Consumer uncertainty a worry for Bank of England's Fisher

MONETARY policy committee member Paul Fisher has warned that he is extremely "nervous and worried" about consumer consumption, hinting that he is unlikely to vote for an interest rate rise in the near future.

In an interview with The Scotsman, the Bank of England economist said he was also keeping an "open mind" about further quantitative easing (QE) as several key sectors of the economy, in particular services, remain "subdued".

Fisher argued that the current high rate of inflation was less of a concern than weak consumer confidence although he admitted that members of the MPC "don't have a lot of confidence" about the inflationary path the economy is currently taking.

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"There was no real growth in consumption in 2010 at all," he said. "We've had three years where real household post-tax income has been flat so I am quite nervous that the wrong sort of shocks could prolong the (current] period of weakness."

Although the MPC has been criticised for its recent record on inflation, Fisher insisted that there's little the committee can do to affect the cost of living "now or over the next 12 months".

He said the consumer prices index, which stands 2.5 per cent above the Bank's target, would gradually come down although he admitted that inflation has been "very volatile" over the past two years.

"We could very easily see a sharp fall back in inflation if commodity prices were to fall for example.

"It's a very uncertain picture around which we don't have a lot of confidence. But our central expectation is for inflation to fall back to the target," he said. Fisher, who was visiting businesses in Scotland yesterday, said that although the current high cost of living was "uncomfortable" for households, it wasn't yet embedded in the system.

He would only join the MPC's hawks, who have included departed member Andrew Sentance, Spencer Dale and Martin Weale, if he saw any evidence that the rate of inflation was being taken into account when deciding wage settlements.

"At the moment, if anything wages look a bit too low rather than too high," he said.

"So as long as that remains the case, it's very uncomfortable for everybody but it means inflation is not getting embedded into the system and it will come back."

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Although he would not specify when he thought interest rates should rise from their historic low of 0.5 per cent, he stressed that in the short-run, it wasn't "right" to add an interest rate rise to the pressures already facing households.

However he warned that businesses and consumers should prepare for the fact that rates will have to return to "normal" levels over the next few years.

Fisher added that he would consider further QE - which his MPC colleague Adam Posen has been calling for - although it would be "somewhat reluctantly".