Chambers urge Bank to delay rate rise

Business leaders urged the Bank of England not to "hit the recovery on the head" with a rise in interest rates as a new survey showed the economy firing on all cylinders.

The British Chambers of Commerce admitted its latest survey of companies was the most positive it could remember but said it was too soon to assume the recovery was entrenched. It said there had been a "marked" improvement in the manufacturing sector and continued growth in the "buoyant" services sector.

Among manufacturers, sales and orders are at a 12-month high, export orders are at a seven-year high, and investment intentions are at a six-year peak. Services companies recorded improvements across the board although prospects were now less certain than manufacturing.

The survey, which was carried out in November and December, raised the chances that today's first official estimate of fourth quarter GDP growth would come in above analysts' forecasts of 0.8 per cent.

But David Frost, the BCC's director general, said a rate rise next month in response would be "premature".

"With inflation well below the official target and wage settlements remaining low, the widespread expectations that early interest rate increases are necessary and imminent must be strongly challenged," he said.

David Kern, the BCC's economic adviser, said: "I cannot remember a quarter as positive as this but I want to make sure that no mistaken policy implications are drawn from it.

"The economy has grown below trend for three years and it is a dangerous concept to hit the recovery on the head with rate hikes before it gathers momentum."

But economists in the City said the Bank's monetary policy committee was likely to ignore their pleas and focus on the robust picture of economic growth.

"This is the sort of improvement that should support the Bank in deciding to tighten monetary policy in February," George Buckley at Deutsche Bank said.

The pound rose for a third day against the dollar. It peaked at $1.8478, within a cent of its recent 11-year high of $1.8577.

The BCC survey added to optimism provided by separate figures showing that mortgage borrowing and house prices rose strongly last month.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said house prices rose at their fastest pace in the three months, while the British Bankers' Association reported a marked acceleration in mortgage lending.

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