The Bank of England governor, Andrew Bailey, has said the economy is in a “very difficult period” due the latest Covid-19 lockdown and it would probably delay the recovery.
In comments on Tuesday that echoed warnings from the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, a day earlier that the economy “is going to get worse before it gets better”, Bailey said it would bounce back, but only after the lockdown had ended and concerns about the spread of the virus had receded.
“[We’re] in a very difficult period at the moment and there’s no question that it’s going to delay, probably, the trajectory,” he said.
In a speech online to the Scottish Chambers of Commerce he said the shape of the recovery, while delayed, would broadly follow the forecast made by the Bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC) last November.
Bailey said the unemployment rate, which he previously expected to peak at about 7%-8% in the summer would be lower after the government extended its job protection scheme and other measures to safeguard household incomes.
However, the rate was likely to rise above the 4.9% that official figures estimate for the three months to October.
Bailey said the figure was already higher despite the extra measures that Sunak has announced, including a further £4.5bn last week for the hospitality sector.
“Our best guess nationwide is probably it’s around 6.5%,” Bailey said.
The MPC meets early next month to discuss how the central bank can help to protect the economy during the lockdown, including whether interest rates should be cut to below zero – a move that could ease borrowing costs on households and businesses.
Bailey said he was sceptical that a cut from the current all-time low of 0.1%would be painless, arguing it could make the situation worse.
He said there were “lots of issues” with cutting interest rates into negative territory and such a move could hurt banks.
“In simple economics and maths terms, there is nothing to stop it at all,” he said. “However there are a lot of issues with it.”
On Monday, one of the MPC’s nine committee members said she believed negative rates would benefit the UK economy and help it make a faster recovery.
Silvana Tenreyro said central banks in Japan and the eurozone had cut rates to below zero to support borrowing and she was likely to vote for the UK to follow suit when a review by the Bank was completed.
Bailey said negative rates – the subject of a feasibility review by the central bank – would complicate banks’ efforts to be profitable and force them to restrict lending.
He argued that it was not easy to draw a direct parallel with similar action in the eurozone, where banks have mostly passed on the benefits to large businesses.
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