%, owing to the unwinding of energy-related base effects. There continue to be upside risks to the near-term inflation outlook from geopolitical factors, although developments in the Middle East have had a limited impact on oil prices so far.

Conditioned on market interest rates and reflecting a margin of slack in the economy, CPI inflation is projected to be 1.9% in two years’ time and 1.6% in three years in the May Report.

The MPC’s remit is clear that the inflation target applies at all times, reflecting the primacy of price stability in the UK monetary policy framework. The framework recognises that there will be occasions when inflation will depart from the target as a result of shocks and disturbances. Monetary policy will ensure that CPI inflation returns to the 2% target sustainably in the medium term.

At this meeting, the Committee voted to maintain Bank Rate at 5.25%. Headline CPI inflation has continued to fall back, in part owing to base effects and external effects from goods prices. The restrictive stance of monetary policy is weighing on activity in the real economy, is leading to a looser labour market and is bearing down on inflationary pressures. Key indicators of inflation persistence are moderating broadly as expected, although they remain elevated.

Monetary policy will need to remain restrictive for sufficiently long to return inflation to the 2% target sustainably in the medium term in line with the MPC’s remit. The Committee has judged since last autumn that monetary policy needs to be restrictive for an extended period of time until the risk of inflation becoming embedded above the 2% target dissipates.

The MPC remains prepared to adjust monetary policy as warranted by economic data to return inflation to the 2% target sustainably. It will therefore continue to monitor closely indications of persistent inflationary pressures and resilience in the economy as a whole, including a range of measures of the underlying tightness of labour market conditions, wage growth and services price inflation. The Committee will consider forthcoming data releases and how these inform the assessment that the risks from inflation persistence are receding. On that basis, the Committee will keep under review for how long Bank Rate should be maintained at its current level.