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Bank of England's Forbes breaks ranks, says rates could rise soon
February 7, 2017 / 2:12 PM / 6 months ago

Bank of England's Forbes breaks ranks, says rates could rise soon

FILE PHOTO: A blue sky is seen above the Bank of England in the City of London, Britain, November 3, 2016.Peter Nicholls/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Differences among Bank of England officials about the outlook for interest rates moved into sharper focus on Tuesday, as one of them said rates might need to rise soon if the growth remains solid and inflation continues to accelerate.

Last week the central bank signalled it was in no rush to hike rates, with BoE Governor Mark Carney stressing that Britain's economy would face "twists and turns" during its departure from the European Union.

But Kristin Forbes, an American academic and external member of the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), said she was beginning to grow uncomfortable with the BoE's policy stance.

Her comments shed light on the partial split among MPC members described in last week's policy minutes, which recorded that some policymakers had moved "a little closer" to their limits to tolerating high inflation to help support the economy.

Forbes said previous forecasts showing inflation shooting towards 3 percent had been "just about tolerable" when there was a weak outlook for growth and jobs. But now, she said, there was little sign that the economy was about to worsen.

She also said there was tentative evidence that inflation was starting to pick up faster than expected.

"In my view, if the economy remains solid and the pick-up in the nominal data continues, this could soon suggest an increase in Bank Rate," Forbes said in a speech to be delivered on Wednesday in Leeds, northern England.

Her comments caused sterling to strengthen modestly against the U.S. dollar, and British government bond futures dipped.

While Forbes voted to cut interest rates to a record low 0.25 percent last August in response to the shock June 23 Brexit vote, she and two others on the nine-strong MPC opposed restarting the BoE's bond purchase stimulus. She also voted against buying corporate debt.

"I don't think it would surprise many people to see Forbes confirming herself as one of those people with limited tolerance," said RBC economist Sam Hill, adding that other MPC members had yet to make their personal views explicit. "I don't think the markets should be swayed by her comments."

As well as disagreeing about the best path for interest rates, Forbes said an uncertain and potentially volatile economic outlook was not a reason to keep monetary policy on hold indefinitely.

"I believe that the MPC should be nimble and willing to quickly adjust the appropriate path for monetary policy in either direction as needed throughout this period - even if it means reversing recent adjustments to Bank Rate," Forbes said.

Other policymakers have previously said it would be costly to reverse what would be the BoE's first rate rise since 2007, if it turned out to be unwarranted.

Forbes said Brexit negotiations on how Britain will leave the European Union would probably continue to drive moves in sterling and confidence in the economy.

Earlier on Tuesday a Reuters poll of economists suggested sterling was likely to slip further in value, to $1.21 over the next 12 months from more than $1.24 at 1600 GMT.

Editing by Catherine Evans

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