January 26, 2015 / 1:29 AM / 4 years ago

BoE's Forbes hints rates may rise sooner than expected

LONDON (Reuters) - British interest rates may rise sooner than many people expect if inflation rebounds strongly after its recent sharp fall, Bank of England rate-setter Kristin Forbes said in remarks published on Monday.

Pedestrians walk past the Bank of England in the City of London May 15, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Monetary Policy Committee member Forbes said she saw a “higher probability” of scenarios in which inflation falls further in the next few quarters before picking up more strongly than predicted.

“These scenarios, if they occur, would imply an earlier increase in interest rates than currently expected, especially in order to ensure that any subsequent interest rate increases are slow and gradual,” she said in a speech published on Monday.

The BoE has held interest rates at a record low 0.5 percent since early 2009, and financial markets do not price in an increase until midway through next year.

Economists polled by Reuters forecast a hike around the end of this year.

Oil prices LCOc1 have more than halved since the middle of last year, pushing British inflation to a 14-year low of 0.5 percent and causing two BoE policymakers earlier this month to drop their calls for higher interest rates.

Forbes, who joined the MPC in July, said inflation might fall further in the near term, but added that cheap oil and strong growth in the United States could boost British consumption, eventually necessitating interest rate hikes.

She also outlined another risk in which the British economy absorbs the impact of sterling’s recent appreciation more quickly than the BoE predicted.

While this would push inflation down strongly in the short-term, “by the end of 2016 it would be higher than in the baseline (scenario) and above the 2 percent inflation target”, Forbes said.

Some of Forbes’s comments are similar to those of BoE Governor Mark Carney, who said on Friday that it would be best to look through the effects of falling oil prices on inflation.

He said rates would need to rise over the course of the next three years, to stop inflation from overshooting the bank’s 2 percent target.

By contrast, the U.S. Federal Reserve looks on track to hike interest rates much sooner — probably around June, according to a Reuters poll earlier this month — and Forbes said this would have to be watched closely.

“Whenever one large developed country starts to raise rates, that is going to be a wake-up call to investors and markets that at least in some economies the era of very low rates, very cheap credit, is starting to come to an end,” she said in a separate interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Monday.

Reporting by Andy Bruce in London; additional reporting by Zara Mascarenhas in Bengaluru; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Toby Chopra

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