Heightened fears of another recession mean it is “touch and go” whether the Bank of England will this week order another dose of emergency measures to support the UK economy.
With growth stunted by the collapse in consumer confidence amid the Government’s budget cuts and the eurozone debt crisis, the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) is believed to be poised to launch another round of quantitative easing, or money printing.
Most economists now think it is only a matter of time before the MPC orders more stimulus measures, with its meetings this Thursday or in November seen as the most likely times to act.
It would be the MPC’s first change of policy since November 2009, when it opted to raise the level of QE by £25 billion to £200 billion, or 14 per cent of GDP.
When the committee last met, a month ago, only one of its nine members voted for more QE but most said it was increasingly likely that further monetary loosening would be justified at some point.
Since then, fears over the global economic outlook have intensified amid mounting speculation that Greece will default and growing signs the slowdown in the West is spreading to emerging economies, including China.
The nervousness has been reflected in financial markets, with the FTSE 100 Index suffering its worst quarter for nine years.
Howard Archer, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, said it is “touch and go” whether more QE will be announced on Thursday, or if members will wait for a month when they are armed with its quarterly inflation report and third quarter GDP figures.
Speculation that more QE is imminent increased following ‘dovish’ comments made by several members in recent days.
Philip Shaw, an economist at Investec Securities, thinks the MPC will increase its stock of asset purchases by £50 billion on Thursday.
He said the situation “calls for action now rather than later” because there is a danger that the supply of credit will be “choked off” by the Eurozone debt crisis, which is also hitting exports.
A return to QE would mark a significant change of mood for the MPC. It was only in July that two members voted to increase rates from their record lows of 0.5 per cent to beat down inflation.
But the MPC last time voted unanimously to hold rates and many economists now do not expect a rise until 2013 even though inflation is currently running at 4.5 per cent - double the Bank’s target. This spells good news for borrowers, who are already enjoying record low fixed rate mortgages, but means more pain for savers and pensioners.