Borrowers braced for first interest rate rise in a decade as MPC meets
- Credit: PA
Households are expected to be hit with the first rise in interest rates for more than 10 years today as the Bank of England looks to cool surging inflation.
Members of the bank’s nine-strong Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) are predicted to vote to raise rates from 0.25% to 0.5% in the first such move since July 2007.
Experts estimate that 8m Britons have never seen interest rates rise in their adult lives, with borrowing costs having languished at rock-bottom lows since the financial crisis.
It will come as a blow to millions of mortgage borrowers on variable rate deals, although it will offer some relief to savers who have seen their nest eggs decimated by surging inflation and negligible returns.
The decision comes after repeated warnings from Bank of England governor Mark Carney in recent months that it may be “appropriate” to raise interest rates as Brexit-fuelled inflation looks set to rise further.
But a quarter point rise will only reverse the cut seen in the aftermath of the Brexit vote shock in 2016 as the Bank sought to head off expected turmoil in the economy.
Experts believe the voting result on the bank’s rates committee and the commentary in its quarterly inflation forecast report will be key to whether the increase is likely to mark the start of a series of interest rate rises.
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Edward Park, investment director at investment manager Brooks Macdonald, expects the bank to pause after the predicted November rise.
He said: “We believe that any hike in November will reflect a reversal of the post-Brexit stimulus rather than the beginning of a short term series of hikes.
“With the UK consumer still heavily indebted, via both mortgages and credit, at the same time as there is a real wage squeeze, we don’t think the near term outlook warrants materially higher rates.”
But the bank is tasked with returning inflation back to its 2% target since the Brexit-hit pound has sent prices racing higher and economists are pencilling in as many as three increases to 1% by the end of 2019 to bring it back from the 3% recorded in September.
The economy has performed better than feared since the EU referendum despite the pound’s plunge, with growth edging up to 0.4% in the third quarter from 0.3% in the previous three months, according to last week’s official figures.
This has given the bank room to consider raising rates, although a number of members on the MPC have voiced fears over uncertainty ahead amid Brexit negotiations.
A rate rise also comes at a painful time for Britons, who are being squeezed by paltry wage growth and sharply rising inflation.
Economist Philip Shaw at Investec said while near-zero interest rates are “not healthy”, there are concerns over the timing of an increase.
He said: “Household budgets are under pressure and higher interest rates may bring about a further reaction by consumers, slowing the economy further.
“Activity is also vulnerable to a retracement of corporate activity on the back of Brexit-related uncertainty.”
He added the outlook for rates was “very uncertain”.
Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to the EY Item Club, said the bank may “sit tight for an extended period after an initial hike to see how consumers and businesses respond”.
He does not believe rates will rise again until “at least” later 2018, although some economists said the next increase could come as early as February if economic growth remains stable.