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BOE governor hints at interest rate cut if weakness persists


BANK of England governor Mark Carney dropped a clear hint on Thursday that the central bank could cut interest rates if it looks like weakness in the economy will persist.

His comments sent sterling to a near two-week low against the dollar as he outlined a debate on the Monetary Policy Committee about whether interest rates needed to be cut now.

Last month and in November, two of the nine policymakers on the BOE's interest rate-setting committee voted to cut interest rates to 0.5 per cent from 0.75 per cent, though Mr Carney himself backed keeping rates on hold.

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Britain's economy slowed to a crawl late last year, and many indicators of the economy remain downbeat despite signs of optimism among businesses and consumers following Prime Minister Boris Johnson's landslide win last month.

"With the relatively limited space to cut bank rate, if evidence builds that the weakness in activity could persist, risk management considerations would favour a relatively prompt response," Mr Carney said in a speech delivered at a BOE event on inflation targeting.

Combining possible interest rate cuts and the prospect of more asset purchases, Mr Carney said the BOE's current armoury was the equivalent of cutting bank rate by 2.5 percentage points.

Money markets now price in a roughly 14 per cent chance of a rate cut at the BOE's Jan 30 meeting, doubling from earlier in the week, and above 50 per cent by June.

"While this shouldn't come as a huge surprise given that there has been a couple of MPC dissenters calling for lower rates at the past two policy meetings, it is the strongest hint yet for a rate cut in the not too distant future," currency strategist David Cheetham of brokerage XTB said.

On asset purchases, Mr Carney said there was room to "at least double" the BOE's £60 billion (S$106 billion) stimulus package of August 2016, a sum that will increase further as more government bonds are issued over time.

Mr Carney also noted reasons why the BOE might not cut interest rates, citing signs that global growth is stabilising and ongoing tightness in Britain's labour market.

The rest of his speech focused on possible changes to the BOE's inflation targeting framework, which he said had served Britain well.

Mr Carney said raising the inflation target - advocated by some economists as a way to spur growth and escape from years of low interest rates - worked better in theory than in practice. He also pushed back against those who think the BOE should use its quantitative easing stimulus to directly fund infrastructure or environmental spending. REUTERS