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It is becoming increasingly difficult to predict both the size and the timing of any interest rate changes in this uncertain economic world. The South African Reserve Bank has kept the repo rate unchanged at levels of 5.5% since November 2010. Further accommodative monetary policy, in the way of interest rate cuts, is highly unlikely given the inflation rate is sitting at the upper end of its target bracket and real interest rates (REPO after deducting inflation) remain negative. However, an interest rate hike may also take some time to occur.
The latest inflation statistics for the month ending March 2012 came in lower than expected as it eased to 6%, down from 6.1% the previous month. The central bank expects this rate to remain within its target bracket of 3%-6% on a more sustainable basis by the end of this year. In addition economic growth remains moderate (coupled with high levels of unemployment and household indebtedness) which suggests that there is no reason to increase interest rates.
However, two factors have resulted in the consensus forecast being a 0.5% increase in rates towards the tail of 2012 followed by a further 1% – 1.5% in 2013:
It appears that the current MPC is taking a far more balanced approach towards its interest rate decisions, carefully weighing up the inflationary environment against the broader economic environment. Therefore, barring any sudden inflationary shocks (which would most likely be caused by a rapid Rand depreciation) we wouldn’t be surprised if the MPC kept rates stable through 2012, waiting for economic prospects to improve somewhat before increasing the REPO rate to a more sustainable, normalized level.
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