Bank cuts growth forecast close to zero
- 8 August 2012
- From the section Business
The Bank of England has cut its growth forecast to close to zero from about 0.8% predicted in May, as the double-dip recession intensifies.
The quarterly inflation report indicated no growth for 2012, compared with 2% predicted a year ago.
The data had fuelled anticipation for an interest rate cut, but Governor Sir Mervyn King dismissed calls for a reduction in the near term.
He said recovery hopes had consistently been dashed.
"The big picture is that output's been flat for two years, and has continually disappointed expectations of a recovery," he told a news conference.
"We are navigating rough waters and storm clouds continue to roll in from the euro area," he added.
"Unlike the Olympians who have thrilled us over the past fortnight, our economy has not yet reached full fitness."
He said that the future was unpredictable, since no-one could predict what would happen in the eurozone crisis, which would have an impact on the UK.
"It's a saga that goes on, and on, and on. [The idea] that we have come to the end of it is unrealistic. There's still a long way to go," he said.
Regarding interest rates, which currently are at an all-time low of 0.5%, he said: "Another quarter point [cut] on bank rate is not going to be the difference between having a recovery and not having a recovery."
A rate cut would damage some financial institutions, such as building societies, and therefore would be "more counter-productive than beneficial".
'Grow the economy now'
Chancellor George Osborne said that economic growth was "disappointing", but that the government had an opportunity to "give its 110% attention and effort and energy" to getting it moving.
However, Labour's shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Rachel Reeve, said the government's policies were doing long-term damage to the economy, adding: "It is clear that we cannot go on with the same failing plan from this government."
John Longworth, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, which represents small and medium-sized businesses around the country, said the government could be doing more to promote economic growth.
"Businesses are feeling confident in their own abilities, but worried about the general economy and the eurozone crisis," he said.
"So one of the key things the government and the Bank of England need to do is to actually build business confidence so those businesses that have cash can start to invest and grow the economy now," he added.
The Bank has struggled to explain the discrepancy between Britain's weak output and a recent improvement in the labour market, which suggests that productivity growth is "unusually low".
"That continues a recent pattern of both weak output and productivity growth that is difficult to explain," said Sir Mervyn, adding that that was a factor behind the Bank's downgrade.
The pound jumped in value to 1.27 euros on the money markets following Sir Mervyn's comments.
However, analysts said the Bank would be forced to act to shore up growth in coming months, once the effects of its stimulus measures on the economy had worn off.
Sir Mervyn's comments "clearly point in the direction of further accommodation in the coming months", said Annalisa Piazza of Newedge Strategy.
"The current inflation profile doesn't show the need of an urgent move, but in our view, the BoE will be ready to act in November, when the ongoing asset purchases programme will terminate and the effects of further credit easing might be clearer," she added.
Vicky Redwood, chief UK economist of Capital Economics, agreed.
"The door is clearly open to more stimulus and we still expect both more quantitative easing and a further interest rate cut in November," she said.
The UK recession deepened between April and June, with output falling by 0.7%, official data released at the end of July showed.
The Office for National Statistics said the bigger-than-expected contraction, which followed a 0.3% drop in the first three months of the year, was largely due to a sharp slowdown in the construction sector.
Funding for Lending
The Monetary Policy Committee has continued its programme of quantitative easing (QE) in which it pumps fresh money into the banking system to try to boost lending and thus the wider economy.
In July, it injected a further £50bn into the system, taking the total value of the Bank's QE programme up to £375bn.
The Bank and the Treasury have also launched a new scheme to increase lending to households and companies.
Under the Funding for Lending initiative, the Bank of England is initially expected to lend about £80bn at below-market rates to banks and building societies.
The initiative aims to reduce the pressure from rising bank funding costs which have fed through into higher rates for domestic borrowers.
"Although its overall impact is uncertain, the early indications are positive, with some banks cutting their loan rates. By the time of our next [inflation] report in November, I hope it will be possible to say more about the initial effects of the scheme," said Sir Mervyn.
Meanwhile, eurozone speculation is currently focused on Spain, which has already secured a 100bn-euro rescue deal for its banks.
It is feared that if Spain's government is cut off by the markets and has to seek a full-blown bailout, Italy may follow close behind, which would exhaust the eurozone's current bailout capacity.
That would have far-reaching consequences for Britain, which is the euro area's biggest trading partner.