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Bank of England on brink of biggest rate hike since 1995

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LONDON — The Bank of England is expected to raise interest rates by the most since 1995 on Thursday, even as the risks of a recession mount, in an attempt to stop a surge in inflation from becoming embedded in Britain’s economy.

Most investors and economists predict the BoE will increase its benchmark rate by half a percentage point to 1.75%, its highest level since late 2008 at the start of the global financial crisis, when it announces its decision at 1100 GMT.

Britain’s main inflation rate has soared to 9.4% – and could hit 15% in early 2023 according to the Resolution Foundation think-tank – as the repercussions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine combine with post-pandemic strains on the world economy.

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The BoE, which has already raised borrowing costs five times since December, said in June it would act forcefully if inflation pressures became more persistent.

Since then, inflation expectations among the public have eased off a bit and the pricing plans of companies have also moderated, potentially giving the Monetary Policy Committee a case for sticking to its quarter-point rate moves.

But the pressure on Governor Andrew Bailey and colleagues has intensified after big rate hikes by the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and other central banks, weakening the value of the pound, which could add to inflation.

“We know they’re worried about sterling and in that sense they don’t want to be left as the odd one out by not joining the 50-basis-point club,” James Smith, an economist with ING, said.

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A Reuters poll published on Monday showed more than 70% of 65 economists expected a half-point increase.

On top of everything else, the BoE’s inflation-fighting record has been called into question by Liz Truss, the front-runner to be Britain’s next prime minister.

She wants to set “a clear direction of travel” for monetary policy and to review the BoE’s mandate.

But some analysts say the BoE could move warily.

Signs of a slowdown in the world economy are multiplying, core inflation fell in the latest data, and the central bank’s new forecasts due on Thursday are likely to show inflation falling sharply in two and three years’ time.

In its last forecasts in May, the BoE said it saw almost no growth in Britain’s economy before 2025 at the earliest.

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The National Institute of Economic and Social Research, a think tank, says a recession is coming that will force more than a million households to choose between heating their homes and buying enough food.

“Faced with this outlook, we doubt the MPC will judge Bank Rate needs to rise as quickly as markets expect,” Samuel Tombs, an economist with Pantheon Macroeconomics, said.

The BoE is also due to give more details of how it plans to start selling down the government bond holdings it racked up over more than a decade of economic stimulus. Bailey said last month that the BoE could reduce by 50 to 100 billion pounds ($61-122 billion) its 844 billion pounds of gilt holdings over the space of a year.

($1 = 0.8220 pounds) (Reporting by William Schomberg; editing by David Evans)

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