Chief economist update: BOE going the wrong way?

Mexico (and the world) is breathing a sigh of relief after Trump's tweet "indefinitely" suspending his tariff threat against America's southern neighbour.

But POTUS being Trump, he's exploited this "win" to issue fresh tariff threats versus Beijing (and indirectly to all other countries that trades with America).

Trump might get what he wants from the Fed too. For as IMF managing director Christine Lagarde recently warned: "US-China tariffs-including those implemented last year-could reduce global GDP by 0.5 percent in 2020. This amounts to a loss of about US$455 billion, larger than the size of South Africa's economy."

But more than that, expectations that the Fed would cut interest rates by at least once this year have been mounting because the global slowdown is beginning to hit closer to home, with the inverted US yield curve predicting a looming recession.

This has been underscored by the latest disappointing US employment report - up by 75,000 in May, sharply lower than the 224,000 increase in April and expectations for a 185,000 gain.

The uncertainty over Trump's tariffs and its impact on global growth has prompted the ECB to push the timing of its first rate hike in eight years further out to the second half of 2020, from "at least through the end of 2019" - itself changed from "summer 2019". Similarly, the BOJ "forward guided" that it would "maintain the current extremely low levels of short- and long-term interest rates for an extended period of time, at least through around spring 2020".

However, faced with the same global challenges and the lingering uncertainty that is Brexit, external monetary policy committee member of the Bank of England (BOE) Michael Saunders said that, "We probably would have to return to something like a neutral stance earlier than markets project ... the MPC does not necessarily have to keep rates on hold until all Brexit uncertainties are resolved".

This echoes the BOE's chief economist Andy Haldane's thoughts that "a small rise in rates would be prudent to nip any inflationary risks in the bud" and, more importantly, consistent with BOE governor Mark Carney's statement that, "were the economy to develop broadly in line with its Inflation Report projections, an ongoing tightening of monetary policy over the forecast period, at a gradual pace and to a limited extent, would be appropriate to return inflation sustainably to the 2% target".

To be sure, the UK GDP's growth rate has more than doubled to 0.5% in the March 2019 quarter from 0.2% in the previous three-month period, accelerating the annual rate of expansion to 1.8% from 1.4% in the year to the December 2018 quarter.

The unemployment rate dropped to a 45-year low of 3.8% in the first quarter of this year from 3.9% so much so that despite the recent deceleration in wages growth - 3.3% in the year to March from 3.4% in February - they remained at 10-year highs.

Wages have been rising faster than inflation since March last year, suggesting rising real household income and spending, and by extension, raise inflation because it would allow UK businesses to pass on higher costs (largely due to a cheaper pound).

The BOE is right to argue for an early rate hike given the economy's resilience to global challenges but prudence dictates that it must guard against the uncertain impact from Brexit.

Read more: USBOEBrexitTrumpAmericaFedUK GDPAndy HaldaneBank of England Michael SaundersBeijingBOJChristine LagardeIMFInflation ReportMark CarneyMexicoMPCPOTUSSouth Africa
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