Bank set to slash growth outlook as rates held firm

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The Bank of England is set to keep interest rates on hold at 0.75% on Thursday, but downgrade Britain’s economic outlook as prolonged Brexit uncertainty takes its toll on growth.

The noon rates decision will be accompanied by the Bank’s latest set of forecasts – now renamed the Monetary Policy Report – which are expected to slash its 2020 growth outlook from the 1.3% previously pencilled in.

Economists believe it may also cut the ambitious 2.3% growth forecast for 2021, given signs of strain in the UK economy amid political wrangling and Brexit uncertainty, with the withdrawal deadline pushed back again to January 31.

The Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) warned in its last rates decision over the damage being inflicted by “entrenched” Brexit uncertainty.

It also hinted at the possibility that rates may need to be cut if Brexit is delayed again – and since then two MPC members have voiced support for the case for a rate reduction in such circumstances.

But the looming snap General Election on December 12, together with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to secure a Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, is seen staying the Bank’s hand.

This comes despite its counterparts in Europe and America recently moving to reduce rates in the face of slowing global growth.

Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to the EY ITEM Club, said it would be “extremely unusual” for the Bank to change monetary policy in the run-up to a general election.

He is pencilling in a unanimous vote among the nine-strong MPC, though he added there could potentially be some dissent from one or more members.

Before the latest Brexit extension, policymakers Gertjan Vlieghe and Michael Saunders both said rate cuts would likely be needed to support the economy if Brexit was delayed again.

In a sign of a potential rift on the MPC, Bank deputy governor Sir Dave Ramsden said be believed the UK’s slower “speed limit” for growth would weaken the case for lower rates.

Treasury Select Committee
MPC member Gertjan Vlieghe has said rates may need to be cut if Brexit is delayed again (House of Commons/PA)

He said: “We are dubious that the Bank of England will cut interest rates unless the UK economy takes a major downward lurch given a still relatively tight labour market, the fact that fiscal policy is likely to be looser and a belief that the economy will gradually pick-up following a UK exit from the EU with a deal.”

Steady and below-target inflation – which remained at near three-year lows of 1.7% in September – also helps ease any pressure on the Bank to raise rates.

This all comes as recent economic indicators have suggested all sectors of the economy are suffering amid the Brexit indecision.

But a more buoyant July performance is set to see the UK avoid a technical recession, with third-quarter growth seen bouncing back to around 0.4% from the 0.2% contraction in the previous three months.

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