The Latest: Pound stays strong after UK rate hike hint

The Latest on the Bank of England's monetary policy meeting (all times local):

12:40 p.m.

The British pound has remained firm after minutes to the Bank of England's rate-setting meeting kept the prospect of another rate hike in May on the table.

The currency, which has rallied lately on expectations of a May rate hike, was up another 0.1 percent at $1.4149.

Those expectations were bolstered Thursday after two of the bank's nine rate-setters backed a quarter-point rate hike to 0.75 percent. The remaining seven opted to keep the benchmark rate at 0.5 percent but said increases were likely soon in order to contain above-target inflation.

Ben Brettell, senior economist at stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown, says it now looks "increasingly likely" there will be another hike in May to follow last November's first in a decade.

"Beyond that the outlook is less clear," he added, noting the uncertainties surrounding Britain's discussions to leave the European Union.


12:25 p.m.

The progress on a Brexit transition deal appears to have made it more likely that the Bank of England will raise its interest rates again in May, despite a recent fall in the rate of inflation.

European Union leaders in Brussels are expected Thursday to confirm they are willing to grant Britain a transition deal that will see the country remain part of the tariff-free single market and customs union after Brexit formally takes place in a little more than a year's time. The transition is set to last until the end of 2020.

After the Bank of England kept its main interest rate on hold at 0.5 percent, as expected, Peter Urwin, professor at the Westminster Business School, said the transition deal has "sealed the case for a rate rise in May" as it "pushes any significant economic hit into 2019 and beyond."


12:05 p.m.

The Bank of England has kept its interest rates on hold but appeared to issue another hint that it may hike them in May to get inflation back down to its target.

The minutes to the meeting showed that two of the nine members on the Monetary Policy Committee backed an immediate quarter-point increase in the bank's main interest rate to 0.75 percent. The other seven, including Bank Governor Mark Carney, preferred to keep the main rate unchanged at 0.5 percent.

A majority of the committee on Thursday appeared ready to back another interest rate hike soon, according to the minutes. Last November, the bank raised interest rates for the first time in a decade to get inflation down even though the economy had slowed down in the face of uncertainty related to the country's exit from the European Union.


5:00 a.m.

The Bank of England is expected to keep its main interest rate unchanged but could signal a possible hike in May.

The minutes to Thursday's rate decision will be pored over to see how many of the nine-member Monetary Policy Committee voted to raise the main interest rate by a quarter-point from 0.5 percent.

At its February meeting, the panel had hinted it could raise rates in May as inflation was above target and wages were rising.

This week's economic data have shown inflation at 2.7 percent and above the 2 percent target, and wages on the up. Also, hopes of a "smooth" British exit from the European Union have risen after the two sides agreed on the outlines of a transition deal after Brexit day next March.