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Year-long wage squeeze nearing an end

19 April 2018, 01:59 | Melanie Burgess

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Annual pay growth excluding bonuses accelerated to 2.8 per cent in the three months through February, the Office for National Statistics said Tuesday.

The latest Consumer Price Index inflation figure is 2.7% and is expected to remain unchanged when new figures are published on Wednesday, signalling an end to the squeeze on earnings.

Wednesday's inflation data comes just 24 hours after the ONS revealed that wages in the United Kingdom grew by 2.8% over the most recent data period.

This comes at a time when the Brexit vote's immediate impact is waning: the pound slumped in the immediate aftermath of the June 2016 vote to leave the European Union, prompting a rise in the cost of imported goods, such as clothes, energy and food.

While investors are still pricing in an interest rate hike by the Bank of England in May, the surprise fall in inflation has led some to reassess the prospects of a further rise in November.

"It's this wage-price spiral which underlines the case for higher interest rates".

The pound fell 0.7% against the dollar on the news to $1.419, while the euro rose 0.7% versus sterling to 87.1p.

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Mike Hardie, head of inflation at the ONS, said the lower-than-expected figure was because women's clothing prices have been rising slower than usual for this time of year. These factors may explain, partially at least, whilst wage growth is not stronger since a smaller pool of potential employees should mean that employers have to offer better terms and conditions to attract the staff that they need.

"But we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that inflation is still above the Bank of England's target and wage growth remains below its pre-financial crisis average".

Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "The continued rise in employment, coupled with a further drop in the unemployment rate, is further evidence that the United Kingdom jobs market remains in good shape, with firms continuing to recruit despite sluggish economic conditions".

The ONS also said United Kingdom house prices in February rose by 4.4% compared with 4.7% in January, the weakest increase in seven months.

Month on month, CPI was up just 0.1%, short of forecasts for a 0.3% rise and down from the 0.4% gain in February.

Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, added that the CPI figures are unlikely to deter the BoE from raising interest rates in May. It traded at US$1.4329 as of 10 am in London.

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