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Inflation rate unchanged at minus 0.1% - lowest since March 1960

Inflation remained in negative territory last month, marking the longest run of flat or falling prices since records began.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) was unchanged at minus 0.1% in October as households continue to benefit from lower food and drink prices amid a supermarket price war, as well as sharply easing energy and fuel costs.

October's rate of inflation means the UK has now been in mild deflation for two months in a row, while CPI also briefly dipped into negative territory in April.

Inflation has been at or close to zero for nine months and is at the lowest level since March 1960.

Low inflation eases pressure on the Bank of England to increase interest rates, as CPI has now been significantly below its 2% target for nearly a year.

The Bank's latest forecast earlier this month signalled that a hike in the cost of borrowing may not come for at least year despite governor Mark Carney previously saying the decision would come into ''sharper relief'' at the turn of the year.

Mr Carney said CPI was unlikely to stay close to zero "much beyond the end of the year", but the Bank forecast that inflation was set to stay below 1% until the second half of 2016.

Rock-bottom interest rates for longer will be good news for home-owners, but offers no respite to savers, who have seen the base rate remain at 0.5% for more than six years.

ONS head of CPI Richard Campbell said: "CPI remained steady at minus 0.1% in October, with stronger clothing price growth being offset by food and alcohol and tobacco, as well as a smaller impact from rising tuition fees.

"This is now the ninth month running that CPI has been at or very close to zero."

CPI stayed below zero as small rises in the prices of clothing and footwear last month were offset by ongoing falls in food and drink, while the effect of the Government's move to triple university tuition fees, which came into effect in 2012, are also finally dropping out of the annual comparison.

The ONS added that the Retail Prices Index (RPI) - a separate measure including housing costs - fell to 0.7% in October from 0.8% in September. This is the lowest level of RPI since December 2009.

Prices continued to plunge on the forecourts last month as the ONS said fuel prices fell by 14% on an annual basis, while food and drink prices fell by 2.7% in October and energy costs were 4.1% lower, according to the ONS.

While Britain has seen mild deflation for the first time in more than 55 years, the country is not predicted to see a damaging spiral of persistent deflation, when widespread price falls become entrenched.

The Bank of England forecasts that inflation will begin to pick up and return to the 2% target within two years, with last month's report suggesting a rate hike in the early part of 2017 would be needed to stop inflation overshooting.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said: "There seems little to worry about from the UK's second successive month of marginal deflation in September, and it will certainly be welcomed by consumers as it further boosts their purchasing power.

"Deflation is likely to prove brief and marginal and it is highly unlikely that consumers will be tempted to start delaying purchases in anticipation of falling prices."

But the Black Friday one-day promotional shopping event later this month is set to have a major influence on the November CPI rate, as aggressive widespread discounting on the high street could see inflation kept in negative territory.

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said with inflation remaining at minus 0.1%, it helps "shore up the Bank of England's belief that there's no rush to start raising interest rates".

He added: "The benefit of ongoing low inflation is not only that interest rates will stay lower for longer but that real wage growth remains robust, which will in turn continue to boost consumer spending power and help sustain the economic upturn."

Chancellor George Osborne claimed the figures would be welcome news for household budgets.

"With inflation unchanged, employment at an all-time high and pay growth across our economy remaining strong, today's news continues to mean household budgets are going further," he said.

"Of course, in an uncertain global economy we continue to be alert to all risks and that's why in the Spending Review we will set out the next steps in our plan to build a resilient economy: delivering the economic security of a country that lives within its means, enhancing our national security and extending opportunity for all."


From Belfast Telegraph