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Rates likely to increase despite mixed signals

Britain's manufacturers had a busy September, calming fears that the strong pound is hammering industry. On the other hand, the Halifax said that house prices barely rose last month despite the consumer boom, contradicting figures from the Nationwide earlier in the week. Diane Coyle, Economics Editor, makes sense of the mixed signals.

The first reports taking the temperature of the economy in September are not those most likely to sway the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee when it meets next week. City experts reckon the Bank will leave the cost of borrowing unchanged for now but will increase interest rates again in November or December when it has official figures on the pace of growth in the third quarter.

However, yesterday's survey of manufacturing did nothing to strengthen the case against a rate rise, while measures of house prices from rival lenders muddied the waters by drifting further apart for the seventh month running.

According to the Halifax, house prices edged up only 0.2 per cent last month, taking their inflation rate to 6.9 per cent from 6.4 per cent in August. But according to the Nationwide earlier this week, house price inflation is 12.9 per cent and rising, with the average price close to regaining its 1989 peak.

Ciarn Barr, an economist at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, said that after taking apart the two sets of figures, they had concluded that the divergence was due to house prices moving at very different rates in different regions. The Halifax lends more in the North, the Nationwide in the South.

"The truth is almost certainly in the middle," said Mr Barr, adding that house prices were probably rising at a national average of about 10 per cent. In a recent study the investment bank predicted that the pace of increase would pick up around the country.

But the Halifax insisted yesterday that there were no signs of house prices accelerating, and forecast that the rate would fall back to 6 per cent by the end of the year.

Separately, the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply reported an unexpected pick-up in manufacturing activity in September. There were sharp rises in output and new orders which were most marked in investment rather than consumer goods. The firms surveyed switched from firing to hiring, expanding employment levels.