UK borrowers brace for more expensive loans as inflation fails to fall as anticipated

UK borrowers brace for more expensive loans as inflation fails to fall as anticipated

LONDON (AP) — Borrowers in the U.K. will be bracing themselves for further increases in lending costs after official figures Wednesday showed inflation failing to fall as anticipated in May.

The Office for National Statistics said inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, held steady at 8.7% in the year to May against expectations for a modest decline to 8.4%, a development that is likely to see the politically independent Bank of England raise the cost of borrowing again on Thursday.

The agency said rising prices for flights, recreational and cultural goods and services, and second-hand cars boosted the inflation rate, while gas prices provided the biggest downward pressure.

Inflation in the U.K. is proving to be stickier than elsewhere in the Group of Seven industrialized nations, with many blaming the Bank of England for being too slow in starting to raise interest rates and Britain’s departure from the European Union, which has added to business costs. Inflation in the U.S. is down at 4% and is 6.1% across the 20 EU countries that use the euro currency.

Financial markets think the unchanged rate will mean the Bank of England will increase its benchmark interest rate on Thursday from the current 15-year high of 4.5% by at least a quarter point to 4.75%.

Some economists think the bank, which is tasked with keeping inflation at around 2%, may decide to go further and raise its benchmark rate to 5%. Higher interest rates help lower inflation by making it more expensive for households and businesses to borrow, meaning they potentially spend less, thereby reducing demand pressure on prices.

“This makes a rate rise by the Bank of England this week near certain and materially increases the likelihood of further rises well into autumn,” said Debapratim De, senior economist at Deloitte.

The anticipated increase will put further pressure on financial institutions to increase their own lending rates for loans and mortgages. It also raises further concerns over the outlook for the British economy, which is barely growing. The Conservative government, which is trailing the main opposition Labour Party in opinion polls ahead of a likely general election next year, insists that getting inflation under control is the number one economic priority.

“We know how much high inflation hurts families and businesses across the country, and our plan to halve the rate this year is the best way we can keep costs and interest rates down,” Treasury chief Jeremy Hunt said.

“We will not hesitate in our resolve to support the Bank of England as it seeks to squeeze inflation out of our economy, while also providing targeted support with the cost of living,” he added.

Many homeowners will be cushioned from the recent increases as they fixed their mortgages when interest rates were ultra low during the coronavirus pandemic. However, those whose fixed-rate terms expire over the coming months will face much higher borrowing rates when they look to lock in new deals.

“It’s a ticking time bomb as 1.4 million borrowers will see an end to their low fixed rates this year,” said Jamie Elvin, director at mortgage broker Strive Mortgages.

Unlike the United States, where many homeowners fix their mortgage rates for 30 years, the prevailing habit in the U.K. is for homeowners to fix a rate for much shorter periods of time, after which they move to their lender’s usually higher variable rate or seek out other deals. In the current climate, for example, those who fixed their mortgage rate at below 1% three years ago may see a fivefold increase in their rates.

Like other central banks, the Bank of England has aggressively raised borrowing rates over the past 18 months or so after inflation spiked sharply, first because of bottlenecks caused by the coronavirus pandemic and then because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which sent energy and food prices surging.

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