Interest rates cut in surprise move

20 July 2017 - 15:54 By Sunita Menon And Tammy Foyn
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South African Reserve Bank. File photo
South African Reserve Bank. File photo

The South African Reserve Bank surprised markets with an interest rate cut on Thursday.

While most economists have been expecting the bank to move towards a cut‚ it was not expected to come quite so soon.

The Bank cut the repo rate to 6.75% from 7%.

Bank governor Lesetja Kganyago highlighted an improving inflation outlook and deteriorating growth — though there were risks to the inflation outlook‚ he said.

“Despite a degree of volatility‚ the rand exchange rate has been relatively resilient in the face of expected monetary policy tightening in some advanced economies‚ as well as domestic political risks and uncertainties. Risks to the inflation outlook still remain.

“The rand remains vulnerable to increased global risk aversion‚ domestic political shocks‚ and to the possibility of further ratings downgrades‚” he said.

Kganyago outlined the following inflation forecasts:

- 2017: consumer inflation will average 5.3% (from the May forecast of 5.7%);

- 2018: 4.9% (from 5.1% forecast in May); and

- 2019: 5.2% (from 5.3% forecast in May).

He said inflation had peaked at 6.4% in the first quarter of 2017‚ in line with the Bank’s earlier projections.

“The main drivers of the improved forecast were the lower starting point; revised assumptions regarding international oil prices‚ domestic electricity tariffs and the real effective exchange rate; and a wider output gap.”

The outlook for economic growth‚ meanwhile‚ has worsened.

South Africa entered a technical recession in the first quarter of this year — a development that had not been expected.

The governor said: “At the same time‚ domestic growth prospects have deteriorated further following the surprise Gross domestic product (GDP) contraction in the first quarter of 2017.

“The economy has now recorded two successive quarters of negative growth‚ and although a near-term improvement is expected‚ the outlook remains challenging.”

GDP is now expected to grow 0.5% for 2017 (from the forecast of 1% at the May meeting); 1.2% in 2018 (from 1.5% expected in May); and 1.5% in 2019 (from 1.7% forecast in May).

The last rate increase was 25 basis points in March 2016‚ and followed a 50-point rise in January 2016.

The Bank’s latest monetary policy meeting took place in a politicised environment‚ after Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane picked a fight over its inflation-targeting mandate.

Kganyago is involved in a court battle over her recommendation‚ and has been blunt in his assessment of her recommendation‚ contained in her report on the Absa-Bankorp bail-out. He said in court papers last week that Mkhwebane had shown a fundamental lack of understanding of the monetary system and the role of central banks”.

But he stayed away from this controversy in his prepared remarks on Thursday.

- BusinessLIVE

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