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Economists Survey Raises 2021 CPI Forecast To 4.9%

MNI (London)
By David Robinson
     LONDON (MNI) - Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee member Gertjan
Vlieghe in a March 23 speech suggested that Bank Rate may end up rising faster
than markets were expecting. But that message will be tricky to convey if the
MPC ends up showing inflation returning to around target in its May Inflation
Report.
     The UK Office For Budget Responsibility (OBR) has cut its inflation
forecast to show it falling to around the 2% target fairly rapidly and then
staying around it, standing at just 1.8% in 2019. The MPC will update its
forecasts in May, but with sterling and rate expectations higher since February,
its projections could also be cut.
     The Bank's February Inflation Report (IR) projections had headline CPI
inflation holding above target throughout the three year forecast horizon, with
the four quarter rate at 2.3% in 2019, 2.2% in 2020 and 2.1% in 2021. 
     --MAY HIKE LIKELY
     The MPC policy statements and March vote, with two members backing a hike,
have delivered the message loud and clear that Bank Rate is very likely to go up
from 0.5% to 0.75% in May.
     If that hike is delivered, the May IR will be scrutinised for clues on
where Bank Rate is heading next, but if the central inflation projection is cut
that will cloud things.
     Vlieghe said that with a tight labour market driving up domestic
inflationary pressure the central outlook was "consistent with one or two
quarter point rate increases per year" over the three year forecast horizon. 
     Money markets based on SONIA are currently pricing in Bank Rate rising to
0.9% in the first quarter of 2019, 1.1% in the first quarter of 2020 and around
1.25% in the first quarter of 2021. 
     Vlieghe's comments, taken literally, suggest that Bank Rate could rise by
75 to 150 basis points, taking in up to a range of 1.25% to 2.0%, with only the
very bottom of that range in line with current pricing.
     --INFLATION PATH
     Those market rate expectations are still around 0.1 percentage point higher
along the curve than in the run up to the February Inflation Report, which is
one of the reasons why the OBR came up with an inflation forecast below the
Bank's.
     Other reasons the OBR had a lower projection were a rise in sterling on its
effective exchange rate index, a downward sloping oil futures curve which
offsets the recent energy price rise through the forecast and slower growth in
average earnings than the MPC has been assuming.
     The OBR's view on earnings growth is that upward wage inflationary
pressures from a tightening labour market will be partly offset by higher
non-wage costs for employers. A rise in the National Living Wage, effectively a
minimum wage and the roll-out of mandatary auto-enrolment corporate pensions
could see employers seeking to keep a check on costs by restraining pay growth.
     The BOE agents report published Wednesday contained a corporate pay
pressure survey which found that overall, firms expected output price inflation
to fall back in 2018.
     With consumption growth easing and intense competition on the high street
and online, the agents report highlighted the downward price pressures faced by
the retail sector. At the same, the Bank's Decision Maker Panel survey found
finance offices also expected price pressures to ease, but their view was on
average that inflation would only slow to 2.5% over the year ahead.
     What is increasingly clear is that businesses and economists are confident
that UK inflation has peaked having reached 3.1% in November and is now on the
down-path.
     The OBR and MPC, while sharing expertise and techniques, can again come up
with somewhat different assumptions over how fast inflation falls back to
target. Nevertheless, a softer inflation profile in May from the MPC and
Vlieghe's message that markets may be under-pricing the likelihood of rate hikes
would prove tricky to square. 
--MNI London Bureau; tel: +44 203-586-2225; email: les.commons@marketnews.com
[TOPICS: M$B$$$,M$E$$$,MX$$$$,M$$BE$]
MNI London Bureau | +44 203-865-3812 | les.commons@marketnews.com