The recent data release from the UK Office for National Statistics has shown a significant cooling in headline inflation for July, with an annual rate of 6.8%. While this reading aligns with economists’ expectations, it still poses challenges for the Bank of England. However, it is important to note that while headline inflation has decreased, core consumer prices, which exclude volatile elements like energy, food, alcohol, and tobacco, remain unchanged at 6.9%. This steadiness in core inflation suggests that there are underlying factors that continue to put pressure on the economy.
The decrease in headline inflation can largely be attributed to falling gas and electricity prices, which have made the largest downward contributions to the monthly change in consumer prices. Additionally, food prices rose in July but at a slower rate compared to the previous year, further contributing to the easing of annual inflation rates. On the other hand, classes such as hotels and passenger transport by air provided the largest offsetting upward contributions to the change in the rate, indicating that not all sectors are experiencing a decrease in prices.
The Bank of England finds itself at a crossroads, as it continues to navigate the challenges posed by high inflation. In its recent monetary policy meeting, the committee was split on whether to raise the main interest rate to a 15-year high of 5.25%. While the committee aims to return inflation to its 2% target, there is little indication that the era of high interest rates will be ending soon. This suggests that policymakers believe a restrictive monetary policy is necessary to control inflation.
Alongside inflation, another area of concern for central bankers is the labor market. Recent data indicates a slight loosening of the UK’s tight labor market, with the unemployment rate rising to 4.2% in June. While the participation rate held steady, the decline in the employment rate signals a weakening in labor demand. Additionally, pay growth remains a headache for policymakers, as wages excluding bonuses saw the fastest growth rate since records began in 2001. However, this growth rate still falls below June’s inflation rate of 7.9%.
Despite the decrease in headline inflation and the growth in wages, the cost-of-living crisis in the UK continues to burden households. While take-home pay may be keeping up with inflation for some, soaring food prices and unyielding core inflation mean that the impact is minimal for many consumers. This persistent pressure on households poses challenges for the Bank of England in determining the appropriate course of action.
Looking ahead, it is likely that the Bank of England will consider further interest rate rises to combat inflation. While the current data suggests a turning point in the inflation tide, there are still factors, such as higher taxes, borrowing costs, and rent, that could offset any financial boost from increased wages. The Bank of England will need to carefully weigh the impact of higher rates on the overall economy.
Economists anticipate that core and services inflation will gradually decrease over the remaining months of the year, as rising unemployment and tighter monetary policy curtail demand. However, this will not be enough to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis faced by many people. Therefore, it seems inevitable that the Bank of England will raise interest rates again in September, but the Monetary Policy Committee’s votes may be more evenly split this time as concerns about the economic impact of higher rates grow.
While the decrease in headline inflation provides some relief, the UK still faces significant challenges in controlling and reducing inflation. The Bank of England and the government must continue to work in tandem to address these challenges and ensure the well-being of households and the overall economy.