UPDATE 1-BoE keeps policy unchanged after election, Greece

By Christina Fincher LONDON, May 10 (Reuters) - The Bank of England made no change to interest rates or its asset purchases programme on Monday, eager not to shock markets still reeling from Britain's inconclusive election and the euro zone's sovereign debt crisis. The decision to leave rates at a record low 0.5 percent was expected by all 63 economists polled by Reuters, most of whom expect no tightening until the fourth quarter of the year at the earliest. The central bank's decision to make no change to its quantitative easing target was also widely expected, and there was no discernible market reaction. Price pressures in Britain have picked up faster than expected in recent months, but the economic recovery remains tentative and the euro zone's debt crisis has shown just how fragile sentiment can be. "The Monetary Policy Committee unsurprisingly judged that now is not the time to be raising interest rates," said Howard Archer at Global Insight. "The downside risks to still fragile UK economic recovery are magnified by current major political uncertainty and the recent heightened market turmoil resulting from the Greek crisis." EMERGENCY MEASURES European central banks began buying euro zone government bonds under a $1 trillion emergency rescue package on Monday, helping the euro and European stocks recover some of last week's heavy losses. Britain's central bank has bought almost 200 billion pounds ($309 billion) of UK government bonds under its quantitative easing programme. It halted purchases in February but left open the option of reviving the scheme should economic conditions deteriorate. Britain's inconclusive election outcome provided additional justification for the BoE's wait-and-see approach. David Cameron's centre-right Conservatives were attempting to reach a power-sharing deal with the centrist Liberal Democrats on Monday after an election last Thursday threw up no outright winner -- the first time Britain has been in this position since 1974. Investors are nervous a fragile coalition or minority government could lack the political firepower needed to cut a budget deficit running at more than 11 percent of GDP. The Bank of England cut rates to their current record low in March 2009 when the economy was still reeling from the global credit crunch. Things have improved since then but headwinds remain, not least from a public spending squeeze that some predict will be the toughest since the aftermath of World War Two. The BoE will be reluctant to tamper with monetary policy until the extent of the fiscal pain becomes clear, and that will depend on how quickly a new government is formed. "The pace of monetary tightening is dependent upon who forms the next government and how aggressive a programme of fiscal consolidation they implement," said Hetal Mehta, senior economic advisor at Ernst & Young. "We do not expect any monetary policy tightening until early 2011, when the economy will be in better shape." ($1=.6465 Pound) Keywords: BRITAIN BANK/RATES (uk.economics@reuters.com; editing by Tony Austin; Tel +44 207 542 7748; Reuters Messaging christina.fincher.reuters.com@reuters.net) COPYRIGHT Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved.

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