Bank of England to start 2013 on sidelines as economy scrapes by

LONDON Thu Jan 10, 2013 10:52am GMT

A general view shows the Bank of England in the city of London November 26, 2012. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

A general view shows the Bank of England in the city of London November 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Olivia Harris

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LONDON (Reuters) - The Bank of England is likely to withhold fresh monetary stimulus at the start of the new year, with economic news still not bleak enough to trump worries about stubborn inflation.

Last month the Bank voted 8-1 against extending its 375 billion pound programme of bond purchases, and none of the 60 economists polled by Reuters over the past week expect a policy change after the Monetary Policy Committee concludes its monthly meeting on Thursday.

Interest rates are also forecast to remain at their record-low 0.5 percent until at least July 2014.

"I don't think that we've seen anything to substantially change the MPC's view of the economy," said Barclays economist Chris Crowe. "We are not expecting any change in policy."

Although December surveys of purchasing managers pointed to a 0.2 percent dip in British economic output in the fourth quarter, the latest official data on services, industrial production and construction has been less clear-cut.

Data on Wednesday showed Britain's goods trade deficit did not narrow as much as expected, raising the risk that the economy as a whole slowed in the last quarter.

"I think the best way to describe the economy is fragile but stable and it will remain this way for the next couple of quarters," said Rob Wood, economist at Berenberg Bank.

Bank policymakers will probably wait for more data before reconsidering their views on another cash injection for the economy, analysts said.

There are also early signs that a Bank scheme to increase lending to consumers and businesses is working, easing a problem the central bank blames for holding back the economy and giving the MPC another reason not to announce more stimulus this week.

A Bank survey found banks planned to increase credit supply in early 2013 after a record rise in loan availability late last year, which was helped by the Funding for Lending Scheme.

The central bank said the programme, which provides cheap funding to banks to encourage lending, is unlikely to materially affect lending volumes until early to mid-2013.

The Bank will also keep a close eye on inflation.

MPC member Paul Fisher, after voting with the majority at the last policy meeting, told Reuters he would wait for signs inflation was coming down before calling for more asset-purchasing.

That has not happened yet. Inflation defied forecasts in November to hold at 2.7 percent - its highest rate since May and well above the central bank's target of 2 percent.

Bank Governor Mervyn King said last month that the asset purchases completed so far should affect the British economy later in 2013, in a hint he is not in a rush to buy more. He has also warned there is a limit to what monetary policy can do to ease Britain's pain from economic readjustment.

A research paper by MPC member Martin Weale also noted that weak productivity, rather than low demand, may be a greater problem than previously thought, further limiting the scope of asset purchases to boost growth.

But policymakers' stance may change quickly if the economy takes a sharp turn for the worse or external dangers, such as a deterioration in the euro zone crisis, resurface.

For now, the Reuters survey of economists gave only a median 45 percent chance of more QE in 2013.

(Additional reporting by Lawrence Morris. Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)

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