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. In that context, its challenge at present is to respond to the economic and financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. At its meeting ending on 16 September 2020, the MPC voted unanimously to maintain Bank Rate at 0.1%. The Committee voted unanimously for the Bank of England to continue with its existing programmes of UK government bond and sterling non-financial investment-grade corporate bond purchases, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, maintaining the target for the total stock of these purchases at £745 billion.
The outlook for the economy remains unusually uncertain. The MPC’s central projections in the August Monetary Policy Report assumed that the direct impact of Covid-19 on the economy would dissipate gradually. They were also conditioned on the assumption of an immediate, orderly move to a comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union on 1 January 2021. Conditional on those assumptions, UK GDP was projected to continue to recover. Activity was also supported by substantial fiscal and monetary policy actions. Nonetheless, the recovery in demand took time as health concerns were expected to drag on activity. The unemployment rate was projected to rise markedly, consistent with a material degree of spare capacity, before declining gradually. Conditioned on prevailing market yields, CPI inflation was expected to be around 2% in two years’ time.
Indicators of global activity have been broadly in line with the Committee’s expectations at the time of the August MPC meeting. The sterling exchange rate index has fallen by around 2%, in part reflecting recent Brexit developments.
UK GDP in July was around 18½% above its trough in April and around 11½% below its 2019 Q4 level. High-frequency payments data suggest that consumption has continued to recover during the summer and is now at around its start-of-year level in aggregate, stronger than expected in the August Report. Investment intentions have remained very weak and uncertainties among businesses are elevated. For 2020 Q3 as a whole, Bank staff expect GDP to be around 7% below its 2019 Q4 level, less weak than had been expected in the August Report. Administrative data suggest that the number of paid employees has fallen by around 700,000 between February and August. The number of furloughed workers has continued to decline; considerable uncertainty remains around the labour market after the government job support schemes unwind.
Twelve-month CPI inflation fell from 1.0% in July to 0.2% in August, consistent with temporary impacts on inflation from the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme and the cut in VAT for hospitality, holiday accommodation and attractions. This triggers the exchange of open letters between the Governor and the Chancellor published alongside this monetary policy announcement. CPI inflation is expected to remain below 1% until early 2021, albeit slightly higher than expected at the time of the August Report.
The path of growth and inflation will depend on the evolution of the pandemic and measures taken to protect public health, as well as the nature of, and transition to, the new trading arrangements between the European Union and the United Kingdom. It will also depend on the responses of households, businesses and financial markets to these developments.
Recent domestic economic data have been a little stronger than the Committee expected at the time of the August Report, although, given the risks, it is unclear how informative they are about how the economy will perform further out. The recent increases in Covid-19 cases in some parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, have the potential to weigh further on economic activity, albeit probably on a lesser scale than seen earlier in the year. As in the August Report, there remains a risk of a more persistent period of elevated unemployment than in the central projection.
The Committee will continue to monitor the situation closely and stands ready to adjust monetary policy accordingly to meet its remit. The MPC will keep under review the range of actions that could be taken to deliver its objectives. The Committee does not intend to tighten monetary policy until there is clear evidence that significant progress is being made in eliminating spare capacity and achieving the 2% inflation target sustainably.
At this meeting, the Committee judged that the existing stance of monetary policy remains appropriate.