Will interest rates rise in 2011?
With the Bank of England base rate remaining at a record-low of 0.5% since March 2009 the question on every saver and borrower's lips is when will interest rates start to rise.
It's not a question of if, but when the Bank of England will increase the rate we pay on our borrowing or earn on our savings.
Many savers reliant on the income they earn from their cash will be grateful for any rise, but homeowners with stretched budgets will dread an increase to their monthly mortgage payments.
It's impossible to predict exactly what will happen, but in the absence of a crystal ball, Moneywise has called on some of the UK's leading economists, along with experts from the mortgage and investment markets to find out what they think.
Howard Archer, chief European and UK economist, IHS Global Insight: "Interest rates must remain very low to offset the impact of the fiscal squeeze"
"Given that consumer price inflation is likely to rise above 3.5% in the early months of 2011 and consumers' inflation expectations have risen, there is undeniably mounting pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates sooner rather than later in 2011.
"For now at least, we are maintaining our view that the Bank of England is most likely to keep interest rates down at 0.50% until at least late-2011. This reflects our belief that growth will slow appreciably in the first half of 2011 and that a soft labour market will prevent higher inflation expectations feeding through to lift wage growth.
"Specifically, we forecast the first interest rate hike to come in the fourth quarter of 2011 and see interest rates still only at 0.75% at the end of next year. And whenever interest rates do finally start to rise, they are likely to increase only gradually and remain very low compared to past norms, as monetary policy will need to remain loose for an extended period to offset the impact of the major, sustained fiscal squeeze."
Darius McDermott, managing director, Chelsea Financial Services: "Interest rate rises are the last course of action for the Bank of England"
"Inflation has been stubbornly high and this is leading to calls for a rise in interest rates. But as it is the last economic lever the Bank of England can pull, to keep individuals feeling well enough off to keep spending and to keep some momentum in the housing market, this is likely to be a last course of action.
"So as we turn into 2011, I can see interest rates going up a bit say two 0.25% rises by the end of the year ending at no more than 1%. It would also not surprise me at all if they were still at 0.5%, due to fears of falling back into recession, especially on top of the spending cuts and the rise in VAT."
Ray Boulger, senior technical manager, John Charcol: "Interest rates could hit 1% by the year end"
"Although the recent fuel price increases will drive inflation higher in the short term it will fall sharply in January 2012 when the VAT increase to 20% falls out of the year-on-year calculation. The tax increases and spending cuts already announced have a similar impact on consumers to an increase in Bank Rate, mitigating pressure for an increase.
"The euro problems are also likely to hurt the UK economy and therefore it would therefore not be surprising if Bank Rate remains at 0.5% throughout 2011, although a small rise to 1% in the second half of the year is equally likely."
David Hollingworth, head of communications, London & Country Mortgages: "Borrowers will be eyeing fixed rates, but rise not likely until later in the year."
"There's plenty of uncertainty surrounding the outlook for interest rates in the coming year, although it still looks likely that there will not be a change in base rate until later in the year. That will leave many borrowers eyeing the initially cheaper tracker rates but some will now be wondering whether it is the right time to fix.
"This is a trend only likely to gather pace through the year as talk of a hike in interest rates gathers momentum.
"With the mortgage market set to remain tight it makes sense to think about how well you can deal with rising interest rates and what strategy to employ.
"In similar vein to 2010 the level of equity in the home will have a significant bearing on the rates on offer, as lenders continue to offer the best rates to those with the most equity."
Robert Gardner, chief economist, Nationwide Building Society: "Expect a rate rise in fourth quarter of 2011"
"The MPC will be walking a tightrope in 2011, hoping to raise rates early enough to get inflation back towards the 2% target over their two-year forecast horizon, but not too early or aggressively that they de-rail the recovery. If the economy grows at a modest pace through the year as we expect, then the Bank Rate will probably be moved higher gradually from the fourth quarter of 2011.
"Given that higher interest rates will be part of a process of normalising policy settings as the economy continues to recover, the impact of initial rate rises should be relatively modest."
Martin Ellis, housing economist, Halifax: "Interest rates won't exceed 0.75% in 2011"
"We expect interest rates to remain very low for some time with no more than one quarter point rise in bank rate likely during 2011. The latest rise in consumer price inflation should not cause the MPC to panic and raise rates as it is in line with the MPC's prediction in November's Inflation Report that inflation would rise to around 3.5% by early next year.
"Inflation is set to rise further in the near-term, but should fall back further ahead in response to low levels of activity, subdued wages growth and weak money growth. Low rates will be necessary in order to offset the negative impact of this year's fiscal squeeze on consumer spending and to maintain the economic recovery."
Ros Altmann, director-general of Saga: "Interest rate is bound to rise this year"
"The Bank of England is bound to raise interest rates during 2011, the only question for me is when. I expect that rates will start rising from the current emergency levels during the first half of the year and will increase further in the second half.
"As the inflation numbers will stay way above the 2% target and as signs of increased wage pressures emerge, the Bank will either raise rates because it decides to show its determination to fight inflation, or the markets will force short-rates up as inflation fears increase, which itself leads the Bank of England to respond."
Invented by a Frenchman in 1954 and ironically introduced in the UK on 1 April 1973, VAT is an indirect tax levied on the value added in the production of goods and services, from primary production to final consumption and is paid by the buyer. Its levying is complex, with a number of exemptions and exclusions. For example, in the UK, VAT is payable on chocolate-covered biscuits, but not on chocolate-covered cakes and the non-VAT status of McVitie’s Jaffa Cakes was challenged in a UK court case to determine whether Jaffa Cake was a cake or a biscuit. The judge ruled that the Jaffa Cake is a cake, McVitie’s won the case and VAT is not paid on Jaffa Cakes in the UK.
An increase in the general level of prices that persists over a period of time. The inflation rate is a measure of the average change over a period, usually 12 months. If inflation is up 4%, this means the price of products and services is 4% higher than a year earlier, requiring we spend and extra 4% to buy the same things we bought 12 months ago and that any savings and investments must generate 4% (after any taxes) to keep pace with inflation. Since 2003, the Bank of England has used the consumer prices index (CPI) as its official measure of inflation (see also retail prices index).
This is a mutual organisation owned by its members and not by shareholders. These societies offer a range of financial services but have historically concentrated on taking deposits from savers and lending the money to borrowers as mortgages, hence the name. In the mid-1990s many societies “demutualised” and became banks. One academic study (Heffernan, 2003) found demutualised societies’ pricing on deposits and mortgages was more favourable to shareholders than to customers, with the remaining mutual building societies offering consistently better rates. In 1900, there were 2,286 building societies in the UK; in 2011, there are just 51.
Also referred to as the bank rate or the minimum lending rate, the Bank of England base rate is the lowest rate the Bank uses to discount bills of exchange. This affects consumers as it is used by mainstream lenders and banks as the basis for calculating interest rates on mortgages, loans and savings.