One of the reasons the Bank of England is slow to raise interest rates is the strength of sterling. As sterling rises against the dollar and the Euro, the two largest counter-party currencies for our trade, so prices of imports are kept down. Its acts as a constraint on our exporters raising their costs and prices, as they seek to compete in the world market against the background of a rising currency. Most of the effects are benign.
A rising currency can also mean UK customers want to buy more imports, which get cheaper, and more can afford foreign holidays. It means there is an added incentive for foreign investors to buy UK property and other assets, as they benefit from a currency gain as well. A rising currency acts a bit like a rising interest rate, putting downwards pressure on domestic costs.
So why is this happening, and will it continue? For the moment it looks as if it might, as so far it is creating a virtu0us circle – lower RPI and CPI inflation, better growth, a higher currency. It is happening at a time when the UK has finished its Quantitative Easing money -0r money printing programmes. The USA is still continuing with its programme of money creation, though it is now reducing the extra amounts printed month by month. The Euro area is talking about taking more monetary loosening measures. If all else is equal those who print most of their currency should expect it to fall in value against those who do not.
Markets expect an earlier move to higher interest rates in the UK than in the USA, and are not even thinking about rises in Euro rates. There the last recent move was a further cut. Currencies tend to strengthen when expectations are of an increase in rates, unless there is a underlying crisis forcing the increases.
It is good news that retail inflation is low, and even energy inflation has come down. The problem for the Bank is that asset inflation may continue even against a low general inflationary background. There remains the issue of fairness between savers and borrowers to consider as well. It is likely they will bring forward the first rate rise from the middle of 2015 as originally planned or hinted at.