Excerpts from the Monetary Policy Summary:
As the MPC had observed at the time of the UK’s referendum on EU membership, the appropriate path for monetary policy depends on the evolution of demand, potential supply, the exchange rate, and therefore inflation. The Committee expects a slowdown in aggregate demand over the course of this year, as household demand growth declines in reaction to lower real income growth. Official estimates of retail sales have weakened notably, consistent with this expectation, although other indicators of consumer demand such as consumer confidence have been steadier. Measures of overall activity growth have been resilient, with official estimates indicating a fairly steady pace of expansion around historical average rates and business surveys suggesting little change in the near term. It is possible that slowing consumption may be offset to some degree by other components of demand, such as a more supportive net trade position following last year’s fall in sterling and the recent pickup in global momentum.
CPI inflation increased to 1.8% in January, and the MPC expects it to rise above the 2% target over the next few months, before peaking at around 2¾% in early 2018 and drifting gradually back down towards the target thereafter. The projected overshoot entirely reflects the expected effects of the drop in sterling. Pay growth has remained subdued, while measures of inflation expectations remain at levels broadly consistent with the achievement of the inflation target.
Monetary policy cannot prevent either the real adjustment that is necessary as the UK moves towards its new international trading arrangements or the weaker real income growth that is likely to accompany it over the next few years. Attempting to offset fully the effect of weaker sterling on inflation would be achievable only at the cost of higher unemployment and, in all likelihood, even weaker income growth. For this reason, the MPC’s remit specifies that, in such exceptional circumstances, the Committee must balance the trade-off between the speed with which it intends to return inflation to the target and the support that monetary policy provides to jobs and activity. At its March meeting, the MPC continued to judge that it remained appropriate to seek to return inflation to the target over a somewhat longer period than usual. Eight members thought that the current stance of monetary policy remained appropriate to balance the demands of the Committee’s remit. Kristin Forbes considered it appropriate to increase Bank Rate by 25 basis points.
As the Committee has previously noted, there are limits to the extent that above-target inflation can be tolerated. The continuing suitability of the current policy stance depends on the trade-off between above-target inflation and slack in the economy. The projections described in the February Inflation Report depend in good part on three main judgements: that the lower level of sterling continues to boost consumer prices broadly as expected, and without adverse consequences for expectations of inflation further ahead; that regular pay growth does indeed remain modest, consistent with the Committee’s updated assessment of the remaining degree of slack in the labour market; and that the hitherto resilient rates of household spending growth slow as real income gains weaken, without a sufficient offset by other components of demand.