LONDON (Reuters) - The Bank of England is almost certain to cut benchmark borrowing costs when it sets policy on Aug. 4, but a slim majority of economists in a Reuters poll said it would hold off for now on restarting its asset purchase programme.
Britons voted in a June 23 referendum to leave the European Union, a shock outcome that roiled financial markets and led many economists and traders to think the Bank would cut rates at its meeting this month - which it failed to do.
Minutes from that meeting did, however, show most of the Monetary Policy Committee members thought looser monetary policy was likely to be needed at the August meeting.
All but three of the 49 economists surveyed since Friday expect the Bank to cut at least 25 basis points on Aug. 4 from the already record low 0.5 percent it has sat at since early 2009. The median forecast was for a cut to 0.25 percent.
While 17 of 36 said the 375 billion pound quantitative easing programme that was wound down in 2012 would also be restarted by the MPC next week, 19 said it would not.
For those who thought QE would be restarted, the range of forecasts was wide, with a highest forecast of 550 billion pounds.
Many economists who had a firm view on rates declined to give a view on QE or said they did not yet have one ready, showing how much uncertainty surrounds the prospects for policy, as well as how much good another round of QE would do.
“The extra stimulus one would get from doing it now wouldn’t be that great. They want something to leave for an even rainier day,” said Daniel Vernazza at UniCredit.
Peter Dixon, economist at Commerzbank, took a similar view.
“I am inclined to go for no QE this month with a rate cut sufficing for now. For one thing, I think the BoE will want to keep some dry powder in the event that the weakness in the sentiment data materialises in the hard data.”
A Markit/CIPS PMI published last week showed its biggest drop in its 20-year history following the Brexit vote, and other similar surveys have pointed sharply in the same direction.
That has made it seem more likely for many that Britain’s economy will slide back into recession in the coming year. A Reuters poll published last week showed growth predictions were already being cut across the board. [ECILT/GB]
Indeed, a week after saying he needed firmer evidence before backing an interest rate cut, policymaker Martin Weale said he saw the economic outlook differently following much weaker-than-expected British purchasing managers’ data.
Ross Walker, UK economist at RBS, said he expects more QE, just not until later this year, likely in November. If it becomes increasingly likely that the government turns to fiscal stimulus in its budget next year, it would make sense for a government bond purchase programme to be in place, he said.
Given the uncertainty around whether Britain will be able to access Europe’s single market in any future trading arrangement, business investment is likely to remain under pressure and will not likely respond much to the effects of QE.
“If they do, I don’t think it’s going to make a lot of difference. I don’t think it’s the cost of credit or the availability of credit that’s the issue here. It’s a demand issue,” Walker said.
Polling by Rahul Karunakar and Sumanta Dey; Editing by Alison Williams