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Column-Pound faces mid-Atlantic as markets eye BOE blink :Mike Dolan By Reuters

Column-Pound faces mid-Atlantic as markets eye BOE blink :Mike Dolan

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Bank of England (BoE) building, the BoE confirmed to raise interest rates to 1.75%, in London, Britain, August 4, 2022. REUTERS/Maja Smiejkowska

By Mike Dolan

LONDON (Reuters) – Whatever new year fillip the euro zone economy got from ebbing prices, the UK saw none of it – showing just how peculiarly British the downturn there has become and heaping pressure on the Bank of England.

January business surveys from around the world on Tuesday saw euro zone economic activity expanding again for the first time since June – helped by an unusually warm winter that’s seen more than a halving of sky-high natural gas prices over the past six weeks.

Although Britain saw the same easing of wholesale energy prices, UK industry – by stark contrast – continued to contract this month. In fact it shrank at its fastest pace in two years, with everything from inflation and rising interest rates to worker shortages, serial labour strikes and mounting Brexit damage being blamed. Sterling suffered its biggest one-day drop against the euro on Tuesday in over a month.

And even if you think surveys can be wayward from time to time, the Confederation of British Industry’s poll of manufacturers doubled down on the message and showed order books weakening further this month despite an easing of cost pressures.

Whatever the precise reason for the persistent gloom, it leaves the central bank in a pickle as it tries to rein in still double-digit inflation and record private sector pay growth without sinking the housing-sensitive economy even deeper into the mire.

The BoE meets again next week and there are growing calls for it start to wind up its year-long campaign of interest rate hikes that have already brought its main policy rate to 3.5% from just 0.1% in December 2021.

Whatever the merit of those calls, most forecasters suspect the BoE will press on for now. More than two thirds of the 42 economists polled by Reuters this month expect another hefty 50 basis point rate rise to 4% next week, while their average ‘terminal rate’ forecast implies yet another quarter point rise to 4.25% after that.

Financial market pricing is even more aggressive. Despite economic funk, the implied peak BoE rate derived from money and swaps markets shows almost another full percentage point of hikes to 4.5% before the Bank calls it quits later this summer.

What state the economy will be in by then is anyone’s guess.

But significant outliers in…

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