U.K. inflation accelerated to its fastest pace in nearly four years last month, according to figures from Britain's Office for National Statistics, as consumer prices surged past the Bank of England's target rate.
Consumer prices rose 2.3% in February, the ONS said, compared to an upwardly-revised 1.9 pace in January and the fastest rate since September 2014. It's also the first time that inflation has risen past the Bank of England's 2% target rate in more than three years.
The pound rose sharply against the dollar immediately following the data release and was marked 0.73% higher at 1.2459 by 10:45 GMT.
"It is no surprise to see inflation picking up further and going above 2%, this is the product of increasing global price pressures and the weakness of the pound," said Andrew Sentance, senior economic adviser at PwC and a former Bank of England rate setter. "Inflation has been rising across a range of countries recently - including the United States and members of the Eurozone - as higher energy and food prices feed through to consumers."
"The additional upward pressure from the decline in sterling over the past 18 months will push UK inflation up further over the course of this year - to 3 percent or possibly higher," Sentance added.
The BoE expects inflation to peak at around 2.75% in early 2018 before "rifting gradually back down towards the target thereafter."
"The projected overshoot entirely reflects the expected effects of the drop in sterling," the Bank said last week. "Pay growth has remained subdued, while measures of inflation expectations remain at levels broadly consistent with the achievement of the inflation target."
U.K. consumers, hit by rising inflation, are foregoing larger purchases to spend on essentials, according to recent data published Tuesday from the British Retail Consortium.
A separate report from Barclays also indicates weakening demand for expensive items as inflation pushes up the price of food and fuel, painting a gloomy picture for the country's retailers.
In the three months to February, total non-food sales fell 0.2%, the first fall in a three-month period in more than five years, the BRC said. Barclays's data also showed that overall household spending was down 1.8% on the month, but noted that spending had grown by 4% from last year, driven mainly by food sales that helped supermarket spending rise by 2%, the seventh consecutive monthly advance.
The U.K. government will begin its formal two-year withdraw process from the European Union on March 29, but industry data is already pointing to a slowdown in consumer spending, with the British Retail Consortium saying consumers are holding off on large purchases to spend on essentials in a report published earlier this month.
In fact, that concern has been played out in stock prices for some time: the FTSE 350 General Retailers Index has fallen 1.7% in the past three months and the FTSE 350 Food and Drug Retailers Index has barely moved over the same time period.