Interest rates remain at record 0.5%

Interest rates remain at record 0.5%

The Bank of England ended another year leaving interest rates at record lows as the cost of borrowing was held once more at 0.5%.

Members of the Bank's nine-strong Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted eight to one to keep rates unchanged in its final decision of 2015, as they have done now for more than six years.

The decision comes as the US Federal Reserve is poised to make its first interest rate increase in nearly a decade, while monetary policy in Europe is moving in completely the opposite direction.

Federal chair Janet Yellen has indicated that a rise in US rates is a near certainty when America's policymakers decide on 16 December.

The rise in US rates would be the first since 2006 and there are fears it will trigger market disruption, also coming at a time when the global economy and China's growth have been slowing.

Meanwhile, the European Central Bank last week announced a cut to overnight deposit rates from minus 0.2% to minus 0.3% and extended a 60 billion euro (£43bn) stimulus programme by six months.

The rate-setting committee said there was "no mechanical" link between UK monetary policy and that of other central banks, according to minutes of this month's meeting.

This comes after Governor Mark Carney has already said a decision to raise rates in the US is "not decisive" for UK policymakers, stressing any such move on these shores will be made according to UK economic conditions.

The Bank signalled in its quarterly inflation report last month that an interest rate rise in the UK may still not come for another year.

This month's rates decision comes as the economy still faces some challenges, with the minutes of the MPC meeting showing recent economic indicators suggested little pick-up in gross domestic product in the fourth quarter.

The report showed the Bank believes growth would be maintained "at a similar pace" to that in the third quarter, when it slowed to 0.5%.

Recent declines in oil prices are also likely to keep inflation at ultra low levels, with the consumer prices index (CPI) already in negative territory - at minus 0.1% in October - meaning there is little rush for the MPC to pull the trigger on a rate rise.

The Bank said in last month's forecast that inflation would stay below 1% until the second half of 2016.

But the minutes also show that if oil prices, which touched below 40 US dollars a barrel earlier this week for the first time in nearly seven years, see another sustained decline, its inflation forecasts could be trimmed once again.

The minutes show that MPC members were also concerned by a slowdown in wage growth, adding "there would need to be a sustained firming in domestic cost pressures, compared with their current rates, in order to return inflation to the 2% target in around two years' time."

But for one member - Ian McCafferty - the risk of overshooting the Bank's 2% inflation target in two years' time was enough to see him call once again for rates to rise to 0.75%.

The MPC voted unanimously to maintain its £375bn quantitative easing programme unchanged.

James Knightley, economist at ING, said the minutes suggests the MPC is "in little hurry to raise rates."

He is forecasting a rise in the second quarter of 2016.

Expectations for when the first UK rate rise will eventually come vary significantly, although most economists believe a hike will be made before 2017 - at odds with forecasts in the Bank's own November inflation report.

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said a move by the Fed to hike rates next week would put pressure on UK policymakers to follow suit.

He said: "If the US does decide to hike next week ... UK policy may soon start to look like it's fallen behind the curve and expectations will grow of an upward move in UK rates next year."