* April services PMI falls more than expected; pound slides
* Prices charged index highest since September 2008
* PMI surveys point to 0.4 pct quarterly UK growth -Markit
* Weak start in Q2 reinforces views that BoE will hold rates
* Reuters Insider show: link.reuters.com/xux39r
(Adds quotes, market reaction, Morrison results)
By Peter Griffiths
LONDON, May 5 Britain's dominant service sector
slowed more than expected in April, suggesting the UK economy
failed to pick up speed after its sluggish start to the year and
giving the Bank of England more reason to keep rates on hold.
The Markit/CIPS headline services PMI index eased to 54.3 in
April from 57.1 in March, staying in positive territory for a
fourth straight month, but undershooting the 55.7 forecast.
The survey, taken with downbeat manufacturing and
construction PMIs earlier this week, suggest GDP growth is
running at a quarterly rate of just 0.4 percent, Markit's chief
economist Chris Williamson said.
That is lower than the 0.5 percent first quarter growth rate
seen after a shock contraction late in 2010. [ID:nLDE73Q0SJ]
"At the start of the second quarter, the economy appears to
have lost momentum," said Peter Dixon, an economist at
Commerzbank. "In terms of what it means for policy, a rate hike
before the summer would appear to be out of the question."
The BoE will publish its interest rate decision at 1100 GMT
and the Bank is widely expected to keep rates at the current
record low of 0.5 percent. Markets have pushed back expectations
and price in a full 25 basis point increase only in early 2012.
Sterling hit a 13-month low versus the euro after the survey
[ID:nWEA8834], but analysts stressed that the services sector
was still growing, despite easing back from March's spike.
PMI surveys this week showed manufacturing grew at its
slowest pace in 7 months in April [ID:nLDE7420Z5] and
construction eased after two strong months. [ID:nLAK002775]
Signs of slowing growth could be worrying for Britain's
coalition government, which has staked its reputation on
eliminating a budget deficit, running at 10 percent of GDP, by
the time of the next election in 2015.
On Thursday, the coalition faces its biggest test since it
was formed a year ago when voters go to the polls for local
elections and take part in a rare referendum on electoral
Excluding December's snow-related drop, the services PMI
headline index for April saw its largest decline since October
2008 and was blamed mainly on UK government spending cuts.
The services sector saw average prices charged rise in
April, with the index jumping to 53.8 from 52.2 in March, its
strongest reading since September 2008.
The figures underline the twin dangers of sluggish growth
and high inflation facing the BoE. It has so far resisted
pressure to raise rates in order to try to curb inflation
running at double its 2 percent target, opting to wait for signs
of a more robust recovery.
Against a backdrop of mainly gloomy news for British
retailers, there was one positive note on Thursday. Supermarket
chain Wm Morrison (MRW.L) said it beat first-quarter sales
The breakdown of the Markit/CIPS PMI survey gave a mixed
picture for the service sector at a time of weak consumer
confidence, government cuts and worries about the outlook.
New business grew at its fastest pace since March 2010 and
the rise in input prices eased to its lowest in four months.
However, the business expectations index -- which measures
the outlook for a year's time -- eased for a second consecutive
month in April to reach its lowest since December. Firms gave
government cuts and weaker public sector demand as the reason
for their less optimistic outlook.
"The service sector suffered a sharp loss of growth momentum
at the start of the second quarter," Markit's Williamson said.
"The deterioration in the sector's performance can be largely
linked to government spending cuts."
(Editing by Stephen Nisbet and Toby Chopra)