London: The Bank of England (BoE) cut its growth forecasts on Thursday and the only policymaker who had been pushing for a rate hike reversed his position, suggesting rates will stay on hold for the foreseeable future.
BoE Governor Mark Carney said officials still expected the next move in interest rates to be upwards, but echoed downbeat comments from central banks around the globe, warning that global growth would be modest as emerging economies struggled.
Highlighting risks from China's economic rebalancing and the financial market turmoil, he said risks to Britain were rising even if domestic demand remained strong.
"All of these developments pose downside risks to growth in the United Kingdom via trade, financial and confidence channels," Carney told a news conference.
"The outlook for trade is particularly challenging."
The Bank said its Monetary Policy Committee voted 9-0 to keep rates on hold at a record-low 0.5 per cent, where they have been for almost seven years. MPC member Ian McCafferty, who had voted for a rate rise since August, unexpectedly fell into line this week, citing a temporarily weaker outlook for wages.
Central banks around the globe have pared back growth and inflation expectations, openly discussing the need for more accommodation and erasing hopes that policy normalisation could start later this year.
The Bank of Japan last week cut rates into negative territory, the ECB hinted at a further cut in March and dovish comments from New York Fed Governor William Dudley overnight suggested that no US rate hike could come at all this year.
Britain has stood out from Europe's economic weakness with relatively healthy growth, little spare capacity and a jobless rate near the long term equilibrium, for a while raising expectations that it would soon follow the Fed's December hike.
"Next move is up"
Global market turmoil has since dashed those prospects but Carney said the next move was still more likely up than down. Moreover he said that if the BoE followed recent market bets for a rate hike only late next year, it would end up slightly overshooting its two per cent inflation target.
"We'll do the right thing at the right time on rates," he said. "More likely than not, the next move is up."
Asked if he stood by repeated remarks that the next rate move is likely to be up rather than down, he said: "Absolutely. The whole MPC stands by that."
Since the BoE finalised its forecasts a few days ago, markets have pushed out bets on a first rate rise until mid-2018. There was little change in pricing after Carney spoke.
Economists, however, still mostly expect a much earlier move and RBC's Sam Hill said Carney's comments strengthened his conviction that rates would start to rise in around a year.
"In the near-term the MPC is more circumspect on the current vote but ... a hike is being signalled as necessary some time before markets currently imply," he said.
Part of the reason markets appeared only to expect rates to rise in 2018 was because they were partly factoring in the risk of a rate cut before then, something Hill noted that Carney had dismissed.
Sluggish wage growth
The BoE forecast Britain's economy would grow 2.2 per cent this year and 2.3 per cent in 2017, down from forecasts of 2.5 per cent and 2.6 per cent in November and barely changed from 2015, when growth disappointed expectations.
Consumer price inflation is forecast to stay below one per cent through 2016 — longer than previously thought — but then is forecast to rise to just over two per cent in two years' time, similar to the last set of forecasts.
The BoE also cut its wage forecasts, predicting wage growth of three per cent — a level officials had previously identified as supporting a rate rise — only at the end of 2016.
Two weeks ago, Carney said he would only back a rate rise once growth was faster than average, wages had picked up and underlying inflation was nearer two per cent.
Carney added that sterling's recent fall, the resilience of the financial system and solid growth in both household and corporate consumption supported the British economy, indicating the domestic economy could withstand increased global stress.
Sterling has weakened by more than three per cent over the past three months. The BoE said this reflected concerns about global growth, lower interest rate expectations and possibly uncertainty about Britain's referendum on leaving the European Union, which is likely to take place in the middle of this year.