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Petrol is getting dearer, but cheaper computer games are now a big enough factor (see below) to balance the impact. The result of this pushme-pullyou was that consumer prices rose less than expected last month, and an annual rate of 2.4 per cent spared the blushes of the UK’s Monetary Policy Committee for spending another month dithering over interest rates.

Perhaps this dithering is because the current members of the MPC have no experience of raising them. Aside from the reversal of the panic post-referendum cut, UK Bank Rate has now been stuck at 0.5 per cent for more than nine years. What started as a desperate measure to head off a financial crisis has somehow morphed into the new normal.

It’s quite a contrast to the US Federal Reserve. Although the rates of inflation in both countries are similar and they share a target of 2 per cent, the Fed raised rates this week for the seventh time. For good measure, it signalled two more rises this year, with a further three in 2019, which would take its bank rate to the dizzy heights of 3 per cent.

There are no such detailed projections from the Bank of England, which is just as well considering its woeful record on forecasting. Governor Mark Carney’s reputation as the unreliable boyfriend has been well earned. He might consider a comment from Paul Tucker, the pre-crisis front runner for governor, that doing nothing is doing something.

The effect of all this almost doing something is to give the impression that the MPC is pushed about by the previous week’s weather and economic statistics. There is no sign of a strategy for getting Bank Rate to a level which balances the interests of lenders and borrowers, only an assertion that inflation will somehow stay quiescent.

In the old days, a central bank that found itself chasing rising inflation had to raise interest rates much further to overtake it. At the Fed, they are taking pre-emptive action. At the BoE, they still think a rate nearly 2 per cent below inflation is just fine.

High Speed spending

Britain’s white elephant game reserve of wealth-destroying capital projects is filling up nicely. Here are Gordon Brown’s planeless aircraft carriers. There is Hinkley Point nuclear power station. And look, that dear little calf is HS2, the railway line whose justification changes more often than passengers at Crewe.

It is now showing a fine appetite, and consuming cash at an increasing rate. Needless to say, the forecast diet of dosh is proving inadequate for the growing pachyderm, as New Civil Engineer reports. The target for the construction works is £6.6bn, but contractors’ cost submissions are £1.2bn higher. They have been asked to review their sums, but following the collapse of Carillion they know how to respond to requests for cuts in their estimates.

When the government gave the green light to the line, the estimate for the project was £32bn. That seemed pretty pricey at the time, but it has already almost doubled, to a jumbo £56bn, before any real work has started, so even £1,000 for every man, woman and child in the land may not be the final answer. In that context, £1.2bn may seem like a rounding error, rather like the £1.6bn already paid in compensation to those affected by the line.

It is still not too late to set the financial big game hunters onto Nellie. And even with Notwork Rail’s hopeless budgetting, £56bn would go quite a way to modernising the entire existing rail network. For the benefit of the many, not the few, as the current argot has it.

It’s only a game

You may not understand the lure of computer games any more than the next grown-up, but the scale of this industry is pretty scary, with one estimate suggesting a market worth $145bn worldwide by 2020. Codemasters, which came to Aim this month, is a market leader in racing games, and has raced to 253p from its placing price of 200p. At £354m the business is valued at 5.5 times last year’s sales. There are no (post R&D) profits, but no debt either. High risk, of course, but if you want to be up with the zeitgeist…

This is my FT column from Saturday

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