When will the Bank of England hike interest rates?

Next Thursday is the first meeting of the year for the Bank of England's (BoE) Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

And whilst January is known to be uneventful in monetary policy terms, and the Bank's made it clear that an interest rate hike from the current 0.5 per cent is not on the horizon, doubt is growing as to whether that'll be the case throughout 2014.

IHS think the odds clearly favour the Bank holding off from a hike this year:

We think the Bank of England is more likely to hold off from raising interest rates until the first half of 2015.

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bank expects no hike before the end of 2015, despite stronger growth and lower inflation.

The BoE has continued stressing that, despite improved growth performance, the economy is a way away from returning to normality, and the MPC wants growth that is more balanced and not so dependent on consumer spending.

IHS's Howard Archer points out that the current strength of sterling and the pressure it puts on exports could also deter the MPC from a near-term raising of interest rates.

He adds that this strength should also help contain consumer price inflation over the next few months, giving inflation "a good change of stay close to its two per cent target level".

But analysts at Investec have shifted emphasis from a rate hike date to if and when the Bank will change its forward guidance.

The banking group says the unexpectedly rapid fall in the unemployment rate - which was 7.4 per cent in the three months to October - means the MPC will need to adjust its guidance.

Whilst the Bank has made it clear that the seven per cent unemployment level is a threshold for considering whether to up rates - not a target - predictions are that it'll be met as early as this spring.

This means, says Investec, that the MPC will "need to make a judgement call". It'll either need to seriously consider tightening policy - even if it keeps rates on hold - or modifying its guidance.

Investec expect a change in guidance:

...which might involve a lowering in the threshold, or a qualification that sub-seven per cent unemployment is tolerable, subject to pay growth remaining at low levels.

It is notable that in the US, the Federal Open Market Committee recently admitted that it will probably be appropriate for the Fed funds target to remain on hold ‘well past the time’ that its 6.5 per cent unemployment threshold is reached, paving the way for the MPC to follow in its footsteps.

It's highly likely that, if guidance is going to be tweaked, it'll be announced at the time of the next Quarterly Inflation Report on 12 February, adds Investec.