Markets are constantly looking for the moment when it looks like the Bank of England will raise interest rates from their record low of 0.5%.
The BoE has kept rates at this level since 2009 and the central bank’s members have jumped back and forth over whether it rates will be raised soon.
It looks like the BoE’s governor Mark Carney is trying to clarify the Bank’s position after his deputy Ben Broadbent kind of freaked everyone out in August by saying that a rate hike would essentially come as a surprise.
Carney is trying to stop people from worrying without giving the whole game away for one simple reason — the housing market.
A surprise hike would mean that people in debt or owning a home could see their monthly mortgage or loan payments jump without time to prepare. This is what Carney wants to prevent.
A 1% hike is only equivalent, when looking at standard variable rate mortgages, of paying an additional £55 a month for every £100,000 owed.
Carney told The Mail on Sunday : “If we think there is a prospect, a possibility — that’s a possibility not a certainty — of rate rises, then that is far, far better to let the British people know so they can prepare.
If events mean that does not happen and rate rises are not appropriate, then we will do the right thing and we will not adjust rates.”
Britain’s interest rates have stayed the same for six years and a few members of the BoE’s rate-setting panel — the Monetary Policy Committee — came out in August to warn that interest rates will rise “pretty soon,” BoE rate-setter Kristin Forbes warning that Britain needs to hike interest rates or risk killing the recovery.
In a speech in July, Carney suggested we’ll have a better idea on the path for interest rates around the end of 2015.
“It would not seem unreasonable to me to expect that once normalisation begins, interest rate increases would proceed slowly and rise to a level in the medium term that is perhaps about half as high as historic averages,” he said. “In my view, the decision as to when to start such a process of adjustment will likely come into sharper relief around the turn of this year.”
However, in his interview with The Mail on Sunday, Carney said 4% of Britain’s seven million mortgage holders are in danger of defaulting if the bank raises rates because they wouldn’t be able to cope with the hike. This equates to 280,000 homeowners.
The Money Advice Service warned in a separate study that more than half of homeowners are not prepared for interest rate rises. Even more worryingly, 19%
said they would really struggle to cover any rise in interest rates in their monthly repayments and 47% of people would find it hard to cover an increase of up to £150 extra a month.
However, a rate rise this year is looking increasingly unlikely because of the slowdown in China’s economy.
Analysts predict that a UK rate hike won’t happen until at least 2016 and 2017 because the knock-on effects the Chinese slowdown has on the British economy. Last month Investec’s chief economist Philip Shaw said the “less comfortable international background,” which also includes the US Federal Reserve’s caution over raising rates.
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