The official figures revealed on Wednesday, a day before the Bank of England releases its most recent decision on interest rates, that British consumer price inflation unexpectedly increased to 10.4% in February, driven up by drinks prices in pubs and restaurants.
The annual CPI rate was expected to decline from January’s 10.1% to 9.9% in February and move farther away from the 11.1% record-breaking high set in October, according to economists surveyed by Reuters.
The BoE is due to announce on Thursday whether it has raised interest rates for an 11th meeting in a row.
Investors are split on whether it will pause its run of increases in borrowing costs because of the recent upheaval in the global banking sector.
“Given the market movements of late, this puts the Bank of England in an incredibly difficult position as it may not be enough for the Bank of England to press pause on the rate hikes,” Richard Carter, head of fixed interest research at Quilter Cheviot, said.
Sterling rose against the dollar and the euro after the data was published.
The ONS said that an end to January drinks promotions in pubs and restaurants was the biggest factor pushing up inflation last month, but shortages of salad items also played a role.
“Food and non-alcoholic drink prices rose to their highest rate in over 45 years with particular increases for some salad and vegetable items as high energy costs and bad weather across parts of Europe led to shortages and rationing,” ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner said.
Core CPI – which excludes energy, food, alcohol and tobacco and is watched closed by the BoE – rose to 6.2% from 5.8% in January, versus a forecast decline to 5.7%.
The annual inflation rate in the services sector, which most policymakers consider is a good measure of underlying price pressures in the economy, rose to 6.6% after standing at 6.0% in January.
Finance minister Jeremy Hunt said the data showed the expected decline in inflation could not be taken for granted.
“Falling inflation isn’t inevitable, so we need to stick to our plan to halve it this year,” Hunt said in a statement.
On Tuesday, he told lawmakers that inflation above 10% was “dangerously high”.