Key takeaways:

  • As widely expected, the Bank of England (BoE) has kept interest rates at the current level of 5.25% at its January Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting today.
  • The three-way vote (6-2-1) among MPC members showed that there was a wide divergence of views on the appropriate policy action to take.
  • The BoE has dropped its hawkish bias, paving the way for how long it should keep interest rates at their current levels.

 

1. What happened?

As widely expected, the BoE stuck to its wait-and-see approach and kept the key rate unchanged at 5.25% at today's meeting. The MPC voted 6-2-1 to hold rates, with Haskel and Mann in favour of a 25 bps hike and Dhingra dissenting in support of a 25 bps cut. This is the first vote to cut rates since the pandemic, and the first time since the 2008 financial crisis that policymakers have disagreed on the appropriate direction of policy at the same meeting.

 

The majority of the MPC noted that headline inflation had fallen sharply, that wage growth and services inflation – while still elevated – had declined more than expected, and that risks to inflation were now more balanced as the transmission of monetary tightening to the real economy had made significant progress. Later in the press conference, Governor Andrew Bailey said: "We've come a long way, but we're not there yet".

 

The BoE slightly upgraded its growth projection for 2024, expecting real GDP to rise by 0.25%. In 2025, growth is expected to pick up to 0.75% and to remain at a subdued level.

 

On inflation, the BoE sees it returning to its 2% target in the short term (Q2), but expects it to pick up to close to 3% thereafter as underlying pressures from services and wages persist and the impact of lower energy prices fades.

 

The BoE softened its language, dropping a warning that “further tightening in monetary policy” would be needed if inflationary pressures re-emerged. This echoed similar statements from the ECB and the Fed, albeit with more explicit guidance on rate cuts later this year. However, the BoE warned that inflation risks remain "skewed to the upside" and that disruptions in the Red Sea pose a potential reinflation risk.

 

Finally, the announcement reiterated that the BoE remains prepared to adjust its approach if required, based on economic data. In particular, the MPC will be closely monitoring signs that inflation remains high and the overall strength of the economy, including how tight the labour market is, how fast wages are rising and how much prices for services are increasing.

 

2. How did markets react?

The widely anticipated decision did not cause any major ripples in the markets. Gilts went up slightly, with 2-year yields down 2 bps to 4.24% and 10-year yields sliding 6 bps to 3.75% at the time of writing.

 

The FTSE 100 was slightly higher on the day, but gave back some of the gains made in early trading following the announcement.

 

In FX markets, the GBP traded slightly lower against both the USD and EUR.

 

3. What does it mean for investors?

Governor Bailey stressed that MPC members would remain wary of reflationary risks, commenting that they would "need to see more evidence that inflation is set to fall all the way to the 2% target, and stay there, before we can lower interest rates".

 

However, the meeting saw a subtle but significant shift in the BoE's forward guidance, with the MPC officially abandoning its conditional and explicit tightening bias. As Bailey noted, the key question for the BoE is now "For how long should we keep rates at the current level", suggesting that the current level of interest rates is now "under review".

 

Going forward, the MPC will require strong evidence of a slowdown in pay growth and services inflation before it can start normalising the Bank Rate. Persistent services inflation continues to be a major contributor to the core CPI path, while the supply risks arising from the Red Sea, coupled with the impending rise in the National Living Wage and potential upcoming lifts to nominal government spending in 2024, may contribute to a tougher disinflation process going forward.

 

In terms of current market pricing, Bailey signalled that it was probably being too aggressive in its expected easing: "If we were to keep the bank rate at 5.25% for the next three years, we think it is likely that inflation would eventually fall significantly below target, but if we were to follow the market rate conditioning path, we think inflation would be above target for much of the next three years. We need to get the balance right".

 

This confirms our approach around the future interest rate path for the BoE, which we currently expect to be less steep than priced on futures markets. While we see a first rate cut priced in for the June meeting as realistic, we believe the 116 bps cumulative interest rate cuts until the end of 2024 appears exaggerated. We see scope for a total of two rate cuts of 25 bps each, which would bring the BoE rate to 4.75% by the end of the year.

 

Should markets begin to price out some of the anticipated cuts in the coming months, this would put renewed pressure on gilts and should strengthen the GBP.

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  • Glossary

    The Bank of England (BoE) is the central bank of the United Kingdom. Its Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) is in charge of its monetary policy.

     

    The consumer price index (CPI) measures the price of a basket of products and services that is based on the typical consumption of a private household.

     

    Core CPI excludes food and energy from its basket as they are considered more volatile.

     

    The European Central Bank (ECB) is the central bank for the Eurozone.

     

    The FTSE 100 Index is comprised of the top 100 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange.

     

    GBP is the currency code for the British pound/sterling.

     

    Gross domestic product (GDP) is the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country's borders in a specific time period.

     

    Gilts are bonds that are issued by the British Government.

     

    USD is the currency code for the U.S. Dollar.

     

    Bank Rate is the interest rate at which the BoE lends money to commercial banks.

     

    Quantitative tightening is a contractionary monetary policy tool whereby the central bank reduces the financial assets it holds on its balance sheets.

     

    National Living Wage is the minimum wage payable to workers in the UK aged 23 and over.

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