Since 2005 I have been ever ready to criticise the Bank for helping the roller coaster ride we have experienced. I disliked their super lax monetary policy up to 2007 which helped pump up the bubble and brought on inflation, warned against their super tight bust the banks policy in 2007-8, and expressed concerns about their bring inflation on policy of 2009-10.
Today I find myself in agreement with them, that inflation this year will fall. This month the VAT rises drop out of the figures. We have had a relatively stable year for the value of the pound, which will help. The pressures from commodity prices have subsided for a bit. There is cut throat competition on the High Street, with poor footfall figures so far this year. We should expect more price discounting to attract customers back. The advancing internet captures more sales by offering better value and clearer price comparisons. It’s another force for lower inflation.
The tight squeeze on living standards brought on by rapid inflation, low wage increases, and substantial tax increases, has driven more people to shop for the cheaper brands and the better value goods. The discount stores are thriving whilst many of the higher priced stores are struggling.
I do not expect the government to add to inflation again by further VAT or sales tax rises. They may continue the long term trend of faster inflation for public services than for private sector offerings. The large rail fare rises this January may well be repeated next year, as there is little sign of the railways getting more efficient or learning how to fill all those little used early and off peak trains that I seem to encounter when using the network. Many a quango or government department likes to put up licence fees and charges rather than controlling costs, and will doubtless do more of that this year. Councils reckon taking more money off us in parking charges and other fees is now the easiest way to bring down their deficits. So we cannot say the public sector will now be angelic when it comes to inflation, but no more VAT rises will help, after two years in a row of Labour and Coalition VAT increases.
We do need to recognise that China is now allowing its currency to rise a bit, and still has some inflation in its system. We must factor in some price increases affecting some of those very good value goods we see in so many shops with “Made in China” on the packaging. There is always the danger that the pound could fall again, as there is going to be no shortage of pounds given the policy of quantitative easing. However, there is now a race to the bottom, with many other countries trying to engineer devaluations which limits the scope for a large fall in sterling. Recent weeks have seen the pound go up against the ill fated Euro, though not against the dollar.
I do not expect to see much price cutting by manufacturing companies. They are enjoying the lower pound, and wanting to make better margins as a result. There is less spare capacity in the system than some at the Bank think. Manufacturers are reluctant to put in additional capacity, as they are concerned about Eurozone recession and poor demand elsehwere over the next year or so.
I do not expect quantitaive easing to have much impact on inflation this year. Two large banks are still weak and with the others are under a regulatory cosh. The commercial banks are unlikely to be able to gear up their balance sheets on the back of the cheap newly printed money. QE seems to be more a device to try to keep gilt rates down so the government’s large borrowings can be accommodated. The recovery needs more private sector bank lending to worthwhile projects. That still awaits reform of the state owned banks, a task not yet given to the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street.