View from City Road: Price expectations differ in reality

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The Independent Online
There is plenty for Kenneth Clarke and Eddie George to disagree about in today's monthly trends survey from the Confederation of British Industry.

The survey shows the balance of manufacturers expecting to raise their delivery prices over the next four months rising to its highest in three and a half years. This finding will no doubt rekindle fears in the markets that a rise in interest rates is not far off. But then one man's confident expectation on prices is always another's wishful thinking. Whether manufacturers will be able to translate their wishes into fact is open to question.

The Governor of the Bank of England will argue that the rise in price expectations - in April more manufacturers were expecting to cut prices than raise them - bodes badly for inflation. The Chancellor will respond that just because manufacturers expect to raise their prices does not necessarily imply they will succeed.

The CBI tends to go along with the Chancellor's view. It sees no case for a rise in interest rates yet and points out that the last time one of its surveys showed factory output growing as quickly as this one, the number of companies expecting to raise prices was two-thirds higher than it is now.

We will have to wait until October's more detailed quarterly survey is published to see how many manufacturers succeed in raising prices. The chances are that it will indeed be smaller than the number who hoped to. But with changes in interest rates taking at least two years to have their full effect on the rate of inflation, this does not diminish the case for an early and pre- emptive move. For the time being it seems unlikely the markets will force Mr Clarke's hand. The headline inflation rate is still too flattering for that. But any deterioration . . .

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