Bank of England sees worst slump in 300 years, holds off from more stimulusBank of England sees worst slump in 300 years, holds off from more stimulus
FILE PHOTO: People wearing masks walk past the Bank of England

By David Milliken and Andy Bruce

LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England held off from further stimulus measures on Thursday but said it was ready to take more action to counter the country’s biggest economic slump in over 300 years, caused by the coronavirus lockdown.

In what it called an ‘illustrative scenario’, the BoE said it saw a plunge of 14% in Britain’s economy in 2020 followed by 15% bounce-back in 2021.

Such a scenario would require very significant monetary and fiscal stimulus, it said.

The BoE kept its benchmark interest rate at an all-time low of 0.1% and left its target for bond-buying, most of it British government debt, at 645 billion pounds ($797 billion).

Two of its nine policymakers – Michael Saunders and Jonathan Haskel – voted to increase its bond-buying firepower by 100 billion pounds.

“However the economic outlook evolves, the Bank will act as necessary to deliver the monetary and financial stability that are essential for long-term prosperity and meet the needs of the people of this country,” Governor Andrew Bailey said.

“This is our total and unwavering commitment.”

He said the BoE expected “the recovery of the economy to happen over time, though much more rapidly than the pull-back from the global financial crisis.”

The illustrative scenario was based on the government gradually lifting its coronavirus lockdown, that has shuttered swathes of the economy, between June and September.

Both decisions announced on Thursday were in line the forecasts of most economists in a Reuters poll.

Many economists expect the BoE to increase its asset purchase programme in June, before the extra 200 billion pounds it gave itself in March is exhausted by the furious pace of its buying of British government debt.

The government has already rushed out spending and tax measures worth about 100 billion pounds to try to counter the effect of its coronavirus lockdown.

RISKS OF BIGGER HIT

The BoE said it expected a 25% plunge in British gross domestic product in the April-June period with the unemployment rate more than doubling to 9%. Inflation was likely to fall below 1% in the next few months, half the BoE’s target.

However, the BoE also said the recent economic data suggested demand had stabilised, albeit at very low levels.

Sterling rose after the central bank’s announcement, initially gaining as much as half a cent against the U.S. dollar. British government bonds prices were little changed.

Last week, the U.S. Federal Reserve restated a pledge to keep interest rates low and continue offering trillions of dollars in credit as long as the economy needs it, and the European Central Bank kept the door open to further stimulus.

Minutes of this week’s discussions at the BoE showed policymakers thought there were risks that the illustrative scenario could prove too optimistic because people might remain cautious about resuming their normal lives after the lockdown.

Workers might be worried about their jobs and companies might also be more risk averse.

“The financial system was, however, in a much better position to support households and businesses through this period compared with the global financial crisis,” the minutes said.

A separate BoE report published on Thursday said an emergency “desk top” stress test showed that top banks and building societies could keep lending.

($1 = 0.8090 pounds)

(Additional reporting by Huw Jones; Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Toby Chopra)