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Short-lived surprise amid Zumicon? SA inflation rate falls to six-month low

By Ana Monteiro

Bloomberg – South Africa’s inflation rate fell to a six-month low in March after food-price increases slowed.

Mixed denomination rand currency banknotes are arranged for a photograph at an FNB branch in Johannesburg. 

Consumer inflation eased to 6.1 percent from 6.3 percent in February, Statistics South Africa said in a report released Wednesday in the capital, Pretoria. The median estimate of 15 economists surveyed by Bloomberg was for 6.3 percent. Prices climbed 0.6 percent in the month.

The Monetary Policy Committee has kept the benchmark repurchase rate unchanged since last March after raising it by 200 basis points to 7 percent over two years to bring price growth back to within its target band of 3 percent to 6 percent. Inflation has been outside the range for seven months and the central bank forecasts it will slow to less than 6 percent in the second quarter of the year. The scope for interest-rate cuts in South Africa is limited even as the policy-tightening trajectory may be over, the bank said April 11.

Five-year breakeven rates, a measure of inflation expectations, have climbed 20 basis points to 5.85 percent since reaching an almost two-year low on March 22. While the rate remains below the inflation target, the rand has erased almost all its gains for 2017 after President Jacob Zuma recalled Pravin Gordhan from an international investor roadshow in the U.K. and then fired him as finance minister, driving up price expectations.

The economy expanded 0.3 percent last year, the slowest pace since a 2009 recession, due to a slump in commodity prices, weak demand for the country’s exports and a continuation of the worst drought since records began in 1904. The nation’s corn crop is forecast to rebound in 2017, slashing prices.

The contribution to inflation by food and non-alcoholic beverages, which account for 17 percent of the basket of goods the agency measures, declined in March. These prices rose 8.7 percent from a year earlier, compared with 9.9 percent in February.

The rand fell 0.6 percent to 13.3567 per dollar by 10:13 a.m. in Johannesburg on Wednesday, paring its gain for 2017 to 2.9 percent. Yields on rand-denominated government bonds due December 2026 pared an earlier increase, rising 1 basis point to 8.85 percent.

Core inflation, which excludes food, non-alcoholic beverages, energy and gasoline, slowed to 4.9 percent from 5.2 percent in February. The median of nine economists’ estimates was for 5.3 percent.

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