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Record low interest rates will help borrowers but hit savers

By Rachel Martin

Published 05/08/2016

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It's a good time to be a borrower but savers will continue to be hit after the Bank of England dropped interest rates to an historical low of 0.25%.

But Northern Ireland economists have warned it's not likely to be enough to get consumers here spending.

The bank also warned it expected food and petrol prices to rise by as much as 10% as sterling failed to bounce back following the decision to leave the EU.

It comes as Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee - which sets the interest rate - decided it will slash the base rate to 0.25% in a bid to kick-start the UK economy.

And it marks the first change to interest rates since March 2009 when the base rate was 0.5%.

Economists at the bank also warned the cost of everyday goods like food, drink and petrol would increase due to the rising cost of imports.

But despite the encouragement for extra spending, economist John Simpson said it was unlikely businesses and consumers would jump at the chance to borrow.

"The private sector is not in a mood to pick up the economy. The negative signals caused by Brexit are all there, and there is a feeling that businesses should be cautious," he said.

First-time buyers and mortgage-holders will find their repayments will go down as the banks charge less to borrow.

But it will also mean savers will not see the same return on their cash. Already three-quarters of current accounts on the market offer no interest and Natwest has even warned it could introduce "negative interest" on business accounts.

"The short of it is that this is the Bank of England trying to push a piece of string up a hill from below - it just curls up and that's not trying to be facetious about it," Mr Simpson said.

"There will now be sufficient funds for banks to lend but there's not great demand for lending and because of the present mood among consumers that will remain to be the case."

However, Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association chief executive Glyn Roberts said the move could boost household spending power but added shops would be the first sector to be hit by slowdown.

He said: "It is very concerning that the Bank of England have revised its 2017 UK growth figures from 2.3% down to 0.8%. Given that the Northern Ireland economy has already very slow growth, this a major cause for concern."

Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan said "fiscal policy will undoubtedly also be stepped up by the new Chancellor and measures to support households, businesses and investment will undoubtedly feature in the Autumn Statement".

And Jamesina Doble of wealth management firm Johnston Campbell said she wasn't surprised by the decision.

"The lower interest rate will make borrowing more attractive for consumers and cash deposits less. This in theory will give a much-needed boost to the local economy by encouraging both consumers and corporates to spend rather than save.

"While consumers may save a bit more on their mortgage with the interest rate now standing at 0.25%, it remains to be seen how much of a saving we will really make as the cost of imported goods is likely to rise.

"The pocket of investors most impacted will be those in retirement, drawing income."

Belfast Telegraph

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