Bank of England holds interest rates but says it is ready for further stimulus

The Bank of England (BOE) on Thursday held interest rates at 0.1% but said it stands ready to take further action should the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic continue to deteriorate.

The Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted unanimously in favor of keeping rates unchanged for now. With a majority of 7-2, the committee also voted to continue with its planned £200 billion ($247.55 billion) quantitative easing program, bringing its bond buying program to a total of £645 billion.

In its “illustrative scenario” for the economic outlook, the Bank said it expects U.K. GDP (gross domestic product) to fall by 14% in 2020.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the central bank has cut rates twice from 0.75% to 0.1% along with the £200 billion ($247.55 billion) of quantitative easing, bringing its bond buying program to a total of £645 billion.

“The MPC will continue to monitor the situation closely and, consistent with its remit, stands ready to take further action as necessary to support the economy and ensure a sustained return of inflation to the 2% target,” the BOE said in its report.

Last month’s PMI (purchasing managers’ index) readings plunged to record lows and the U.K. is expected to suffer its deepest economic downturn in living memory as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The Bank said it anticipates a sharp downturn in U.K. GDP for the first half of the year along with a “substantial increase” in unemployment. Given the assumed relaxation of social distancing measures, the BOE expects the fall in GDP to be temporary, to be followed by a rapid recovery.

“Nonetheless, because a degree of precautionary behavior by households and businesses is assumed to persist, the economy takes some time to recover towards its previous path,” the report said.

“CPI inflation is expected to fall further below the 2% target during the second half of this year, largely reflecting the weakness of demand.”

The British government will announce the outcome of its second review of lockdown measures on Thursday, after the U.K. surpassed Italy to record the highest fatality rate in Europe.

As of Thursday morning, the U.K. has recorded more than 202,000 cases of the coronavirus and more than 30,000 deaths.

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