The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) sets monetary policy to meet the 2% inflation target, and in a way that helps to sustain growth and employment. At its meeting ending on 31 October 2018, the MPC voted unanimously to maintain Bank Rate at 0.75%.
The Committee voted unanimously to maintain the stock of sterling non-financial investment-grade corporate bond purchases, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, at £10 billion. The Committee also voted unanimously to maintain the stock of UK government bond purchases, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, at £435 billion.
The MPC’s updated projections for inflation and activity are set out in the November Inflation Report. In the Committee’s central projection, conditioned on the gently rising path of Bank Rate implied by market yields and on a smooth adjustment to the average of a range of possible outcomes for the United Kingdom’s eventual trading relationship with the European Union, GDP is expected to grow by around 1¾% per year on average over the forecast period. Momentum in household consumption appears greater than previously expected, supported by the strong labour market and resilient household confidence. Over the forecast period, household consumption is expected to grow modestly relative to historical rates, broadly in line with real incomes. In contrast, business investment has been more subdued than previously anticipated, as the effect of Brexit uncertainty has intensified. Under the smooth transition assumption on which the forecast is conditioned, greater clarity is expected to emerge over the coming months, boosting investment growth. The MPC’s projections were finalised before the Budget measures had been announced and the Committee will assess the implications at its next meeting.
The global economy continues to grow at above potential rates, supporting UK net trade. Growth has softened, however, and become more uneven across countries, and downside risks have risen. Global financial conditions have tightened, particularly in emerging market economies, and activity has slowed in the euro area. Trade restrictions have increased and there is a risk of further escalation.
The MPC judges that aggregate supply and demand are now broadly in balance. The labour market remains tight, with the employment rate and vacancies around record highs, and the unemployment rate at its lowest since the mid-1970s. Regular pay growth has been stronger than expected, rising to over 3%. Although modest by historical standards, the projected pace of UK GDP growth is slightly faster than the diminished rate of supply growth, which averages around 1½% per year. A margin of excess demand is therefore expected to build, feeding through into higher growth in domestic costs. The contribution of external cost pressures, which has accounted for above-target inflation since the beginning of 2017, is projected to ease over the forecast period. Taking these influences together, CPI inflation is projected to remain above the target for most of the forecast period, before reaching 2% by the end of the third year.
The economic outlook will depend significantly on the nature of EU withdrawal, in particular the form of new trading arrangements, the smoothness of the transition to them and the responses of households, businesses and financial markets. The implications for the appropriate path of monetary policy will depend on the balance of the effects on demand, supply and the exchange rate. The MPC judges that the monetary policy response to Brexit, whatever form it takes, will not be automatic and could be in either direction.
At this meeting the MPC judged that the current stance of monetary policy remained appropriate. The Committee also judges that, were the economy to continue to develop broadly in line with the November Inflation Report projections, an ongoing tightening of monetary policy over the forecast period would be appropriate to return inflation sustainably to the 2% target at a conventional horizon. Any future increases in Bank Rate are likely to be at a gradual pace and to a limited extent.