Bank of England ‘optimistic’ as it edges closer to summer rate cut


  • By Michael Race
  • Business reporter, BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

The Bank of England boss has said it needs to “see more evidence” that price rises have slowed further before cutting interest rates.

Andrew Bailey said he was “optimistic that things are moving in the right direction” as rates were held at 5.25%.

He said the Bank expected inflation, which measures the rate prices rise at, would fall “close” to its target level in the next couple of months.

It paves the way for an interest rate cut as early as June.

But Mr Bailey warned a cut was “not a fait accompli, it’s not a done deal”.

August or September appear to be the most likely timing, especially if inflation falls as expected.

The interest rate set by the Bank dictates the rates set by High Street banks and money lenders. Rates are currently at their highest level for 16 years which has meant people are paying more to borrow money for things such as mortgages and loans, but savers have also received better returns.

Mr Bailey said there had been “encouraging news” on inflation, currently at 3.2%, but said the Bank needed “more evidence” it would stay low before cutting rates.

However, at the news conference following the Bank’s decision, Mr Bailey said it was “likely that we will need to cut bank rates over the coming quarters” and by more than financial markets are currently predicting.

The nine-strong Monetary Policy Committee, which votes on rates, appeared to be edging closer towards a cut with two voting for reducing rates and the remaining seven for hold.

The Bank was more positive on the prospects for the UK economy in its latest forecast, predicting

  • Inflation is forecast to fall to the Bank’s 2% target in the coming months and to 1.9% in 2026.
  • Economic growth of 0.4% for the first three months of 2024 and 0.2% from April to June

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said he would “much rather” policymakers “wait until they are absolutely sure! inflation was falling than “rush into a decision that they had to reverse at a later stage”.

But he added that it was encouraging to see “real optimism” from Mr Bailey for the first time.

But Darren Jones, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said while it was the Bank of England’s “independent right” to set interest rates, it was “bad news for people at home having to reset their mortgages for the years ahead at a more expensive rate and people to have to pay rent for their homes”.

The health of UK economy has been in the spotlight with economic policies likely to be a key battleground in the quest for votes in the upcoming election, expected by the end of this year.

Asked on Thursday if the economy had turned a corner, Mr Bailey said: “All the evidence we see is that we have turned a corner from that.” But he warned that it was not a “strong recovery”.

‘It’s scary waiting for rates to go down’

Paul Day, 62, from Felixstowe, says his mortgage is set to go up by £225 a month when his five-year fixed deal expires at the end of May.

Mr Day, who is retired, currently pays £1,027 a month, but when his fixed rate of 1.89% ends, he will move on to his lender’s standard variable rate of 7.99%.

“It’s been a scary three months waiting for interest rates to go down and I’m getting closer and closer to my deadline, which is the 31st of May, and they’re not,” he says.

He is choosing to go on to a variable rate, because he doesn’t want to be “stuck” on another fixed.

“I think things should settle down within the next six months. So it’s a gamble,” he says.

Following the Bank’s latest comments, financial markets now expect rates to be cut to 5% by August and then trimmed to 4.75% in November or December. More rate cuts are predicted for 2025.

The Bank started raising rates in December 2021 and has kept interest rates at 5.25% since last summer in an attempt to slow the pace at which consumer prices have been rising – and to ease the cost of living.

Prices starting rising quickly as demand for goods increased when Covid-related restrictions were lifted. Energy and food prices then soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leading to inflation rising over 11% in October 2022 – its highest rate in 40 years.

Electricity and bills have since fallen but are not expected to fall further.

By making borrowing more expensive, the Bank hopes to encourage people to cut back on spending which in turn leads to demand for goods falling and price rises easing.

But it is a balancing act, as high interest rates can harm the economy and restrict growth, as businesses hold off on investing in production and jobs.

The UK fell into recession at the end of last year when the economy shrank for two consecutive three-month periods, but the Bank said it believed the downturn might already be over with official figures released on Friday expected to confirm this.

The Bank said it expected the economy to perform slightly better this year, partly due to the size of the population increasing and some measures in the government’s spring Budget, such as the cut to National Insurance.

What to do if I can’t pay my debts

  • Take control. Citizens Advice suggest you work out how much you owe, who to, which debts are the most urgent and how much you need to pay each month.
  • Ask for a payment plan. Energy suppliers, for example, must give you a chance to clear your debt before taking any action to recover the money


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