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Bank of England raises interest rates for the 14th time

By Anna Cooban, CNN

London (CNN) — The Bank of England raised interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point Thursday as inflation remains stubbornly high, buoyed, in part, by strong wage growth.

The move brings the main cost of borrowing for commercial banks in the United Kingdom to 5.25% — its highest level since February 2008 — and is the 14th consecutive hike since the central bank starting raising rates in December 2021.

It was a split decision by the bank. Six members of the monetary policy committee voted for the quarter point hike, two for a half point hike, and one for a pause.

“Recent data outturns have been mixed,” the Bank of England said in a statement. “However, some key indicators, notably wage growth, suggest that some of the risks from more persistent inflationary pressures may have begun to crystallize.”

It’s difficult news for more than 2 million of the UK’s mortgage holders, who are already facing sharp increases in their monthly mortgage bills when they are forced to refinance this year and next.

The cost of the average two-year fixed-rate mortgage was 6.85% on Thursday, compared with 3.95% last August, according to financial product comparison website Moneyfacts.

There could be more pain for borrowers to come.

Like the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, the Bank of England hinted that it may be about to pause its rate hikes.

However, “depending on what the evidence on the economy indicates, we might need to raise interest rates again but that’s not certain,” central bank governor Andrew Bailey said in a video posted to Twitter on Thursday.

Before Thursday’s hike, financial markets were predicting the Bank of England’s benchmark interest rate would peak at 5.75% by the end of the year as the central bank tries to rein in rising prices.

Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenberg, wrote in a note Tuesday that “probably less than half” of previous rate hikes “has passed through into the real economy so far.

“The UK thus faces many more months of de facto policy tightening to come even after policymakers stop raising the bank rate,” he added.

Inflation in the UK is still stubbornly high despite having eased back in recent months. Consumer price inflation was 7.9% in June, down from its 41-year high of 11% in October 2022, but still the highest level among the Group of Seven rich nations, and well above the Bank of England’s target rate of 2%.

Core inflation — which strips out volatile food and energy costs — also dropped to 6.9% last month from 7.1% in May, which was its highest rate in 31 years.

Bailey told reporters Thursday that the “evidence is now clear” that tighter monetary policy had helped bring inflation down, and that he expected the rate of price rises to “continue to fall over the coming months.”

The central bank now forecasts that inflation will fall to 4.9% in the last quarter of this year, in line with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s promise to voters back in January to halve inflation to around 5%.

A fall in energy prices has driven the declines, Bailey said, but it will take time for the falling cost of fuel and gas to be fully reflected in consumer price inflation data.

The central bank also said in a report, published Thursday, that annual wage growth had come in “materially above” its expectations, rising by an average rate of 7.7% in the three months to May.

Excluding volatility in wages during the pandemic, that was the highest rate since the central bank started collecting wage growth data back in 2001.

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