Bank of England Leaves Interest Rate On Hold
The Bank of England has surprised nobody by leaving its interest rate unchanged at 0.75%. The rate has remained unchanged since August last year and, frankly, isn’t going anywhere until it becomes clear what will happen over Brexit.
The PM outlined four possible outcomes for Brexit to the Commons select committees meeting this week: i) a deal, ii) no deal, iii) no Brexit (by revoking Article 50 notice) or iv) a further referendum. She quickly went on to dismiss the third and fourth options, but again, frankly, at this stage that is just wishful thinking on her part.
Much of England, Wales and Northern Ireland went to the polls yesterday, to elect local councillors. Usually, such elections see a low turn-out and ought to be about local issues, but in the current climate, they are being seen as the electorate’s judgement on the Brexit debacle. At this stage, results are still coming in, but the governing Conservatives have seen heavy loss of councillors and the control of a number of councils has slipped from their grasp, Labour has done better, but it too is a net loser. The biggest winner so far is the very pro-remain Libdem party, but smaller parties and independents have also done well. How party leaders will factor the outcome into their Brexit positions, of course, remains to be seen. Labour seems to have lost local support from both its Brexit and remain support base which suggests that its current ambivalent position is not working with the electorate.
If the UK suffers a no deal Brexit, most observers think that Sterling will come under sustained pressure, driving it towards parity (or worse) with the Euro and taking significant losses against other major currencies. The Bank of England has made it clear that, should this happen, it would need to raise interest rates to keep Sterling above a certain level. On the other hand, economic pressure caused by that scenario would warrant accommodative monetary policies to try to stimulate the economy. In the first line, this would be a rate cut, but even the Bank of England can’t simultaneously raise and lower interest rates!
As May suggested, a deal is possible. However, there is little sign of that outcome in parliament currently. Whilst the Commons have ruled out a “no deal Brexit” as an acceptable outcome, it is not in their control since it is the default position should the EU be unwilling to grant any further extension. That just leaves options iii) and iv) on the table.