Belfast Telegraph

Bank of England poised to readjust growth outlook

The Bank of England is expected to nudge down its growth outlook and keep interest rates on hold next week after the economy faltered at the start of the year.

Policymakers on the Bank's nine-strong Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) are set to keep rates on hold at 0.25% on Thursday following official figures estimating growth more than halved to 0.3% in the first quarter.

Outgoing rate-setter Kristin Forbes is likely to repeat her call for a hike to 0.5% after breaking rank in March on fears over surging inflation, which marked the first split decision since last July.

But most economists believe she will remain the lone dissenter after the worse-than-expected gross domestic product (GDP) reading, which came after 0.7% growth in the previous three months.

Minutes of the rates meeting and the accompanying quarterly inflation report will be watched closely for the Bank's thoughts on the economy amid signs of a consumer spending downturn on the high street.

It is thought the Bank will make a marginal downgrade to its forecast for 2% growth this year after the first quarter disappointment, while it may also tweak its inflation forecasts higher.

But recent purchasing managers' index (PMI) survey data from the three main sectors of the economy suggest the economy bounced back in April, pointing to growth running at a rate of 0.6%.

Samuel Tombs at Pantheon Economics said: "The MPC likely will place much more weight at next week's meeting on the weak official data for the first quarter than on April's better PMIs, and we expect Kristin Forbes to remain alone in voting to raise interest rates."

And while inflation hit a higher-than-forecast 2.3% in February, the recent rebound in the pound since the snap General Election was called might rein in price rises later in the year.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said: "The bank will downgrade its growth forecast for this year, but not likely by a huge amount."

He added it was unlikely the Bank would seek to change its stance on rates just before next month's election.

"The MPC will be in wait and see mode," he added.

Alan Clarke at Scotiabank said despite the pound's recent rebound, inflation could rocket past 3% this year before easing back.

This could see the Bank push up its near-term inflation projection, from a peak of 2.8% previously pencilled in, while slightly lowering forecasts further out, he said.

The so-called "super Thursday" release of economic data from the Bank will also be eyed closely for further signs of a household borrowing bubble after the Bank raised concerns about debt levels and launched a review into consumer lending standards.

Bank governor Mark Carney will also likely be quizzed over the outlook for consumer spending as retail sales have plunged amid the squeeze on household income from Brexit-fuelled inflation.

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