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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 November, 2003, 08:59 GMT
UK interest rate rise looms
Cheap borrowing rates have worried the Bank of England
Borrowing could become more expensive from Thursday, when the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) will announce a new interest rate decision.

Most analysts expect a rise of a quarter of a percentage point from the current 48-year low of 3.5%.

Chancellor Gordon Brown has signalled his support for a rise in rates against a backdrop of "economic strengthening".

Speaking on the BBC's Breakfast television programme, Mr Brown said: "Our concern since we came to power in 1997 has been to provide a stable environment for home owners and business.

"The Bank of England and Treasury want to lock that stability into the economy.

"We don't want to return to the boom and bust, stop-go, British cycle. We have now broken away from that."

Home owner concern

"It is for the Bank of England to make the decision, but I will back them in whatever decision they make," he added.

The clamour for early interest rate increases is clearly unjustified.
David Kern, British Chambers of Commerce

With credit levels at their highest since the Bank of England began keeping figures 10 years ago, a rise could spell pain for house buyers.

Borrowing by the British public, most of it on mortgages, is soaring.

On Wednesday, the UK's biggest mortgage lender, the Halifax, released figures showing house price growth remaining strong, as buyers continue to take advantage of low mortgage borrowing.

Positive signs

Mr Brown also acknowledged the economy is beginning to pick up in an interview with The Times newspaper.

But he stressed action was needed to prevent it surging ahead too quickly.

I think most City analysts believe a rise is inevitable
Peter Dixon, economist at Commerzbank
"In the new conditions of growth strengthening even further over the next few months, the pro-active monetary and fiscal policy is the best guarantee of stability," he said.

Earlier this week CBI figures showed brisk growth in High Street sales, with low interest rates underpinning consumers' willingness to spend.

Economic indicators have also shown an increase in the the service sector and growing strength in the manufacturing industry during October.

Committee divisions

The MPC itself gave a strong hint that it is minded to tighten the money screws. At its last meeting at the beginning of October, it voted against a rate rise by the narrowest of margins, five to four.

Peter Dixon, an economist at Commerzbank, told BBC News Online: "Most City analysts believe a rise is inevitable.

"The MPC has already questioned the rate of borrowing at their last meeting.

"It is difficult to imagine a scenario where the four who previously voted for a rise would change their minds. It then only takes one more member to alter their previous view for the rate change to go ahead."

Mr Dixon added that a decision to keep rates unchanged would be a "major surprise" to the financial markets.

"Markets have already worked in a quarter point rise, and it would now be very difficult now for the committee not to raise rates", he says.

'Fragile recovery'

The chief economic adviser of the business lobby group CBI, Ian McCafferty, accepts the case for the Bank of England to take back July's interest rate cut, in light of recent data.

But he warns against a succession of quick rises, saying: "The recent recovery in the wider UK economy is in its early stages and is still fragile."

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) is even more cautious.

"Rates must stay put or the manufacturing recovery will fizzle out," it warned.

The BBC's Rebecca Pike
"Borrowing on credit cards has ballooned"

The BBC's Angela Garvey
"The view from the City is that these rate rises will be good news"

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