UK households continue to be hit hard by soaring food prices, with annual inflation in British shops reaching its highest in at least 18 years in March.
Food inflation accelerated to 15.0% in March, up from 14.5% in February, new figures from the British Retail Consortium this morning show.
That’s sharply higher than the official CPI inflation rate of 10.4% in February, as prices continue to soar in the shops.
Shortages of fruit and vegetables pushed up prices, the BRC reports, with fresh food inflation accelerating to 17.0% in March, up from 16.3% in February.
That is the highest inflation rate in the fresh food category on record (going back to 2005), illustrating that the cost of living squeeze has not eased.
Helen Dickinson OBE, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, warned that shop price inflation has “yet to peak” – with rising sugar prices meaning Easter chocolate treats will be expensive.
As Easter approaches, the rising cost of sugar coupled with high manufacturing costs left some customers with a sour taste, as price rises for chocolate, sweets and fizzy drinks increased in March.
Fruit and vegetable prices also rose as poor harvests in Europe and North Africa worsened availability, and imports became more expensive due to the weakening pound. Some sweeter deals were available in non-food, as retailers offered discounts on home entertainment goods and electrical appliances.
Prices of “Ambient food” – such as sauces, soups, preserves, confectionery and cereals – also continued to rise. Ambient Food inflation accelerated to 12.4% in March, up from 12.2% in February, a record high.
Increasing food price inflation disproportionately affects low-income families (as we all have to eat!), meaning that poorer households suffer a higher inflation rate than average.
Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey warned last night that the age of social media and digital banking is causing lightening-quick bank runs.
It’s a hint of what he may tell the Treasury committee later this morning, on the sudden collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (whose customers had rushed to move their money to other accounts once problems emerged at the bank).
Bailey said one of the lessons regulators need to learn from SVB is the “speed at which runs can take place” given the technological advances since the financial crisis.
“It is striking that that happened very quickly — word gets around,” he said Monday in response to questions after a speech at the London School of Economics.
“This is very different from the Northern Rock-style queue outside the branch type thing.”
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Fears over the banking sector may have eased this week, but policymakers are keen to understand exactly why several banks collapsed in recent weeks.
This morning, top officials from the Bank of England will be quizzed by the Treasury Committee about the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank UK, and its rescue by HSBC two weeks ago for £1.
The Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, will testify alongside Sam Woods, the chief executive of the Prudential Regulation Authority, and Sir Dave Ramsden, the Bank’s Deputy Governor for Markets.
The committee want to learn more about the Bank’s actions to resolve SVB UK, and how the lender – which provided support to many tech start-ups – was supervised before its collapse.
They’ll probably also discuss wider stresses in the banking sector, including the impact of the failure of Credit Suisse on the UK, and what lessons can be learnt about the regulation of the banking sector.
Last night, Bailey insisted in a speech that the UK banking system was resilient, with “robust capital and liquidity positions”, and in a good position to support the economy.
The BoE governor told the London School of Economics:
We have a strong macroprudential policy regime in this country. With the Financial Policy Committee on the case of securing financial stability, the Monetary Policy Committee can focus on its own important job of returning inflation to target.
In a letter to the cross-party Treasury select committee published last week,Bailey revealed the Bank of England had warned US regulators over the risks building at Silicon Valley Bank well before its collapse.
Last night, the White House insisted the US banking system was safe despite stress on some institutions, following the collapse of both Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, and crypto-focused Silvergate, this month.
Asked whether the worst of the banking crisis was behind the country after failed Silicon Valley was purchased with the aid of a government backstop, the White House’s top spokesperson said Americans can be ‘confident’ in their banks.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters:
“Because of the decisive actions that we have seen … from our administration, the banking regulators and also the Treasury Department, the banking system is safe.”
European stock markets are set to open higher, adding to yesterday’s gains after First Citizens, a North Carolina lender, took over most of Silicon Valley’s loans and assets.
8am BST: Grocery inflation report from Kantar
9.45am BST: Bank of England gives evidence to Treasury Committee on collapse and rescue of Silicon Valley Bank UK
1.30pm BST: US goods trade balance index for February
2pm BST: US house price index
3pm BST: US consumer confidence report for March