The Bank of England’s announcement of an increase in base rate to 2.25% was just one step in a return to sanity. With inflation nearing 10% why would any idiot lend money at 5% or less as many mortgage providers have been doing. In reality the last few years have seen lower interest rates than have been available for the last 5,000 years.
This has been possible because of Quantitative Easing (QE) to keep the economy afloat. A misguided policy that has resulted in horrendous side effects. It has resulted in property price bubbles and stock market bubbles. When you can borrow money at 2% and use it to buy houses which have been rising in price at 8% or more (as they have done in 2022), people will buy houses as an investment – and the bigger the better. This is one key reason why house prices have been rising to levels that make them unaffordable to those not yet on the bandwagon.
Yes it will mean the cost of mortgages will rise thus making some people poorer for a while. But it is a necessary step to return the UK economy to a rational position.
It is still some distance from enabling savings rates to return to a situation where savers can obtain a real return. This has encouraged speculation in alternative investments that might promise a higher return. This was one reason why small cap AIM shares have been popular in the last few years. But that bubble is now bursting – the AIM index is down 31% so far this year.
In summary, I welcome the rise in bank rate and it should preferably go further to match inflation rates or more.
Kwasi Kwarteng has today announced a number of things including tax cuts.
The 45% top rate of income tax is scrapped and base rate reduced by 1% earlier than planned. The planned increase in National Insurance is scrapped and stamp duty reduced, while the planned increase in Corporation Tax is also cancelled.
The chancellor confirmed that the scheme to protect households and businesses from rising energy prices is expected to cost £60bn for the first six months. With the aforementioned tax cuts, the resulting likely increase in Government debt has caused a sharp drop in the price of gilts (and rise in their yield).
It has also meant a falling pound which will not help the cost of living but will help exporting companies and those with revenues in dollars. By making imports more expensive it should stimulate UK production – for example of food and make us less reliant on imports.
A surprise announcement is the winding down of the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) and revision of the IR35 rules. These are sensible moves as the OTS has been totally ineffective in simplifying the tax system which is horribly complex while IR35 rules have been incomprehensible and impractical to apply in the real world without adding massively to bureaucracy.
More reforms to planning laws are promised to stimulate infrastructure building and aid the Government’s growth agenda but we have heard that before. Unfortunately planners just love complex regulations as they generate work for planners and there will be resistance from nimbies so I expect this will see major objections and delays.
There will be new anti-strike laws for essential services and there will be encouragement for 120,000 people on universal credit benefits to “take active steps to take more active work or face having their benefits reduced” (the number of inactive people in the workforce has been rising while jobs go unfilled).
In summary, my personal opinion is that that these are positive moves on the whole. In the short-term, we might all be poorer but some of these reforms were well overdue.
Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson )
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