High inflation and recession risk - the Bank of England's dilemma

FILE PHOTO: Bank of England poised to raise interest rates to tackle inflation

By William Schomberg

LONDON (Reuters) - The Bank of England is trying to curb an inflation rate that is running higher in Britain than in the United States and the euro zone, without pushing the economy into a recession after having already increased borrowing costs 12 times since late 2021.

The BoE is expected to raise rates again, to 4.75% from 4.5%, on June 22 after inflation slowed by less than it hoped in April. Investors see a roughly 60% chance that Bank Rate will climb to 5.5% later this year.

Nonetheless, two of the Monetary Policy Committee's nine members say the delayed impact on the economy of the BoE's rate hikes to date mean there is no need to tighten policy any further.

Below is a summary of the factors the BoE is weighing up as it approaches its next meeting.


British consumer price inflation (CPI) fell to 8.7% in annual terms in April, down from 10.1% in March but higher than the BoE's forecast of 8.4%. It was the joint highest among Group of Seven advanced economies alongside Italy's.

More worrying for the BoE, two measures of underlying price growth - core inflation, which excludes energy, food and tobacco prices, and price increases in the services sector - both hit their highest rates since 1992.

However, analysts polled by Reuters last month forecast that headline CPI will slow to 3.7% in the fourth quarter of this year and to just above the BoE's target of 2% in a year's time as last year's surge in energy prices drops out of the figures. The analysts mostly expected Bank Rate to peak at 5.0%.


The BoE takes comfort from signs that inflation expectations are falling after rising in recent months.

Public expectations for inflation over five to 10 years - which are watched closely by the central bank - eased in May to their lowest in nearly two years at 3.5%, according to a survey by U.S. bank Citi and polling firm YouGov.

Companies surveyed by the BoE in May intended to raise prices by 5.1% over the coming year, down from 5.9% in April's survey, the lowest since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


The same BoE survey showed businesses planned to raise wages by 5.2% over the coming year, down from expectations of 5.4% in April and the lowest since July 2022.

But data from human resources firm XpertHR showed pay settlements by employers held at 6% in the three months to April, matching recent record increases.


The BoE is worried about long-term inflation heat from the labour market where a shortage of workers, caused by a rise in the number of long-term sick after the COVID-19 pandemic, has been compounded by new Brexit rules on European Union workers.

There have been some signs of an easing of that pressure recently. More people sought to get back into work in the first three months of the year, pushing down Britain's inactivity rate and easing the need for employers to raise pay to attract workers.


The BoE knows much of the impact of its 12 rate hikes to date has yet to be felt because most mortgages in Britain are fixed-rate deals which protect home-owners from swings in borrowing costs but will come up for renewal at higher rates.

The BoE said in May that 1.3 million fixed-rate mortgages were due to mature by the end of 2023 with more up for renewal in 2024 and beyond, meaning much of the hit to household budgets has yet to be felt.


Britain's economy has so far defied recession forecasts made only a few months ago, but it remains fragile and the recent jump in expectations of higher borrowing costs may yet tip it into a contraction this year.

British gross domestic product has recovered from the COVID pandemic more slowly than all the other G7 economies bar Germany, according to data for the first three months of 2023.

(Graphics by Kripa Jayaram, Vineet Sachdev and Vincent Flasseur; Editing by Catherine Evans)