UK inflation falls less than expected, dashing June rate cut hopes

May 23, 2024

Inflation in Britain fell by less than expected in April and a key core measure barely dropped, prompting investors to pull bets on a rate cut next month which could have boosted embattled Prime Minister Rishi Sunak before an election this year.

UK consumer prices rose by an annual 2.3% last month, down sharply from a 3.2% increase in March and its lowest since July 2021 when it stood at 2%, the Office for National Statistics said.

But the Bank of England – which has an inflation target of 2% – and economists polled by Reuters had forecast a bigger drop to 2.1%.

Services inflation – a key gauge of domestically generated price pressure for the Bank of England – was much higher than expected, while petrol prices also rose.

Sterling jumped after the data and investors priced the chance of a Bank of England rate cut in June at just 18%, down from 50% yesterday.

Economists had expected a sharper drop in inflation after a 12% drop in regulated household energy tariffs that took effect last month.

“While inflation continues to fall sharply, this report will come as a disappointment to the Bank of England and investors looking for a rate cut in June,” said Luke Bartholomew, senior economist at asset manager abrdn.

“In particular, the strength of core inflation and services inflation, both of which came in a fair bit stronger than expected, will make it harder for the Bank to feel confident that underlying inflation pressure is cooling adequately,” he added.

Services inflation inched down to 5.9% from 6% in March. The Bank of England’s forecasts and the Reuters poll had pointed to a reading of 5.5%.

Core inflation, which includes goods but not energy, food and tobacco, also reflected persistent price pressures, with the annual rate falling only to 3.9% from 4.2% in March. The Reuters poll had forecast a reading of 3.6%.

Recent labour market data has brought mixed news on the price pressures front, with private sector wage growth, excluding bonuses, easing only marginally in the three months to March.

The Bank of England is concerned that rapid wage growth, which makes up much of the inflation rate in the services sector, could sustain inflationary heat across the economy.

Sunak, who is struggling to woo voters back to his Conservative Party ahead of national elections expected later this year, has sought to take credit for the fall in inflation.

“Today marks a major moment for the economy, with inflation back to normal,” he said in a statement.

Today’s data means Britain has a lower rate of inflation than the US, Canada, France and Germany. Japan is yet to report April inflation data. Italy’s inflation rate is 0.9%.

Still, Britain ranks poorly among Western European countries for its inflation record since 2020, with consumer prices up by more than 22% over that time frame – with only the Netherlands, Austria and Germany faring as badly.

Separate ONS data today dealt a further setback to Sunak and finance minister Jeremy Hunt, showing public borrowing in April was higher than expected which raised questions about their ability to deliver tax cuts to voters before the election.

Article Source – UK inflation falls less than expected, dashing June rate cut hopes – RTE

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