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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 September 2005, 07:29 GMT 08:29 UK
Bank poised to leave rates steady
The Bank of England's rate setting committee is widely expected to keep interest rates on hold at 4.5% at the end of its two-day meeting on Thursday.

The nine-member Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted in August to cut base rates by a quarter point to stimulate economic growth in the UK.

This was the first cut in rates since July 2003 when they were at 3.5%.

However, the decision to cut interest rates to 4.5% was finely balanced, minutes of the August meeting show.

The MPC voted by just five to four to cut rates by a quarter percentage point.

Bank of England Governor Mervyn King was one of the four against the cut, and those backing a drop felt the move could be reversed if needed in future.

And Mr King later warned that cutting rates too fast could push inflation higher, above the Bank's target rate of 2%,

Since that forecast, the effect of Katrina has been to increase uncertainty, with the possibility of more oil-related inflation in the pipeline.

Overheating

Its effect on consumer confidence, however, is not clear.

Up to now, the UK's economic performance was improving.

The UK's economy grew at a faster-than-expected rate during the second quarter on the back of a better-than-expected performance from the manufacturing sector.

Base rates will almost certainly remain on hold at 4.5%
Philip Shaw, analyst

"Economic news since the 4 August easing has been a mixed bag and consistent with rates remaining on hold," said Investec analyst Philip Shaw.

GDP grew at 0.5% in the three months to June compared with early estimate of 0.4%, the Office for National Statistics reported.

And with oil prices fuelling an surge in inflation last month, MPC members may find it hard to sanction another rate cut so soon.

Inflation reached 2.3%, bursting through the government's target of 2.0%.

However, the need to keep a lid on inflation may be balanced by worries about another dip in consumer confidence as oil prices force people to keep a tighter grip on spending.

This could make the positive impact on consumers of last month's rate cut short-lived.

Economists reckon the Bank of England will sit tight for a while as it continues to asses the extent of the consumer slowdown as well as Hurricane Katrina's impact on the global economy.

"Base rates will almost certainly remain on hold at 4.5%," said Philip Shaw.


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