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Interest rates cut may be needed, says Bank of England's chief economist

Published 18/09/2015

The Bank of England may need to cut interest rates rather than raise them, says its chief economist
The Bank of England may need to cut interest rates rather than raise them, says its chief economist

The Bank of England may need to cut interest rates as its next move rather than raising them, according to its chief economist.

Andy Haldane argued that ultra-low inflation and slowing growth - which could be further threatened by weakening emerging economies - meant that there may be a need to "loosen" monetary policy.

His remarks come in contrast to comments earlier this week by Bank of England governor Mark Carney, who maintained that the decision on a rates hike "will come into sharper relief around the turn of the year" despite global turbulence.

A rise in interest rates would add to repayment costs for borrowers but provide some relief for savers whose nest eggs have been eroded since rates were slashed to 0.5% more than six years ago.

Mr Haldane's comments come after US policy makers decided not to raise rates in the wake of recent market turmoil prompted by fears of a slowdown in China.

He said: "The case for raising UK interest rates in the current environment is, for me, some way from being made."

Mr Haldane added that were risks to the economy to materialise "there could be a need to loosen rather than tighten the monetary policy reins as a next step to support UK growth and return inflation to target".

His position puts him at odds with some of his colleagues on the Bank of England's nine-member Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

They voted 8-1 to leave rates on hold at their last meeting, with one member, Ian McCafferty, calling for a hike in rates to 0.75%. Others were apparently ready to do so but for events in China - despite inflation at zero, well below the Bank's 2% target.

So-called "hawks" on the MPC think the upturn in the economy and rising wages point to inflationary pressures building.

But Mr Haldane - who has in the past made the case for rates being cut - said in a speech to business leaders in Portadown that the balance of risks to inflation and growth is "skewed squarely and significantly to the downside".

He said that while the UK recovery remained on track there were "straws in the wind to suggest slowing growth into the second half of the year".

Surveys of economic output suggested UK growth had been "on the gentlest of downward glide paths since early 2014", he added.

Inflation has been hovering around zero for months and even stripping out the impact of volatile food and energy prices it remains at about 1%, still 1% shy of the Bank's target, he pointed out.

Mr Haldane said that given subdued world growth and prices and a 20% rise in the value of the pound - which makes imported goods cheaper - he was not entirely confident that inflation could return to target in the next couple of years.

While ultra-low inflation is good for consumers in the short term, it is thought that a prolonged period of the cost of living being flat would suggest weak demand and could risk turning into a damaging spiral of falling prices as consumers and firms delay spending.

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said Mr Haldane had "cemented his place as the arch dove" on the MPC adding that he "looks isolated" within the rate-setting committee.

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