Banks push back BoE rate forecasts after growth data shock

LONDON (Reuters) – Banks scrambled to push back their forecasts for the next Bank of England interest rate raise after data on Friday showed a sharp and unexpected slowdown in Britain’s economic growth.

The new forecasts anticipate the next BoE hike to take place in August this year or as late as 2019.

Before Friday’s GDP data most economists had expected the central bank to tighten monetary policy in May.

The change in banks’ forecasts signals a much weaker outlook for the pound, which has been among the best performing major currencies in 2018.

Last week expectations of higher rates lifted sterling to its highest since the Brexit referendum in June 2016.

The likelihood that the BoE will not hike next month also means bond prices could rally further and presents a more volatile backdrop for the UK stock market.

UBS scrapped its estimate of a single rate hike in 2018 after the weaker-than-expected growth figures while Nomura, which has long been hawkish on UK interest rates, now sees a first hike in August.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Natwest Markets strategists pushed back their May rate hike calls to November.

“We view the (economic) slowdown as more serious, and see no prospect of hikes in 2018,” said UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager, in a note.

John Wraith, a UBS economist, said inflation could fall back to the central bank’s target of two percent later this year and that concerns about talks between Britain and the European Union over the terms of their divorce could resurface.

Market expectations of a rate hike in May tumbled to less than 20 percent from around 50 percent, after GDP data showed Britain’s economy slowed to 0.1 percent growth between January and March, the weakest quarter since 2012.

Earlier this month the market was pricing in a 90 percent chance of a rate rise.

The market is now also forecasting no more than one 25 basis point rate hike over the remainder of 2018, from a near-certain two rate rises expected a fortnight ago.

Sterling GBP=D3 tanked more than one percent to $1.3748 and government bond prices surged in the aftermath of the data.

Reporting by Tom Finn and Saikat Chatterjee, Editing by Tommy Wilkes and William Maclean