Bank of England to keep lending rate low

LONDON: The Bank of England is set to keep its key lending rate at a record low 0.50 percent when it meets on Thursday despite Britain emerging from a record recession stronger than expected, analysts said.

The BoE is also unlikely to revisit just yet its radical policy of pumping out massive amounts of new money after official data showed Britain exited recession in the fourth quarter with growth of 0.3 percent, they added.

The Office for National Statistics originally estimated growth of only 0.1 percent during October-December 2009 following a recession that lasted six quarters -- the country's longest on record. It revised the data last week.

"While GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2009 has been revised up to 0.3 percent quarter-on-quarter ... this is not likely to fundamentally ease the Bank of England's concerns about the outlook," said IHS Global Insight economist Howard Archer.

"Indeed, revisions to earlier GDP data means that the recession was actually even deeper than previously thought."

Britain's economy shrank 6.2 percent during the recession -- the largest downturn in 30 years -- according to the ONS, which originally estimated a 6.0-percent contraction in gross domestic product (GDP).

It is exactly one year since the BoE's monetary policy committee decided to slash British borrowing costs to 0.50 percent -- the lowest level since the British central bank was established in 1694.

Also in March 2009, the BoE launched quantitative easing (QE) -- a radical form of monetary policy that saw the central bank pump up the economy with 200 billion pounds (222 billion euros, 320 billion dollars) of new money.

It did this by purchasing bonds from commercial institutions, with the aim being to encourage banks to increase lending to businesses and individuals.

The BoE last month decided to freeze its QE plan but refused to rule out revisiting the asset purchases programme should Britain's economy struggle to build on its recovery.

"Thursday's MPC meeting marks the first anniversary of official interest rates being brought down to 0.5 percent and the start of the Quantitative Easing programme," noted Investec Securities economist Philip Shaw.

"From the perspective of the economy and markets, much has changed over the past 12 months. Fears of a long period of Japanese-style deflation have subsided, asset prices have risen sharply and UK GDP has turned positive. "Nonetheless whereas we had thought that there might have been a turnaround in the monetary policy debate by now -- towards considering when policy should be tightened -- the short-term choice facing the committee is still between keeping policy on hold and stepping up asset purchases," Shaw said.

Also on Thursday, the European Central Bank faces one of its most important meetings in months when policymakers tackle the latest twists in Greece's debt crisis and refine a roadmap to unwind emergency policy measures.

Questions about raising the ECB's main interest rate from a record low of 1.0 percent, or whether German Axel Weber will become the bank's next president will remain in the background, analysts said.