Bank of England holds back on QE


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The Independent Online

The Bank of England held off from pumping more emergency cash into the economy today amid fears that inflation is not falling back as quickly as expected.

The most recent £50 billion injection into the Bank's quantitative easing (QE) programme took place in February but members of the monetary policy committee (MPC) have vetoed increasing the stock of asset purchases from £325 billion.

Interest rates were held at their record low of 0.5 per cent but economists said the verdict of the nine-strong committee on QE would have been a close call. They think that a further round of QE could still take place by August.

Despite the UK's return to recession in the first quarter and renewed tensions in the eurozone, it is likely that members were influenced by inflation remaining stubbornly high at 3.5 per cent in March, against expectations that it will meet the Government's 2 per cent target by the end of this year.

Ian McCafferty, the CBI's chief economic adviser, said: "The combination of sluggish activity and sticky inflation put the MPC in a difficult position, and this decision is likely to have been a close call.

"But it appears that the persistence of inflationary pressures tilted the balance in favour of keeping the stock of asset purchases unchanged."

He said another round of QE cannot be ruled out but he remained hopeful that the UK's recovery will be on a firmer footing in the second half of the year, as inflation eases and the global economy strengthens.

Pressure for more stimulus measures has intensified amid the recent deepening in the eurozone crisis and after figures showed the UK in a technical recession, with gross domestic product declining 0.2 per cent in the first three months of the year after a 0.3 per cent drop in the final quarter of 2011.

Minutes of the Bank's April meeting showed a reluctance to increase QE, with arch-dove Adam Posen dropping his call for an extra £25 billion.

And the accuracy of official data has been called into question after a run of purchasing managers' surveys in the first three months of the year revealed decent growth in the manufacturing, construction and services sectors.

Governor Sir Mervyn King will provide further insight into the Bank's thinking on Wednesday when he presents quarterly economic forecasts on growth and inflation.

Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec Securities, said: "It is possible for the MPC to re-open the tap on asset purchases at any stage, even in principle at least, next month.

"But more realistically the committee has probably entered a period of 'wait and see' during which it will assess the gravity of the economic outlook and further evidence on the extent to which inflation is likely to moderate further over the next year or two."

Pensioners' groups have warned that further QE could leave more than a million pensioners "permanently poorer" due to the adverse effect money-printing has on annuity rates.

When they retire, workers use their pension pot to buy an annuity from an insurer, a decision which sets the size of their pension for life.

Annuity rates are linked to the yields on Government bonds, called gilts, which have been dramatically reduced by QE over the last three years.

Analysts have found that a 65-year-old man with £100,000 could have bought a level income of £7,855 in July 2008, but someone in the same situation this year would receive an income of only £5,923, a drop of just under 25 per cent.