U.K. Inflation Doubles as Post-Lockdown Spending Splurge Starts

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Britain’s inflation rate doubled in April, marking the beginning of a surge in prices that will fuel speculation about when the Bank of England could start taking its foot off the stimulus pedal.

Consumer prices rose 1.5% from a year earlier last month after a 0.7% gain in March, the Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday. The reading was in step with economists’ expectations.

The April figures were mainly driven by a jump in domestic energy prices and clothing. But with the U.K.’s re-opening allowing consumers to start splurging cash, the central bank expects inflation to exceed its 2% target later this year.

U.K. Inflation Doubles as Post-Lockdown Spending Splurge Starts

What happens beyond that is subject to debate. While the BOE sees the price gains as temporary, investors are betting that the U.K.’s recovery -- and the accompanying inflationary pressures -- will force policy makers to raise interest rates next year. That’s much sooner than what most economists expect.

“While the monthly surge is not the start of a sudden bout of excess inflation, the market should pay attention to the ongoing rise nonetheless,” said Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenberg. “We do not believe that higher inflation will be fully transitory as many in markets contend and as global central bankers seem to presume.”

Today’s report also showed:

  • Gas and electricity prices surged 9% in the month, driving the higher inflation reading
  • Motor fuel also gained in the month after crude oil increased
  • Clothing and footwear prices rose 2.4% in the most recent report after a 1.6% drop a year ago
  • A measure of input prices paid for raw materials by factories rose 9.9% from a year earlier, the fastest rate since February 2017
  • Metals and non-metallic minerals provided the largest contribution to the increase.

Andy Haldane, the BOE’s outgoing chief economist, dissented in an 8-1 vote this month to keep the central bank’s stimulus program unchanged. He argued that the momentum behind the recovery is strong enough to risk a damaging wave of inflation.

“Experience during the 1970s and 1980s demonstrates that, once out of the bottle, the inflation genie is notoriously difficult to get back in,” Haldane wrote in the Daily Mail newspaper last week.

What Bloomberg Economics Says ...

“Inflation has further to run this year and is likely to end 2021 above the Bank of England’s 2% target. But we expect the upturn to prove temporary, allowing the central bank to overlook it.”

--Dan Hanson, senior U.K. economist. Click for the full REACT.

Market-based inflation expectations are now at their highest since 2008. The so-called 10-year breakeven rate -- a gauge derived from the difference between conventional gilt yields and those linked to retail-price inflation -- has risen more than 50 basis points this year.

U.K. Inflation Doubles as Post-Lockdown Spending Splurge Starts

Concerns about inflation are mounting globally. In the U.S., consumer prices climbed in April by the most since 2009, though Federal Reserve officials view the pickup as temporary and have signaled their intent to maintain ultra-easy policy. The BOE is signaling it will tolerate an increase in inflation and that it doesn’t intend to move until there’s a more sustained pickup in prices.

“We think inflation could go above target a bit temporarily later this year for these base effects. We see the bounceback in the economy, but we don’t see the momentum continuing forwards at that pace at all.”

--Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey in testimony to House of Lords panel on Tuesday

The U.K. faced major bouts of inflation in the 1970s and 1980s, but the BOE has overlooked more recent increases that it judged were temporary. Prices surged close to 5% both in 2008 and 2011, fueled by a drop in the value of the pound that pushed up import prices. In both cases, the BOE stuck with its stimulus to support the economy after the financial crisis.

“We’re very vigilant to any sense that inflation expectations would de-anchor,” BOE Deputy Governor Dave Ramsden told lawmakers Tuesday.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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