UK retail sales in Q1 likely contracted from Q4 2016, despite their rebound in February.
Falling real wages and slowing household borrowing are likely to further dampen retail sales and consumption growth going forward.
The still large pool of available workers is seemingly limiting their wage-bargaining power, with nominal wage growth falling behind rising inflation.
Moreover, investment growth is still only making a negligible contribution to GDP growth ahead of the British government’s decision to trigger Article 50 on 29th March.
Much of the rise in inflation in recent months is attributable to imported inflation driven by Sterling’s depreciation since November 2015 with little evidence of demand-led inflation.
This situation is reminiscent of 2007-2008 when Sterling’s collapse fuelled imported and in turn headline inflation.
Should Sterling remain broadly unchanged going forward, its year-on-year pace of depreciation, currently around 9%, would slow from June onwards and hit zero towards end-year according to my estimates, in turn dampening imported inflation.
I would expect retailers to stabilise prices to maintain market share in the face of tepid demand and for wage-inflation expectations to remain modest. This was certainly the case in the 12 months to September 2009 with CPI-inflation falling from 5.2% yoy to 1.1% yoy.
The question is whether the BoE is willing to look beyond a potentially temporary rise in UK inflation – as Governor Mark Carney suggested – or whether it tries to short-circuit any self-reinforcing rise in prices.
My base-line scenario is that the BoE will look beyond the current rise in UK inflation, unless at least one of three conditions materialise:
(1) Nominal wage growth accelerates, comfortably outstripping headline inflation and driving consumption growth;
(2) Commercial bank lending picks up significantly; and
(3) Sterling depreciates materially from current levels, exacerbating imported and in turn headline inflation.
I expect that neither (1) or (2) will materialise any time soon and that while risks to Sterling are probably to the downside, Sterling is unlikely to weaken sufficiently to push the BoE into hiking. I would however expect it to keep a possible rate hike firmly on the table.
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