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UK economy in focus as Bank of England meets later this week

Act in haste, repent at leisure has always been one of those phrases that investors would do well to take note of when making investment decisions, and it is a phrase I used a year ago when I warned that the Bank of England may come to regret its decision to cut rates sharply, though they would never admit it publicly.

It now appears that we need to apply this phrase to central bankers as well as investors, and while it is easy to be wise after the event, on this occasion there was plenty of evidence to justify waiting a little longer before making a call on rates.

If we use the investor example, I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve seen investors pile out of a company’s stock on a surprise profit warning only to see the price rebound sharply once the initial shock has passed. That isn’t to say one should be complacent but knee jerk reactions have never been a substitute for forensic examination and hard data.

It’s a pity therefore that Bank of England governor Mark Carney and his band of merry policymakers didn’t follow this advice twelve months ago when they cut interest rates to a record low of 0.25% citing the risk of a sharp rise in unemployment, while slashing their UK economy growth forecasts.

At the time Mr Carney went on to warn the banks that they should pass on the rate cut in full and now twelve months on we’ve seen the end product of last year’s actions, with a warning from of all people the Bank of England, about the risks of a “spiral of complacency” relating to the levels of mounting consumer debt.

Alex Brazier the Bank director for financial stability warned that banks could face action against reckless lending, pointing to rises in household incomes of 1.5%, while loans on cars, credit card balances and personal loans had risen by 10%.

This week ratings agency Moody's warned about the £200bn worth of consumer debt, and in particular in the area that covers structured finance products that take individual loans and bundle them together to be sold as securities. It appears that regulators and banks have learnt nothing from the events of the last ten years. 

Let’s not forget these are the same banks that were warned a year ago that they had to pass the rate cut on in full, and now twelve months later are being warned by the very same central bankers that consumer debt is worryingly high.

You couldn’t make it up, and to think these people are paid huge sums of money to oversee the UK economy, as well as financial stability, of the UK economy as a whole. It seems only fair that UK policymakers answer some serious questions when they meet later this week and deliver their latest quarterly inflation report.

It is against this backdrop that the Bank of England meets this week and will probably leave rates unchanged, despite the dissent we saw in June when three members voted to raise rates.

It's quite likely that we may still see the other two dissenters from June in Michael Saunders and Ian McCafferty maintain their vote to hike rates, while it will be interesting to see which way Andrew Haldane votes given his recent comments on his decision not to join the hawks in June.

The latest updated economic forecasts are also likely to give clues as to the outlook for inflation and whether it has peaked.   

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