Bank of England holds interest rates at 0.5 per cent

The Bank of England in London. The Monetary Policy Committee voted 7-2 to keep rates as they are for now. Andy Rain EPA

The BoE's decision follows the Federal Reserve's 21 March announcement it would raise U.S. interest rates by 25bps in Jerome Powell's first meeting as chairman since taking over from Janet Yellen. Another economist backing an interest rate hike at the end of spring was Ed Monk of Fidelity International, who said; 'The message from the Bank of England to borrowers couldn't really be clearer: get ready for higher rates now.

The Bank of England has kept the door open to another interest rate hike in May to keep a lid on inflation pressures stemming from rising wages rather than from a Brexit-related fall in the pound.

Against the dollar it ended up below where it had traded before the BoE's Monetary Policy Committee voted 7-2 to keep its main rate at 0.5 percent.

For the two dissenters on the MPC - Ian McCafferty and Michael Saunders - this was enough to trigger the need for an immediate rate rise, according to the minutes.

The bank's announcement was largely in line with market forecasts, although most BoE watchers expected a unanimous decision from the MPC to leave policy alone.

Britain's annual inflation rate slowed to 2.7% in February as food and transport costs rose by less than one year ago, official data showed on Tuesday, but remains far above the target level.

Only a minority expected Saunders or McCafferty to vote for a rise.

Rate-setters also said future increases were likely to be "gradual" and "limited".

He warned that falling inflation would "make little difference to the monetary policy outlook and we expect this week's meeting to prepare the ground for the MPC to hike rates again in May".

Some economists think data earlier this week showing a bigger-than-expected drop in inflation to 2.7 percent suggests the BoE is too gloomy, and will remove the need for the BoE to raise rates a few times this year.

"Ian McCafferty and Michael Saunders are anxious that inaction now will mean rates will need to rise faster and further in future".

"Developments regarding the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union-and in particular the reaction of households, businesses and asset prices to them-remain the most significant influence on, and source of uncertainty about, the economic outlook", the BOE's rate-setting panel said.

A rise in interest rates could be on the way.

The UK government also announced a 6.5% pay rise for many public health workers over the next three years, breaking with seven years of pay restraint. But a pick-up in wage growth points to an erosion of slack in the labour market.

"The Bank faces a delicate balancing act", said Ben Brettell, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown.

Retail sales grew by 0.8 per cent in February, having fallen by 0.2 per cent in January.

"With this being the last MPC meeting before the May meeting, any speeches MPC members are due to make in the coming weeks will be watched closely for hints over the timing of the next hike".

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