The Bank of England cut its key interest rate by a quarter-point Thursday to 5.5% after economic data in the previous couple of days showed a sharp slowdown in consumer confidence and in services sector growth. The rate cut is the first since August 2005 and comes after five hikes since August 2006. At the start of the month, most economists had been predicting the bank would hold off until January or February to lower rates. But those expectations shifted shortly ahead of the decision after data showed activity in the dominant services sector hit a four-year low, leaving the bank's decision on a knife edge. Also likely weighing on the rate-setting committee's decision was a sharp fall in consumer confidence and a 1.1% drop in house prices in November, according to the latest figures from HBOS division Halifax. The Monetary Policy Committee's vote may well have been close, however, as inflation remains a significant worry. At 2.1%, inflation stands only slightly above the government's 2% target. But Governor Mervyn King warned a parliamentary committee at the end of November that rising energy prices could add upward pressure. Ha, ha,ha....Mr. King, what an "aristocratic" move !