Bank in warning on eurozone crisis


The Bank of England painted a bleak economic picture for the UK today as it forecast a heightened risk of a double-dip recession and paved the way for another round of emergency measures.

Bank governor Sir Mervyn King sent a stark message to political leaders as he flagged an unresolved eurozone debt crisis as the "single biggest risk" to the economy.

But despite cutting forecasts, some experts accused the bank of being too optimistic and have predicted another multi-billion pound injection into the economy as early as next month.

In its quarterly inflation report, the bank slashed its central, or most likely, growth estimate to around 1% in both 2011 and 2012 - but compared to previous forecasts the Bank's projections reveal a greater chance of the economy shrinking in the first three quarters in 2012.

The forecasts assume the problems in the eurozone do not deepen, quantitative easing is maintained at current levels and interest rates stay at record lows.

The worsened prospects for the UK economy mean inflation is likely to fall far quicker than previously estimated, hitting the Government's 2% target in the second half of next year before falling to as low as around 1.3% in 2013.

Sir Mervyn, who was formally knighted at Buckingham Palace yesterday, said UK economic activity will be broadly flat until the middle of next year and added that the country faces a "difficult economic environment".

The bank's report backs the City's view that interest rates will be kept on hold for the foreseeable future and another round of quantitative easing (QE) will be rolled out before February.

But some economists were still not convinced.

Vicky Redwood, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, said: "Even the bank's downgraded growth forecasts still look optimistic to us - we expect zero growth next year."

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "The improvement in growth envisaged in the inflation report from the second half of 2012 appears too strong."

The bank cited weak global growth - in particular in the eurozone - as one of the key developments which influenced its decision to boost QE by a further £75 billion last month, increasing its total asset purchases to £275 billion.

The inflation report said: "Implementation of a credible and effective policy response in the euro area would help to reduce uncertainty and so support UK growth, but its absence poses the single biggest risk to domestic recovery."

But Sir Mervyn said the prospect of an improvement overseas seems "remote".

The bank added failure to meet the challenges in the euro area would have "significant implications" for the UK economy.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said: "While the inflation report and Sir Mervyn King did not specifically use the "R" word - recession - the implication is that this is a very real risk, particularly if events in the Eurozone worsen and credit conditions tighten."

But looking further ahead, the bank expects the economy to rapidly pick up to reach around 3.2% gross domestic product growth in late 2013.

Sir Mervyn added: "There will be weakness in the economy over the next few quarters and although no-one can know what the outcome will be thereafter, we expect the economy to pick up."

Looking at inflation, the bank said the rate would slow as the impact of the VAT rise, a fall in energy and import prices and downward pressure from a slack in the labour markets.

Elsewhere, the bank pointed towards the threat of a second credit crunch in the UK.

The turmoil in stock markets - triggered by uncertainty over the eurozone and global economy - has impacted banks' access to funding.

The bank said if these strains persist, the supply of credit to businesses and households could be restricted.

A Treasury spokesman said: "The Government is doing all it can to protect the UK economy and make sure that it remains a relative safe haven in the face of international instability and uncertainty, whilst also putting in place the longer term conditions needed for strong and sustainable growth."