The Bank of England looks set to inject more cash into the economy to shore up a stuttering recovery, despite signs that the country may have avoided slipping back into recession.
The central bank is expected to announce 50 billion pounds in additional quantitative easing asset purchases later on Thursday, though the decision of the nine-member Monetary Policy Committee may not be unanimous given recent more upbeat economic news.
The cash boost would provide welcome news to the government, which has come under pressure again to loosen its austerity drive after the economy shrank at the end of 2011 and unemployment hit its highest level in more than 17 years.
The Bank of England surprised markets in October by deciding to restart its program of gilt purchases funded by newly created money earlier than expected. It went on to buy 75 billion pounds' worth of gilts largely to shield Britain from the euro zone crisis.
Things have improved considerably since then, the worst tail risks from the euro zone are off the table, said Nomura economist Philip Rush, adding that the bank may wind down the current easing round with a 25 billion-pound dose in May.
They are not in crisis mode anymore, they are tapering off this round of additional monetary accommodation, he said.
The central bank is also expected to leave its key interest rate unchanged at the record-low of 0.5 percent.
Recent surveys showed a surprise bounce in manufacturing and the service sector at the beginning of the year, and the European Central Bank's long-term liquidity operation in December eased banks' funding strains and market tensions.
Bank policymakers have been guarded about their voting intentions, with only long-standing QE advocate Adam Posen saying he was leaning toward another 75 billion pound boost.
Some economists still see the possibility of a 75 billion-pound injection, though most have scaled back their forecasts in the wake of the central bankers' cautious comments and recent upbeat economic news.
Bank Governor Mervyn King said in mid-January that the drop in inflation provided scope for more stimulus if needed. The MPC will base its decision on a fresh set of inflation forecasts, to be presented in the Inflation Report next week.
Inflation fell from the three-year peak of 5.2 percent in September to 4.2 percent in December, and policymakers such as David Miles voiced confidence that it will dip below the Bank's 2 percent target later this year, as predicted in November.
However, Bank chief economist Spencer Dale in particular has warned against the risk of a slower decline in inflation, which has made him economists' prime bet for a dissenting vote against more easing. The minutes from the two-day meeting will be released in two weeks.
(Reporting by Sven Egenter; Editing by Hugh Lawson)