The Bank of England keeps rates at 5.25% in a “finely balanced” decision; traders increase bets for August cut

The Bank of England keeps rates at 5.25% in a “finely balanced” decision;  traders increase bets for August cut
The Bank of England keeps rates at 5.25% in a “finely balanced” decision;  traders increase bets for August cut

General view of the Bank of England building in London.

LONDON – The Bank of England announced its decision to keep interest rates steady at its June meeting, but described the move as “finely balanced” following the UK’s achievement of its 2% inflation target.

Money market prices indicated around a 50% chance of a rate cut in August as investors interpreted a subtly dovish message.

The central bank’s key interest rate stands at 5.25%, the highest level in 16 years, held since August.

Seven members of the monetary policy committee voted in favor of maintaining the rate, while two supported a 25 basis point cut, mirroring the outcome of the May meeting. One basis point represents one hundredth of a percentage point.

In its statement, the MPC stressed that inflation had reached the central bank’s target and cited weakening indicators for “near-term inflation expectations” and wage growth.

The OAG (Office for National Statistics) added that uncertainty surrounding estimates of labour market activity made it “very difficult to assess its evolution”.

Reiterating an earlier message that had raised speculation about potential easing, the Bank of England stressed the need for monetary policy to “remain tight for a sufficiently long period to sustainably return inflation to the 2% target”.

Inflation data on Wednesday showed consumer price growth cooled to 2% in May, beating the target ahead of the US and the euro zone, even as the UK saw its steepest spike in inflation in two years.

However, economists noted that persistently high services rates and core inflation in the UK implied the potential for continued upward pressure.

The central bank’s decision to keep rates unchanged comes just two weeks before the general election, while the state of the economy and proposals to revive sluggish growth represent major battlegrounds.

Governor Andrew Bailey stressed that the politically independent BOE will continue to focus on its own data, despite speculation that it may act more cautiously after the next election.

‘Well balanced’

Attention has now shifted to the possibility of a rate cut in August. Money market prices indicated a nearly 50% chance of this following Thursday’s statement, higher than the previous day.

Among the seven members who voted in favor, the MPC noted disagreement over the level of accumulated evidence needed to justify a cut, making their decision “finely balanced.”

Some members said key indicators of inflation persistence “remain elevated,” citing concerns about services, strong domestic demand and wage growth. Others, however, argued that higher-than-expected services inflation in May had not had a significant impact on the UK’s overall disinflationary trajectory.

Ruth Gregory, deputy chief UK economist at Capital Economics, suggested that several developments point to a rate cut, including the “finely balanced” commentary and the fact that the BOE’s overall tone has not become more hawkish as expected.

James Smith, developed markets economist at ING, said the possibility of an interest rate cut in the summer was higher than the 30-40% previously expected by markets.

“I think the inflation numbers, the services inflation… I think the road is still open and I think they (the BoE) will remain reasonably confident,” Smith said in an interview.

He added: «A bit like the (European Central Bank), I think they have more confidence in their ability to forecast inflation than they did 6-12 months ago.»

While several central banks in Europe have already begun to ease monetary policy, including the ECB, the Swiss National Bank and the Swedish Riksbank, the US Federal Reserve, often seen as the leading central bank, has left traders unsure about the timing of its first rate cut. Market data suggests a 65% chance of a September cut in the US.

GBP’s losses extended against the US dollar: the currency fell 0.3% to $1.267 at 1pm in London.