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  • Mal McCallion

The Bank of Uncertainty

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

With yesterday's 5-4 vote in favour of keeping rates where they are, the Bank of England could hardly have been less emphatic in its outlook for the UK economy.

It's been two long years - and fourteen meetings of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) - since the UK housing market last enjoyed a respite from an interest rate hike. Then, yesterday, came the surprise announcement that its members had voted to keep rates on hold at 5.25% when most people - at least at the start of this week - considered it nailed-on that they would rise once more to 5.5%.

These things are, of course, always difficult. The nine-strong members of the MPC split 5-4 in their votes, numerically summarised this point neatly - even the biggest brains, with access to the best information and highest-paid advisors, can't agree on what the right decision is. But whilst on the face of it the 'hold' at 5.25% is good news for the property industry, in fact it is likely to confuse and worry the very people who might actually have taken action had it moved to 5.5%.

The one thing that really harms our industry is uncertainty. If things are obviously good or obviously bad then people can make decisions one way or another based on these situations. What the Bank has signalled, with its tight vote and pause in raises - then articulated in its meeting minutes, which state "further tightening in monetary policy would be required if there were evidence of more persistent inflationary pressures" - is that this is not the final, decisive blow against inflation.

There may be more pain to come.

That means more dither and delay, less belief and activity and more stress and confusion all round. As a result, where we might have been looking forward to the rest of this year from a position of knowing that interest rates aren't going to go higher, we're now gnawing our nails again waiting to see what happens on 2nd November. And that will be the same for those considering whether to enter the property market this autumn too.

So, whilst decisions to not raise interest rates are generally welcome, this one is something of a poisoned chalice. In reacting to one surprisingly good data point, the inflation figures of Wednesday - and determining via a tight vote that this is enough to stop an almost guaranteed final raise of rates to 5.5% - the MPC might just have throttled what discretionary movement in the housing market might have happened over the crucial next six weeks.

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