UK July inflation soars to above-forecast 4.4%

LONDON - British inflation shot up in July to more than twice the central bank's target as food prices rocketed, official data showed on Tuesday, dousing expectations of any near-term interest rate cuts.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Tue 12 Aug 2008, 6:09 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:53 AM

The Office for National Statistics said consumer prices were unchanged last month, which took the annual rate of inflation up 0.6 percentage points to 4.4 percent.

This was both the biggest jump and the highest rate since the data series began in 1997, and left inflation far above the Bank of England's 2.0 percent target.

Analysts had predicted a rise to 4.1 percent and interest rate futures fell on the report as dealers bet interest rate cuts to boost the slowing economy were unlikely soon.

Economists said that even a rise in interest rates in the next month or two could not be ruled out.

"It is very disappointing data with widespread signs of higher price pressures," said Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec. "It will undoubtedly convince some members of the Monetary Policy Committee to vote for higher rates but we doubt they will reach a majority."

Bank of England policymakers had seen these figures at their meeting last week when they left rates unchanged at 5.0 percent. Their new quarterly forecasts due on Wednesday are almost certain to show a much higher near-term inflation profile.

Their economic growth outlook, however, is likely to be much lower. Recent data point to an economy teetering on the edge of recession as house prices slide and consumer confidence crumbles.

The chief culprit for the inflation spike was soaring food prices. They were up a record 13.7 percent on the year as the cost of meat, particularly bacon, ham and poultry, has risen sharply.

Bread and cereal prices also shot up. Overall, food and non-alcoholic beverages added 0.28 percentage points to the annual CPI rate.

Higher petrol prices also played their part in lifting inflation as the figures were collected before much of the recent sharp slide in oil prices. Crude oil prices have shed more than $30 a barrel from their peak above $147 in mid-July.

Still, the inflation rate is expected to shoot higher in the next two months, possibly even reaching 5 percent as some utility companies have announced tariff rises of more than 30 percent.

Worryingly for policymakers concerned about second-round effects RPI inflation, on which many wage deals are based, shot up to 5 percent, the highest rate since July 1991.

3-WAY SPLIT AGAIN?

Policymakers were split three ways on rates at their June meeting. Hawk Tim Besley wanted to raise them, dove David Blanchflower wanted to cut them and the remaining seven opted for no change.

Minutes of last week's meeting won't be available for another week but are likely to show divisions deepening as the both the growth and inflation outlooks have deteriorated.

Figures out earlier on Tuesday from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors showed house prices still sliding in the three months to July as the number of completed sales per surveyor fell to its lowest in at least 30 years.

A separate report from the British Retail Consortium showed sales fell 0.9 percent on a year ago in July when measured on a like-for-like basis.

"The window is closing for the Bank of England to raise rates but it (the CPI data) will make it harder for an early cut," said Ross Walker, economist at RBS.



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