World and Nation

Bank of England retains low interest rate

LONDON — Britain’s central bank decided on Thursday to keep its benchmark interest rate unchanged at a record low in the face of more evidence that the country’s economic recovery was gaining speed.

The Bank of England voted, as expected, to leave its interest rate at 0.5 percent and to hold its program of economic stimulus at 375 billion pounds, or nearly $600 billion.

Britain’s economic recovery has been gaining momentum as consumer confidence returns and disposable incomes have improve over recent months. A surprise drop in industrial production in August signaled on Wednesday, however, that some headwinds to the recovery persist.

Recent positive economic data raised some questions about whether Mark J. Carney, who took over as Bank of England governor in July, would stick to the plan he announced in August. To eliminate uncertainty among households and investors when interest rates would rise again, Carney said then that the rates would remain unchanged at least until unemployment declined to 7 percent, from the current 7.7 percent. Some investors said the positive data put pressure on Carney to raise interest rates earlier, but Carney has resisted.

Policymakers have said unemployment was unlikely to drop to 7 percent before the end of 2016, but some investors said the central bank might be forced to abandon the plan because of higher inflation. Economists at Nomura and Deutsche Bank were among those who predicted higher interest rates for 2015. The benchmark rate has been at 0.5 percent since March 2009. Economists do not anticipate a change in the bank’s bond-buying stimulus program unless the economic recovery stalls.

With monetary policy on hold, some economists said that Carney’s focus is shifting to his responsibility for maintaining stability in Britain’s financial system. At the top of his list are possible responses to the debt ceiling and budget deadlock in the U.S., and Britain’s Help to Buy plan, a government program to make mortgages more affordable.

“Short of external shocks, which might include the U.S. debt ceiling, there’s not much that can shift monetary policy at the moment,” David Tinsley, an economist at BNP Paribas in London, said. “The only thing that’s a nagging thorn in the side is the housing market.”

Some of Britain’s largest banks have started offering residential mortgages this week for houses worth up to 600,000 pounds, or $965,000, with a deposit of as little as 5 percent. Under this part of the Help to Buy program, the government is guaranteeing the banks as much as 15 percent of the value of the home in exchange for a fee.