Bank of England readies more crisis-fighting stimulus

British central bank tipped to expand its quantitative easing stimulus by a further 100 billion pounds in an attempt to kickstart growth

by AFP
Bank of England readies more crisis-fighting stimulus
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was one of many world leaders who caught the coronavirus. It has so far killed more than 41,000 people in Britain, making it the third worst-hit country in the world, while the nationwide lockdown shrank the size of the UK economy by more than a fifth in April. File photo by AFP.

The Bank of England, confronted by Britain's collapsing coronavirus-ravaged economy, will reveal the outcome of its latest monetary policy meeting later on Thursday, with analysts predicting more stimulus.

The British central bank has been at the forefront of economic fire-fighting over this year's deadly Covid-19 emergency – and could expand its quantitative easing (QE) stimulus in an attempt to kickstart growth.

The pandemic has so far killed more than 41,000 people in Britain, making it the third worst-hit country in the world, while the nationwide lockdown shrank the size of the UK economy by more than a fifth in April alone.

In response to the crisis, the BoE in March slashed interest rates to a record-low 0.1% and pumped an extra £200 billion ($247 billion, 220 billion euros) in a bid to get retail banks lending to fragile businesses. That took the bank's QE total to £645 billion.

'Shocking economic performance'

"It is safe to assume that the Bank of England were expecting a shocking economic performance in April and that's why they expanded their stimulus measures to combat the slowdown," ThinkMarkets analyst Fawad Razaqzada said.

"However, the extent of the slowdown was probably a surprise, which underscores the need to do more to help accelerate the recovery now that the economy is opening up again. I think QE will be beefed up by about £100 billion – but don't expect interest rates to be cut."

Britain's annual inflation rate slid to a near four-year low at 0.5% in May, as the lockdown dampens consumer prices, official data showed on Wednesday.

Analysts said the news, alongside recent figures showing a surge in UK unemployment and a massive 20.4% contraction in the country's economic output in April, meant that markets anticipate more stimulus.

"The Bank of England will almost certainly announce more QE, likely increasing... by at least £100 billion," added Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com. 

"Numbers ... pointed to a looming unemployment crisis in the UK," he lamented.

Under QE, the Bank of England purchases assets such as government and corporate bonds in order to stimulate lending and economic activity.

The bank has previously warned that paralysis could spark Britain's worst recession in centuries, as the coronavirus slams economies and shutters businesses across the globe.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed 443,000 lives worldwide, also sparked global moves to stem devastating economic fallout including trillions of dollars from the US government and the Federal Reserve.

9.1 million on furlough

The British government imposed a lockdown on March 23 to halt the spread of the virus and launched multi-billion-pound measures to help those affected by economic fallout – including a costly "furlough" jobs retention scheme whereby the state pays the bulk of wages.

Treasury data showed this week that 9.1 million people – nearly one in six of Britain's overall population – were on furlough.

Lockdown restrictions were eased this month but furloughing continues until October, with employers set to contribute from August.

Meanwhile, BoE governor Andrew Bailey has sought to dampen speculation that the bank could implement negative interest rates, stating last month that the policy has not been ruled in or out.

AFP