19 Jan

South Africa Holds Rate as Rand, Inflation Risks Persist

The South African Reserve Bank kept its benchmark lending rate unchanged for a third consecutive meeting as the risks of a credit-rating downgrade persist, muddying the outlook for the rand and inflation.

The central bank’s Monetary Policy Committee maintained the repurchase rate at 6.75 percent Thursday, in line with the estimates by all but seven of the 20 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

The bank cut the rate for the first time in five years in July to support an economy that entered its second recession in almost a decade in the first quarter of 2017 and has struggled to mount a strong recovery.

Inflation has been inside the target band for eight months and the rand — among the world’s most-volatile currencies — has strengthened since the ruling party elected Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as its new leader in December, spurring hope that policy uncertainty and political turbulence will dissipate.

“We do see an improved inflation and growth outlook thanks to a stronger performance in the currency but a lot of risk factors still exist, both on the political front as well as on the credit-ratings front,” said Jeffrey Schultz, BNP Paribas’s senior economist.

S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings Ltd. cut the country’s debt to junk in 2017, and a reduction of rand bonds by Moody’s Investors Service could trigger an exclusion of the country’s rand debt from Citigroup Inc.’s World Government Bond Index.

The effect of this on rand bond yields “could be significant, but the extent to which a universal downgrade is already priced in remains unclear,” Governor Lesetja Kganyago told reporters in the capital, Pretoria. The government’s challenge is to “find ways to finance the deficit in a growth-positive manner, and at the same time convey a credible commitment to structural reforms.”

The bank expects inflation to remain within the target band of 3 percent to 6 percent until at least the end of 2019, reaching a low of 4.4 percent in the first quarter of this year.

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