Last month the Bank of England (BoE) announced another hike in its benchmark interest rate but hinted that rates may now be nearing a peak, as the tide in its battle with inflation begins to turn.
Following its latest meeting held at the beginning of February, the BoE’s nine-member Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted by a 7–2 majority to raise Bank Rate by 0.5 percentage points to 4.0%. This was the tenth consecutive increase sanctioned by the MPC and took rates to their highest level in over 14 years.
The minutes to the meeting noted that ‘considerable uncertainties’ around the outlook remain and that risks to inflation are ‘skewed significantly to the upside.’ However, they also stated that updated MPC projections show ‘inflation falling back sharply’ from current elevated levels, with the headline rate expected to dip to around 4% towards the end of the year.
Commenting after announcing the MPC decision, BoE Governor Andrew Bailey cautiously acknowledged that price rises have begun to edge back. Mr Bailey said, “We've seen the first signs that inflation has turned the corner. But it's too soon to declare victory just yet –inflationary pressures are still there.”
The latest official inflation statistics also suggest the headline rate is now on a downward path. The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) annual rate – which compares prices in the current month with the same period a year earlier – fell to 10.1% in January. This represents the third successive monthly decline since CPI inflation hit a 41-year high of 11.1% in October.
Although analysts do still typically expect the MPC to sanction at least one more hike, there does seem to be a growing consensus that the high point in the current interest rate cycle is approaching. The next MPC meeting is due to conclude on 23 March.