The Bank of England on Thursday added another £100 billion to its quantitative easing program in a bid to shore up the U.K. economy amid the fallout from the coronavirus crisis.
The additional bond purchases will take the total value of the central bank’s Asset Purchase Facility (APF) to £745 billion.
The Bank resisted taking interest rates into negative territory, a decision being closely watched by investors, instead opting to hold its main lending rate steady at 0.1%. Rates have been reduced twice from 0.75% since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Despite its recent flirting with negative policy rates, we think it is quite unlikely the Bank will go down this path,” said Luke Bartholomew, investment strategist at Aberdeen Standard Investments.
“Instead we expect further QE to be announced in time, along with tweaks to its credit provision facilities, making it easier and cheaper for banks to finance lending to the real economy.”
Sterling edged around 0.1% lower against the dollar shortly after the decision was announced, which was in line with analyst expectations. U.K. 10-year gilt yields briefly dropped to a one-month low of 0.16% but recovered to hover at just above 0.215%.
The FTSE 100 index slightly accelerated the day’s losses and was down 0.7% in the aftermath of the announcement.
Hinesh Patel, portfolio manager at Quilter Investors, said the market reaction indicated that investors were possibly hoping for a bigger boost from the central bank, given that the U.S. Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank have vowed to do “whatever it takes” to keep their respective economies afloat.
“But this move is understandable from the Bank of England. It is important these sort of policies move at a steady pace, and with economic data not as severe as previously expected the Bank has given itself some headroom should unemployment turn structural,” Patel added.
‘Slowing from warp speed’
The BOE’s latest monetary policy decision comes as the U.K. economy attempts to recover from an unprecedented 25% contraction across March and April as lockdowns forced by the pandemic hammered economic activity.
In its May Monetary Policy Report (MPR), the Bank forecast the country’s worst economic decline since 1706, but in a press call following the decision, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said recent data had indicated that the peak of the downturn “probably wasn’t as severe” as the illustrative scenario outlined in the MPR.
Bailey said the slowing of asset purchases was based on a calming of financial markets and economic conditions in March, but did not mean the central bank was taking its foot off the gas.
“We’re slowing from warp speed to something that by any historical standards still looks fast,” Bailey told reporters.