Stormy politics and stable economics - article by Andy Haldane

This article originally appeared in The Sun
Published on 08 June 2019

The past few months in the UK have been dominated by stormy Brexit seas. The good news is that the economy has been operating in calmer waters. 

National income as measured by Gross Domestic Product is likely to grow by around 1.5 per cent this year - steady, if not spectacular.

The UK has continued to be a job-creation machine with employment at its highest, and unemployment its lowest, in half a century.

With businesses competing for workers, the UK’s “lost decade” of pay rises thankfully looks to be coming to an end.

This year pay will rise by around 1.5 per cent, or an extra £900 per year for the average worker, over and above the cost of living.

With extra money in their pockets, people have been spending it, helping underpin steady economic growth.

For most households, Brexit has been background noise.

Not so for companies. The flood in jobs has been accompanied by a drought in investment.

There are no prizes for guessing why - the fog of Brexit has dampened firms’ enthusiasm for taking on new projects. 

As and when that fog lifts, however, we would expect businesses to restart investment.

With spending by both households and companies then picking up, that could put at risk the Bank of England’s two per cent inflation target - with upward pressure on prices eating into pay and savings.

Those are the circumstances in which the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), on which I sit, would need to consider the case for a further modest rise in interest rates.

In the UK, interest rates remain at historically very low levels of less than one per cent.

The MPC has said that any future rate rises, as and when they come, will be very gradual and leave rates well below levels in the past.

For me personally, the time is nearing when a small rise in rates would be prudent to nip any inflationary risks in the bud. A rise would be good news for Britain’s 20 million savers. And with 70 per cent of mortgages now on fixed rates, the impact of a modest rate rise would be very small.

Most importantly, acting early with a rate rise acts as insurance against the need for faster and larger rises in interest rates in future, which could cause far greater damage to people’s finances.

This is a moment when a stitch in time, interest-rate wise, could save nine. Brexit may be causing political waves, but the MPC will do whatever is necessary to keep the economic waters calm.

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