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7th August 2020
Bank of England maintains Bank Rate at 0.1% and comments on economy
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 Tuesday, 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 £745bn.
Although recent developments suggest a less weak starting point for the Committee’s latest projections, it is unclear how informative they are about how the economy will perform further out. The outlook for the UK and global economies remains unusually uncertain. It will depend critically on the evolution of the pandemic, measures taken to protect public health, and how governments, households and businesses respond to these factors. The MPC’s projections assume that the direct impact of COVID-19 on the economy dissipates gradually over the forecast period. Given the inherent uncertainties regarding the evolution of the pandemic, the MPC’s medium-term projections are a less informative guide than usual.
Global activity has strengthened over recent months, although it generally remains below its level in 2019 Q4. COVID-19 has continued to spread rapidly within a number of emerging market economies, however, and there has been a renewed rise in cases in many advanced economies.
UK GDP is expected to have been over 20% lower in 2020 Q2 than in 2019 Q4. But higher-frequency indicators imply that spending has recovered significantly since the trough in activity in April. Payments data suggest that household consumption in July was less than 10% below its level at the start of the year. Housing market activity appears to have returned to close to normal levels, despite signs of a tightening in credit supply for some households. There is less evidence available on business spending, but surveys suggest that business investment is likely to have fallen markedly in Q2 and investment intentions remain very weak.
Employment appears to have fallen since the COVID-19 outbreak, although this has been very significantly mitigated by the extensive take-up of support from temporary government schemes. Surveys indicate that many workers have already returned to work from furlough, but considerable uncertainty remains about the prospects for employment after those support schemes unwind. In the near term, the unemployment rate is projected to rise materially, to around 7½% by the end of the year, consistent with a material degree of spare capacity.
In the MPC’s central projection, GDP continues to recover beyond the near term, as social distancing eases and consumer spending picks up further. Business investment also recovers, but somewhat more slowly. Unemployment declines gradually from the beginning of 2021 onwards. Activity is supported by the substantial fiscal and monetary policy actions in place. Nonetheless, the recovery in demand takes time as health concerns drag on activity. GDP is not projected to exceed its level in 2019 Q4 until the end of 2021, in part reflecting persistently weaker supply capacity. Given the scale of the movements in output, as well as the inherent uncertainty over the factors determining the outlook, the evolution of the balance between demand and supply is hard to assess. The MPC’s central projection implies that a margin of spare capacity is likely to remain until the end of next year. The risks to the outlook for GDP are judged to be skewed to the downside.