Bank rate-setters ready to take action

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The Independent Online

Bank of England rate-setters signalled today they are leaning towards further emergency measures to prop up the economic recovery.

The minutes of this month's meeting of the monetary policy committee (MPC) showed members voted 8-1 to leave interest rates at a record low of 0.5% and to keep the Bank's programme to boost the money supply at £200 billion.

But the report showed that some members thought the probability that further action will be necessary to stimulate the economy and keep inflation on track to hit the 2% target in the medium term had increased.

The report comes a day after the US Federal Reserve kept the door ajar for further asset purchases or quantitative easing should the economy require it.

Members of the MPC also considered an argument from Andrew Sentance for a "well-communicated policy of gradually increasing the rate". Dr Sentance was alone in voting in favour of an increase to 0.75%.

The minutes said stubbornly high inflation, currently at 3.1%, and weak private sector demand could create difficulties as the MPC attempts to hit the 2% medium-term target.

The Bank is worried that a prolonged period of above-target inflation will cause inflation expectations to drift up, making it more costly to bring inflation back to target.

And it is also concerned that private demand will not grow sufficiently quickly to replace the waning boost from cuts in public spending, increasing the margin of spare capacity in the economy and causing inflation to fall materially below the target in the medium term.

The Bank's report described both key risks as substantial and said members stood ready to respond in either direction as the balance of risks evolved.

"For some of those members, the probability that further action would become necessary to stimulate the economy and keep inflation on track to hit the target in the medium term had increased," the minutes added.

Economists said a revival of the Bank's quantitative easing looked increasingly likely.

Experts at Capital Economics said: "The chances of additional monetary policy stimulus in the form of more QE have increased significantly."

Howard Archer, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, said interest rates were likely to remain at 0.5% throughout most of 2011.

He said: "Specifically, we forecast the first interest rate hike to 0.75% to come in the fourth quarter of 2011 and see interest rates still only at 1% at the end of next year."

He added: "Meanwhile, a revival of quantitative easing is looking ever more likely."

Simon Hayes, an economist at Barclays Capital Research, said the bar to a further extension of QE in the near term was still fairly high.

"There is a legitimate question mark over the effectiveness of further asset purchases," he said.

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