Bank of England ready to replenish its COVID-19 warchest

LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England looks set to give itself at least another 100 billion pounds in bond-buying firepower next week to try to stop the coronavirus crisis from inflicting further damage on Britain’s economy.

FILE PHOTO: A general view of The Bank of England and the Royal Exchange as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in London, Britain, March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo/File Photo

The BoE slashed interest rates to an all-time low of 0.1% in March as the country went into lockdown, but it says it needs time to weigh up the risks of going below zero like some other central banks.

That leaves bond-buying as its main weapon for tackling what could be Britain’s deepest recession in three centuries.

The BoE is amassing gilts faster than the government is selling them in order to prevent the debt flood from pushing up borrowing costs.

It has already used up most of a record 200 billion pound expansion of its asset purchase programme made in March.

Most economists say the Monetary Policy Committee will announce another 100 billion pound boost on June 18.

That would be enough for the BoE to keep buying bonds at its current pace until August, when the MPC is next due to meet. By then there should be a few more signals of how much long-term damage has been done to the world’s fifth-biggest economy.

Data on Friday is expected to show Britain’s gross domestic product plunged by about 20% in April although there have been some signs of a recent bottoming out of the slump.

Cathal Kennedy, an economist with RBC Capital Markets, expects a 200 billion pound increase, in line with the BoE’s tendency to buy more bonds than the government plans to sell.

Such a move could revive claims that the BoE has given up its independence to finance the government’s huge spending increases, a claim that Governor Andrew Bailey and other top officials deny.

Analysts at NatWest Markets said they expected the BoE would slow the pace of its bond-buying, meaning the next increase in the programme might not happen until November.

Samuel Tombs, of Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the BoE was unlikely to follow the U.S. Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank and make longer-term bond-buying commitments.

Uncertainty about whether Britain will end its post-Brexit transition agreement with a new European Union trade deal at the end of 2020 made this too much of a risk for the BoE.

“It does not know whether the combination of the supply side shock from no EU trade deal being signed and the likely depreciation of sterling would have a bigger influence on inflation than the hit to demand,” Tombs said. “Accordingly, we expect the MPC to stick to rolling QE extensions.”

($1 = 0.7886 pounds)

Editing by David Milliken and Catherine Evans

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