* BoE’s Carney says no need for immediate rate hike
* Need to look more broadly than just unemployment rate
* BoE worried about momentum in housing market
By William Schomberg
LONDON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - The Bank of England will take a broader approach to gauging when the British economy is strong enough to cope with higher borrowing costs, its governor said on Thursday, a day after the BoE’s existing guidance plan was rendered virtually obsolete.
Data on Wednesday showed the unemployment rate plunged to just 7.1 percent. That was barely above the 7.0 percent level the Bank set in August as a threshold for considering higher interest rates, confident it would take years to get there.
Mark Carney told the BBC there was momentum in the economy - which last year outpaced most other industrialized nations - but there was no immediate need to raise interest rates.
He suggested the Bank would come up with a new approach next month for signalling when it would be ready to raise rates from their record low for the first time since 2009.
“There is a broad range of things that we could do. I wouldn’t jump to that conclusion, though,” Carney told BBC television when asked if the 7 percent unemployment threshold could be lowered to 6 or 6.5 percent.
“First off, it is a decision of the entire Monetary Policy Committee, and secondly, what we are trying to get across ... is that it’s really about overall conditions in the labour market, overall amount of slack in companies and that’s what affects it,” Carney said.
“We wouldn’t want to detract from that focus, which really is properly developed both in the market and amongst business people, by unnecessarily focusing too much on just one indicator.”
Since the BoE adopted the “forward guidance” policy in August, a surprise economic rebound has brought the jobless rate toward 7 percent much more quickly than the Bank forecast, prompting criticism of the BoE and its Canadian governor for linking monetary policy, to a large extent, to one indicator.
In his interview with the BBC, Carney had to acknowledge that the Bank had got its unemployment forecasts wrong. “If our forecast is going to be wrong it’s better to be wrong in that direction,” he said.
But he defended the decision in August to give a steer on how long interest rates would remain low saying at the time the BoE’s policymakers were split on monetary policy, causing uncertainty. “I think we are in a different place now.”
BoE policymakers have previously said they are looking at a broad range of labour market indicators, beyond the unemployment rate, to gauge the strength of the recovery.
Helping the Bank to keep interest rates low, inflation has fallen to its 2 percent target.
Carney stressed that Britain’s economy, despite its recovery over the past year, was far from healthy and the labour market was far from back to normal.
“The worst of the crisis is behind us, but the aftermath of the crisis is very much with us,” he said, saying the banking sector still needed repair, debt levels remained high and there was still uncertainty about the economic outlook.
“We think those three factors are going to persist for some time and that does affect how we set policy.”
Carney also said that when the time comes for rate hikes, they would be very gradual.
Asked about Britain’s housing market recovery, Carney acknowledged some concerns within the BoE.
“We worry about the momentum that has picked up in the housing market, that’s without question, and what we did in November was we took some initial steps to address that momentum,” he said.
In November, the Bank stopped encouraging mortgage lending by banks through its Funding for Lending Scheme which was refocused exclusively on lending to businesses.