Bank of England warns of 'persistent inflation' and higher interest rates

Senior official says he would support another interest rate rise to put a lid on inflation

Huw Pill, chief economist at the Bank of England, speaks during an interview in London, UK. Bloomberg
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Inflation in the UK could become “more persistent” amid prevailing tough economic conditions, and interest rates may rise further, according to the Bank of England’s chief economist.

During a speech on monetary policy due to be delivered in New York, Huw Pill is expected to say that Britain is probably in a recession.

As a senior official influential in the Bank of England’s decisions over interest rates, he also confirms that the Monetary Policy Committee would be prepared to act “forcefully” if the outlook suggests more persistent inflation.

In the same speech, he will say that higher natural gas prices, a tight labour market and global supply bottlenecks create “the potential for inflation to prove more persistent”.

“It is therefore in this nexus that I focus in coming to my own assessment of the risks surrounding inflation persistence, which … will strongly influence my monetary policy position in the coming months,” he says.

The remarks suggest that Mr Pill would support another interest rate rise at the next committee meeting to put a lid on inflation.

Bank of England governor explains decision to increase interest rates — video

The base rate of interest is currently 3.5 per cent, the highest rate since October 2008, with the committee voting to increase the rate at each of its past nine meetings.

Mr Pill confirms in his remarks bringing down inflation to its 2 per cent target was the key driving force for the bank’s monetary policy decisions.

Higher energy prices across Europe, prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, have given a “significant impetus” to inflation over the past year.

But, even if natural gas prices stabilise or fall back down, inflation could remain high because households and businesses will still try to protect their incomes against higher energy bills, Mr Pill is expected to say.

UK's finance minister says he is focused on bringing down inflation as economy shrinks — video

“In an attempt to protect their own real income from the unavoidable impact of higher external prices, the longer that firms try to maintain real profit margins and employees try to maintain real wages at pre-energy price shock levels, the more likely it is that domestically generated inflation will achieve its own self-sustaining momentum, even as the external impulse to UK inflation recedes,” he explains.

It echoes similar recent remarks from the bank’s governor, Andrew Bailey, who said that while workers will want to seek pay rises as living costs soar, it could have the adverse effect of “locking in” high inflation in the UK.

Mr Pill also says that supply chain disruptions, which were worsened by Brexit, appear to have eased in recent months.

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The end of the zero-Covid policy in China this week could ease supply constraints, but the current surge in infection rates could “create its own disruption” to production, he cautions.

Furthermore, the tightening labour market, again influenced by Brexit and the impact of the free movement of EU workers into the UK, has had a bearing on inflation, Mr Pill says.

He concludes that both indicators will have to be watched closely by the bank.

Updated: January 10, 2023, 2:01 AM