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The South African Reserve Bank kept its key Repo rate unchanged at 5.5% at its last meeting held on 21 July 2011, leaving Prime unchanged at 9%. This decision was made based on the fact that domestic recovery has continued, but in a very tentative manner. The strong performance that was seen in the first quarter is unlikely to have been repeated in the second quarter and growth prospects are still highly dependent on global developments, which remain extremely volatile. Domestic inflation has also been increasing in line with expectations, again being driven upwards largely due to the influence of uncontrollable, external cost-push factors including global food and oil prices as well as electricity and other administered costs. However, the strong rand has helped to moderate the global effects to a large extent.
Year on year inflation rate measurements (CPI) increased to 5% in June, up from 4.6% recorded in May. The SARB forecasts that the inflation rate in South Africa will reach the upper level of the target band (3% - 6%) during the final quarter of 2011 and to average 6.3% in the first quarter of 2012. From then on it is expected to remain towards the upper end of the target bracket for the following two quarters, before dropping back considerably in the final quarter of the year.
It is the view of the MPC that the underlying inflation pressures are driven by external, global, cost-push pressures. However, having said this, it recognizes that these cost increases will eventually get passed on to the consumer (when consumer demand permits) and the central bank will have to take action to ensure that second-round inflationary effects do not emanate. For this reason the MPC will not sit back and relax, but will continue to closely monitor for any signs of these second round effects taking hold and respond timeously to any signs that threaten to move inflation out of its target band for a sustained period.
SAHL feels consideration should also be given to the fact that, while the forecast inflation remains within or close to the target band, if credit extension and GDP growth remain constrained the Reserve Bank would be loath to increase interest rates. The one major risk to the inflationary outlook is the exchange rate; if the Rand were to suddenly weaken inflation could increase dramatically. As such we believe that, if the Rand remains strong (which it should do given the weakness exhibited by the US and EU), unless GDP growth, consumer expenditure and credit extension surprise on the upside, the SARB will look to delay the interest rate increase cycle as long as possible (Q1/Q2 2012) and the quantum of interest rate increases could be less severe than the 2.5% hikes currently being predicted.
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