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Bank of England holds rates as pressure mounts

The Bank of England (BoE) left interest rates at a record low of 0.5 percent and its asset purchase target unchanged at £375 billion ($617 billion) as expected on Thursday.

Yields on benchmark 10-year U.K gilts were relatively unchanged, holding steady at 2.976 percent after starting the session at 2.991 percent. Sterling showed a small spike against the dollar after the news, ticking higher to $1.6466 before falling back down to $1.6455.

(View our live blog: ECB and Bank of England rate decisions)

All 51 economists polled by Reuters this week did not expect any change of monetary policy by the central bank with markets fully anticipating the decision.

However, a growing number of voices expect the Bank of England will be pushed into changing the nuances of its "forward guidance", as the U.K. economy continues to show signs of recovery.

Mark Carney
Jason Alden - Pool | Getty Images
Mark Carney

Under the new governor Mark Carney, the Bank said last August that it would not consider raising interest rates from their current 0.5 percent until the jobless rate falls to 7 percent, which the bank does not expect to happen before the end of 2016. It currently stands at 7.4 percent after reaching a high of 8.4 percent in 2011. Mark Carney has previously told CNBC that he wouldn't rule out any changes to the unemployment threshold.

(Read More: Should Bank of England abandon forward guidance?)

The consensus, according to a Reuters poll, is for an increase in interest rates in the second half of next year, but before then 13 of 41 economists expect the BoE to drop its 7 percent jobless rate threshold -- increasing the pressure on Mark Carney to alter his promises with the improving U.K. economy.

Rob Wood, chief U.K. economist at Berenberg, argued that this would make a mockery of the policy which is meant to provide clarity about interest rates.

"If the threshold can be lowered once, it can be lowered again, or raised for that matter," he told CNBC this week.

Worrying trends?

Gross domestic product figures for the U.K. have shown a slight upturn in recent quarters. The Office for National Statistics said in December that the economy had expanded by 0.8 percent in the third quarter. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) remains optimistic on the U.K.'s prospects, significantly upgrading its growth outlook for the country in a November report.

(Read more: UK unemployment falls, putting rate hike in focus)

The good news kept on coming on Thursday morning with a survey by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) showing that British employers hired temporary staff at the fastest rate in more than 15 years in December.

Credit conditions also continue to improve, according to the BoE. A report on Wednesday showed that, in the three months to early December, U.K. lenders reported that the availability of secured credit to households increased, suggesting household demand for secured lending in the quarter was rising at its fastest pace since the survey began in 2007.

While this may paint a positive picture for the central bank, it continues to show signs that the recovery might not be built on solid foundations.

(Read more: Business optimism boosts hopes of solid UK growth)

The BoE's statistics on private debt in the U.K. show individuals now owe a total of £1.43 trillion - a record high. The Office for Budget Responsibility in December gave its analysis on 2013 saying that consumer confidence had recovered, credit conditions had eased but added that the unexpected strength of private consumption in 2013 was "largely come from lower saving", not higher income.

This suggests U.K. citizens are cutting into their savings and loading up on debt, which is the true driver of this recovery. Meanwhile, wages continue to languish. For the last financial year, median gross annual earnings for full-time employees saw an increase of 2.1 percent year-on-year, according to the Office for National Statistics. This is below inflation meaning the spending power of U.K. citizens has been in a steady decline since the financial crash of 2008.

Andy Brough, a fund manager at Schroders told CNBC that he was amazed at sterling's strength on global currency markets considering the U.K's economic fundamentals.

"People have gone 'The U.K.'s growing', no-one has actually looked under the bed clothes and said 'you know what, it's another credit boom, hello it's the same old U.K.'," he said.

"When that kind of dawns on them, I think sterling is going to come under a lot of pressure."

By CNBC.com's Matt Clinch. Follow him on Twitter @mattclinch81

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