By Shaloo Shrivastava
BENGALURU (Reuters) – The Bank of England (BoE) will keep its Bank Rate at 5.25% until at least July in an effort to combat high inflation, a Reuters poll of economists showed, but participants did say the bigger risk for the first cut was it comes later than they expect.
Last week, the BoE held its key policy rate at a 15-year peak for a second consecutive meeting and reinforced the message it would keep borrowing costs high, like its major peers.
But inflation has proved stickier in Britain than in other advanced economies, and is the highest among major rich nations. Data for September showed prices rose 6.7% on a year earlier – more than three times the BoE’s 2% target.
That is despite the BoE being one of the first major central banks to hike interest rates from COVID-era lows. The Bank Rate rose 515 basis points in 14 consecutive meetings from December 2021 through August this year.
After the Nov. 2 Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) announcement, Governor Andrew Bailey said the BoE was determined to get inflation back to target.
All but one of 63 economists polled Nov. 6-9 expected the Bank Rate to be held on Dec. 14. The other contributor expected a 25 basis point hike to 5.50%.
“The MPC kept the possibility of rate hikes on the table, but the bar for tightening seems materially higher now as economic activity is clearly weakening, the labour market is loosening, and headline inflation will fall rapidly in coming months,” noted Daniel Vernazza at UniCredit.
“In our view, the BoE is highly unlikely to hike rates again in this cycle.”
When asked about the chance of another BoE interest rate hike, 82% or 18 of 22 economists who answered said it was low. Four said high.
More than one-third of economists, 24 of 62, expected the first cut in the second quarter of next year but poll medians showed the cutting cycle would start in the third quarter. That would be later than the U.S. Federal Reserve, which is expected to begin cutting in the second quarter.
The Bank Rate was forecast at 4.75% in the third quarter, the poll median showed, lower than 5.00% expected last month.
But economists were divided on where Bank Rate would be at end-September – 15 said 4.75% and the same number expected 5.00%, eight predicted 4.50%, four said 4.25% and one said 3.75%. Twelve said it would still be at 5.25%.
Markets are pricing in a quarter-point BoE rate cut for August next year and a second in November.
But nearly 70% of economists who answered an extra question, 14 of 21, said the bigger risk on the timing of the first cut was it would come later than they expect.
Inflation was predicted to fall significantly, averaging 4.5% this quarter and 4.1% next, but was not seen at target until 2025. Median forecasts showed inflation averaging 7.4% this year, 3.0% next year and 2.1% in 2025.
The UK economy is predicted to have contracted last quarter and to flat-line in this one, narrowly dodging a recession. It is expected to grow 0.5% this year and 0.4% next. Official gross domestic product (GDP) data for the third quarter is due to be released at 0700 GMT on Friday.
(For other stories from the Reuters global economic poll:)
(Reporting by Shaloo Shrivastava; Editing by Jonathan Cable, Ross Finley and Mark Potter)