LONDON (Reuters) - Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said interest rate cuts and a broadening of a bond-buying programme were possibilities as he sought to counter concerns that the BoE might be running low on ammunition to boost Britain’s economy if needed.
So far, the slowing of the global economy has not had a big impact on British growth which remains stronger than in many other rich economies since 2013.
Carney, speaking to lawmakers, stuck to his view that British interest rates were more likely than not to rise from a record low 0.5 percent over the next three years as the economy continues to grow.
But as the global outlook darkens, debate among investors has turned to what more governments and central banks globally can do to boost demand. Concerns about Britain’s European Union membership referendum might also hurt the country’s growth.
Carney pointed to intensifying risks in emerging markets and said the BoE could provide more stimulus if needed.
“If we were in a position where the economy needed additional stimulus, we do have considerable room,” Carney said.
He reiterated comments made previously that the BoE could cut interest rates towards zero or buy assets other than government bonds under its quantitative easing programme.
Carney also said the Bank could shorten its time horizon for returning inflation - currently at 0.3 percent - to its 2 percent target, requiring the central bank to try to generate inflation more quickly.
Gertjan Vlieghe, the newest member of the Monetary Policy Committee, said he might vote for a rate cut if the global economy worsened.
“I have to say that I have relatively little tolerance for further downside surprises and should downside surprises continue then I think we will get relatively quickly to a point where I would find it appropriate to respond to it,” he said.
But Carney dismissed the possibility of deploying negative interest rates under which central banks charge commercial banks to deposit money. The European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan have deployed this to fight the threat of deflation.
“I just re-emphasise we have absolutely no intention, no interest in doing that,” Carney said.
Sterling, which has fallen by nearly 7 percent against the dollar over the past three months on concerns about the EU membership referendum in June and Britain’s growth outlook, weakened as Carney spoke. It later stabilised.
Carney said: “There is a lot of referendum premium that has come into sterling”. He also said the BoE would not comment on the possible outcomes of the vote.
Asked about how the BoE would respond to a shock to sterling if Britain left the EU, Carney said it would have to take into account the persistence of such a shock, not just its magnitude. He also said the Bank was making contingency plans for the referendum.
Commerzbank economist Peter Dixon said Carney sounded against the idea of cutting interest rates now, which was understandable given the relative strength of Britain’s economy.
He said the BoE’s options to boost the economy remained limited. “When you’ve got an environment such as we’re in at the moment, where global forces are battering up against UK shores, it’s difficult for the Bank to do anything,” Dixon said.
The Bank’s nine rate-setters voted 9-0 in favour of keeping rates on hold earlier this month as the lone policymaker who had previously voted to raise borrowing costs reversed his vote.
($1 = 0.7090 pounds)
Reporting by UK bureau; Writing by Andy Bruce and William Schomberg; Editing by Alison Williams