Bank of England to sit tight at year's first meeting

The Bank of England is expected to keep its key interest rate at a record-low 0.50 percent on Thursday and decide against pumping out more new cash to stimulate Britain's weak economy, analysts said.

Analysts said the BoE, which will be led by Canadian central bank chief Mark Carney from July, will likely sit tight at its first monetary policy meeting of 2013 amid stubbornly high British inflation and easing global economic strains.

"It looks highly likely that the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) will kick off 2013 as they ended 2012, in 'wait and see' mode," said Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight, a research group.

"Any change in interest rates is clearly off the radar, while most MPC members seemingly believe that there is currently not a compelling case for more Quantitative Easing (QE) given recent increased inflation risks," he added.

Following the 2008 global financial crisis, the BoE slashed its main lending rate to an all-time British low point of 0.50 percent, where it has stood for almost four years.

Also since March 2009, the central bank has pumped £375 billion ($602 billion, 460 billion euros) of new cash into the economy under its stimulus programme.

Under QE, the Bank of England creates cash that is used to purchase assets such as government and corporate bonds with the aim of increasing lending by retail banks and boost economic activity.

"Although the committee's policy bias is tilted towards sanctioning more asset purchases, we consider any move at this point to be unlikely," Philip Shaw, economist at Investec financial group, said ahead of Thursday's meeting.

"The downside risks posed by the external environment seem to have diminished as Chinese figures indicate a continued recovery from a soft patch and the US government has steered around the fiscal cliff, albeit perhaps temporarily."

Archer added that the BoE would maintain the status quo also amid signs that a government scheme to boost lending by commercial banks "may be starting to have an impact."

He noted too that "major downside risks to the economy have been diluted for now at least by the US avoiding going off the fiscal cliff and by the recent easing of eurozone sovereign debt tensions."

Closer to home, latest official data showed that Britain's economy grew by 0.9 percent in the third quarter of 2012 -- but boosted by one-off factors, including the London 2012 Olympic Games and rebounding activity after an extra public holiday for Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee.

Experts believe that the fourth quarter data could show Britain's economy contracted in the final months of last year, putting it on course for a "triple dip" recession.

Britain sank into the first phase of a double dip recession in 2008 as a result of the devastating global financial crisis that sparked a number of vast banking bailouts.

The economy rebounded in late 2009 but struggled to stage a convincing recovery and fell back into a second downturn in late 2011, which lasted for three quarters, as the eurozone crisis loomed large. Britain is not a member of the single currency bloc.

Activity in Britain has meanwhile been hit hard also by deficit-slashing austerity measures from the nation's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

The government meanwhile in November named Carney as the new Bank of England governor, the first time a foreigner has been chosen to lead the institution undergoing major change.

Finance minister George Osborne described the 47-year-old as the "outstanding central banker of his generation." Carney will take over from Mervyn King, who has led the BoE since 2003 and is due to step down on June 30.

--

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