Government must not hold back on recovery package

Surprises are always nice and last week we all got one when the Consumer Price Index showed that inflation had increased from 3% to 3.2% in February.

The Retail Price Index also fell short of its expected drop, going to only zero instead of into negative figures.

Of course, one month’s statistics do not a scientific trend make, and the upward movement of CPI could be the result of many influences, not least the low pound’s effect on exports, which Mervyn King confirmed had been a significant mover and shaker in February’s calculations.

But the news did rather cause a ripple in the money markets and changes to the economic rescue plan were anticipated.

Two significant points from this affect the mortgage borrower. Firstly, you would be forgiven for believing that a cut to the Bank of England base rate down to 0% has been all but voted for as part of a combined strategy, along with buying government bonds and injecting cash.

After all, not only does a 0% bank rate get people spending when a dangerous deflation is looming but the zero return on money might also annoy banks enough that they start lending some of theirs out to make interest again.

Another cut could now be in jeopardy if inflation is not tumbling. When the change does come, trackers with heady margins such as 3% over base could start looking a less favourable way of spending a large arrangement fee.

Secondly, we may be reaching that mystical time when the Bank rate has hit its low, meaning that this may be the time to grab your long-term fixes.

Increasing gilt yields are often mirrored by swap rates going up, and at the time of writing, five-year and 10-year swaps both jumped nearly 0.1% following the inflation report and maintained that level during the week.

Borrowers looking to secure a decent rate for a few years will inevitably be looking at the fixed rates around at the moment. King has implied previously that when the economy starts recovering, they will raise the Bank rate quickly.

The news of increased inflation certainly sent gilt prices down, purely as a result of the lessened belief that the Bank would buy as many as anticipated. Even the £75bn earmarked for quantitative easing may not be spent as quickly as first intended.

The pound may have rallied with a good inflation figure but longer-term strength will require evidence of a sustainable plan for recovery.

The Bank and the government have the unenviable task of maintaining an optimism while not attaching too much importance to one statistic.

Consumer confidence is the important measure and while estate agents report increased interest we are far from a turnaround.

Delaying or watering down a strong and decisive rescue strategy off the back of this could dent our recovery significantly.