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Bank of England hikes rates but avoids more aggressive steps to tame inflation

The bank matched its half-point increase last month — the biggest in 27 years — to bring its benchmark rate to the highest level in 14 years, at 2.25%.
Image:
Pedestrians walk past the Bank of England in London on Thursday.Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP
/ Source: Associated Press

LONDON — Britain’s central bank raised its key interest rate by another half-percentage point Thursday, avoiding more aggressive steps to tame inflation that the U.S. Federal Reserve and other banks have taken.

It is the Bank of England’s seventh straight move to increase borrowing costs as rising food and energy prices fuel a cost-of-living crisis that is considered the worst in a generation. Despite facing a slumping currency, tight labor market and inflation near its highest in four decades, officials decided against acting more boldly as large hikes threaten to tip the economy into recession.

The bank matched its half-point increase last month — the biggest in 27 years — to bring its benchmark rate to the highest level in 14 years at 2.25%. The decision was delayed for a week as the United Kingdom mourned Queen Elizabeth II and comes after new Prime Minister Liz Truss’ government announced a cap on spiraling energy bills for households and businesses.

The energy relief package means consumer prices will peak at 11% in October, lower than the previously expected, the bank’s monetary policy committee said.

“Nevertheless, energy bills will still go up and, combined with the indirect effects of higher energy costs, inflation is expected to remain above 10% over the following few months, before starting to fall back,” the bank said.

The U.K. decision comes during a busy week for central bank action marked by much more aggressive moves to bring down soaring consumer prices. The U.S. Federal Reserve hiked rates Wednesday by three-quarters of a point for the third consecutive time and forecast that more large increases were ahead.

Also Thursday, the Swiss central bank enacted its biggest-ever hike to its key interest rate.

Surging inflation is a worry for central banks because it eats away at consumers’ purchasing power. The traditional tool to combat inflation is raising interest rates, which reduces demand and therefore prices, by making it more expensive to borrow money.

Inflation in the United Kingdom is running at 9.9%, close to it’s highest level since 1982 and five times higher than the Bank of England’s 2% target. The British pound is at its weakest against the dollar in 37 years, contributing to imported inflation.

Since then, Truss’ government has unveiled a massive relief program for energy bills that have soared as Russia’s war in Ukraine has helped drive up the price of natural gas needed for heating. Economists say the measures mean inflation will peak at a lower level and then fall faster next year.

The Bank of England avoided pressure to go bigger even as other banks around the world take aggressive action against inflation fueled by the global economy’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and then the war in Ukraine.

This month, Sweden’s central bank raised its key interest rate by a full percentage point, while the European Central Bank delivered its largest-ever rate increase with a three-quarter point hike for the 19 countries that use the euro currency.