LONDON (Reuters) – The Bank of England increased its already huge bond-buying stimulus by a bigger-than-expected 150 billion pounds ($195 billion) as it sought to cushion Britain’s struggling economy against the hit from a second coronavirus lockdown.
The BoE, also wary of the risk of a Brexit shock in less than two months’ time, raised the size of its asset purchase programme to 895 billion pounds ($1.16 trillion), 50 billion pounds more than expected by most economists in a Reuters poll.
The central bank kept its benchmark Bank Rate at 0.1%, as expected in the poll, while it looks into the feasibility of taking borrowing costs below zero for the first time.
The BoE cut its forecasts for Britain’s economy which it now expects to only exceed its size before the COVID-19 pandemic in the first quarter of 2022. Previously, the BoE had expected the recovery be complete by the end of next year.
The BoE said it expected Britain’s economy would shrink by 11% in 2020, more severe than the 9.5% contraction it forecast in August.
Gross domestic product was likely to grow by 7.25% in 2021, weaker than a previous forecast of a 9% bounce-back.
Britain’s economy, which as well as COVID-19 is facing the risk of a trade shock when its post-Brexit transition with the European Union expires on Dec. 31, has been supported by a surge in debt-fuelled spending by the government.
The BoE is buying up many of those bonds.
Finance minister Rishi Sunak is due to speak in parliament later on Thursday about his huge support for the economy.
Despite the spending, Britain faces the sharpest peak-to-trough contraction of any Group of 20 economy, Moody’s said on Oct. 16 when it cut Britain’s credit rating.
That was before Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a month-long “stay-at-home” lockdown for England which came into force on Thursday.
($1 = 0.7708 pounds)
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