- UK interest rates unchanged at 5.25%
- Surprise decision amid slowing inflation
- Uncertainty lingers for homeowners
In a surprising turn of events, the Bank of England has decided to keep UK interest rates at their current level, citing a faster-than-expected deceleration in price increases.
The interest rates have been maintained at 5.25%, which already marks their highest point in the last 15 years. This decision comes on the heels of a recent report indicating an unexpected slowdown in inflation during August.
Bank governor Andrew Bailey commented on this decision, stating, “Inflation has experienced a substantial decline in recent months, and we anticipate this trend will persist.” The Bank also acknowledged “growing indications” that the continuous rate hikes were beginning to negatively impact the UK economy.
The Bank of England has implemented 14 consecutive rate increases in its ongoing efforts to rein in inflation, which has remained persistently higher than the norm. While these rate hikes have led to increased mortgage payments for numerous homeowners and borrowers, they have also resulted in higher savings rates.
Many analysts had anticipated another rate increase, but the Bank’s decision to maintain the status quo raises questions about whether this marks a turning point in the monetary policy.
During discussions with broadcasters, Mr. Bailey cautioned against “complacency” and “premature celebration,” emphasizing that there is still a long road ahead to bring inflation down to the Bank’s 2% target. He also played down the possibility of rate cuts in the near future, stating, “I can confirm that we have not entertained any discussions about reducing rates, as such a move would be exceedingly premature. Our primary objective is to combat inflation.”
One homeowner, Nicola Valentine, expressed relief upon hearing that rates would remain unchanged. However, as her 2.9% fixed-rate mortgage is set to expire in November, she remains deeply concerned about the impending £300 per month increase in her mortgage payments. Despite making cost-cutting measures like canceling subscriptions and reducing discretionary spending, she remains uncertain about how to cope with the added financial strain. “I’m hoping that rates have peaked and will start to decline because this situation is becoming unsustainable for me. I feel completely helpless,” she remarked.
The Bank’s decision was closely contested, with four out of the nine members of the rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voting in favor of a rate hike, while the remaining five opted for a pause. Mr. Bailey exercised his casting vote to put a halt to the continuous series of rate hikes.
Ultimately, Wednesday’s inflation figures, which indicated a reduction in all major cost-of-living metrics, provided enough evidence for the Bank to conclude that its monetary strategy was yielding results.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt welcomed this development, saying, “We are beginning to witness a shift against high inflation, but we will continue our efforts to assist households grappling with mortgage payments. Now is the time to persevere. We are on track to halve inflation this year, and adhering to our plan is the only way to lower interest and mortgage rates.”
However, both the Bank and the Treasury remain cautious about premature celebrations, taking heed of warnings from the International Monetary Fund regarding the 1970s energy price surge, which led to persistent inflation.
The decision to keep rates unchanged will bring relief to homeowners with tracker mortgages, who have experienced a consistent increase in their monthly repayments. For those nearing the end of fixed-rate deals, there is hope that mortgage rate hikes have come to a halt.
While some competition has returned to the mortgage market, if this indeed marks the end of a series of rate hikes, lenders may have more confidence in offering improved deals. Nevertheless, experts in the sector warn that this decision might result in a plateau rather than a significant drop in mortgage rates.
Savers, on the other hand, may not see significant improvements in the returns they can earn, despite the rates being the highest in approximately 15 years. This emphasizes the importance of shopping around for the best available savings options.
The central theory behind raising interest rates is to make borrowing more expensive, which, in turn, encourages households to reduce spending. It may also discourage firms from raising prices rapidly. However, this is a delicate balance, as overly aggressive rate hikes could lead to reduced household spending, negatively affecting businesses and economic growth.
The Monetary Policy Committee noted that inflation had dropped much faster than expected since June, reaching 6.7% in August. Nonetheless, it also pointed out a slight increase in unemployment and weaker-than-expected overall economic growth. For these reasons, the committee decided to maintain the current interest rates. However, it emphasized that rates would need to remain “sufficiently restrictive for sufficiently long” to bring inflation back down to the Bank’s 2% target, a goal expected to be achieved by 2025. Further rate increases may be necessary if price inflation accelerates once again.