Bank of England hikes rates for only 2nd time since 2009 financial crisis

The Bank of England pushed interest rates above their financial crisis lows on Thursday, but signalled it was in no hurry to raise them further as Britain heads for Brexit next year. Rate-setters were unexpectedly unanimous in their vote.

LONDON • The Bank of England (BoE) hiked its key interest rate yesterday by a quarter-point to 0.75 per cent to help tame high inflation, and upgraded its 2019 economic growth forecast despite investor fears of a chaotic Brexit.

The British central bank's nine-member monetary policy committee voted unanimously to raise rates for only the second time since the global financial crisis, but left the quantitative easing stimulus unchanged.

The BoE also maintained its 2018 economic outlook, describing a first-quarter slowdown as "temporary" with momentum set to recover in the second quarter - despite widespread trade-linked worries over the global economy.

Governor Mark Carney, addressing reporters after the announcement, cautioned that the central bank is "well prepared for whatever path the economy takes, including a wide range of potential Brexit outcomes".

"Although the global outlook was a little softer, recent data appeared to confirm that the dip in UK output in the first quarter had been temporary, with momentum recovering in the second quarter," the BoE said in minutes from the gathering.

"The labour market had continued to tighten and unit labour cost growth had firmed. Given these developments, a 0.25 percentage point increase in bank rate was warranted at this meeting to return inflation sustainably to the target."

Borrowing costs have now risen above 0.5 per cent for the first time since March 2009, having already been hiked from a record low last November to combat rising inflation.

The 12-month inflation rate has held stubbornly above the BoE's official 2 per cent target for the last 17 months, as Brexit has weighed on the pound and pushed up the cost of imported goods.

High oil prices, which have leapt 50 per cent over the last year, have also fuelled inflationary pressures. Inflation - currently at 2.4 per cent - was set to rise slightly higher than the BoE had predicted in May.

There would need to be "an ongoing tightening of monetary policy over the forecast period... to return inflation sustainably to the 2 per cent target at a conventional horizon", the monetary policy committee added.

The BoE meanwhile forecast that the British economy would expand by 1.8 per cent next year, despite the nation's scheduled withdrawal from the European Union, up from its previous forecast of 1.7 per cent.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2018, with the headline 'Britain hikes interest rate, upgrades 2019 growth forecast'. Print Edition | Subscribe