Inflation slows to 4.9% as SARB mulls upcoming rates decision

JOHANNESBURG — SARB’s decision on interest rates will be made on Thursday and many South Africans will be watching the announcement closely. Inflation has been on a general upward trend this year, but it slowed for the month of August. If SARB hikes rates, it could put further downward pressure on the economy. In the meantime, giving South Africans a reprieve will be the popular decision. However, SARB is independent and it will do what is needed to safeguard its mandate rather than cave into political pressure as seen in places such as Turkey. – Gareth van Zyl

By Ntando Thukwana

(Bloomberg) – South African inflation slowed in August from a 10-month high.

Consumer price growth decelerated to 4.9 percent from 5.1 percent in July, Pretoria-based Statistics South Africa said Wednesday in a statement on its website. The median estimate of 18 economists in a Bloomberg Survey was 5.2 percent. Prices fell 0.1 percent in the month.

The release come as the Monetary Policy Committee is meeting in preparation for a announcement on borrowing costs Thursday. Only three of the 19 economists in a Bloomberg survey project that the panel will raise its benchmark rate for the first time since 2016. The rest forecast an unchanged stance of 6.5 percent.

Core inflation, which excludes the prices of food, non-alcoholic beverages, energy and gasoline, slowed to 4.2 percent from 4.3 percent.

S. Africa, in grip of recession, may consider rate increase

By Ntando Thukwana

(Bloomberg) – South African policy makers may be about to consider whether to follow counterparts from Russia to Turkey and raise interest rates – even when the country is battling a recession.

Investors and economists are divided on the chances that officials will respond to emerging-market turmoil with the country’s first upward move in borrowing costs since 2016. While forward-rate agreements suggest there’s a chance of an increase on Thursday, just three of 19 economists in a Bloomberg survey expect that.

SARB, South African Reserve Bank, Lesetja Kganyago
Lesetja Kganyago speaks during a news conference to unveil commemorative banknotes and coins in Pretoria. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

The South African Reserve Bank is contending with a currency that’s lost 17 percent to the dollar this year, inflation near the upper end of its target band, expectations for quicker price growth, and pressure to increase the rate to keep up with the momentum of other jurisdictions. The economy entered its first recession since 2009 in the second quarter.

“We have to make peace with a weaker rand and that may force them to hike,” said Abri du Plessis, an economist at Gryphon Asset Management Ltd. who forecasts a 25 basis-point increase to 6.75 percent. “I would not, even at this upcoming meeting, put it off the table.”

Raising the rate may knock chances of an economic recovery. Loosening policy could lessen the appeal of South African assets for investors searching for yield.

Russia, Turkey

Last week, Russia’s central bank raised its key rate for the first time in four years to 7.5 percent, while Turkish officials increased the rate by 625 basis points to 24 percent.

There’s a week to go before the US Federal Reserve delivers what could be its third interest-rate increase of the year, which may quicken the sell-off of emerging-market assets and further knock the rand.

Price expectations

South African inflation expectations – as measured by the five-year breakeven rate – are now at the highest in almost three months. While price growth remains inside the central bank’s target range of 3 percent to 6 percent, the rate reached a 10-month high of 5.1 percent in July.

Policy makers will wait for broader price increases in the economy before tightening, Governor Lesetja Kganyago said in an Aug. 23 interview.

What does our economist say?

The South African Reserve Bank is likely to withstand pressure to hike interest rates at its monetary policy committee meeting, arguing that inflation should moderate next year. But the central bank will probably shift toward a more hawkish stance after a unanimous vote to keep the policy rate on hold at 6.5 percent in May and July –  Mark Bohlund, Bloomberg Economics.

While the central bank may look at South Africa’s benchmark rate relative to emerging-market peers, the recession will see the bank hold the rate, said Elna Moolman, an economist at Standard Bank Ltd.

“The SARB can still delay any interest-rate hikes,” she said. It will only raise “if it is concerned that a lack of action following the sharp depreciation of the rand will negatively affect its inflation-targeting credibility.”

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