Bank of England policymaker Paul Fisher said in a newspaper interview published on Friday that the outlook for the economy was still incredibly uncertain and that he was keeping an open mind as to whether more quantitative easing would be required.
I think it continues to be a story where the outlook for the economy is incredibly uncertain, Fisher said in an interview with London financial freesheet City A.M. If anything I feel slightly more comfortable about the inflation outlook than the outlook for growth.
Fisher said the downward slide into a severe recession that some had feared in the latter part of 2011 did not seem to be materialising but that the latest round of quantitative easing (QE) had been justified to make sure the risk was off the table.
At the moment I would have a completely open mind going into the next round whether or not we need to more (QE) or whether we could stop, Fisher was quoted as saying.
Fisher voted with the majority of the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee earlier this month to increase the size of the central bank's quantitative easing programme by 50 billion pounds to 325 billion pounds.
Britain's economy contracted by 0.2 percent in the last three months of 2011, and the Bank has forecast a sluggish first half to 2012, followed by somewhat stronger growth.
Last week the Bank forecast that inflation would fall from its current level of 3.6 percent to below its 2 percent target by the end of the year, and still be there in two years time.
This was a higher inflation forecast than three months ago, and caused economists to doubt whether the Bank will approve more QE once the current round of gilt purchases are complete in May.
However, minutes to February's policy meeting released on Wednesday showed that two policymakers had voted for a 75 billion pound rise in QE, reinvigorating prospects for further QE.
Fisher, who is also the Bank's executive director for markets, said that the bank had a very firm plan for reversing QE at some point but conceded that the plan could easily change.
He said it was too early to tell whether the economy was growing during the first quarter of 2012.
Our forecast, which is for underlying growth this year to be pretty flat, below trend, maybe averaging a small positive number ... That seems to me to be consistent with what we are seeing and hearing with the economy overall.
He said that a bounce-back from contraction in the fourth quarter might be expected in the first quarter followed by some negative impact from Diamond Jubilee holidays marking Queen Elizabeth's 60 years on the throne.
The underlying position seems to be that the economy is flat to small-positive at the moment, and we expect it to stay that way really until the consumer gets going again, Fisher said.
The bank's outlook for inflation had remained relatively constant and any upward shocks at this stage would be unwelcome, Fisher said.
The last thing we need at the moment is another upward cost shock coming from oil prices, on top of what we have had in the last few years, he told the newspaper. Just as we see inflation starting to fall back towards target, it's halfway back from its peak, we don't want it to be blown off course again.
(Reporting by Paul Hoskins; Editing by Ramya Venugopal)