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Bank of England eyes rate rise as inflation surges

[LONDON] The Bank of England on Thursday hinted at an interest rate rise in the coming months as a Brexit-hit weak pound sends inflation soaring.

Policymakers voted 7-2 to hold the Bo'E's main rate at a record-low 0.25 percent - and by a unanimous amount to leave unchanged the level of cash pumping around the UK economy to help boost growth - minutes from a regular meeting Wednesday showed.

Two members felt that a quarter-point hike should occur immediately, against a backdrop of the annual British inflation rate surging to 2.9 per cent in August from 2.6 per cent in July.

Analysts remarked that despite no-change to the rate at September's meeting, the tone of the minutes indicated that the BoE was readying for a rate rise - in a policy that would mirror monetary tightening in the eurozone and United States in response to firmer economic growth.

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Paul Hollingsworth, economist at Capital Economics research group, said "it is clear that the majority of members are reluctant to begin normalising monetary policy until there are some clearer signs of a pick-up in underlying inflation, including faster wage growth".

He added Thursday: "Nonetheless, the minutes struck a considerably more hawkish tone than in August in suggesting that 'some withdrawal of monetary stimulus is likely to be appropriate over the coming months in order to return inflation sustainably to (its 2.0-per cent) target'".

The tone of the minutes resulted in the pound jumping above US$1.3.

British inflation has risen sharply in recent months as a Brexit-hit pound raises import costs.

"There remain considerable risks to the outlook, which include the response of households, businesses and financial markets to developments related to the process of EU withdrawal," the minutes added.

While overall inflation is on the rise, wage growth in Britain has stalled, offsetting official data this week showing that the UK unemployment rate has fallen to a new 42-year low.

The jobless figure dropped to 4.3 per cent in the quarter through to the end of July, reaching the lowest level since 1975, the Office for National Statistics said Wednesday.

Despite the strong jobs growth, there is concern that weak wages growth is starting to hurt consumption, making it difficult for the BoE to rush through interest-rate tightening that would boost savers but weigh on borrowers.

AFP

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