Bank of England leves interest rates on hold

The Bank of England in London.
Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

The Bank of England in London. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Interest rates were kept at their historic low of 0.5% today as the Bank of England announced the result of its monthly deliberations, which were delayed to avoid coindicing with the General Election.

Rates have been at their current level for six years, with the recent slide in inflation to zero pushing back expectations for the timing of a hike into 2016.

The bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC) announced its decision today, after meeting on Thursday - polling day - and on Friday morning. The two-day meeting normally begins on a Wednesday.

Greater insight into the bank’s thinking will emerge on Wednesday with its quarterly inflation report and second letter from governor Mark Carney to the Chancellor explaining why inflation is more than 1% off its 2% target.

Both report and letter will be scrutinised for clues on the path for interest rates after minutes of the MPC’s latest rates meeting appeared to indicate that inflation might recover more quickly than previously expected.

Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation was at zero in February and March rather than turning negative as some expected, meaning it might now have avoided this risk.

The bank has said it expects CPI, which has been under pressure amid the sliding cost of oil and the supermarket price war, to turn negative “at some point in the coming months”.

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But members have noted that another cause of low inflation, the strength of the pound making imports cheaper, might have been feeding through to CPI more quickly than expected, meaning that a bounce-back could also come sooner.

A faster-than-expected rise in CPI would put pressure on the MPC to consider a rates hike to keep inflation under control further down the track.

Bank chief economist Andy Haldane has recently floated the likelihood of a rates cut to try to stave off a damaging spiral of falling prices, though he seems to be a lone voice among policy-makers.

Mr Carney has acknowledged that the tool of a rate cut is in his armoury if deflation persists but has played down the possibility of having to use it.

Philip Shaw, of Investec, said that after last month’s “hawkish surprise” from the MPC minutes, the Bank’s inflation report “could conclude that inflation will be slightly above the 2% target in two to three years’ time”.

Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Low interest rates look here to stay for the foreseeable future, and will continue to provide support for the housing market, while penalising those with cash held in the bank.

“The silver lining for cash savers is inflation is currently as insubstantial as their interest payments, though that will be rather cold comfort.”

David Kern, chief economist of the British Chambers of Commerce, said signs that inflationary pressures have stabilised alongside a recent rise in oil prices did not justify an increase in interest rates.

He said: “Business confidence would be strengthened if the MPC confirms that interest rates will remain low for the foreseeable future - providing firms with the security they need to invest.”